I’ve been so excited to start something new here on the blog. The whole Red Tent concept has always been about retreating — having a place to escape the world; to check-out, to feed the good wolf, to refuel. But the Red Tent is essentially about community. It’s about sisterhood and womanhood and the great many ways we can help each other rise when we focus on what matters: that we are more alike than we are different, and that when we drop the armour, we are each other greatest allies. Over the next couple of weeks, in between regular posts, I will be sharing the voices of other women — great women I have come to “know” via the wonderful world of the Internet. Strong women who are navigating their way through life and womanhood; striving to make the most out of their one wild and precious life.
I’m continually inspired by the width and depth of women’s hearts, women’s strength, and women’s wisdom, and since birthing my son and the complete Red Tent experience that was for me, I’m compelled to open up this tent of ours in the hope that these guest posts echo the important message of community and women celebrating women.
I hope you enjoy their contributions and discover some more love out there.
May I introduce you to a beautiful friend of mine, Bec. I haven’t seen her in over twelve years, separated by a huge ocean and a hell of a lot of snow-capped mountains. We lost contact a decade ago, and the way we reunited was, ironically, through this little red tent of ours. I love that. She lives with her whole heart, this one, and she feels just like a comfy pair of faded levi’s. No matter what kind of day you’re having, you can just step right in, and feel at home.
Guest Post: Taming The Insecure Beast Within
Hello, fellow Red-Tenters. I feel like I know you already, even though most of us have never actually met. We all share something – or rather, someone – wonderful in common: the ridiculously beautiful, heart-on-her-sleeve, brings-the-sunshine-out-from-behind-the-clouds soul that is Miss Rachel Wiley. Isn’t she just a phenomenon?
And yet – and this is a wee bit controversial, what I’m about to do here, but for the love of all things holy please bear with me: doesn’t Rach sometimes just piss you off a bit? So much photogenicity in one family shouldn’t be allowed. So many cute outfits, and red gumboots, and uncanny ability to wear funky hats without looking like a tool. So much joy and fun and love and completeness and wholesome quality family time with each other outside in nature. And meanwhile here am I, on the other side of the world both physically and metaphorically speaking, with a vomit patch on my shoulder that I can’t even be bothered changing my top for, greasy hair that needed a wash two days ago, and that ever-present nagging feeling of guilt because I’ve left the DVD running and my toddler is now watching a second episode of Play School whilst I sit at my computer envying Rach’s seemingly effortless beauty and happiness like a schoolgirl. Somehow my life just doesn’t quite match up.
Don’t you feel like that sometimes? Even just once in a while?
Now before you all launch a witch hunt to come find and crucify me, let the record show that I am self aware enough to know that when I feel that way, IT HAS NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH RACH. Rach is awesome, we all know that. I know that on the days when her glowing life seems to burn my eyes a bit, it has 100% to do with me and absolutely zilch to do with her. I know that on those days, the best thing I can do is close the laptop and resist the temptation to self-harm via means of Facebook / Instagram / other social media platform, and hope that tomorrow will be a better day (at which point I can read Rach’s blog and celebrate her beautiful kids and gorgeous life with her, like a normal sane person).
‘Cause that’s the thing, isn’t it? It has been well documented how the Internet can affect self-esteem, usually in a negative way, by projecting these fabulous (albeit censored) portrayals of our peers. It’s not like people want to jump online and upload photos of their hungover and depressed days, do they? This is certainly the case in the mummy community. What used to be limited to petty competitiveness on tuckshop day – when Brenda’s store-bought Iced Vovos were shown up by Jan’s two-tiered lamington cake with raspberry and fresh cream filling – is now permeating our lives on a daily, if not hourly, basis. All the cute snapshots. And fun activities. And happy smiles. Constantly reminding us that everyone else is out there basking in the wonder of their offspring, so why aren’t we?
I mean, I know that competitiveness and jealousy and insecurities between women is not limited to mothers: just go to any high school, workplace or old people’s home and you will always find women feeling these feelings, and bitching about each other, and back-stabbing. Almost always the main issues come back to appearance (“She’s got bigger boobs than me”), popularity (“Everyone in the office wants to be her friend”), or prowess with the opposite sex (“All the men want to play bingo with HER”).
