At the end of the course I have titled How to Write about Your Life I offer to edit people’s writing for six months. I charge $600 to edit anything they write during that period.

One of the people who signed up was Erin Wetzel.

Sometimes she’d write something I liked, and I’d use it as a guest post.

Mostly, though, her writing was saccharine. I told her she should just take pictures. She’s a great photographer. “We can’t all be good at everything,” I told her. “You’re lucky to have found your one thing.”

Like most things I do one-on-one, I got overly invested in Erin’s success, so when she kept sending me writing after six months, I kept editing. It was a bad business decision. I should be more disciplined.

Sometime after her second baby, she stopped sending me anything longer than a sentence. And she was sending me photos, and I love her photos. So I just started editing her sentences.

I told myself I need to stop doing the editing. I told myself if I do this all year it would equal one cello lesson. It’s like I am going to someone else’s cello lesson for free. Why do I make more work for myself?

Then she sent me the picture up top, with the caption: I’m lonely.

I felt my stomach get tight. I realized all these pictures and one-liners capture the insanity of having a baby. The months when you are out of your mind with how hard it is but also you love the baby more than you ever thought you could love anything. The months where you lose your old self who had a plan and a dream and a schedule and sleep.

It’s a time of perfect baby pictures and incredible loneliness.

Then, the kids grow up and the perfect pictures change, but often the loneliness doesn’t. It’s very weird to be surrounded by kids all day and love them so much and still be lonely.

The loneliness doesn’t surprise me. Loneliness is part of life. I can remember feeling loneliness even as a tiny girl. I think we all feel it sometimes. But what shocks me is the juxtaposition of the incredible love and closeness of children with the loneliness of life. I guess I thought maybe kids would solve that.

They don’t. It’s just life to be lonely sometimes.

Each of us has this moment for the first time—we are overwhelmed by kids loving us and needing us, but we feel lonely.  If you stay home with a newborn it happens in those first few months. If you stay home with a five year old it happens then. If you work until your kids are ten and then stay home with them to homeschool them, it might happen when you homeschool.

But I don’t think loneliness and homeschooling are related. I think loneliness is constant, and it’s startling only in the context of being surrounded by the kids you love more than you’ve loved anything. And who love you back.

32 replies
  1. Leeann
    Leeann says:

    Totally agree! Most moms and dads I know with close friends aren’t as close with kids. It’s hard to do both. You lose touch. You can love kids a ton but it’s a long time before they’re adult company. I recommend date night even at home and even getting out into community for small talk. Call a friend or your mom! I feel lonely every now and then and definitely did after like three months after giving birth.

  2. Teach By Type
    Teach By Type says:

    I’ll never forget the loneliness I felt as a new Mom. Desperate to feel better, I returned to the corporate world after 8 weeks. I didn’t even like the job I rushed back for. But I didn’t know how else to get that connection to grownups I desperately needed.

    My older two get sadder and sadder as we get closer to Monday. I’m damn near giddy about it when sunday night rolls around. Of course, I hide my joy, just as hide my overwhelming sadness when I anticipate a snow day robbing me of a school/daycare day.

    How does an Introvert homeschool, without another adult around, and not go crazy? I need adult connection, but I won’t get out of my own way to seek it.

    Sometimes, I go to the grocery store, just so I can talk to a Cashier. For the few minutes it takes to ring up my items.

    If only I could be an introvert that didn’t seek connection like the INFJs do. Like my INTJ husband.

    -Sue

    • Erin Wetzel
      Erin Wetzel says:

      Oh yes. I talk to cashiers like this. I chat them up waaaay to much. I should put that on one of my Instagram posts.

      (INFP here).

      I crave social interaction. So. Much. Social networking helps. Texting/Facetiming friends helps. Homeschool coop helps. But the loneliness is pervasive.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Different strokes for different folks. I still worked in the corporate world for the first five years of my son’s life, and I cursed every day of it; I hated how it took me away from him. I am so much happier staying home (but really, we are not home much, not even now) with my wonderful children.

      I don’t feel lonely when I’m with them. You’d have to tell me the above picture involves loneliness, because I wouldn’t see it. I have my grownup friends too, and occasionally I really like another parent, but I don’t feel desperate to see them. A nice lunch once in a while, or a play date conversation, suffices.

      Really it makes me question your introversion. It’s certainly a different version from mine. This introvert home schools just fine (although sometimes I put off networking too much). I guess I recognize my lack of need as a positive; I’m not always engaged in stuff that takes me away from my kids, and don’t worry if I don’t hit it off with other parents. I can think of nothing better than spending the day with my kids. Balancing their needs is the tough part, but that seems to be getting easier as they mature. The older one grows more independent – he can even take public transportation by himself now – and the younger one learns to compromise and share better.

      Have you considered having your husband do the homeschooling, if he is more suited to it?

