Sisterhood – one year on

It’s almost one year since I started this blog. My first post set out that I wanted to write about the shared experiences women have and that maybe we can use that common ground to make us all feel a little bit better about ourselves.

The idea that we can feel quite lonely but is it possible that being honest about all of it – good and bad – we have more in common with each other than we think?

Women get a bad press. It’s easy to pit women against each other. Imagining us battling over bodies, men, careers, children and cookery skills. Being the woman that knows how to wear a midi-length skirt or a jaunty hat (not I). Now we can apparently have it all we all want to be the best at all of it and don’t like to see other succeed ahead of us, right? Well I’m not sure this is the case.

I’ve read a few articles recently about women feeling judged and like they have to defend the choices they’ve made. I suppose I wanted to look at the other side because I genuinely believe other women – friends and strangers – can be the most supportive strength.

Having a blog called Sisterhood (and all that), people like to tell me their stories about when they’ve experienced some loveliness from other women. One favourite is the pregnant friend who was in a thirty minute food queue in blazing sunshine with a two year old mid-tantrum when a passing woman stopped and gave her some spare sandwiches. My friend cried and hugged the woman, and welled up even telling me about it a few days later. It might sound trivial, but the stranger didn’t have to help. She recognised the anxiety on another woman’s face, knew what was happening without explanation and wanted to help.

Women will send a card to say ‘I’m thinking of you’ when you might be running on empty. They will give you a look that says ‘it’s ok’ as you haul your kicking kid over your shoulder because they otherwise want to play in the road. They understand your heartbreak, even if he was a twat – then you can all laugh at what a twat he was once you’re over it. When the shit really hits the fan – through illness or tragedy – women pull together. I wrote about when Doug was diagnosed with cancer and the comments were full of people with this horrible time in common. It’s terribly sad but also reminds me I haven’t been through this on my own.

While we all feel quite lonely sometimes, there are women all around us going through the exact same things. Women are good at supporting each other. Not all of them, granted. But you don’t need hundreds of people, you just need the right ones at the right time.

Just before Christmas I took the kids to a garden centre. They have fish tanks and a softplay which is alongside a café that serves hot drinks and cake. What’s not to love? I’d deposited the kids in the ball pit so I could get their lunch. The till and the softplay are at opposite ends of a large café and the staff there are always incredibly slow. I was chatting to a silver fox next to me about his grandchildren (in his 60s, the kind of man that knows how to casually tie a scarf) and was aware that Buster and Mabel had run over a couple of times to see what I was doing, but they were happy enough.

Then a woman in the queue erupted: ‘WHO do these awful children belong to? They should learn some MANNERS?’. My initial response was cool and calm – I put my hand up, looked her in the eye and said ‘They’re mine – I’m sorry but I’m trying to get their lunch and then I’ll sit down with them’ thinking she’d look embarrassed and go quiet. She went in to a rant about how disgusting it was to let children run about and that I had ruined her morning and that I shouldn’t have had children if I couldn’t control them. I’ve never been spoken to like it. Mr Silver Fox jumped to my defence, but she kept going. I could feel my lip going just as I reached the front of the queue and I was mortified – by my children, by my emotional reaction, by all the people watching. I felt judged and stupid.

A woman in her 50s came from the back of the queue. She put her hands on my shoulders, and said ‘It is bloody hard with two small children. You are doing a brilliant job and don’t you ever let anyone tell you otherwise’. Needless to say, with that I totally crumbled. Huge fat tears and sobbing that made my shoulders shake. I said – no, wait – I warbled ‘thank you – you are so kind. You know don’t you?’ and she nodded and smiled. The Sisterhood. I walked back through the café holding the tray and shepherding two very confused kids with no hands to wipe my streaming eyes and nose. You know when you feel like everyone is looking at you but they’re probably not? Yeah, in this case they were.

christmas jumper

My biggest regret is that in a bid to be fun I’d worn a Christmas jumper that day. Let this be a lesson to us all – festive jumpers are always a bad idea.

I wanted to share this for a couple of reasons. 1) I wrote about when kids have a public meltdown a few weeks ago and thought I should redress the balance as I’ve had plenty myself. 2) You might be flying at this Motherhood gig, and then you come crashing down with what feels like a breakdown. Except it’s not and you’ll pick yourself right back up, just maybe take your foot off your neck and have a sit down for a bit. It is relentless and sometimes only you can make it stop. And 3) there are some rude people out there, but there are way more kind ones and the Sisterhood DOES exist. We could focus on the mean lady that shouted at me but I’d rather focus on the kind strangers that were equally appalled at her, demonstrating that hers was not normal behaviour.

The judgey types tend to be the ones that shout the loudest – that make comments on social media and are vocal about how they do things. Sometimes they are the ones that we hear because we’re already internally giving ourselves a hard time about our choices, whether it’s about our jobs or how we’ve fed our kids or what kind of labour we had. We’re sensitive to it so it’s amplified; sometimes we probably take an observation or comment and make it a judgement because we’re waiting for one.

When someone says ‘Can I help you?’ as you manhandle a king-sized pram through a café dropping nappies and rice cakes like a Hansel and Gretel trail, try letting them. They’re not doing it because you look incapable – they’ve probably been where you are and remember the hot stressy mess you sometimes feel. Perhaps by being more open to it, we’ll feel the benefit of the Sisterhood and that will give us the power to dull the noise of anyone that acts otherwise.

