International Women’s Week (IWW) is fast approaching, and it’s got me thinking about what it means to me.
This year’s message is to embrace equity and to me, that means embracing an equal, fair, and diverse society. Whilst I can recognise we have come a long way in this, I also know there is still progress to be made.
That being said, I do recognise my own privilege; I am a white, cisgender woman and in talking about diversity, I cannot omit that fact or the fact that this will have shaped my experience, and I would be doing a disservice to other women if I didn’t acknowledge that.
I suppose it’s what we do with our privilege that counts and I’d like to use mine to be on the right side of progress, to listen and do my part in contributing to a fair and equal society.
For me, I think it starts with telling our stories.
I believe the groundwork that needs to be done in ensuring women’s stories are heard is in breaking down the barriers in and amongst women. I see these barriers in parenting, it comes in the shape of the judgement of each other, our choices, our decisions, and our family structures. It comes in the form of passive-aggressive bragging about how your kids will only eat fruit and freshly cooked food, and how much of a struggle it is having a child who is just so advanced. It comes in the form of a comparison of reading levels and parenting styles.
I know this because I have done it to justify my own decisions in an area of my life which means the most to me, but of which I have absolutely no clue what I’m doing. I have never felt so much fear and guilt as I have in being a mother and that’s a really shitty feeling to sit with, so before I was able to recognise what I was doing, I would, mostly silently, judge others' decisions. It made me feel safer in mine. And I have of course been on the receiving end of it, and both made me feel like shit.
Then my life fell apart. Strangely, there were some positives in this humbling experience; it changed my perspective and I understood very clearly that it didn’t matter what others thought of my decisions, and actually, I didn’t give a fuck about theirs.
An example being that my second child would not sleep anywhere but with me, I tried and failed it all. I didn’t have the mental capacity for sleep training and honestly, in amongst the other awful feelings, it made me feel like shit. It further confirmed all those intrusive thoughts that I was not enough for these kids. People warned me I was making a rod for my own back and honestly, they weren’t wrong- he slept with me for 5 years. And not only that but my older boy caught wind of this and decided he wanted in, and so we all slept together in a big old bed. And you know what, it was lovely. At a time when our little world as we knew it had fallen apart, that when everything felt scary and uncertain, we knew that at the end of each day we would find our way back to the big old bed and we’d be together. At a time that was full of fear and heartbreak, my youngest held my face every day as we fell to sleep - so even in the worst days of my life, I never felt alone and I always felt loved. I was judged by others, but that certainty and closeness between my little unit at the end of each day felt far more important than the noise of other people’s opinions. It was liberating.
And guess what, it did not last forever because it turns out that when they get to 5 you can bribe them with a new Lego set- in exchange for their own room and their own big boy beds. I know I’ll be judged for that too, but I think you can guess by now that I couldn’t care less if I tried. And no one, no book, no blog will be able to convince me that I made the wrong decision because there is no such thing as the ‘right’ decision for everyone, each little decision we make for our families is so deeply personal. And the other thing is - I miss it. I miss them in my bed, I sleep better sure, but I look back at those days with pure love.
It's International Women’s Day is on March 8th this year and I have the pleasure of performing my one-woman show, Priscilla, in Wales, a happy little coincidence.
I wrote this show 4 years ago and have been performing it on tour for the past year. In doing my show and sharing all the things which didn’t go right and laughing at the disasters which occur in motherhood, versus this heavily curated version we see online and in society, it connected me with other mothers and parents in a far deeper and more significant and authentic way than any post I’d made on Instagram about how blessed I am. Women have stayed after the show and they’ve talked about their stories, their babies, their births, their scars, their ‘failures’ and we’ve laughed and cried and hugged it out. And I cannot wait to do that all again this year.
The way we celebrate IWW and embrace equity is we celebrate each other, every day, the best and worst parts, we catch ourselves judging each other and we take a breath, forgive ourselves and we just listen. We offer support and say - ‘I’ve been there too. I see you, it’s so hard but that doesn’t make you ungrateful, it makes you human. We can then start to move away from this individualistic view of parenting and move into more community-based families, where we support each other rather than criticise. Because there is no perfect parent out there, it doesn’t exist, and anyone who tells you they have the secret formula to that is selling something.
We should be looking at different family structures instead of judging them, and embracing them, and supporting them. 90% of the single parents in the UK right now are women. What thought first came to your mind when you read that fact? I will tell you mine:
Those women are warriors, they are heroes, they are strong, powerful, independent women who show up every day for their children even when it’s hard. They deal with the stigma attached and they carry on anyway. The stigma is that her family is ‘broken’ that she is from a ‘failed marriage/relationship’ and that she has ‘baggage’.
That is not my experience nor the experience of any mother I know.
A relationship ending doesn’t make it a failure. A family with one parent is not broken and my children are not baggage- I am an infinitely stronger, more loving and resilient person since they came along. I know the catalyst for my transformation was in having my children, but I do understand the catalyst can be many different things for different people and isn’t exclusive to motherhood. Saying that being a mother has encouraged me to face myself in such a way that I have HAD to do the inner work and will continue to work on myself which in turn makes me a more grounded, present, and grateful human. Therefore, I refuse to have my children labelled baggage- they are my soul mates, they came from me, they have been the making of me and if you love me, you love them. It really is that simple.
All this to say, let’s stop judging and attacking and let’s listen to each other’s stories, let’s be brave enough to share ours and let’s take a breath when we feel ourselves making these snap judgements. These judgements keep us separated, the patriarchy strong and a capitalistic society thriving, but that is serving no family, whatever its structure.
It takes work and it takes practice to break a habit and challenge a cultural norm, but if there is one thing, I have learnt from sharing my stories in all their glory, it is that what is on the other side of that is pure bliss; connection. How on earth can we expect to make more progress in creating a fair and equal world if we cannot have each other’s backs, if we cannot stand united against a culture that was never designed for us, a culture that hugely benefits from keeping us distracted by pitting us against one other, that wants to keep us small and keep us from stepping into our power. It’s about not waiting for a space at the table, but coming together to build our own table, fuck it - let’s build a whole community full of support, encouragement, safety, families of all structures, diversity, storytelling, listening, learning, innovation and creation. A community that thrives by championing each other and building people up as opposed to tearing people down.
I love being a woman and celebrating other women is easy, so I won’t just be doing it on IWW, I’ll be doing it in the everyday decisions to listen without judgement and support where I can.
I hope you are encouraged to do the same.