Raising children · Women

International Women’s Day – you are surrounded 

So yesterday was International Women’s day and I made a conscious effort to take note of all the women in my life who are brilliant. 

This was not hard. It was soon apparent that I am surrounded by brilliant, hard working, successful and influential women.

Pause for a second to think about that statement and what it means to you. I’ll forgive you for thinking that all the women in my family are lawyers, high flying business women, investment bankers, doctors or politicians. That’s not true but I do believe that society forces these clichés into our minds by making the words ‘successful’ and ‘influential’ synonymous with excellent university educations and well paying careers. Success doesn’t always come in the shape of an ’80’s power suit and a harder-than-nails bitch attitude.

Take my mummy. Ok, it’s an obvious place to start but your mum is the first woman who teaches you what women are meant to be like. In my case women are meant to be kind and caring and make really good bread. They look after people and support them and drop everything to come and cook you dinner when you’re eight months pregnant and having a funny turn and your husband is at work. In my case women make do and mend and work hard to give their children everything they need. It might be an obvious place to start but not a bad one. 

Another woman in my life is a close friend of ours and God Mother to my Little Monkey. She’s an athlete and somewhat famous. She’s been in my life this weekend indirectly, in that Little Monkey and I have seen a lot of her on the television. She’s a runner (and already a goddess in my book for choosing to a) own a pair of trainers and b) use them for the purpose they were intended and not just a fashion accessory) and has been plagued by illness and injury and just bloody bad luck over the past few years. She missed out on competing in her home Olympics because of an injury and having spent quite a bit of time with her I can absolutely confirm that this was devastating. Since then she’s clawed and fought and battled her way back to the top of her game; still with a steely glint of determination in her eye, still with a smile and a wave and still with a spirit filled with love and good nature. 

Coming up this month we have Little Monkey’s sight test to check on his progress since we started with patches and glasses. I don’t know much about vision and eyeballs and squints and glasses but I do know that my shy, scared, accident prone little boy was transformed into a confident little leader who can run from one side of a room to another without falling or tripping over something. He can now walk next to me while we go shopping in town instead of crying and begging me to carry him.  He can sit and enjoy a jigsaw or his colouring books or paint set and he recognises people at first glance rather than hanging back; wary of this strange face he’d seen a thousand times before. I have a friend who is an orthoptist in London and is up visiting her family. She scheduled in a visit and came today to check his sight and arm me with information and questions to put to the orthoptist who treats Little Monkey. Knowledge is power and the information I received today has given me the power to make sure that my little man is being treated in the right way. My orthoptist friend is also a woman and damn successful in her job. 

My sister in law, although I haven’t seen her this weekend we do text or phone most days, is also one of the women I see as an extremely positive influence. We share a passion for gentle parenting methods (or ‘Bloody Hippies’ as my youngest brother refers to us) and often will have a healthy debate over the benefits of long term breast feeding and society’s warped views of breasts being fine for Page 3 but not for feeding babies. She is raising Firecracker, my feisty, loving whirlwind of a niece. Society would expect Firecracker to have Abandonment Issues, or be a Problem Child because she comes from a Broken Home and is the product of an Unplanned Teenaged Pregnancy but she is none of those things because from day one she has been raised with love and care and stability from all the members of her massively extended family. This is largely down to her mum who, upon finding out that she was expecting Firecracker, said in not so many words; ‘this is our baby, let’s raise her together’ and invited everyone, friends and family,  to have a little part to play in her life. Firecracker is loving and caring and kind. She is affectionate but strong enough to say ‘no, I don’t want to hug and kiss everyone today and I don’t have to.’ She is selfless enough to know that when Little Panda is in the room he is the priority because he’s not yet big enough to fend for himself. She is confident and secure enough in her attachment to mum and dad that she can spend equal time with both of them and not pine for the other parent. 

When I think about my circle of close girl friends and female family members I realise that I have surrounded myself with strong women. Strong in their own ways and views and all whom have the confidence to live their lives the way they want to. Nursing, fashion, education, athletics, child rearing, writing; all noble and successful enterprises which take dedication and confidence in their own ways. I am in awe of these women and it takes a day like this, just a little reminder to sit and think, to make me realise and say; ‘bloody hell, they’re brilliant.’ 

I don’t consider myself to be a bra-burning feminist (bras are expensive!) but I do believe in equal rights, opportunities and good manners. It shouldn’t matter who makes the most money, who has the best job, who looks after the children or who cooks as long as someone is working, providing, loving and cooking. It just doesn’t matter.  What I have noticed throughout my life is that I’ve never had to battle against a man to do what I want to do. I’ve never competed against a man for a place at university or a job. I’ve never had to ask a man for permission to go to college or vote or take my driving test. (Or tests. Four of them to be precise but that’s a different story.) My knowledge of political history is limited (probably should have listened more in history lessons) but I know that women HAVE battled against men for jobs and education and rights to vote and drive and make decisions about their own lives and for these women I am truly thankful. I know that in other corners of our world women are STILL battling against marginalisation and the end of their struggle is still a long way away. I know that there are strong, influential women out there fighting against injustice and corruption and terrorism. There are amazing women in our world who are looking at their societies and shouting; ‘NO! That’s not right and we won’t stand for it.’ Women like Jack Monroe, Malala Yousafzai and Katie Piper who are making changes in the world by sharing their stories and being active in initiating changes. 

Brilliant, successful and influential women are everywhere and quite often we don’t have to look far at all to find them. So in light of International Women’s Day I wish all the women out there strength, happiness, success and confidence. Be strong, help each other and raise your daughter to be her own person and choose her own path in life. And be thankful. If you are reading this then I can only assume that you are living in a corner of the world where your daughter has the right to an education and a career of her own choosing and she is able to make those choices because of the work of the amazing women who have gone before her. 

I dedicate this week’s blog to two very special girls in my life; Niamh and Ava J.