SNIPPETS OF INSPIRATION
I haven’t always had the greatest relationship with my Mum.
That’s an understatement.
I won’t rehash the details. We don’t have that long and besides, it isn’t just my story to tell. Suffice to say that years would go by when we didn’t speak and I have friends who consider her to be the Devil incarnate.
But this isn’t the story of my past with my Mum. It’s the story of our present. And if you had said to me 5 years ago that we would be where we are now, I would have laughed and suggested, politely, that you were not quite sane.
I have been working with a healer, Mary, for about 5 years. A lot of our discussions have focussed on my history with my Mum.
To paraphrase Richard Gere in Pretty Woman: I was very angry with my Mother.
Mary never once said or even implied that I didn’t have the right to be angry.
She allowed me to tell my stories.
To release my anger.
To realise that underneath all that fury was, in fact, grief.
To cry and shout and rant and rail.
And then, every time, she would ask me when I was going to go and see my Mum.
For months…years in fact…I would look at her as if she had gone completely mad.
‘Haven’t you heard a single word I’ve said? Don’t you understand what that woman did to me? Why on Earth would I go and see her?’
Mary would smile and explain, for the hundredth time, that I needed to go and see my mother; that I needed to forgive her and that by doing so I could begin to truly heal.
And I would huff and puff and say ‘Not in a million years.’ And we’d move on.
A few months ago, I finally went to see my Mum.
It was simple in the end. I was sat in Mary’s room talking about something or other. When I was done, instead of asking me when I was going to see my Mum, Mary said:
‘I know you don’t understand why; I know you don’t want to; and I know that we are still not at the bottom of the well of reasons why you are angry with her and don’t want to see her. But enough is enough now. Just do it.’
And so I did.
My Mum has dementia. She lives on the Isle of Wight in a Residential Nursing Home. They take wonderful care of her.
I’d love to tell you that she took one look at me, threw her arms around me and said ‘Sorry’ for all the things she had done to hurt me.
But the truth is she doesn’t know who I am. She doesn’t know what day it is, where she is or how she got there.
Here’s what did happen though: I told her that I loved her. I told her that I was sorry – for not always being the daughter she wanted me to be; for not always understanding her pain; for being so angry with her for so long; for putting her in the utterly heart-breaking position of being the Mother who believes that her daughter hates her.
I told her I was sorry. And in that one act, that one moment, I felt lighter and happier than I had in years. She smiled her beautiful smile and somehow, I knew that on some level she had heard me and understood and was saying sorry too.
Here’s the thing: I could have spent another five years telling my stories to Mary. Rehashing every element of my difficult relationship with my Mother. Rehearsing all the reasons I had to be angry and feeling utterly justified in my persistent refusal to go and see her. Becoming more and more deeply entrenched in my position.
And there are many people who would have supported me in that position. In fact, there are many people who did. Who told me that I was completely within my rights to ignore my Mum and cut her out of my life forever.
But then I would never have seen that beautiful smile.
The moral of this story isn’t that you should forgive those who wrong you.
The moral of this story isn’t that harbouring anger hurts you far more than it hurts the other person.
The moral of this story isn’t that you should approach your parents with compassion and understanding because they did the best they knew how to do.
All of these things are true – in my opinion.
The moral of this story is something else entirely.
The moral of this story is: JFDI.
Just. F***ing. Do. It.
That thing that you’ve been putting off. That conversation you’ve been meaning to have. That apology you need to offer. That decision you need to make.
Stop wrapping yourself up in stories.
Stop going round the houses and back again.
Because sometimes, it’s action that heals – not words. And the learning isn’t in the talking, it’s in the doing.
Besides, if we are going to change the world, we need to get on with it.
Let’s ACTUALLY make a difference.
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week I wrote a newsletter that caused more people to unsubscribe from my list than almost anything I have ever written before. I'm not concerned - clearly they are not my people - but I thought I'd share it here so you can tell me: would this cause YOU to unsubscribe?
"Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels."
I remember the first time I heard that quote.
I was in my teens. I laughed.
Then as I began to think seriously about my career, my Mum explained to me that to be a successful career woman meant working twice as hard as a man to be considered half as good (and paid half as much).
I was in my early twenties. I thought she was exaggerating.
After I burnt out for the second time, I went to a conference and listened to a passionate and eloquent woman - who has subsequently become a great friend - explain something that should have been utterly obvious to me: that our entire cultural paradigm is based on structures set up by men and for men.
