‘Pull yourself together’ is something my partner Matthew says to me in those pathetic moments of life. Not at the profoundly devastating times when he will take my head on his chest and tell me to cry it out, but when tears are a lazy excess. And he is a good filter for types of tears.
In our early years together it would annoy me, because I wanted my irrationality mothered. Eventually I learnt to do he said in those moments, for he probably would have already walked off and not pandered to the attention sought.
I see how much good it does to be told to pull yourself together. Taking offence is your own choice to waste more energy. In the right circumstances, it is empowerment, albeit cloaked in flippant words.
When I was a child at primary school, I was told to ‘get out there and stop moping’ by a teacher, Mrs Cleaver (who was as stalwart as her name implied) whom I was weeping to one day. I found it harsh. But her words were useful. There is grieving, and there is moping.
Then last year, getting through the hurdles of having my son Evan after his fatal diagnosis, my midwife would tell me several times ‘you’re a strong woman’. This line helped me through a few physical hurdles. Although I do not believe a childbearing woman should have anything but the kindest, most respectful treatment when she is having a baby, and especially in labour; there is a tact to promoting strength and encouraging her to trust – without ridiculing or reprimanding her, ever.
Consolation has its important time and place. But when someone chooses to promote strength rather than nurse sentimentality beyond its place, they give that person a leg up into independence. When they do the opposite, they help them lie back down into dependence.
My partner has never liked the damsel in distress. He likes me to be strong. He is impressed when I am resourceful. He would never call himself a feminist, but he is one of the most genuine f-word people I have met, without going near an academic tome or even thinking too much about it. The actions speak louder.
Three figures: teacher, midwife and partner, have ignited a light in my mind, how I might empower my children.