But in motherhood, particularly when we’re talking about stay-at-home mothers of younger children, who have the challenging task of dressing/feeding/entertaining their kids 24/7, the stakes are raised a bit. We’re not just talking about how genetically blessed you were to be given a D cup size anymore. We’re talking about your day and night job, that you had absolutely no prior training for. What you live and breathe, day in, day out, with no sick days or holiday pay. How you handle a full-scale toddler meltdown in the middle of K-Mart. What (organic? additive free?) snacks you have lurking at the bottom of your changebag when you’re stuck in traffic and the kids are starving. How clean your house is, but also how much you let the house get messy doing art and craft projects with them, too. How much fun, quality, interactive time you have with your kids. But how much you let them play on their own too, so they learn how to entertain themselves. How firm and consequential you are. But how kind and sensitive you are too.
It’s like walking a tightrope the width of an eyelash, and you don’t want to screw it up, because if you do, this is your precious bubba’s personality we’re talking about. It’s near impossible to get it right, all of the time. No, scratch that: it IS freaking impossible. Im-poss-i-ble.
And this, if you ask me, is the crux of the problem. Women are bombarded on a constant basis with messages from society about how a woman “should” be. Women should keep themselves in shape, groomed, and stylishly dressed. Women should want a boyfriend, and when they have said boyfriend, women should want to get married, and then have babies. There are enough women out there currently questioning these last assumptions made by society: those who say they’re being ridiculed for wanting to stay single, or out of wedlock, or child-free. And what about those women who aren’t so lucky to find a suitable partner, or reproduce? They are forced to somehow explain themselves to society, too. When really it’s none of society’s f-ing business.
And then there’s women like me, Rach, and probably some of you – women who did actually (whether we meant to or not) more or less follow society’s conventional roadmap for females: who managed to find a decent man, have sex with him and bear his offspring. You would think the conventionalists would stop and give us a pat on the back for a job well done. But no, the list of things we must aspire to be just grows exponentially. We should be natural mothers, and be fulfilled and content with every moment of it. We should raise happy, vibrant, well-adjusted and well-mannered children, without needing to raise our voices at them – or if we do need to raise our voices, then we should do so with a sheepish grin, a roll of the eyes and happy sigh, not tears on hot frustrated faces. We should keep our house clean and tidy, and the fridge stocked with wholesome, healthy, home-baked goods. Ideally we should be able to afford to stay at home and absolutely love it, but then again we should also somehow be modern and forward-thinking, so if we choose to also work, then it should be part-time and also from home. And under no circumstances should the extra work mean the household duties fall by the wayside. Oh and one last point: we should have sex with our husbands on a somewhat regular basis, enjoy every moment of it, and orgasm simultaneously with him at the end of it.
And this, coincidentally, is where I come back to the effervescent Miss Rach (!). On the surface, all seems sparkly with her. And on my less-than-shiny days, it can sting a bit to see her life. But as long as I stay self-aware enough to know that the problem lies with me, and not with her – just scratch the surface and Rach is one of the good ones. She’ll be the first to admit that her life is far from perfect. She’ll tell you that she’s seeing a couples counsellor with Joel (hi, Joel!), or that Ella has been known to flinch in anticipation of her Mama’s scolding for being too slow / messy / whatever. Yes, she can take a damn good picture (as a photographer or as a model – she’s multitalented this one), but she’ll also give you the gory details about the off-the-Richter-scale temper tantrum that preceded it. She’ll admit to crappy days, weeks, months, even years. She’s all about the openness – the breaking down the walls between women, getting underneath each other’s tough skins, so we can truly support each other. Because she knows that when you get down to each other’s insides…then the power of female friendship can last lifetimes, span continents, and move mountains.
So I ask all of you to spread the love. Let’s continue Rach’s revolution. Don’t let your own insecurities get the better of you and have you putting your photogenic “holding it all together” face on for those around you. Admit to flaws. Celebrate them. Be proud of yourself and your life, EXACTLY as it is. It’s OK to get down sometimes, be less than vibrant, fail miserably at small talk chit-chat, feel weak, and need someone else to pick you up. Because at the end of the day, what is it exactly that we are trying to prove? And who to?
Rebecca Schopf lives in Austria with her husband, Norbert and their two girls, Zoe and Ivy.
Isn’t she great? She is. I love her. And just to put it out there, the day she sent me this post, I was sitting on the couch, Ella on her 27th episode of Peppa Pig, and me feeding Billy wearing nothing but a saggy bra and knickers, because after the amount of vomit, poo and wee my clothes had endured, not to mention the milk which had leaked onto them, I decided to just to do away with the whole being dressed thing entirely. I thought it best not to post a picture to Instagram though. I don’t want to frighten people.