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  • Catherine Pohl

Embrace the Matriarch

Back in the autumn of last year I had a vague calling to shift the collective perception of who mothers are, what we do and how society sees us. It was just an inkling of a vision but something that was gnawing away at me for some airtime and a platform. I shared this with a small group of fellow nutritionists in my professional supervision group and my friend and mentor, Emma, immediately coined the phrase “embrace the matriarch” for me.

Image: Phil Hearing on Unsplash

When we say that word aloud, “Matriarch”, different images are conjured up. Whilst the dictionary definition “a woman who is the head of a family or social group” is quite neutral, we often imagine this woman as old, wise perhaps, but also domineering, ruling ruthlessly over her tribe. She protects everyone and ensures order and smooth running of life, yet there is little association with warmth and love and joy when describing this particular role. Images of Margaret Thatcher seem to spring to mind. Old, outdated, frumpy, void of emotion or empathy. Not someone we want to be!

What does the word Matriarch mean to you? Does it elicit a feeling of love and care and protection? Or perhaps more a desire to stand up to and defy this ruler who might quash plans and steal away the fun to ensure that all the chores are done and finances are sensibly in order! Maybe it invokes a feeling of needing to earn approval and acceptance rather than just being able to be yourself?

Yet the Matriarch is a role that many of us hold. The Matriarch is the female head of the family, she makes sure that everyone’s needs are met, that the family can eat, that they have clean clothes to wear, they get to school or work on time, enjoy holidays and celebrations. That they have a safe space and someone to turn to when things are hard. There is a collective shift towards sharing this role with the patriarch of the family, but the reality for many is that this role, rightly or wrongly, falls to us mothers.

How do we feel about it then? Personally, I really feel a societal imbalance in the power. As mothers we hold this important role in our family, we are the glue that holds the family together, the boat in which they sail. There is so much power in this role. Yet society and stereotyping seems to discourage us from even accepting it, let alone embracing it. We push back against the negative imagery and fight for an equal footing, to share or cast off the load. Not embrace it with reverance.

What if we could flip this stereotype around. What if matriarchs were seen for who they truly are, for all the love and selflessness they gift their families on a daily basis? What if instead of carrying an unwanted burden, the role was a coveted one? What if the value of the role was truly seen and admired?

Some say this is the patriarchy. And it is. But have we not become part of that too? As women, as mothers, do we see the true value in what we do and treat ourselves with the love and respect that we really deserve? Do we treat ourselves with the same respect and value that we treat those in our families that we are caring for? Do we really understand and believe that we are actually the most important part of the family unit? Without us, the structure and order that allows everyone to live and thrive, falls away…

Think about that for a moment. If we put our own needs last. If we do not look after ourselves as the most valuable asset to the family, how will we manage to keep providing our families with everything they need? It’s the classic example of putting on your own oxygen mask first. Mothers, let me ask you, do you put on your own oxygen mask first?

Maybe you do, and if so I congratulate you, I uphold to you in inspiration. But this was a lesson, a perspective that I really only learnt more recently. And one that I see playing out with many of the women and families I work with. The women that bring their children for nutrition support yet fail to also see that the burden of that weight is taking its toll on themselves too. The women that are searching for a nutritional supplement to improve their energy levels or relieve their symptoms because they simply do not have the capacity to slow down, take some time for themselves and their own bodies. The women that are burning out yet can’t afford to spend money to support themselves because of all the financial strains of everything else the family needs or that they feel are more important. And that’s not to say that there is no financial strain, but there are always choices, and I see so many women not making their own needs a priority. Because that’s what we matriarchs actually do. We put everyone above ourselves, despite knowing firsthand the value in what we do every damn day and how integral we are to the survival of our families. Why don’t we put ourselves first?

So this is my message to you, my fellow matriarchs, my plea – please put yourself first. Please see that you need the first oxygen mask. Please see that looking after yourself is actually the best way to look after your whole family. Please see that pushing your own needs down won’t really help those you love, not in the long run. And if you carry similar wounds to those that I did, please see that the best way to get others to see the value in what you do, is to show it yourself.

If you are ready to start thriving, I am here for you. With love, Catherine x


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