I adore the author Brene Brown for many reasons, one being that she is so transparent, and I find this quote speaks volumes to why mothers need other mothers in those childbearing and child rearing years.
” If you aren’t in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback” – Brene Brown
Why a Village Means so Much in Motherhood
No one can truly understand what it is like to stress over your 2-year-old who literally will not eat anything but yogurt and goldfish crackers than another mother of a 2-year-old who literally will not eat anything but pickles and rice cakes. And where your girlfriend from college can imagine how that might be concerning, her attempts at comfort or heartfelt solutions can somehow seem void of validity. But this other mother truly gets it. She feels you. She also might have a suggestion that will have your toddler chowing down chicken by dinner tomorrow. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.
Now I’m not saying that anyone who is not a mother no longer has a place in your life or your heart. Not at all, of course they do. It’s just that mothers need other mothers because of that unspoken level of connection on the basis that you are both living a similar story right here and now. It’s the connection. This connection is key.
The connection can dispel shame, guilt, and all sorts of negative emotions that can run rampant in new mother’s hearts. How hard would it be to still feel horrible over choosing to lock yourself in the bathroom for 10 minutes to drink your coffee before it got cold versus building yet another block tower for your toddler to knock down, when the woman sitting across from you is laughing her head off because she did the same thing two weeks ago? (Except she hid in the pantry with the chocolate and was running away from changing another doll’s outfit). Probably pretty hard. We cannot tell a story from a place of vulnerability and still feel negative emotions when someone responds to us with empathy, compassion and understanding. It’s impossible. That is the value of a mama tribe. Now how long would either one of these women carried around that guilt of stealing a few minutes away for themselves if they would not have shared it? How could that have manifested into their days?
Who is Your Mama Tribe?
Whether you drink coffee, tea, wine or green smoothies, it doesn’t matter. It’s just when you’re together it feels amazing. Every time I spend some time with someone in my mama tribe I am reminded of how much I need it.
I was born into the bulk of my mama tribe. My two younger sisters and I all had our babies within 5 years of each other (6 babies in 5 years) and then my brother went and married an incredible human a few years back and they are expecting their first by Christmas and so I got to add a third sister later in life. I am a lucky one. My parents live down the street. My best friend has four little ones and we’ve known each other for 24 years and throughout my motherhood journey I have stumbled across some other amazing and strong women who have become part of my village. Some I know after caring for their children, another I met at my son’s preschool and yet another I connected with quickly after our oldest two professed their love for each other at soccer one Saturday morning.
Maybe your mama tribe looks like this, or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe your tribe lives in the same neighbourhood or maybe some are scattered across the world. I’ve learned that truthfully, it doesn’t matter where they are or if there is one person in your mama tribe or 28. Maybe you only have one thing in common with another mom (like you just bought the same car, your oldest kids are both 7 or you both speak Polish). Whatever it is that has brought you together is irrelevant, what matters is the value you can add to one another’s lives.
Value can be added in so many different ways. Last week I called my mom and she dropped her yoga session instantly to come rescue me and my littles after I locked us out of the house in 34 degree weather. After my daughter was born, my friend offered to drive my son to preschool for a couple of weeks and I have a friend who’s cousin send her take out gift cards for when she knew her husband was going to be out-of-town for a long haul, just so she could have a couple of nights where she wouldn’t have to cook. These kind acts have helped to shape the day for each one of us.
Not everyone in your mama tribe will play the same role. One mom you could open the door to in your robe and there would be no judgement. She would come right in and pull your baby out of her high chair to wash the mashed banana off her face so you can pour yourself a coffee. Another mom will text you first thing in the morning to see how you slept and another you can call for tips on how to set your 5-year-old up for his first day of school. Some will be the ones to organize a mom’s night out so you can get away for a few hours. Some might ask REAL questions and others may not. One woman’s question “how are you doing?” might set off a river of tears and another’s may not. Every role is needed and every relationship is needed. One-on-one and as a group.
It has to be authentic. I remember scrolling through my Facebook feed after my son was born and seeing groups of moms planning mom trips to Vegas and Mexico. Other groups were planning late night dinners and drinks and I remember longing for the relationships but hesitant to want to participate because of the activity. I would have been much happier having a board game night or some tea and a conversation over a really good book in my fuzzy socks. I wanted to connect but with a group of people who felt more like home. Somewhere that I could be myself. Turns out some of those same women were more than happy to meet me for coffee too. Vegas wasn’t my jam but that didn’t matter.
Creating a village for yourself will generate more positive feelings day-to-day. You will likely feel happier and less lonely overall. It’s nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of and to have conversation with on a daily basis. Other mothers are a goldmine of experience and valuable advice and knowledge. Even if your parenting styles don’t quite mesh or your kids are not the same age, you can take and apply what you think aligns with your values and leave the rest. That’s ok. You can talk about things that you can’t in most circles, the colour of poop is not a taboo conversation among most mothers. Your kids will make great friendships too.
