It was #NationalBestFriend day yesterday. And what a thing to celebrate.
I don’t have a ‘best friend’, but I have lots and lots of lovely people who add different things to my life, and in their own way, they’re all the best at what they do, for me. And never more so, than since I’ve had a baby – because if there’s one time in your life when you need a circle of friends, it’s this.
I’ve talked before about how it really does take a village, and that you just cannot raise a baby on your own. That however organised you are, however in control you might be, however motherly and ‘good with kids’ you are, that it is such a crazy, confusing, alienating time that you just need friends. Lots of them. Of all different kinds. And while, as the years go on, you might start to sift and sort through your massive pool of pals and start to hone it down, start to focus on those people who parent the same, whose plans and goals seem to mesh with your own, you know you’ll never forget all those people that picked you up, held you up, and stayed constant when you thought you might sink.
A recent article makes a solid case for the power of ‘the tribe’, of surrounding yourself with a group of women who know how to nourish each other, and, for whom, just being with each other is restorative. “Being with other women helps you to be a better mother, and the moral support, physical, emotional and mental support and stimulation create a beautiful harmonious environment for children to thrive,” it argues. I definitely agree. Doing this alone would not only be horrible for me, it would be incredibly hard on Munchkin, who in turn is enriched and enlivened by the friendships she has found in our ‘tribe’.
But, in this modern world, as women’s lives change, the tribe is not something organic you grew up with. It is something you have to find for yourself. Another recent article here, argues that the village is no longer. That these communities of old that supported and encouraged new mothers are now extinct. It says: “Since the beginning of time (and until very recently), mothers have borne life’s burdens together. We scrubbed our clothes in the streams while laughing at splashing toddlers and mourning the latest loss of love or life. We wove, sewed, picked, tidied, or mended while swapping stories and minding our aging grandmothers. We tended one another’s wounds (both physical and emotional), relied on one another for strength when times were tough, and sought counsel from our community’s wise, experienced, and cherished elders.” But, the article continues, this just isn’t the case anymore. These so-called villages have disappeared. We live differently. We travel, we move, we settle down in big cities where we don’t ever talk to our neighbours. And so, now, you have to create your own village.
In this day and age, for many women, the ‘village’ of old is not so much an actual village, but a community of people who are there for you. I think this may be quite true. We are lucky enough to live in a real live actual village – there’s a village green, a little school and a babbling brook, a lady with chickens, a man with a dog and friendly neighbours over the wall. And they are definitely part of our village. Real and metaphorical – these people have, in their own way, been part of our story.
But, really, for me, the village extends beyond these winding country lanes. Far beyond. In fact, it stretches across the sea as far as LA and Australia. Near or far these people are the village. So thank you, dear, dear friends everywhere. You know who you are.
To the friend whose daughter is best friends with mine: who has cried on my sofa about her cracked nipples, and agreed with me when I ranted about weaning or work. Who has laughed with me as our daughters held hands one minute and then pulled each others’ hair the next. Who drinks wine with me, often before 5pm. Who doesn’t care about our differences and loves us all the same. Who makes our lives richer. Thank you.
To the friend who’d already been there a year and half beforehand – and was always so reassuring. “Don’t worry. It really doesn’t matter. I did that for ages,” she’d say about everything from daytime napping in the pram and feeding to sleep, to weaning, walking and talking. Who drove me around for endless coffees when I couldn’t drive after a c-section, and taught me so much about being gentler, kinder, softer with my child. Thank you.
To the friend who lives very far away but who I always feel is very close. Who wrote me endless helpful emails about birth and babies, who didn’t mind that I had been a very bad friend when she had her children, and who gave me the best advice I’ve ever had. “If the baby is crying and is not hungry and doesn’t need changing, then it just needs to go to sleep. It really is that simple.” And who empathises with me, but is tough on me when I need it too. Thank you.
To the girls from my NCT group, who are all so different and so unique, but who don’t care about any of those things when we get together. Who I have never once heard judge each other, or compare their children to others, or make snide comments. And who made me feel so much less alone when I really thought I was.
To my old school friend who doesn’t have children yet, but loves my daughter like she’s her own. Who follows every picture I post of her, who always asks about her and who spends hours playing with her. Thank you.
To the group of girls from a baby massage class who welcomed me – and my husband – into their circle, who took someone who felt very alone and made her feel part of something. Whose husbands also welcomed mine with open arms and have given us both a network and Munchkin a circle of friends she adores. Thank you.
To all the friends with children that I don’t see as much but who somehow managed to send me a well-timed message of support in those early days with just one perfect snippet of wisdom and a virtual hug. Thank you.
To the many random and disparate friends I met at baby groups who might have talked to me for five minutes or five hours, but who all shared in this crazy motherhood journey in some small way. Thank you.
Of course, there are lots of other people in my village too – we are blessed with five wonderful loving grandparents whose love for Munchkin is so special. And several siblings who treat Munchkin as if she is the only baby they have ever seen. And aunts and uncles with so much warmth and kindness. And childhood friends who have become godparents, handy men and fonts of wisdom. And family friends who dote on our little person. And of course, Munchkin’s Daddy – he is actually at the centre of my village, holding it all together, directing traffic and keeping us safe. Thank you to you all.