One of the things that makes me sad about online life is the number of mums who write about how lonely they are. It honestly breaks my heart how isolated, alone and unsupported so many mothers feel. I am so glad that social media exists to give these mums a place to voice their feelings. I remember being a first-time mother of a demanding baby 12 years ago and social media wasn’t even a thing. I often wonder whether I would have felt less defeated by first-time mothering if I had had the support network of fellow mums that exists online today.
But I honestly don’t think I would have.
I think social media offers an important feeling of belonging, excellent advice and a place for mothers to vent and feel supported. But it cannot offer true relief from the relentlessness of parenting. Not a single online-only friend can call around and take over when the chips are down. You can’t call on an online-friend when you’re in a bind and need someone to pick up the kids. You can’t hand a baby over to an online-friend. And so on it goes. Without my mum friends during those tough early years, I doubt I would have made it through.
I don’t know much about a lot of things, but I do know this: talking doesn’t change a thing. The only way you can make something happen is by doing it. So as much as it’s great to connect and share online, if you are doing so at the expense of meeting the real-life mums around you, then you’re making things so hard for yourself. There is deafening silence that comes when you switch off your computer after being engaged in a lively conversation. It might be just me, but I often think that if your everyday life isn’t filled with the relationships you crave, having a lot of online interaction might actually make things worse.
Cherish your online tribe and be there for each other, but don’t neglect to build an in-person mum tribe as well. I know that many of us are shy about meeting new people — and the internet is great for helping us overcome our insecurities — but it will amount to nothing if we don’t put those skills to use in our everyday life too. I hope you can find a way to open up in person like you do online. What do we know about online communities? We know they are (or at least try to be):
- Non-judgemental – we often don’t know a lot about many of the people we encounter online and somehow that helps us be open to meeting them. So try to park your prejudices in your everyday life and see what happens.
- Open to everyone – we comment with abandon online, but rarely even smile to a stranger in person. Try leaving a supportive comment next time you see a mum struggling at the supermarket.
- Supportive, not critical – we give support when a mum tells us a story of her bad day, but how often when we see a mum doing it tough do we get in there and help her out?
My wish for all new mothers is that they engage with their world in the same way they do online: with an open heart. It takes nothing to approach a fellow mum at a park, the shops, the beach, wherever and strike up a conversation about the kids. It takes nothing to say, “same time next week?” when you are leaving. It takes nothing to swap numbers and it takes nothing to make that call.
Take an extra bag of fruit and ask a mum if she wants to share. Be kind to her child. Strike up a conversation in a supermarket queue about the price of veggies. Share the sunblock or even have a spare hat in your bag just in case a mum has forgotten one. Offer to be a second set of hands when you can see she is struggling.
Some mums might reject your offer of friendship, but don’t take it personally. She’s just getting through the mothering thing in the best way she knows how too. She might prefer to be alone. Or she might already have formed her mum tribe. She might prefer the company of her kids. She might just be a judgey bitch you wouldn’t want to be friends with anyway. You’ll never really know the reason, but at least you gave it a try.
Don’t give up on it — if you keep trying to meet new mums, I guarantee you’ll make dear friends before too long. Get into the habit of chatting to any and all you meet in your day to day life. I still count a lady I met in a supermarket queue 11 years ago among my mum tribe (hi Clare!). There’s also Jodie who I met at a local park when I was brand new to our suburb and had a newborn and two toddlers to deal with (thank you, Jodie – I still miss you). There are lots of ways to meet a mum and the best mums are the closest mums. The ones who can reach out and grab you before you fall.
How’s your mum tribe? Reach out!
Photo: 2008 – Lottie’s first Christmas. Pre blog! Pre hair cut! I miss my hair now…