It requires courage to reach out to others and there is often a fear of rejection. What if she doesn’t like me? What if our kids don’t get along? What if she thinks my house is too messy or my kids don’t eat healthy enough? You have to make yourself vulnerable and open your life up to let someone else in and that can be very scary but without people around to witness you living your life it can sometimes start to feel like you aren’t actually living it.
The term ‘Mommy Wars’ has become a hot topic in circles all over the country and as a result some women are afraid to talk about a lot of day-to-day parenting stuff in fear that their way will be perceived as the ‘wrong way’. While I find the majority of mothers to be quite supportive of one another there is no denying that from time to time when making comments about sleep training, food allergies, organic food, birthing preferences or vaccinations in certain company you better be prepared to go to battle. As much as avoidance of all of this can be a major motivation for sticking to yourself, in my experience a mama tribe is actually the cure for it.
There is also the notion that everyone else already has a tribe set up and there is no room for you and this can be a deterrent to reaching out. It may serve you to adjust the perspective on this one. You may be the one at the playground who hasn’t brushed your hair today, is still wearing her pajama shirt and forgot to pack a snack looking across the wobbly bridge at a woman who is dressed nicely, shouldering a perfectly stocked diaper bag and holding a green smoothie that for sure has kale in it and you might be thinking ‘oh we would never jive’. Ask yourself first, ‘what if something I have been through and worked through and overcome in the past few years as a mother, wife, sister or friend is what that woman is struggling with right now?’.
It isn’t always easy finding your village or mama tribe. Often we find ourselves in a situation where we are searching for our mama tribe when we haven’t a spare minute to our day or energy left in the reserves but the funny thing is that this is absolutely the time when you need a village the most. So how do you find that village?
Connecting, Reaching Out & Finding Your Tribe
Pay attention. Is there a super shy woman at preschool drop off? Does she seem like an introvert? Could there be a language barrier? Never jump to conclusions or make assumptions about whether you could or could not be friends and start a conversation, you never know where it might lead. It is difficult but let yourself be vulnerable and open to ask another mother ‘how are you?’, ‘do you live close to here?’ ‘do you come here often?’. It might sound a bit like pick up lines at first but chances are that woman wants to ask you the same things.
Keep trying. You may not succeed at making connections with every person you strike up a conversation with but you will not make any headway unless you put the effort in. When my son started preschool last year I made an attempt to connect with two mothers at drop off every day. One I managed surface conversation with about the school but could never really progress past that and the other I hit it off with but she moved to another province 4 weeks later. For the next five months I dropped my son off two days a week and never attempted anything more than a hello with any other mother there. The last week at school one of the mom’s approached me and said that her son talked about my son every day at home and how much he loved playing with him. I knew this woman had just moved to Canada a few years prior as she had told me the first week of school that her english wasn’t too great and I believed her. In my own insecurity of my ability to communicate with her I never even tried. Today we get together once a week for our boys to play together and she has become a great friend and part of my mama tribe and we communicate just fine.
Ditch the judging goggles. This is way easier said than done but do your best to never disclude. Just because she wears her baby and you don’t even know how to put a wrap on, or because you breastfeed and she never even tried, or you had your baby in a blow up pool in your kitchen while Enya was playing and she had a planned cesarean birth doesn’t mean there is no common ground there or that either one of you is a better mother.
Put yourself in situations to meet other mothers. Yes there is always social media and a Facebook group for everything but the connection you make online is never the same as it is face to face.
“Cultivate the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle and connected to each other through a loving and resilient human spirit; nurture the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we let go of what we are supposed to be and embrace who we are.” – Brene Brown
Motherhood is an Experience
Motherhood is an experience. No doubt. It is beautiful, transformational and so rewarding and also chaotic, stressful and limiting all at the same time. Chances are before motherhood, most women had no idea those same feelings could exist all at the same time.
The ups and downs are present most days. The distinctive sweet smell of your newborn, little belly laughs, precious toddler curls and those soft and gentle little fingers pull at your heart-strings all day, and at the same time the mound of laundry, sink full of dishes, the trail of Cheerios and the exhaustion pull at your body and mind.
What makes the experience of motherhood so distinctive is the element of time. There is a learning curve to every new experience in life of course, such as riding a bike. You cannot expect to hop on by yourself and travel quite a distance on your first attempt and motherhood is really no different. What makes it such a unique human experience though is that you cannot turn it off, you cannot hit pause or say ‘I just don’t feel like giving it a go today”, like you very much could with your bike. A little one needs you to care for them and love them all day. Because a mother is so emotionally and intellectually invested in the role it becomes a significant experience in her life and that is why having a village or mama tribe is so valuable. It humanizes the experience and validates it, all 24/7 of it.
In our society today where up to 16% of new mothers are battling postpartum depression and anxiety I strongly encourage all new mothers to either embrace the mama tribe you already have or make a strong effort to build one. Reach out to one another. I need my Mama tribe and I need yours too.
Have you found your Mama Tribe? Where did you find it? How does it fill your mama heart?