I have a wonderful friend who grew up in El Salvador, Central America. We were talking today and she mentioned, that in her country, the front doors remain open, and the children run in and out of everyone’s houses. The women all know each other and make sure that if anyone needs help, they receive help. It is a community. A place where women look out for each other. Neighbours are like extended families. And families all live near each other.
She sees the way we live as being like hermits. Our front doors are closed. Play with other children is diaried and fitted in by a tight schedule. Often fearful of who the child might meet on the street, it is rare the children are free to play outside. If this is allowed, the parents often need to know exactly where they are. We often don’t know our neighbours and it is not uncommon for both sets of grandparents to live long distances away. When we become mothers, a lot of our time is spent alone with our child/ren, sometimes meeting for short periods with other mothers. I know women whose husbands leave at 6am and do not return until 8pm. It’s a long day to fill. After the birth of my first child, I remember how life saving my NCT group were for me, as I struggled with the new and unknown world of babies and motherhood. My mother was dead, my father disinterested, my sister lived in Scotland and my neighbours unknown. Meeting with those 8 women, hearing how their struggles matched mine, we spoke through the various challenges and laughed often. But after a few months, we returned to work, I moved and the relationships dwindled.
For the mothers who work in the area I live in, school holidays are a nightmare. Childcare is a juggle between parents, expensive childminders/clubs, and grandparents if they are lucky enough to live close enough to look after the children. Self employed women may have to make the choice to reduce their work hours which means they have to lose out on business and stop being as competitive.
And we wonder why a rise in anxiety and depression in women is increasing at alarming rates!
Women are becoming increasingly isolated which creates a lot depression and anxiety. It can be difficult to open up fully to people as it is often the impression that other people are coping so much better than ourselves. I often hear, from my clients, that they believe they are the only ones struggling with the emotions of guilt, not being good enough or anger that seems to explode out at various times. They often live with the fear that they will be “found out” that life isn’t how they are portraying it to the outside world. The constant treadmill and juggle of family, work and attempting to do something for yourself can leave us feeling exhausted, disheartened and disconnected from your own needs. When I trained up as a therapist many years ago, my trainer mentioned that we are all fellow strugglers. And I know he is right. Some people are just better at pretending than others. Or some might just have more support in their lives than others.
Support isn’t just about having a gossip. Support from others actually releases a chemical in the brain that helps fix what was damaged from heightened stress. I think that is so fantastic.
When I first thought of the idea to bring mothers together to explore my programme of reconnecting mothers to their own sense of value, I thought it wouldn’t work as mothers from the local schools might feel uncomfortable sitting with other mothers they see in the playground. We are so conditioned to pretending everything is OK I thought this would be a hindrance. In fact, the opposite has happened. Women love the idea of getting together as a group, talking, exploring ideas and coping strategies, and realising that the daily challenges they are experiencing are being felt by many others.
Maybe Kingston upon Thames is far from the embracing community of El Salvador, but when you actually get into the heart of what the women are experiencing and feel, that heart is needed and desired. It’s just being shared on a much smaller scale, kept between smaller groups of friends. As women and mothers, we need to ensure that we are kind to ourselves and our fellow women. As we need each other to cope with our daily challenges and to offer love, understanding and support. With that is our lives, it becomes easier and far more joyful.