Imagine the scenario a school reunion involving four women of a certain age, 30 plus years since first meeting. One, now a senior manager in a local authority early years team; another, life coaching women and business owner; the third a carer for house-bound people recovering from illness and the fourth a Citizens Advice Bureau trainer. We pass the time catching up on where we’ve been, where we are and where we intend to get to. We discuss our kids, our partners, the usual stuff when women get together, and the meaning of life! The OMGs and loud laughter at memories of school days’ pranks outnumber the expressions of joy and sorrow we’ve each experienced at various points in our lives. These are women at their most endearing, supportive and inspiring and I come away proud and humbled to have spent time with them.
I learn some awesome facts about the achievements of my old school friends, some against all the odds, that fill me with admiration. We do a difficult job of raising children, sometimes singlehandedly, alongside full-time employment and our efforts often go unrecognised. The pressures of managing the two roles sometimes prevent us achieving our potential. We often lack confidence and therefore think small. We walk away from or fail to see opportunities to step into our greatness due to fear and limiting beliefs about our abilities. I’m reminded of a friend of a friend, a mother of four who gave up her job to become a full-time mum. She came into her own following a family catastrophe and discovered the silver lining in this particular cloud. When her husband suffered a life-threatening illness, which left him disabled and unable to work, she found herself back in the job market, carer of children and hubby. Despite this difficult juggling act, she discovered inner strengths that she never knew she had which transformed her self-image from ‘I’m just a mother’ and the little woman behind the successful man and enabled her to climb the organisational ladder into an influential role. Would she have managed this in the absence of the family’s misfortune? She thinks not.
There are other women who blossom and grow into their magnificence following divorce, the imprisonment of their partner, or even a nation at war. They discover untapped inner resources hidden beneath layers of fear, self-doubt and society’s expectations of what women should be in relation to men. And in the midst of adversity they realise their full potential. With fear and trepidation they respond to hardship as best they can. Their responses open their eyes to choices they never thought possible, which in turn bring opportunities they wouldn’t have previously noticed, or they would have passed off as ‘not for the likes of me’ . By taking advantage of these opportunities they morph into the superstars they are but never noticed.
Now here’s the question? What’s the long-term effect on the family dynamics? From my experience as a probation officer, the marital relationship often disintegrates when the man returns from prison expecting the marital roles to be as they were when he left. Once the genie is out of the bottle it’s hard to force her back in again. How can she return to being ‘the little woman behind the man’ when hubby returns or recovers good health?
21st century Britain prides itself on its great technological advancement, its innovative thinking and its sophistication. It compares itself with the likes of Afghanistan and takes the moral high ground in its treatment of its citizens. But what’s the difference? Women in Britain may be relatively free to go about their business when compared to their counterparts in other parts of the globe. But, it still takes Lord Davies to push the FTSE 100 into acting to get more women in board rooms. We are still rated for our sexiness rather than our brains by the media. Whilst this kind of nonsense remains the norm, misfortune will be one of the ways that women will come into their greatness.