Find your tribe, and if you can’t find one, start one…
Parenting and motherhood can be a lonely place. It isn’t meant to be but for a lot of women, signing up to the motherhood club can land you in a place where you find your circumstances make you feel very isolated and frustrated.
Motherhood and family life is very different for my generation and the generations coming behind me. We rely a lot more on social media, and the internet and less on real people, partly because a lot of the time it’s harder to reach out to real people and to connect. You may be the only person in your peer group to have had a baby, and your single or non parent friends don’t get this new venture you have begun. You may have been a working woman, in a job where you had to prove yourself, where you earned a good salary and people looked up to you and respected you, and suddenly you are at home, with a baby, and it all seems very mundane, espscially if you are getting little sleep.
You may have a baby or a toddler that has health issues or special needs. You might have twins and working out how to juggle two babies instead of the just one baby the rest of your ante natal group friends have.
You may not have family close by who can step in and help with babysitting, or meals, or just coming over to hold the baby whilst you shower and have a nap.
You may be struggling with your mental health, and more than the “baby blues” and finding it hard to admit that motherhood isn’t quite how the parenting books said it would be.
Or you may just be entirely shell shocked by motherhood and learning to do what I call the only job in the world where you are under intense pressure to perform, you don’t get paid, you don’t get any leave, and the only time you seem to get any feedback is when someone thinks you are doing something wrong.
The thing is, motherhood is both glorious and terrifying. You have taken on the role of being responsible for the life of another human being, and no one else is going to do that job for you. Those human beings are yours, and they rely on you, and need you, in a way that no one or anything else does. It is an amazing job. Even now with my children not babies any more, there are days and moments when I Iook at them and think “wow, I made them, and they are pretty damn amazing”.
There are also times when it seems like a rollercoaster that you want to get off, but you can’t because, of course, no one else is going to take your place. You don’t really want them to, but occasionally you would like just to not have to be the only thing keeping it all afloat, the only person who can soothe the baby, the only person who can persuade the toddler to eat, the only person who can remember how the carseat goes in the car, the only person who knows what shoe size your tweenager wears, the only person who in the middle of the night will do, when someone isn’t well and needs comfort.
It is ok to feel these things, I firmly believe all mothers feel them, whether they admit it or not.
But it isn’t ok to feel lonely and to feel like you are alone. We cannot do this alone. We are not meant to.
We need our tribes, the small groups of people around us, who get us, and who may not be able to fix our problems, but who at least have a vague idea of what we are going through. We can laugh and cry with them, we can walk into a room and there is an unspoken knowing that the night you have just had was awful, but at least there is coffee and you don’t have to pretend that you are ok.
If you don’t have a tribe, you need to find one. That sounds cliched, and it is, and even the word “tribe” is stupid, I know.
You are reading this and thinking “what the hell does she know? She has her little group of friends, she has found a support network, I have met her in real life or online, she hasn’t a clue what I feel. How lonely I feel, and how angry I am at myself for feeling this way, and how stupid I will sound if I admit it”
I didn’t have a tribe. For the longest time, I isolated myself. My mental health was precarious at best, after my daughter was born. I was terrified that I was going to fail at motherhood, and ashamed to admit I wasn’t coping. I hid away from those who could have been my tribe and the one or two people that I allowed into my tight little cave were only allowed in so far.
I eventually found some other mothers and parents who, like me, were battling along. Some of them have moved on, as life tends to change, and some of them are still around but we leant on each other and helped each other to work through parenting life. Some of those friends are still very much in my life, and I am very grateful.
We need people around us who get it. As I parent a child with extra needs, and I fight the constant tiredness, and beat back the demon that is anxiety, I have to have my group of people around me I can message or call, or just meet for coffee. They keep me afloat.
I had to go out and find them. We don’t live in a generation where we have people around us, in our space, or close to hand. I don’t have my mother, or sisters, or aunts, or grandparents close by to support me. My family is scattered across the globe. Women today are expected to be all things, but we don’t have the support network we need to prop us up.
So we have to build our own.
It isn’t easy. You go along to a toddler group and you feel like you are the only one who isn’t dressed well, with your make up on, with no baby sick decorating your clothes. The other toddlers don’t scream and cry and cling to their mother’s legs.
You go to a swimming class and the other parents are serenely taking party with their happy babies, paddling in the water. Your baby screams until it vomits and you have to leave the pool and the effort of trying every week is just too much.
Your baby or toddler or child doesn’t sleep much and you are permemently tired. You feel like all the other parents you know have kids that sleep all night and no one wants to hear about the most recent broken night you had.
Your kiddo has allergies, severe ones, that mean lots of hospital appointments, and a constant vigil to keep them from being exposed to something that may kill them if they touch, eat or are near it. Birthday parties and social events are HARD work, and you can’t relax.
Your child may have needs beyond that of it’s peers, that means you struggle to relate to the ordinary parenting moments that other mums and dads talk about, or when you do have parenting victories it’s hard to find someone who shares that triump with you.
Your mental health may be pushing you into a corner that you can’t seem to escape from, and the idea of going to a busy and noisy toddler group, or baby class seems like torture. The mums nights out may make you feel intimidated.
I could go on. There are many reasons why we struggle. Or it could just be that normal mother hood is harder than we realised it would be.
These things are valid, all of them and any that I have missed.
But you need to be brave, you need to find one or two people who you can build with. Who can laugh and cry with you, who won’t make you feel judged because you can’t remember the last time you washed your hair and you might have baby sick on your top. Who won’t make you feel like the worst mother in the world because your toddler is going through a biting phase and you feel like you are parenting a baby vampire when they are with other kids.
I wish I had found my tribe earlier.
I regret that. I have learned from that.
Now, I want to help other mothers find their tribe. I will be your tribe if you want me to. I can tell you I get it. I can’t fix it, but I can be there with a cup of coffee and a shoulder to cry on.
When I was in my darkest place. I didn’t want anyone to help me. Now, I see that I needed help.
Find your tribe. If you step out, and put yourself out there, you will be surprised. You will find other women who feel the same. It’s a big step, it feels like a giant one but it will be ok.
Motherhood is the hardest job in the world, doing that job with others around us, helps.