      • Cynthia
        Cynthia says:

        I’m with you. I’m happy being alone. My loneliness comes from my family living far away, not from lack of social interaction. Maybe the fact that I’m an only child helps. I was used to being alone all the time.
        Sometimes I make plans to go out with friends and when the time comes I regret it as I would love to just stay home (as usual). I end up having a nice time, but I would have had a great time alone at home too :)
        Maybe the fact that my husband and I are very close and best friends helps. He’s also an only child and he gets it. We both prefer each other’s company than going out with friends separately (or even together, we love being home or going out hiking, just the two of us). I just love and prefer spending time with the people I love (not saying that moms who feel lonely don’t love their children, just that I don’t feel the need to be in touch with other grownups as they might do).

      • Teach By Type
        Teach By Type says:

        Out of curiosity are you an IT or IF type? I think the need for connection with an INFJ is so strong because of extraverted feeling.

        INFJs need alone time as much as they need connection.

  3. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Lovely words on loneliness Penelope. For me, I was surprised how lonely I felt around other parents, especially at toddler groups. Sending hugs to Erin and that is indeed a lovely picture.

    • Erin Wetzel
      Erin Wetzel says:

      Play groups. Yeah. I get this. I think you have to have more in common with the other moms than just kids in order to share life together in a meaningful way. I’ll have to think about this…it’s good food for thought. “What makes a lonely play date & what makes for meaningful connection?”

  4. Danes
    Danes says:

    Penelope,
    This wasn’t a great post. This was a “no, duh” post. This was a diary entry post. I know you can’t hit a homerun every time, but this was just, “meh”.
    I still love your writing, though.

  5. Susan Willard
    Susan Willard says:

    I know this feeling too, and I have an eight year old who I homeschool. We belong to a rather large HS group where we live and
    I still feel that “lonely” feeling within our group. I haven’t found that one person to truly connect with.

  6. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I can see how parenting could be very lonely for those who crave social interaction or who experience drastic lifestyle changes after having a baby. I don’t think it has anything to do with homeschooling. I am a creature of habit, and quickly found a routine that worked for me with each of my 3 kids. I am also, admittedly, not a mother earth type and never did attachment parenting with my kids. Uh oh! ;)

    I have found that I get along better in one on one play date situations vs large gatherings of chaos and strangers. I have met some of my closest friends through the internet, met them in real life and have had our kids get along wonderfully. This works for me since online friendships are just as satisfying for me as in person friendships are for others.

    Finding just one person who gets you, is in your situation, or has been there, can be a life saver.

  7. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    *sniff* I love you, Penelope!! I think we complicated people get lonely. I mean, everyone gets lonely, but I think complicated people get more lonely….people who struggle and struggle to struggle. Becoming a mother deepens a person, but then there’s an even deeper lonely.

    I’m remembering your happiness research phase- is there loneliness research? I’m wondering if it comes from being special. I wonder if people want and need to be special, but then being special (like being a mother who is completely irreplaceable) makes us feel alone since it’s true that in a very real way, we’re alone. Like, are the most irreplaceable people the most lonely since they have no one to confide in or to turn to??

  8. beth
    beth says:

    I have 6 kids, 3 mine( two were adopted) and 3 foster kids. Busy household, with kids ageing from 13,12, 8 ( mine) and 4,3 and 9 mos (foster kids.My kids are homeschooled and the work is endless. Meal preparation,laundry, grocery shopping, driving them to outside home activities,meetings with our foster kids social workers, physiotherapist ,language pathokogist etc in our home budgeting etc etc on top of homeschooling challenges. it is exhausting and I feel lonely even though I am surrounded by beautiful kids… there were lots of times I doubted our decision to homeschool. I feel at times that my kids aren’t learning as much like those kids in traditional school. I feel I was not an effective homeschooler because I am so busy. There were times when my kids would ask why there are things that kids from our church know and they don’t know. I would feel so guilty but I would suggest to them that we can learn those topics and research in the Internet. But your blog really encourage me.It is honest and true…. real life experiences that makes me say.. ” hey I am not the only one who feel this way.. Others mom’s have these similar challenges in their journey of homeschooling.. I am not alone!” Thanks Penelope

    • Deana
      Deana says:

      I’m sure your kids have knowledge And wisdom the church kids do not. They have a rich environment socially and to explore within o

  9. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I have made friend with loneliness.

    And somewhere along the way it transformed into solitude.

    But sometimes, it’s just loneliness. And it’s okay.

    Also, being super honest and open with people begets their vulnerability. They offer it freely. Many times it takes care of loneliness because finally someone sees you entirely and you see them too.

  10. Deidre
    Deidre says:

    Yes Karelys.

    And sometimes me and my Loneliness are doing so well together, I really question social interactions. Because I need something so specific from them, they almost always bring me down, not up.

    But then, all of a sudden you click with someone, things are amazing… Loneliness gets offended and leaves. It takes a while to find it and get back that peace.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      Haha I love this so much!

