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Day 13: Girls Can Do Anything!

Kiwi Mums will recognise the title of this post. We grew up with the 'Girls Can Do Anything' campaign, launched in the early 1980s. To be honest, I found the whole campaign a bit odd, because it hadn't crossed my mind that I couldn't be whatever I wanted to be. At that stage I wanted to be a bus driver, in order to 'see the world'. Yes, I lived on an island. No, I hadn't thought it through. Still, my best friend wanted to be a snake, which would have challenged even the most ardent of feminists.

Anyway, I have since learned a lot about glass ceilings, pay inequity, casual sexism and the slight issue of maternity vs. career, but that is not the subject of today's witterings. (I'm on calming camomile and peppermint tea this morning, so it's Mellow Mum. Watch me when I get to the Pukka Detox tea: my mind may detox along with my body and dump the most toxic thoughts on to my keyboard. And liquorice tea just makes me cross, as it's supposed to stop sugar cravings, but instead makes me crave chocolate to get rid of the horrendous taste the tea has left in my mouth.) Actually, let's call me Semi-Mellow Mum today, because over the last few years I've been feeling very cheated by the Girls Can Do Anything campaign and I feel the need to offload. Okay, it encouraged me to try anything I wanted and I did make some awesome creations in school woodwork (and a less awesome dog whistle in metalwork), but it didn't mention that Girls - or Women or Mums - Can't Do Everything. If men have mid-life crises because they can no longer attract women the age of their daughters*, my theory is that the female mid-life crisis happens because we feel trapped and overwhelmed and wholly inadequate when we realise that something has to give. Okay, it's the wisdom of middle age and grants a certain freedom when you accept it as true, but I can't decide whether I feel more stupid or more conned for not seeing it sooner.

I've had comments and private messages from many friends who read my previous blog and am struck by how many of us are having to re-learn skills to handle day-to-day life without feeling like we are failures. Yes, adult life is hard. We end up caring for multiple generations as our parents get older and our kids' needs constantly change, and tragedies are everywhere. I wish I'd realised how hard this grown-uppery business was going to be so that I could have appreciated my younger life a whole lot more. But how is it that conquering our expectations of ourselves and our lives has become such a battle? I'm part of an online SEN group called Warrior Mums. Some of the battles there are unthinkable, from trying to get support for medical needs or for a suicidal child, or taking on local authorities in court. I'm incredibly proud to know a fellow member who has fought all the way to the Royal Courts of Justice. Other battles are physical: some children are prone to violence as a result of their neurological differences, and parents live on a terrifying frontline, trying to keep the child and the rest of the family safe. But time and again we also seek support from one another because day-to-day life wears us down and leaves us feeling that we might never be 'enough'. Since my last post I've heard about another online group for women called 'Wellbeing Warriors'. When I googled it, endless options combining 'warrior' and 'wellbeing' popped up before I found the group my friend had recommended. I have a Warrior t-shirt and a Warrior keyring. This martial imagery is applied to contemporary women's lives across multiple media.** I can't imagine my mother's generation associating with this 'wellbeing against all odds' movement. My Mum would probably smack my bottom and remind me about refugee mothers carrying their children on their backs, or my great-grandmother, who was born in a tent on a goldfield and didn't have time for this level of introspection. This indomitable great-grandmother's 'self-care' as a young woman was pretty much limited to the occasional swim in a river in lieu of a wash. Things no doubt improved on the hygiene front when she went into service, but I can't imagine her employers caring about her mental health. And yet she lived until the ripe old age of 109, seemingly happily, or at the very least cheekily.

Anyway, I'm betting university libraries are full of fascinating research on this topic. These days I can't explore that research, as I'm Mum, so I'd better stick to acceptance and forward motion. In the conversations I have had over the last few days, the idea that keeps coming back is to set yourself small, achievable, baseline goals every day, so that you can tick a box to say that you've achieved something. So rather than signing up to run a marathon in a year's time because you think you should get fit, start by saying that you will go outside and walk or run for ten minutes. Tidy one shelf. Wash your face and moisturise. You get the drift. Don't drink for 90 days, but do it one day at a time, and don't simultaneously take on fitness and eating challenges and vow to clear your home of extraneous cr@p. (I'm trying to focus, I promise!) I have to say again that I'm deeply saddened that so many women in Western culture feel the need to measure their worth in terms of ticks on a list - in terms of 'doing' rather than 'being'. It's like we've had a collective breakdown and are in recovery, which is a tragedy in itself. But we feel as we feel, and I can't deny that tick-lists give us structure and that, used wisely, they can help us to set realistic expectations for ourselves. This is turn helps us to concentrate on what we can and have done rather than the 'everything' we were led to believe we could do. (Cheers for that, 1980s feminism.) This approach has worked for me before, although I have a tendency to lose the lists, and it's something I will implement again when I'm no longer just concentrating on 'not drinking'.

On a day where I have less washing to do, I want to celebrate another aspect of the wellbeing movement, which is the way women are coming together for mutual support. I don't know if the openness and care that women around me are showing each other is a symptom of our mutual breakdown in self-belief or a by-product of finally growing up and no longer caring about 'image', and frankly I don't care. Yesterday it brought me the gift of 100,000 starfish, which is a story to which I shall return next time I'm not Being Mum. It's a good 'un, as is the wonderfully kind and generous Mum who shared it with me. Meanwhile, patient readers, hug yourselves and know that you really are 'enough'. X

* Is that why? I have no idea.
** That's martial, as in 'relating to fighting or war', as opposed to 'marital', 'relating to marriage'. (The latter has a narrower field of combat.)

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