I’m sat here, it’s December 2016 and I am the happiest I have been in three years. My little lady is sat across from me, wide eyed and questioning; this is how it’s meant to be isn’t it? I look at her and my heart swells. I feel so proud that I want to shout from the rooftops that she is mine; that I made her; that she is my greatest achievement and the best thing in the world! I still find it difficult to talk about, but this is not how I have always felt. And it’s not how every parent feels.
There’s a mum sat across from me; we’ve already shared the “look”. There is a club you know; I’m part of it now. It’s the Knowing Parent Club. There’s no secret passwords, no meeting places, no membership fee; just a look that is shared that speaks a thousand words. A look that says “I feel you”, that says “I’ve been there” and one that people forget to say out-loud; “I’m not OK?”
I genuinely never thought that the three words “are you OK?” would be the ones that reduced me to tears. When asked to pinpoint “three words that make a difference” the ones that come to mind are “I love you”, “I need you” and in mine and most of my friends cases “Are you hungry?” (gestures at the group of friends at the kitchen table!) But when you become a parent, man or woman, mum or dad or both, the words that sometimes need to be asked are avoided like the plague. The ones that may just open up a torrent of information that could, in reality, save someone from another night, week, month of misery. That could save their marriage, their reality as they know it, or their actual life.
The club should be responsible for ensuring these questions get asked; but there are only a few members. Sat in a coffee shop, you would expect that the club members are many, but they are not. Some members have forgotten that they signed up. Some have forgotten the club even exists; too much time has passed, too much change has occurred, and perhaps they’re a generation away from the club now and have forgotten that their own sons and daughters could be members. And there are those ignorant of the club. The ones that spend their time judging other parents for their public bad day, exclaiming that they would do things differently and persecuting their fellow human beings for being less than perfect. These people are often the ones who would benefit the most from the club. The club is of course, Parenthood. But more than that, it is the potential for mental health issues to be brought on by the significant shift in a persons life, by the introduction of a small human. The look is one that can be shared across cultural, generational and gender barriers. The conversation does not need to be long, or in-depth or dramatic. The conversation just needs to happen. And it needs to start with “Are you OK?”.
I have asked very little of my readers up to this point but today I am asking for us; the silent masses, to make a difference and become significant. To acknowledge the club and make a difference. To smile at the baby but look at mom and dad too; acknowledge them and their choices and their ability to survive. To manage, to be strong and cope every day with the hardest and most wonderful thing in their lives. To function without having grown an additional pair of arms and survive on less than five hours sleep. Let’s acknowledge that we made a person, a new human who might just have an impact on the world that we cannot even contemplate. A little miracle. Let’s stop judging because people aren’t doing things the way we would. Let’s remember that becoming a parent, adapting to that change whether it be for the first of fiftieth time; is the hardest thing in the world. Some take it in their stride, some do not.
Let’s be there for each other and join The Club. Start with “the look” and, where necessary, ask the question; “can I help you?” Get the breastfeeding lady a coffee. Help the dad who needs an extra pair of arms by passing him the item from the top shelf. Let the mother (waiting in line with the potty-training toddler) go in front of you. Ask the man looking distraught at his screaming child if he’s OK. Just be fabulous to each other because you’d be amazed at how much difference you could make.
It’s not all sunshine and roses, it’s not all doom and gloom and difficulty. It’s both, it’s neither, it’s somewhere in between. It’s the hardest and most rewarding job in the world. If we support each other through the tough days, even the people we don’t know; we could impact someone’s life beyond the visible. The butterfly effect that we don’t see, but we know is happening. You don’t have to be a member, you don’t have to join; just recognise The Club and each other.
Lots of help is available at mind.org.uk
You can contact me through the website, via email or on any of my social media accounts.
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