I was in my forties. And I cried.
Because it is exhausting having to don your Superwoman cape every day to ‘compete’ in the workplace.
As a single woman, I didn’t have to juggle work with family.
As a white, middle-class, cis-gendered, heterosexual and mainly able-bodied woman, I wasn’t dealing with the raft of intersectional prejudices beyond your average, everyday sexism.
But I was still exhausted.
And it wasn’t just because the systems that we work within weren’t designed for women but for men who had stay-at-home wives doing all of the work in the home.
It’s because for me - as for so many women - every day was and is a balancing act.
Every day is a tightrope walk between safety and danger; between being listened to and dismissed; between familiarity and harassment; between authenticity and playing the game.
Every day is a fight to be seen, to be heard, to be respected, to be autonomous, to be considered, to be valued, to be safe.
In the workplace, in our social spaces, in our homes, in our politics, in our media.
This week my friend and client Harriet Waley-Cohen shared a post about this on LinkedIn. I’m going to share a section of her post here because she has put this so much more eloquently than I could:
"Sometimes it amazes me that there isn't a massive uprising.
Women are fed up of being objectified and judged on our looks, and only respected by how fu*&able we are deemed to be.
We are exhausted by feeling unsafe everywhere we go and watching our backs.
We are exasperated with not being paid the same, of our careers, choices and finances being marginalised because of caring expectations.
We are in despair about our allegations against powerful men being ignored because these men are too valuable to be held to account.
We are done with being told our tone of voice is the bloody problem, that we are too emotional.
We have had enough of not being able to trust the police or the legal system, and of people saying 'innocent until proven guilty' when the stats for prosecutions are laughably low and we all know most rapists never face any real consequences.
We are fed up of being told that it's not all men, because we never said it was, and it hurts to see so few men actively working towards making things better."
There has been an outpouring of grief, support and righteous anger in the comments on Harriet’s post. Of course there has. Because this is nearly every woman’s lived experience. And it is not OK.
I have written about these issues before in this newsletter. In the wake of the Sarah Everard murder and after the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade. And there’s a part of me that didn’t want to write about this again. A part of me was concerned that you - my wonderful community - would grow bored of me ‘ranting on’ about this issue. A part of me that feared being judged or dismissed.
And that’s exhausting too, right?
The constant self-censorship. The constant voice in my head telling me that I can’t say this, shouldn’t write about that, mustn’t be too emotional, too strident, too ‘shouty’.
Well, in the nicest possible sense: f*&k that.
I am in my fifties now and as tired as some people may be of hearing me talk about these things, trust me I am WAY more tired of still having to talk about them. But until there is equity, it is up to every one of us to keep ‘banging on’.
And we need to do more than rant, we need to ACT.
Because here’s the thing, whatever your gender, you can either be an ally or you can be complicit in the problem. Please choose to be an ally. Here are three things you can do:
- Support people like Harriet when they share publicly about these issues. This kind of content often attracts trolls and the ‘not all men’ brigade - and it can be overwhelming to have to do all the rebuttal yourself. Another friend and client - the fabulous Stephanie Aitken, also did a post this week on a related topic and spent many hours having to deal with trolls in the comments. Help them.
- Call out misogyny, sexism, harassment, prejudice and bigotry when you see it - and when you feel safe to do so. I’m not advocating that you intervene when doing so would put you in real physical danger. But if a colleague makes an off-colour remark; if a family member behaves in a way that is inappropriate; if a friend displays ignorance, aggression or bias: name it. Don’t just smile and secretly roll your eyes. Don’t dismiss it. Don’t be afraid to be ‘awkward’. Have the conversation.
- Engage the next generation. Several of the commenters on Harriet’s post talked about children watching violent porn. They shared stories of how boys’ attitudes to girls are in some cases worse now than they were when I was a teen. The murder of Elianne Andam this week makes it clear just how important it is to speak to our children about these issues. Talk to the young people in your life. Find out about their experiences. Give them a safe space to explore these issues. And educate them about respect and equity. If we are going to break this cycle, this is VITAL work. Don’t shy away from it.
There is so much more that we could all be doing but this would be an amazing start!
OK. Rant over, for today.
I’m not promising I won’t come back to this again.
My most fervent wish is that there will come a day when it won’t be necessary.
I hope to see that day in my lifetime.
My biggest fear is that I will not.
I think that will do for now - I do hope it has been helpful!