The Mum Ribbon movement

anna mathur ribbon movement

by Stephanie Anthony |
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Anna Mathur, psychotherapist and mum of three, has recently started an initiative called ‘The Mum Ribbon Movement’. The idea is that mums tie a ribbon on their bags when out and about with children which sends a message to say ‘I’m open to offering help/being offered help’.

The Mum Ribbon Movement is a powerful statement of permission, and something Anna is hoping can be shared far and wide to help mums everywhere. In a society that pits women against women, it’s a way to lean towards each other to help mums feel stronger and healthier mentally. We caught up with Anna to find out more...

What inspired the Mum Ribbon movement?

"The idea was born from juggling my three kids down the high-street, with one screaming and the other two lagging behind," explains Anna, "I just felt utterly depleted and was fighting back tears, and in that moment I looked around hoping to see a familiar face I could ask for a hug, and I saw other strangers and mums on their own. I remember just thinking, I wish there was a friend with me, and there was no one there.

"I thought the people around me must be thinking, ‘Oh, bless her. She's clearly having a hard time wish I could help her’. But wouldn't have wanted to approach me." says Anna, "It got me thinking about the times that I've seen mums struggling but out of fear of offending them or them being patronised by my help, I’ve stopped myself from approaching them. I thought, wouldn't it be amazing to have some way of identifying ourselves as someone who is up for being supported but also there to support someone else when they’re feeling vulnerable and having a wobble or feeling lonely.

As a psychotherapist working mother, it got Anna thinking, what stops us from offering help? Maternal mental health issues are on the rise, and loneliness is such a huge part of that.

"It got me thinking about the times that I've seen mums struggling, but out of fear of offending them or them being patronised by my help, I’ve stopped myself from approaching them. I thought, wouldn't it be amazing to have some way of identifying ourselves as someone who is up for being supported but also there to support someone else when they’re feeling vulnerable and having a wobble or feeling lonely.

"In our in our day and age, in our culture, we so often just try and meet our own needs, so the idea of being able to go to someone and say, ‘I'm needing something’, whether it's comfort, or some baby wipes or whatever it is, sounded like a wonderful thing to me. Actually, we're built for community, it's okay to need each other – that's how we're wired, it's not failure."

So, Anna shared a post on Instagram asking mums to grab a ribbon and tie it on their bag:

The Mum Ribbon Movement offers a chance to create a community, a signal to start up a conversation, help or be helped by a fellow mum whether it’s for a spare nappy when you’ve run out, or to offer a kind word when you're battling another toddler tantrum.

"I chose a ribbon as I hoped it was something that everyone would have somewhere knocking about in their house." says Anna. "The other great thing is that if you're having a wobbly day, or you're feeling done and don’t want to talk or be reached out to, you can easily take it off your bag."

The fear of asking for help

"I've been thinking so much about where this fear comes from recently and I think it’s a few things. I think partly the whole Supermum myth of ‘Don't worry, I've got this’, and it’s something social media culture perpetuated. The stance that you need to be this all-encompassing wonder woman, I don't need anyone else, you don't need to worry about me, and it creates this fear of being a burden on people.

"I think a lot of this comes from kind of people pleasing and perfectionism, which can be quite historic for people and even generational. And also social media, I do think that's a big feeder of this. We need to be validated by people externally, we don't want to disappoint people, we don't want to offend people. And I think that's also partly due to the high level of quick connection we have with other people." says Anna, "We have very big networks, these days we're in contact with so many people through Facebook and WhatsApp and Instagram. And actually we have very few deep and meaningful connections with people in real life. Often we're quite scattered from families, so that support network isn’t there. We’re connected to each other, but ultimately, when we feel vulnerable, we don't necessarily know where to turn.

"Of course the pandemic is also partly to blame. People have hugely missed out on some of those relationships that get formed in antenatal classes, nursery drop offs, and those times when you'd naturally just find yourself put together with other mums. It was so much harder to do that online and form those connections. And social anxiety is definitely a lot higher for people than it might have been pre pandemic, because socialising is a muscle that we need to be flexing, and we had a few years of not flexing. So I think people do find it harder to just reach out and connect with others than perhaps they used to.

The response

After posting on Instagram Anna received hundreds of messages and replies from people wanting to spread the word, and sending in photos and clips of their own ribbons, or stories of them reaching out to a fellow mum in need. It’s also been shared by celebrities including Giovanna Fletcher and is starting to be spotted up and down the country.

"I was completely surprised by the response it's had. I obviously hoped it would have a good response, because we have to have a lot of ribbons around for them to actually be visible and for people to connect. But I think the surprising thing for me was that I thought people would feel relieved that it was more evident who they could seek out for help. Whereas actually, the relief has been the fact that people really want to help other mums and comfort them and support them, but they just feel worried about offending. The resounding response has been ‘oh, my gosh, this is amazing. It means that I can go and be kind to someone’!"

mum ribbon movement

The speed at which this has taken off made Anna realise how much fear there is of people feeling offended or patronised by offers of kindness, and how this stops us from reaching out, even when we really want to.

"There was one that I got recently from a mum who’d been struggling with loneliness," says Anna. "Because of the ribbons, she’d arranged a coffee date with another mum, and she told me how much of a difference that has made to her. That was so brilliant to hear. The ribbons in themselves are conversation starters, so you don't necessarily have to think ‘what am I going to say to this person? I don't know them. A bit awkward’. You can just say, ‘Oh, you've got a ribbon’. And you can talk about the movement itself. Also even if you don’t have your kids with you, you can have the ribbon on your bag and you already have that connection that you’re both parents."

Anna's advice for a mum who feels lonely or isolated

1 - Try and turn up at the same places at the same time.

Pick a certain group, and just keep going because it can feel really anxiety provoking to start conversations. But the more you're in that same space around the same people, the more organically those conversations will happen. And the more comfortable it'll feel because those people start feeling quite familiar to you. And you will start feeling quite familiar to them.

2 - Having children is such a good conversation starter.

Even just commenting on ‘oh my goodness, where did you get your son's jumper from? I find it so hard to buy nice boys clothes’, or ‘my sister just had a baby where did you get that pushchair from?’ Just commenting on something can spark conversation, because I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves as to how I really want to talk to that person. What do I what do I ask, how do I start that conversation – just comment on something about the buggy or what the baby's wearing and there you go.

And I think it's reminding ourselves that you might not know that person, but they, they do know what it feels like to be lonely to be scared, to be vulnerable, to be questioning themselves – maybe in different context to you, but they know those feelings.

3 - And of course, wear the ribbon!

So many people feel alone, and this stepping back out of fear when we need to step towards, is nudging us apart at a time we need each other. We can work on our fear of offending. I hope that the ribbons will nurture our confidence and courage in approaching one another.

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