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.
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: