Amateur night

As you know, I’m not a professional counsellor. Not a professional *anything*. Except maybe a professional amateur. I’ve been intimidated by all the well-established, well-funded, policy-frameworky, community stakeholdery programmes and NGO’s out there. We’ve just started and we’ll get there, yes. I can’t lie though, people with proper training, a gazillion letters behind their name and official clipboards make my toes curl with inadequacy. It’s the clipboards that kill me.

I don’t own a clipboard. I know – shocker, right?

Nevertheless, every month more moms turn up to our group. The same ones keep coming back. They tell us stuff. Not right away, not the whole story the first time. Would YOU spill your unedited life story to strangers the first time you met them? I wouldn’t. But I keep talking, keep saying “Hello sweetie, what’s up, what can you tell me, how’s baby, what’s new since last time?” Stuff comes out, eventually. Sometimes it’s heavy, heart-breaking, scary stuff. Why do they keep talking to us? We’re not offering them anything. We don’t require them to tell us anything. We don’t promise to fix their problems.

I think I know why. Because we know that they are more than their “issues”. That their lives and their worth cannot be reduced to a list of their hardships and problems. I could sit here and list the challenges some of them face: poverty, unemployment, abusive relationships, drugs, alcoholism, HIV, abandonment by their families etc etc and so on. And we’d all be shocked and saddened, maybe moved to donate or help or do something to help the poor and downtrodden.

And what will those things tell you about who THIS mom (for example) really is? Who she REALLY is? What will they tell you about how she sees herself? Look at her. Her name is Felicia.

I have known her for six months and it feels like much longer.  This is what I know about Felicia. She’s a tough young woman, somebody you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of, I imagine. She is stroppy, determined, outspoken and her answer to every challenge and hardship is “But it’s okay”. Tact is not her strong point. She is not shy to take her share of goodies from the table, she will always find some piece of clothing to fit somebody else’s child. Despite her tough exterior, she’s tender and soft with her baby boy who, at 7 months, is mommy-verskrik and only has eyes for her. She is a contradiction, in many ways; just like you. She is herself. Just like you.

She is NOT defined by where she lives, by the choices she’s made, by the reasons she’s had to make those choices, by her level of education, her employment status or the age at which she had her child. She is not defined by anything except this:  In this moment, this is me. I am Felicia. That is good enough.

That’s what I’m trying to do. Find out who our moms really are. I can only do that by actually caring about them. By letting them into my heart and my  head and my family. Maybe, if I get the chance, I can help somebody think differently about some of the things they’re doing, the choices they’re making and how their choices affect their children.  That’s all. Just see it differently. Go away and think about it a little.

That’s all I can do. I have no right to do that, to stick my nose in, if I don’t actually know them.

Would YOU pay any attention to a nosy, ignorant, condescending stranger telling you how to raise your child, for example? Someone who you could tell was just doing their job, filling in forms, following the theory? If you could tell that the nosy stranger felt that there was something fundamentally NOT good enough in who you were? Even if they had a clipboard? ESPECIALLY if they had a clipboard?

I know I wouldn’t.

So we try it another way. I think we’re getting somewhere.


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