Nikki Walsh chats to Marie, mother of two.
In the early days of motherhood, I was amazed by the camaraderie of other women.
In Dublin’s hotel foyers and cafés, women I had never met before stopped to congratulate me on my daughter, often offering to hold her while I went to the bathroom. I was amazed too, by how a ten second exchange had the power to turn a bad day into a good one.
But a year on, these conversations are getting harder. The other day I offended a woman at a North Dublin playgroup by agreeing with her that the staff in crèches could be brusque. “They are vetted,” she said to me, bristling. “I mean it’s better than any other form of childcare.” I mumbled in agreement, but it was too late. She rounded up her children, and she was gone.
This isn’t the first time I’ve witnessed a conversation derail. A few months ago a friend and I got talking to a mother who has to divide her working week between Dublin and London. When my friend told her that she worked part time, largely from home, the woman gathered up her things and moved on, her face set in an expression of indignation. I have seen this look before, most recently on the face of my sister-in-law when she refused to attend the party of a stay-at-home mother on her street. “What,” she asked me, “would I have in common with her?”
My mother used to say that one of the most wonderful things about becoming a mother was that you had something in common with every other mother in the world. Some of her greatest friends were the women she had met in hospital, following the births of her children. After I gave birth, the curtains remained closed around the other beds in my ward. Occasionally the sound of a screaming newborn gave way to the sound of a new mother, sobbing.
The pressure on women today is enormous. They are expected to be earth mothers and bread-winners. They are expected to look like celebs. They have massive mortgages, long commutes, ageing parents and sometimes, displaced husbands. They know whatever choices they make – and all too often these “choices” aren’t choices at all – they will be judged. No wonder they are too defensive to talk to one another.
So when are we going to lower the bar and stop trying to be so perfect? And what does it mean for the next generation of women if we don’t?
Nikki Walsh is a writer and editor with a passion for what makes us tick. She lives in Dublin with her husband, her son and a heap of books, mostly on psychology.
Join Nikki next week for more mum rants.