Mothers are an advertiser’s dream. Perpetually paranoid, convinced that we’re doing it wrong. That our days aren’t filled and varied and educational enough. That we work too much or too little. That we’re eating the wrong foods.
That our children will be the ones who cost the NHS millions in therapy. Or end up as college drop-outs with rock-bottom self esteem and a nasty narcotics habit.
No? Perhaps it’s just me.
I doubt it.
There must be a few of us at least. Otherwise the marketing gurus are seriously misplacing their money.
You can’t breathe these days for ‘must-have’ gadgets, or educational apps. For tutors to help your children achieve their academic potential, and forest schools for when it all gets too much. Cookbooks full of family-friendly’ recipes that leave me wondering whether mine are the only children who won’t eat kale or pine nuts, or anything made of potato. Clothes that wouldn’t last a minute on either of my mud-monsters. Let alone the fact that they cost the same as our weekly shop.
I’m not sure that parenting has ever been so well-marketed. So riddled with guilt and fear, and expectations. The list of new baby ‘essentials’ is growing longer by the day. No wonder so many people delay parenthood. Or just abandon the idea altogether.
It’s all nonsense. In my humble opinion, anyway. Every mother – whether they’re pregnant, a new mum or seasoned pro needs only one thing in order to survive.
Real, honest, there-through-thick-and-thin friends. Preferably the kind who are already raising children themselves. They tend not to be so horrified when the topic of ‘how-close-the-baby-came-to-being-thrown-out-of-the-window-at-3am’ comes up.
Last night I went to a bead party. With a room full of exactly these kind of friends. I may just be the luckiest woman alive.
A bead party is not like a Tupperware party. Or an Avon party. Or an Ann Summers party. Except that the man of the house had to leave the room as soon as he arrived home because “we just have a couple more boob stories to tell.” Told you. These girls are great.
They’re a tradition at our church. Bead parties, not boob stories.
It’s kind of like a baby shower. But better. And with less presents. All the mothers get together for an evening, to show their support for the mum-to-be. There are poems and prayers and wise words. Birth stories involving cupboards and french ambulance drivers, and nameless on-call-birth-partners who left their phones on silent while they drank wine and watched the telly, only to miss the entire event. And, last night at least, a lot of sugar.
Each mama brings a bead with her, and throughout the evening they’re threaded onto a piece of elastic. So that the new mummy has a bracelet. Something physical. Tangible. To wear in labour and those hazy early days. To bite on, or run through her fingers, or silence anyone who tells her the baby will arrive ‘when it’s ready.’
To remind her that she is not alone.
Those bracelets crop up in almost everyone’s birthing pictures.
The bracelets are precious. Beyond words. No doubt about that. But what really makes these evenings wonderful are the friendships.
Last night was no exception. 9 of us, sitting in a kitchen, eating ice cream sundaes.
I’d had a hell of a day. Week, actually.With my unruly three year old. One girl arrived off the back of three sleep-deprived teething nights. Another, 4 months pregnant and existing on a diet of tinned caramel and super noodles, was just amazed to be able to clean her teeth without vomiting.
We all came with baggage. Some of us almost didn’t make it at all thanks to the confusing lane structure of one of Reading’s roundabouts. But we were there. We laughed. We cried. We ate way too much sugar for that time of night. We hunted imaginary cats who may or may not have broken in through the back door. And, through it all, we were real.
Real can be hard to find these days. But when you find it, you hold on tight.
These girls have been my lifeline over the last year. My place of safety. Where it doesn’t matter that I have no answers. Or that I’m wearing the same clothes for the fourth day running. Or that my children have just styled their hair with peanut butter. Because they understand.
These girls hold my secrets. When I told them I was terrified of having a boy, they understood. When I told them I was depressed, they cried with me and held my hands and listened. They know, they care, and they don’t judge. It’s incredible.
We know how dark and lonely motherhood can be, and we also know it’s delights. We’ve seen each other at our best and at our worst.
We’ve cried together over miscarriages and broken hearts. We’ve cared for each other’s children. We’ve cooked meals for each other after babies have been born. Most of the clothes our little ones wear have done the rounds at least twice.
Some of us have real life sisters. Some of us don’t. Some of our sisters live on the other side of the world. But here, in this muddle of baby bumps, leaky boobs, caramel junkies and bone-tired eyes, there is another kind of sisterhood. And it is breathtakingly beautiful.
I call it the Honest Mum’s Club. And I am beyond privileged to be a part of it.
Nobody should have to go through motherhood alone. We’re not designed for it. Community. Sisterhood. Honesty. That, right there, is what every mother needs.
Every new mother who can barely see through her sleep deprived eyes. Every mum of six who can’t figure out how to split herself so many ways. All the homeschoolers. All the chairwomen of the board. All the Annabel Karmel devotees. All the chips-and-beans mamas.
You don’t need another gadget. You don’t need a new routine. Or a tutor. Or a fancy app.
All you need is friends. Real, honest friends.
And perhaps another ice cream sundae.