I have a confession to make.
A couple of weeks ago I went to one of our regular classes. At the end, a mum I’d seen once at an antenatal group started chatting to me. We walked out of the group together before the girls I’d come with peeled off toward the coffee shop. The new mum asked if we were off to coffee and I invited her along. She couldn’t make it that time so we talked about maybe another time. We went our separate ways and I’ll admit I was relieved. Why? I just couldn’t face it.
I couldn’t face the thought of starting over with another person from scratch. I’d found a group of mums eight months earlier and this was the only class we could all make it to. Selfishly, I didn’t want to make the small, awkward chat that comes with meeting someone for the first time. I was relieved that I didn’t have to think of questions, hope that my child was on his best behaviour and get to know someone again. I felt I’d done my bit, made my friends and that was that. I brushed off my relief, went off to coffee and thought nothing of it.
The next week she asked about coffee and I’m ashamed to say I lied. I said I was too busy. I could tell you how I was tired, I was grumpy. How I’d been up half the night with a snotty mess of a baby and I’d had a crappy week at work – I was less than two weeks in to my return to the office and deep in the middle of restructuring. I could fill you in on how I’d made someone redundant the day before and cried the other half of the night about it. How I wanted to wallow in self pity not make small talk. I spent the entire rest of the day feeling like a cow. I hadn’t meant to be but in that split second I’d panicked. I felt awful. It was mean. I was mean.
The weeks that followed happened to be a series of events that conspired to stop any of us meeting for coffee. There was work one day, a grocery shop that had to be squeezed in, a race after class to make it to another group… there was always a reason why not. And with each week, I felt a little more awkward and a little more like there was a barrier between us. Until this week.
This week I went to pick up my son from my mum’s house after work. It’s the day before our class and she asked what we had planned for the next day. I told her our plans and that it was a bit awkward because of the coffee-seeking mum. As I said it, I knew exactly what she was going to say.
“What if it were you?”
What if it were me that hadn’t found a group of mum mates yet? What if it were me that waited all week for the possibility of meeting like-minded mums for a drink only to hear no week after week? What if it were me that was lonely?
I hadn’t given a thought as to how she was feeling. I’d focussed on me and the fact that I had friends. I’d ignored the fact that it was probably really hard for her to put herself out there. Just like I’d found it hard to do it all those months ago. I’d put myself first rather than thinking about the bigger picture, about how someone else might be in a completely different situation to me.
The next day I asked her for coffee. I put aside my terror of meeting new people, brushed off the fact that there was shopping to do, a house to clean and a million other things I should be doing and invited her out. And whilst she couldn’t make it, we made firm plans for the next. You know what? It felt good. I realised how fortunate I am; I have a group of mum friends, I’ve got a massive support network and rather than worrying about the fact I can’t fit them all socially, I should be over the moon that that’s even an issue. For someone that’s never had a huge circle of friends, I’ve been incredibly fortunate. As nice as it is to feel that fortune, it’s even nicer to spread a bit around.
So to the lonely mum, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for my lack of thought or time to give you. I’m sorry for forgetting how outright awful it is to put yourself out there and not get anything back. I’m sorry for not being a better mum friend when you needed someone. I’m sorry. After all, ‘what if it were me?’