I saw an article the other day online written by a woman who felt that she did not belong in a Mothers Group when she first became a parent and as such ditched them at a pretty early opportunity. Now, I don’t have anything against that in principle- everyone has to find their own way and do what makes them the most comfortable. But as I was reading this blog, I realised that I did not identify with it at all.
When I was younger- particularly as a teenager- I found association with other young women to be quite tricky. And I don’t think I’m alone here. As a fairly socially awkward person anyway and one who was suuuuper frightened of total and active rejection, I really just didn’t get the rules around female friendship. Boys I could cope with. Their friendship seemed to me to be linear- straightforward, simple and comfortable. I loved my girl-friends but I was also on my heels all the time waiting for one of them to hate me or betray me. Actually I think the truth of it was that with other girls and women I have always simpered under the high level of trust and depth that is required from those relationships. And I never thought of myself as particularly likeable. Outside of romantic entanglements- I rarely felt this pressure in my relationships with men.
As a recipient of some pretty harsh bullying and almost total isolation for the majority of my primary school years, I learned most of my social skills from the books I read. I distinctly remember looking at myself in the mirror one evening for a long time at that age- searching my own face for what it was that my peers seemed to find so annoying about me. And while I steadily made friends with some kind individuals moving into my adolescence, the damage was a little bit done. I continued to expect rejection and considered myself to be quite annoying as a person, most particularly to other girls and ESPECIALLY once they really got to know me.
It’s always been a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy for me really. I expect people to find me irritating and that fact, coupled with my lack of confidence means that is exactly how they seem to find me. As a teenager I countered this rather depressing state of affairs by engaging in melodramatic tantrums, feigning over-confidence to compensate from my true lack-there-of and generally bitching about other girls when they started to get too close to me. It was a subconscious decision of mine at the time to be this way- simply to get them before they could get me with the overall reputation for nastiness that teenage girls are saddled with.
Now, I was raised by a strong woman with a powerful feminist mindset. Fundamental to my upbringing was the sense of pride in being a girl. Being born female was a good thing in my house (and still is) and I was always impatient to grow up and be a proper woman. I realise this is in no way everyone’s experience and in my view I’m as such very fortunate to have had this as my spring board. However, somehow I still managed to get caught up in the patriarchy’s grand plan to divide women and girls in order to weaken them. As a child/ teen I found women and other girls to be these fabulous, smart, strong creatures who I admired intensely. I never thought of them as ‘lesser than’ to men, in fact I deeply believed we may actually be the superior sex. Yet, I still bought into the notion that girls are naturally quite bitchy. I must have managed to get the impression that since we had the potential to be so amazing as a group, that this meant we were all in direct competition with one another as individuals.
Well, now I’m a mother to two darling girls. Through my journey as a mother and as a doula, I have met and worked with the most incredible women. Women who far and away surpassed even my most glowing views of what women could be when I idolised them as a child. Women who have begun to heal my relationship with other women just by being. I am more a feminist now than I think I have ever been and that is saying something. And I feel I just have to say that the whole aforementioned system is just a pile of crap. It’s this big whole- societal lie that so many of us are still subjected to and falling for. In 2018. It’s a joke. For the sake of our daughters, it’s just so important that we realise the truth ladies: that difference between us should be celebrated because united we stand, divided we fall. Why should many of us have to wait until adulthood to learn that, if we learn it at all?
Part of the reason I think I found that relatively anti- Mothers Group focused article so perplexing is that I have had the fortune to be part of two Mothers Groups over the past two and a half years and I feel just so blessed. These women (in addition to my circle of doula friends) – to me- have been my real education on what the natural state of womanhood and female friendship is. It wasn’t immediate and it wasn’t easy. In fact, when I continued to keep up with the ladies I had met through my first MCHN organised group and was first invited to attend the second group for a coffee- I was intrinsically sceptical. I was back in my old habit from the get-go. I was so on edge, wondering who would be the first person to find me painful and extract me from the group. Some days I still feel like that’s a possibility if I’m honest- it’s a difficult mindset to shake free of. But I couldn’t help but be struck by the climate over time- one filled with love and support. It’s not about judgement, competition or conforming to the dominant point of view. It is about walking alongside other women, sharing our journey as Mothers, joined by our need for this comradery and the fierce feelings of love and protection we have for our children.
Although we are not the same as each other and do not always agree on how to run our lives or raise our babies, the love is always still there. I feel I have learned so much from these women and I have been dazzled by them. Who I am has been so deeply altered for the better since being a part of this small community of women with hearts of gold and minds like diamonds. The Herculean strength that it takes to raise and love a child when your heart is breaking or your mind is betraying you. Getting out of bed every day when there’s nothing but work ahead and you just want to hide under the bed. The bravery it takes to keep on going when things didn’t go to plan and your baby is really not well. Being really, truly honest about yourself and your own personal story and sharing that with others without fear of retribution. Going back for more babies to gift your first-born with a sibling even though you’re scared. Working on difficult financial or emotional situations in marriages and relationships. Enjoying the act of caring for others and just giving yourself wholeheartedly to that cause. Learning and bettering yourself every day. Coming from a dark place and building light and love all around you. Knowing your own child, doing what’s best for them and sharing that precious child as part of a group. Also, loving other children like they were your own. Putting on the brave face every day in the face of real hardship or hard work. Having strength in your own values and opinions and receiving credit for that. These are the elements and events at the core of the women I am so fortunate enough to call friends. I have often heard that there can be a real competitive drive between women as Mothers, but I have been lucky enough to avoid all that rubbish. Especially as I honestly cannot picture how alone I would really be if I had never met these beauties.
Knowing these women has taught me so much about life, companionship and myself. The bonds we share has really made me reflect on my other friendships and made me appreciate them more. It has made me feel more open-hearted and open-minded with some of my oldest female friends and better know how to maintain those friendships. It has also revealed to me the wonderful world of allies in motherhood and provided me with the courage to engage with these women more readily. Whenever I meet another Mother these days, I have come to anticipate warmth, understanding and support and that is just so wonderful.
I know the world is changing for women. I know it and I’m hopeful for the future. For one thing, people have actually heard of things like International Women’s Day these days and our concerns are more readily reported on by the media. But nothing fills me with hope for how women may further themselves and band together moving forward than my relationship with these magnificent people. I’m beginning to have faith that these sort of friendships will soon be the norm and in 5, 10 or 20 years- we’ll still be holding each other’s space in this enormous, complicated world. And being good role models for our children as to what being a girl, a woman and a friend should truly be.