Imagine a world that’s backbiting, bitchy and brutal. It’s a world where you’re judged at face value and what you own and wear is key. It’s a world where you routinely do other people down to exert your own influence and dominate your environment. I’m not talking about the world of big business or media or finance. I’m talking about the world of stay-at-home mums.
I had a tiny glimpse into this unfamiliar place when I spoke to young mother, let’s call her Bridget. She’s a busy professional who works for herself as an osteopath. Her whole outlook is about helping other people, and she’s a very ‘sunny’, warm kind of person. You’d like her.
She was sad when I met her because she’s found it hard to be a mum in London. Since her elder son moved to what she describes as a ‘better school’, she’s struggled emotionally to cope with the change. I asked her why.
Recently, she hosted a play date at her home for a group of children from her son’s class. She told me that when one of the mothers came into her home to collect her son, she glanced around and said ‘your home’s quite ordinary, isn’t it?’
I did a double take; I thought I might not have heard Bridget properly, but she confirmed what she said and worse, said it ‘wasn’t the first comment like that.’ As a result, Bridget had started feeling depressed, and said these women had made her feel like ‘a piece of gutter trash’.
I was shocked. After all, who goes into another person’s home and allows themselves to say something nasty about it? I asked Bridget how she reacted to the comments. She smiled and said, ‘well, I didn’t say anything because I can’t afford to make waves among the mothers.’
I told her she should forget making waves and gather a tsunami. Let’s recap shall we? You hosted these women’s children in your own home in a spirit of camaraderie and reciprocity. These women came into your home and felt free to make bitchy comments that made you feel bad about your circumstances, and you say ‘it’s ok?’
‘But they’re so rich,’ Bridget said, arguing their case. ‘They’re stay-at-home mothers who live like footballers’ wives. They drive really expensive cars, they’ve had plastic surgery, they wear designer clothes and they really make you feel like a piece of shit if they don’t see that you’re one of them.’
She went on to describe her anxiety at turning up to collect her son dressed in her casual clothes that she wears for work. Her crocs can’t compete with the forest of Louboutin heels. ‘It’s really important to look glamorous,’ she said.
I found myself feeling angry for Bridget. Think of it. Devoid of millions of pounds, all she has to offer to this set of pneumatic harpies is her empathy, intelligence and a beautiful spirit. Her quiet determination and her gentle strength must be a real threat to these jumped-up emotional thugs. No wonder she found herself the target of their vicious comments.
When did mothering become a competitive sport? I put the question to my own mother and asked her whether she felt under any pressure from the other mothers back in 1704 when she was bringing me up.
‘Of course not.’ She replied, ‘we were too busy helping each other through the experience and offering support where we could. There certainly wasn’t a hierarchy. There wasn’t a need to compete. We were a group of women who were just trying to raise our children.’
So at what point, and why, did humanity take such a wrong turn? Where did this class of women come from who would condemn a fellow mother for not being rich?
‘Everything’s different, now. It’s not the same world you grew up in.’
I thought about how sad it was to hear that from a person who brought me up to consider others. And how sad it is that people like Bridget find themselves contextualised among procreating bullies.
It’s ironic that these mothers are sending their children to school when it’s those very adults that need education. And it’s tragic because they’ll pass their broken values systems to their children. Those impressionable minds will think it right to judge people for how much money they have, or how successful the world deems them to be. In so doing, they’ll miss a vast chunk of their own humanity, because in judging others, lasting judgment is passed on the Self.
I was handed down the antidote to this in childhood; it’s a medicine the world seems to have forgotten. I was brought up to ‘treat the Duke and the Dustman the same.’
This thinking lets you be genuine with everyone. It frees you to be yourself, which is when you’re most alive and of most service to others – a very old fashioned concept. Living like this is real and authentic, and allows others to be real with you, too. This behaviour is rewarding, inclusive and undertaken in the genuine spirit of finding out about others. And it also puts people at ease – a lost art in our narcissistic world.
But most importantly, you never really know in life with whom you are speaking. One evening in St James’s, I attended a ball and decided to give my feet a rest from my prohibitively high heels. I sat on a window box and spent a very pleasant half hour chatting to a gentleman who also, it seemed, wanted a rest. We talked about many things – politics, religion, death and love. He shared some of the pain of his life with me. At the end of the evening, I found out that I had been speaking to a King. Had I judged him on his appearance, I would never have known.
My hope for Bridget is that she stops comparing herself to these idiots, and sees all the riches she has. And one day, she’ll see her tormentors as empty people; after all, it’s a hollow drum that makes most noise.
© gvons 2015