The other day I caught a snippet of a conversation between two women. I assume both were mothers because what I heard was, “You know she can’t understand because she is not a mother.” Now, just like you, I have heard this sentiment expressed severally - mothers talking like theirs is an experience so unique and elevated that anyone who has not birthed a child cannot ever, under any circumstances comprehend it.
Ladies, I think that is crap. And before you ask, no I am not a mother. Mothers, I am sure motherhood is wonderful, fulfilling and inspiring. I am sure it has stretched you in ways that have surprised you. I am also sure that you find your children amazing, dull, infuriating and infinitely fascinating. I know this because I have spoken to many mothers about their experiences and they have told me the truth. I know this because I am a human being capable of empathy and compassion. I know this because I have loved many people and some of them have been children.
It is human to imagine that whatever you are going through is unique to you and that only those who have experienced the very same thing you have experienced have the ability to understand you. It is human to treat those outside of that experience as foreign. This thinking has led to colonialism, racism and tribalism, just to name a few–isms.
I will concede that those who have been through what we have been through will grasp the intricacies of our situations much faster than those who haven’t. They simply have fewer steps to take on the journey to comprehension. A victim of carjacking, when speaking to another victim of carjacking, will not have to go into as much detail as they would if speaking to someone who has never been carjacked or even owned property for that matter. If they take the time to recap their ordeal, however, any listener should understand the nuances and understand.
Language allows us to name our experience to another and through it we dismantle what seemed like walls between us. The same language can create walls and barriers where they did not exist. When one woman says to another, “You are not a mother you do not understand”, the implication is that the woman simply does not have the capacity to empathise or show compassion to the mother’s situation. In case you missed it, that is an insult and it is hurtful.
What makes us all human is that we can understand a wealth of experiences that we have never been through, they just have to be named for us and we will get it. Mothers, do not create barriers where they do not have to exist. Share your experience and trust us, we will gerrit.