      Loneliness gets offended and leaves.

      I’ve found that even in the most intimate, soulmate relationships, the closeness ebbs and flows. There’s room for loneliness there too. And solitude. Some people get confused and take it as a sign that there’s something wrong. But it just is.

      You’re fun. Let’s be friends.

  11. Laura
    Laura says:

    Mothers of small children — there is hope ahead! It can be so hard when they are little and your brain is bored by repetitive tasks and care taking. Then, one day you find yourself having a spirited discussion with your teenager about politics or religion or science, and it is magic. My oldest child gets to vote in his first presidential election this year, and we have had the most amazing debates about the candidates, Alexander Hamilton, the founding fathers and the Supreme Court justices. I tilled and fertilized the soil for so long (museums, cultural experiences, trips to the state capital, newspaper clippings) and it finally bore the sweetest fruit. He is my favorite person to talk to because of our shared experiences as mother and son. So many times I doubted what I was doing. He was high energy and extroverted and many of our outings from ages 5-12 left me exhausted and discouraged. It was so hard, and I was often walking the razor’s edge of depression and loneliness. However, for us, this grinding slog of pouring into him daily has paid off. It has been an unexpected joy to watch him blossom into a deep thinker and delightful conversationalist. Never doubt your instincts. Love diminishes loneliness, but only with time. Moms who’ve come before you and will come after you value the important work you are doing to raise good humans.

    • Julie Wriston
      Julie Wriston says:

      I was going to comment then read Laura’s response, which is so perfect, and thought that there’s not much more to say!! My oldest is now 20 so I too am experiencing what Laura is delighting in ~ the magic. It is magical when you look at the human being your child has become and you know that all the hard years were worth it. It’s worth the loneliness!! And those were very lonely years for me; an INFJ who spent those early years living overseas in a foreign country, five little ones, and a husband deployed and away from home most of the time, often for months. Endless days, endless months is how I remember that time in life. One thing I found helpful and that I took to heart was this quote by C.S.Lewis, “We read to know we are not alone.” We read. A lot. Book characters became like friends, some like family. It helped to pass the time, to enrich their lives, and to ward off the loneliness. You will never regret the hours spent reading to and with your children. Most books lend themselves to more ~ make a connection to a museum, a walk, a field trip. Like Laura mentioned, the tilling and fertilizing the soil; the good soil of a good book!

  12. Rosemary
    Rosemary says:

    This is where I’m at too. It was a good read and nice reminder of where we’re headed. Homemaking and care taking is not as easy as going out into the world and working with adults is for me. But everything keeps changing so fast and I know it will too soon be in the past and I’ll be longing to be back here, with a cuddly tiny growing brain and body. Thanks for introducing me to Erin. :-D I have been enjoying her IG feed.

  13. Parisa
    Parisa says:

    I really liked this post. The fact is that I have experienced loneliness; not as a mother and yet I totally get that. The thing is that I believe we all need to get lonely from time to time and the time is not something we got to choose yet the reason to become lonely is; Which can change “the time” to “anytime”. Having kids and loving them way too much could be a great and proper reason to feel this way. We may not be able to put an end to how we are feeling but there’s a great opportunity to cherish the reason for it. Being a mother is indeed a rare one. This feeling will only be temporary certainly, but its etiology is one of the most valuable causes. In my opinion this love and the coming loneliness, in the not too distant future, will bring wonderful and unrepeatable days. So it is better to ignore time to appreciate the reason for the birth of such feelings. It’s important to know this feeling but we do not necessarily have to fix it. And I think Erin is involuntary dealing with her feelings through photography. Which is great, I really enjoy the way she spends her time with her two pretty daughters; ordinary and still very unique. I wish her everlasting happiness.

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      Parisa –

      I love your comment. So much. And I agree: loneliness does not necessarily need to be fixed. It’s not a problem, but an indicator of other deeper things going on.

      I am content to be lonely. I think: being able to not fear loneliness frees me to be able to embrace true and deep connection. And also: in not fearing loneliness, I can embrace it, name it, share it, and release it.

      <3 Erin

  14. Susan
    Susan says:

    So, the answer to the title, What it means when homeschooling feels lonely: is basically that regardless of if you homeschool or not you can and may feel lonely at many points in life. So I’m not really sure the point of the article is, since there is no correlation. ?
    The homeschooling component aside, everyone experiences loneliness at different levels, and as you point out, being alone and being lonely are different. I don’t feel sorry for people who feel lonely, as I think it’s a normal part of life. It’s also an opportunity for deep soul searching and reflection. I think God gave us loneliness for a reason.

  15. Erin Wetzel
    Erin Wetzel says:

    When you used to edit my captions, when we exchanged emails every week, it helped me be less lonely. Our friendship was like a lifeline that helped keep me sane. Thank you.

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