I’d love to hear other stories of sisterhood…or public meltdowns:

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22 thoughts on “Sisterhood – one year on

  1. Kate says:

    Wow – I just read your post and feel pretty emotional. I have had some terrible times out and about with my three boys, most days people simply comment about “how I’ve got my hands full” in a poor you kind of way. I had one man go out of his way in the supermarket when the eldest was having a tantrum that I wouldn’t buy him a comic with a gun in (“I want the gun…..”)… Most people had given me empathetic eyes but he said “my children never ever behaved like that.” Hideous, I have at times stopped going out because people have physically winced at my middle child who is very very loud (but also has glue ear and cannot hear).. you are right though – there is a sisterhood out there, thank god.

    • Steph says:

      Urgh – I think we all have a bad experience at some point, and when that comes on those days when you’re full of self-doubt it’s such a horrible clash. Since writing this I’ve definitely done more looking for the knowing smiles in the crowd, and they’re there. ps those comments RUIN my day regularly. ALWAYS the gun. xxx

  2. Clara says:

    Just stumbled across your blog as I’m about to order one of your lovely gift packages for my sister in law, who has just become a mum for the first time. This post has actually made me cry! I could feel your pain & humiliation so acutely ( I’m a mum of a 5 year old, also called Mabel, and 3 year old twins). While things are easier now, there were days when I had 3 under the age of 3 that were so hard & we just hid at home. Being a mum to small children & getting out and about is hard enough and I’d have been in tears too. Thank God for other women out there who understand & stand up for us when we need it and are feeling a tad vulnerable.

    • Steph says:

      Thank you Clara – exactly! And they do exist, those lovely women. 3 under 3 must’ve been tricky – like you I *think* we’re coming out the other side… ps ace name 😉

  3. Jude says:

    I am so horrified by that vile woman! How dare she! She’s just the reason we need people like you in the world. Down with the dicks! Up with sisterhood! Happy Blog Birthday darling. Don’t let the dicks get you down xxxxx

  4. Laura Edney says:

    Happy anniversary and what a fantastic post, I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject recently.
    I’ve had the reassuring women in a supermarket let me know I’m doing ok when I’m holding my toddler down in a trolley during an epic meltdown.
    But also more recently had the upsetting time of a woman who I considered to be a close friend make very under her breath comments about my excited (loud, in her words) toddler and constantly eye rolling when she tried to talk or play with her. She doesn’t have children but instead of accepting how my life has changed and embracing my full of life toddler she seems to have an old fashioned attitude of children should be seen but not heard. She frequently asked me to put the television on so we could talk peacefully

  5. Californian Mum in London says:

    That brought tears to my eyes. What a horrible woman. I sometimes encounter people who either never had children or who have forgotten what young children are like. And their irritation is so annoying. I would have cried too. What a nice lady to console you though. Happy bloggy birthday. What a year it has been! xx

  6. Emz says:

    I can’t believe another woman actually had a go at you like that. I welled up a bit feeling your pain, what a total b1tch. I’d like to think that I’d be that other woman coming up to say ‘its OK’ to you, or to offer the sandwich if needed, I try to treat others how I want to be treated, like you say, Sisterhood and all that *fistbump* xx ps – I bet you do rock a jaunty hat, surely!? x

  7. Jess Helicopter says:

    Steph this is EXACTLY why I write BOTH my blogs. I want other people to know it’s ok when it’s shit and that we’re in it together too because it massively comforts me to read when others are going thru it too. Especially if they’re funny too. 😉 We are definitely kindred spirits. I want to punch that old tart in the face.

  8. Jess Paterson says:

    Oh Steph, this made me well up and boil with rage at the same time! I can’t BELIEVE that horrible woman! I’m so glad some normal people were around to defend you and reassure you that you are doing brilliantly. I had a horrid lady experience this week too, not on your scale, but my children accidentally bumped into her trolley and even though I said sorry three times, she still had the look of thunder. Sorry, lady, but FAMILIES NEED TO BUY FOOD TOO! We don’t have special shops! As you can tell, I’m still seething. I got a good lock on her so if I see her in the street I shall firmly reprimand her with my stare. Sorry, got a bit carried away there, but YES to all the other things you say. Cannot wait to see you. xxx

  9. Life at the Little Wood says:

    Oh, i loved this Steph. I’m so glad that lady came from the back of the queue to reassure you. You experienced the best and worst of human nature in one encounter!! I remember my boy having a meltdown in an airport when he was 2, and we were so stressed about trying to calm him down. A lovely older man came over and told us not to worry&that we were doing a great job. I could have hugged him, i really could. All we need in those panicked moments are a few kind words. You have inspired me to say them to other mums more often now too! Gorgeous post lovely xx

    • Steph says:

      Thanks Emma – oh the airport meltdowns. We had one of those and then you really are on show to a whole load of people looking to be entertained! Gah!

  10. Libby Price says:

    Have just had to explain to my 10 year old son why I was weeping reading your post – not quite a public breakdown – but still sobbing!
    Yay to The Sisterhood. – and Happy Blog Birthday! xx

  11. brummymummyof2 says:

    Happy bloody birthday beautiful! There are some lovely people around. Once I couldn’t pay for my shopping as my card broke and a man paid for it all! What a gent! I am a bit sad I didn’t buy more. Tee hee. I think the sisterhood does exist as long as you surround yourself by lovely people. And avoid social media. There’s some bad shizzle on that there tinertnet xxxxx

  12. Sarah (@tamingtwins) says:

    This, right here, is why I think you are so totally ace and I feel proud to know you. You’ve summed it right up. Some people are mean, but mostly, thankfully, people are good. If we all focused on that rather than the horrid bits, the world would be a warmer place. So many congratulations on your first year and all of the people you’ve touched through your writing. Big kiss xxx