Earlier this year, I realised that I spend much of my adult life apologising. Maybe it is a particularly British trait, like queuing, or having an exact preference for how tea is made.
I get emotional when I am tired, I apologise for this, I get upset when my children try my patience and boundaries with their energetic way of being children, and I apologise. I compare myself to other mothers all the time and I get into a spiral where I over-examine everything, then I get sad about politics and the state of the world my children will be living in and it brings me to tears, so I apologise again.
For a long time I had thought that my apologetic behaviour was because I was a weak person, part of the so-called ‘fairer or gentler sex’, but now I realise that this is utter nonsense. What I experience are feelings of empathy, and this what I want to pass on to my children, a sense of compassion that comes from a place of self-confidence and strength of character.
Throughout history, women have got into trouble for showing strong feelings. We are meant to be kind and patient, happy to be everything to everyone, not hysterical or crazy, but mild-mannered and happy.
Maybe that gentleness is part of what we doing in nurturing and loving our children, yet maybe this is the flip-side of a damaging stereotype that does not allow men to cry and encourages boys to hide their feelings.
I wonder about these expectations in the workplace, where out patriarchal culture wants us to behave like men or be disregarded as ‘weak’. To be tough and strong women often have to ‘play a man’s game’ and be twice as good at it. Yet a moment of vulnerability or emotional openness during a meeting and nobody will take you seriously, and if you don’t smile all the time? Well…
Being strong and being able to show emotions are not mutually exclusive qualities though, to show strength and our emotions surely allows us to be authentic. For my children, I want them to know that real strength comes from being accepting yourself, and that knowing who you are and what you feel makes you powerful. If we feel strongly about something, it usually tells us that is really important, especially if there are tears.
I know that I was never taught about emotional intelligence as a child, yet as I reached my forties, as a mother of three, I felt absolutely empowered. I don’t know whether this was because it was more socially acceptable for me to show my emotions and affections in a way that not would be perceived as frightening or sexualised.
In my life, the strongest people I know are women. Mothers, friends, and family who show up and continue to show up when and wherever there is a need. They get things done, they care for those who need care, they deal with messes, they pick up the pieces. That is real strength, not the weird craving external for power to fill the void of insecurity and powerlessness inside. That is the bedrock of how my world works, those people who are unwavering and able to show what real love is.
But it’s not just emotional strength. Mothers get shit done like no one else on earth. We’ve had the best training. It doesn’t matter how tired we are, children need to be fed and cared for. It doesn’t matter how sucked dry we are, they still need love. So we endure. We get our hearts broken, yes, but—if we do it right—each time our hearts grow a little bigger. It goes on, we just keep showing up, doing what needs to be done, for our children and families, for all the things we do that matter. Relentlessly. This is our gift to the world.
So don’t apologise anymore for feeling deeply, for being sensitive. For having empathy for other humans. For caring and for showing it. Instead, say: catch up, this is what real strength is, and right now, our world needs strong people.
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Ali Jones is a teacher and writer. She is a mother of three. Her work has appeared in Fire, Poetry Rivals, Strange Poetry, Ink Sweat and Tears, Snakeskin Poetry, Atrium, Mother’s Milk Books., Breastfeeding Matters, Breastfeeding Today and The Green Parent magazine. She writes a regular column for Breastfeeding Matters Magazine. She was the winner of the Green Parent Writing Prize in 2016 and has also written for The Guardian. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Image credit: Flickr: Sorry, by Fotologic