Posted on June 1, 2016
“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Over the past year I have spoken to many mothers. Mostly online, some in desperate late night phone calls, others in person over coffee as we bounced babies on our knees.
Many of these conversations have been tear-filled. Some have been permeated by desperate sobs. Many mothers today are hurting. And they’re hurting because of isolation and a dominant narrative that is telling them they’re alone and they’re making the wrong choices as parents.
We need a village. And we need to support each other to understand that while parenting is a shared experience, we all have differing experiences – and that is OK.
Our different stories don’t divide us, they can unite us. And more importantly, they can help us all in so many ways. They can help us be better mothers to all children, not just our own. And they can help us be kinder and patient with other mothers too. Understanding helps us all. When you understand why another mother feels the way she does – it’s almost impossible to feel so far away from her.
We teach our children empathy and kindness. We need to do the same for ourselves and each other. We need to reach out where we can and share our stories so we have common ground.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has talked about the danger of a single story. I see that so much in media – traditional or social. I see so little complexity and so much focus on one choice without any understanding that mothers today do not all have the same choices.
We are so time poor that we cannot find the time to care for ourselves, we are too busy caring for others. And our well of empathy can be dry at the end of the day when it has been sapped by our loved ones.To offer empathy to others can be challenging – I struggle with it and I’ve really failed in the past.
But what helps me to rise above pettiness and nastiness and reject a single harmful narrative about what it means to be a good mother, is to speak to other mothers and hear their stories.
I’ve heard from the mums who are crying in the car park after dropping their child off at 7am and it has made me admonish myself for the judgements I might have made in the past based on my own privilege.
I’ve heard from the mums who have struggled to co-parent with a partner who is no longer in their lives and it’s made me recognise that I can’t ever know what that’s like – the pain and anger and the constant striving to do better.
I’ve heard from mums who have talked about the emotional pain of seeing their child feel physical pain from sensory issues and it’s made me realise how little we support children that aren’t neurotypical.
I’ve heard from mothers recovering from abuse who have had to make choices that prioritise their mental health so they can be the best mothers they can be and I’ve been shocked by my inability to previously view their choices through that lens.
There is not ever a time that listening to others doesn’t help us. Every story we listen to, every attempt at understanding, every hand that reaches across the divide helps us.
We make each other human.
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We must challenge the idea that we should not share. We must reject the notion that motherhood isn’t important. That mothers are not worthy.
Motherhood may be ordinary, but it is extraordinary too.
We are ordinary and extraordinary mothers and we need each other. We need to help each other to get through, and we especially need to help the mothers who are feeling lost and alone.
We also need to recognise that we are all different and we all have varying degrees of privilege and this impacts on the way we parent and our ability to parent. We must understand the intersections of our privilege and social identities.
Some people believe we talk too much. That talking doesn’t lead to action. I don’t believe this to be true.
In the year I have spent writing this blog, publicly encouraging women to speak out about their experiences of parenting, and also attempting to be a support person to as many mothers as I can – I have seen time and time again how much talking and having someone who will listen has helped.
I have heard strangers who I have given my phone number to say “I feel so much better” after twenty minutes on the phone talking about their fears for their children and themselves. I have had thousands and thousands of emails that have ended with “I just needed to say that”.
I don’t believe this is the answer to all of our challenges. But I do believe that making our world smaller by sharing our stories helps us not just survive the hard days, but thrive on the better days.
Hearing the real lived experience of another mother is a reminder that you’re not alone, but also that you have tools in your kete that you can share. That you have a worldview that is shaped by not always having the full story. That you can change that by listening and sharing.
Along with my dear friends Gem and Manda and the amazing support of Mel and Mothers Network Wellington we are putting on a small grass-roots event to begin to bring this kaupapa of sharing and listening into action.
Thanks to the support of Mothers Network Wellington we will have police-vetted baby sitters available to look after your tamariki while they play in the room next to the ballroom where we will korero. You are welcome to bring your babies and bigger babies in with you of course – we just have the option available for toddlers and older children if you’d like some space to talk uninterrupted. But we are totally child-friendly – your babies are absolutely welcome, whatever makes you feel comfortable!
We’re calling it The Lighthouse after a beautiful image that a reader sent me. We can all share our light and guide each other home when we’re lost in the storm of parenting.
I would like to invite any mothers who can make it to join us on Saturday 2 July from 2.30pm till 4.30pm to sit down together and share our stories with each other. We have a few guest speakers, we will hear them and then break into groups to korero about what it means to be a mother. What it’s like to live in our shoes, in extraordinary ordinariness. This event, to be held in central Wellington, will be the first of its kind. We hope you will join us by booking a (free) ticket here – let’s see what we can build together.
I want to give a huge thanks to Babu who have donated money so that we can pay our speakers and buy jugs and cups. Also a big thanks to L’affaire who have donated yummy coffee for us!
We are limited on space so mamas may miss out. And for that I’m sorry.
We hope to repeat this event and we’re open to helping organise this event anywhere in New Zealand. Just let us know how we can help you by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to support this event by making a donation so we can buy coffee and other necessities – please let us know. If you want to sponsor this event or provide products for it – please let us know! If you’d like to volunteer to help us with this event – that would be super appreciated, please email us at email@example.com. Basically all queries to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Mothers Network Wellington