Emily Jones is an Essex mum of three who knows first-hand how lonely looking after a little one can be and how important opportunities to get to know other parents are. She is also one of the judges for the Families Included Prize, which is offering a £10,000 first prize to a great idea, project and solution from Essex that involves local families with young children (0-5 years) in opportunities that enrich their lives. In this blog Emily talks about her experiences of loneliness as a parent, how she took action by setting up a group in her local area and what she’ll be looking for in the entries.
Picture someone who’s lonely.
We tend to think people who are a bit older are lonely, but loneliness can affect anyone. It’s something a lot of people looking after a young child experience but we don’t like to talk about it.
I know I didn’t.
When my hubby and our older kids left in the morning I would be alone all day with the baby. I didn’t have anywhere where I could go to meet people I could just have a chat with, let alone open up about anything I was struggling with. It takes a lot of guts to go out there and say you’re lonely, that being a parent is hard and that you need some adult conversation! And with all the pressure we put on ourselves to be the ‘perfect’ parent it can feel scary to admit that you’re struggling.
When my youngest was still a baby, I was chatting with a friend about how there wasn’t anything in our area which was free and would get you out and meeting other parents. My friend was a single mum and couldn’t afford any of the local playgroups. We decided to do something about it.
After posting on some local Facebook groups to find out what other people would be interested in we decided to start a weekly buggy walk. We advertised on Facebook and on the bulletin board in Tescos. The first week, 12 other mums and dads turned up, we picked a park we fancied and were off. It was a fun (and free!) way to get out of the house and make friends with other parents. We kept it simple so it didn’t take up much of my time to organise the walk every week and benefits I got from it made any effort feel worthwhile. My confidence increased and these days I’m never at home. I can see the benefit for my little one too, she’s much more confident than my eldest two were at her age and I think that’s because we’re always out meeting people.
A big ‘ah ha!’ moment for me came after the TV documentary I took part in, ‘The Age Of Loneliness’, was broadcast. A friend heard that they were looking for people and suggested I get involved. The producer wanted a parent who could talk about their experiences and what they had done to make themselves feel less lonely. By that point, my confidence had improved massively from running the buggy walk but I was still nervous about appearing. I wondered if anyone would be interested in what I had to say but in the end I’m glad I took the risk.
After the broadcast I got hundreds of messages from mums and dads saying that I had said what they were too scared to. I was really pleased that appearing on the doc had helped other people feel less alone. It made me realise that loads of parents are in the same position and how important it is that there are things out there where families can meet up, have fun and get to know each other regardless of what their circumstances are. It also made me think that there must be loads of people out there who have an idea which could help tackle loneliness but they don’t have the confidence or support to try it out. That’s why I was so excited to hear about the Families Included Prize.
As a judge I’ll be looking for ideas that do things a little bit differently, providing something that’s not available in the community. I’m keen to see ideas that are affordable and don’t just target mums, we need things for dads, grandparents, foster parents, all different types of families! Something that’s fun and helps build friendships and connections. Most importantly, I’ll be looking for that spark of a good idea. The Prize is set up so that finalists will be supported to develop their idea so my advice to anyone who’s thinking of applying is to do it! What have you got to lose?