For the love of women
I think like most women in the western world, I’ve been having a lot of thoughts about being a woman lately. There are many thoughts percolating around my head, not sure quite how to express themselves, but today I had an interesting conversation with a friend about the value of community. My friend Sarah* and I are both in the same position- we work for ourselves, lead very busy lives and often feel we don’t have enough time to see our friends. We are both passionate about our work in the community and dedicated to helping other people. Despite this, for different reasons, we sometimes feel isolated from our friends and family and I think I may have identified why.
I think perhaps, in this modern day, we are expected to ‘fit in’ socialising that revolves around relaxation and when we are busy, we don’t feel that we can justify relaxation time. As enjoyable as time with friends is, there is work to be done. It got me thinking about past communities of women and how we made time for each other. Together for harvests, laundry, tasks, childminding, pickling and bottling, sewing, household tasks. We would function together, not just fun together. That’s not to say there wasn’t fun, but it was sharing our productive times, not just our free time. I don’t really think it’s reasonable to share our free time on a regular basis, because lets face it- how many of us find ourselves thinking, ” i feel thoroughly resourced and adequate and ready to deal with each of my tasks in an orderly sequence, with scheduled and reliable downtime in which I am mentally and physically replenished and prepared to share and engage with friends’. I think I had those thoughts in my 20’s as a uni student, but certainly not since. One of my favourite tasks in an earlier job I had, working in the food sector, was getting together with colleagues and picking the leaves off the basil bushes to make pesto. As we worked, we laughed and joked. The work required no brain power and minimal skill, but had to be done, leaving us with mental space to enjoy each other’s company. It always reminded me of the way Italian women would work together, bottling tomatoes, making the pesto and it smacked of community and incidental sharing of information.
Rosie * another of my friends, and I have been trying to think of a way to re-start communities of women because as single parents, we often feel socially isolated and let’s be frank, we sometimes need a hand! For me, sometimes even just having another adult to talk to while I cook helps me, gets me out of my head and recharges me. People often say to me, “Why don’t you call and ask for help, I’d help you?” The most painful thing for me is when I do ask but I hit a wall of “Sorry, I would but I can’t, I’m too busy”. I don’t ask unless I’m desperate, and when I ask and get all ‘no’s’ it makes me feel even more vulnerable, isolated and alone It is better sometimes to not ask than to feel that. But asking for help can also feel intimidating, and to be perfectly honest, sometimes feels intrusive. You’re inviting someone into your space to do something that feels like your work and you feel like you had better have something by far more important to do while they are helping you, to justify taking up their time. What’s worse, is if you are then expected to reciprocate, to make time you probably don’t have to step outside your own frantic routine to help them too. Don’t get me wrong, I ask for help- but I only ask when I’m desperate because running my life is so frantic that I often have little time to reciprocate at a time that is useful for my friends. I’d much rather we could work side by side productively together in a mutually beneficial way. That would be so supportive.
I don’t mind giving and I never offer unless I mean it. When I see a friend really struggling or sick, I always make a point of offering help by saying “please take this help with no expectation of reciprocation because I know you just need help when you need help’. Regardless, single mums tend to be some of the most resilient people I know and rarely ask for help. The result? We get bloody lonely and burned out and no one really knows about it.
So what is the answer? Rosie and I have been trying to work this out for over a year and maybe today I had a good idea, I’d like your thoughts. We need to function together as friends, not just socialise with our friends. We need to find things we can do together, things that need to be done, not just for relaxation. I’d love it if a friend brought over their mountain of laundry to fold/iron while I did mine. (not that I know what an iron looks like, I’ll fold, he/she irons). What if we got together on a Sunday afternoon to cook the weeks meals? What if she helped me garden this week and I helped her next week? What if we took the dogs for a walk together or cleaned each others houses or fixed the broken (insert broken household fixture) together? What if our standard was functioning together, we had fun while we were at it, so then maybe, just maybe there might be more time in our day to go out for that coffee/drink/lunch/dinner etc?
My beautiful, caring, kind friend Rosie who has spent the last year dreaming with me about how to bring women together never expected recently to find herself being a domestic violence survivor. She never expected him to turn on her like that. She never thought she’d have to cope with all the challenges of being a working single mum who now lived in fear, as well. Battling court systems and manipulation by her ex- years after the relationship had dissolved. I’ll admit, I didn’t see that coming for her either. Further proof that it can happen to anyone.
During our discussions about communities of women, we had said how hard it can be to reach out to other women for help because sometimes that can be so time consuming- explaining to someone what to do, finding the reciprocal time, learning the ropes and establishing trust with the kids so that we can help out with them and can be of actual use to another woman. Our lives are so separated that creating integrated systems is time expensive. Yet how supported is Rosie now? How can I lean in to help now? We never did find a way through that conundrum of how to integrate our community of single mums better and now, with my hands full to bursting, I reach out as much as I can but I’m literally not there for her. I’m here, offering support but I’m not there, and there is where I need to be when she needs me, wordlessly, without question knowing how to step in and get functional. Not waiting for her to find the strength, on top of everything else to ask, not feeling like I’m adding to her debt cup. Just two women, functioning together. I should be walking into her house and loading a few dishes into the dishwasher after having unpacked in, because on our Sunday cooking afternoons, I learned my way around the house. And as she struggles to make sense of the latest event and her child walks in needing a cuddle and a snack, I should know how to make that snack and where to find it while mum has an uninterrupted moment to hold and soothe her child. Of course, from our gardening Saturdays, she would also know that I’m going to need help with the (insert seasonal job here) next week and her kids would feel comfortable at my place and we could debrief over events and fresh air the following week so I wasn’t left ‘out of pocket’ in my caring cup either. Does that make sense? What do you think?
I’d like to be there more with my friends to know about these things as they are building, I’d like to be making up the spare room when I know she’s going to need it in a few hours. I’d like her to feel like my home is hers and she and her animals will be safe, should crisis come.
Actually, over the years my house has been refuge to a lot of people. Friends when they are ill, friends and family in between leases and when building their dream home, itinerant friends who pass through. I’ve had stray animals, doggy daycare, foster animals and friends kids when they needed a day’s care- but this does not happen nearly enough for my liking. I’m not there for my friends in crisis that I don’t even know about because I’m spending all my days fending off my own personal crises. If I don’t work, cook, clean, maintain home, health etc then I’ll be in the poo, too. So I’m suggesting we find a way to function together when we are at our busiest and not just wait until we are burned out, desperate, sick or most rarely- free – before we see our friends. I’d love to know what you think. Am I anywhere near the mark?
*names changed to protect identity.