The distance in age can be just a few years but the difference socially can be a thousand.
I spent my son’s early years taking him to toddler groups populated by mothers and childminders in their thirties and forties. I was twenty two, single, poor and grubby. My friends were at university or living far away, snogging strangers and staying up all night drinking, they were getting first jobs, cars and mortgages and leaving me behind.
It seemed like the exciting life I should have had, but truth was that I had missed that boat many years before. There are always other people involved, but I won’t try to spread the blame for my shortcomings as a person and as a mother.
It was years later that I realised that even people with apparently ideal circumstances can be just as lonely, if not more. Cliques of mamas at toddler group and playgroup are hard if not impossible to break into, and the torment of taking a small child to a new group alone, especially when the child is clingy.
Half the point of toddler groups is to enable parents and childminders who do an isolating job to get some social contact with people in similar positions. The advantages of this are plenty, ranging from parenting tips and points of comparison to the opportunity to meet people you might actually get on with and further root your kids as part of the community.
The difficulty comes when there aren’t people in similar positions. Or, scratch that, the same position. Looking back, sometimes I feel that I was really hoping to meet someone else who’d had a baby at nineteen, messed up their A Levels, was embarrassed that their child’s father denied paternity, lived on benefits, was bad at housework and good at reading. Obviously, that person was me, self evidently I didn’t find myself at toddler group. In fact I didn’t find me anywhere I looked. All I found were older women with less education and more experience. And they had husbands. The idea of being married had not yet truly crossed my mind but I had less difficulty then in saying I wasn’t married than I do now. Maybe I just don’t like correcting people so much any more.
Maybe it’s easier, as a defensive thing, when making new contacts is difficult, to blame difference. It’s easier to assert difference than explore similarities, that sets you apart and then it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Motherhood need not be one long, exhausting battle with conformity.