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Opinion The unwritten rule that helps stressed parents through the tough days

There’s a casual solidarity between parents of young children that can lift you up on the lonely days.

“WELL, WHAT IF we leave a bit earlier tomorrow?” I said to my daughter on the way into school last week, in answer to her complaint that she wouldn’t have enough playtime before class started.

“Yeah, we said that this morning too, and here we are, running at the last minute,” I heard behind me – it was another mum, someone I don’t know.

“And apparently it’s my fault we’re late…” I replied. “I know, same here. It’s always my fault,” she said. She rolled her eyes, smiled, and ran ahead, trailed by three rushing children, a few years older than mine.

It was just a short interaction; a fleeting connection – a shared smile during the morning rush.

Like the woman in the kids’ section of the shoe shop later that morning, who reacted on hearing me say to my toddler “Sorry, I know you’re bored, I’m the worst mum in the world.”

“You’re not,” she said, “You’re great – you’re here, and he’s here, and he’s great – you’ve done brilliantly to get this far together!” (In life, she meant, not in the shoe shop – though that too was an achievement…)

We chatted for a minute – she had four kids, all older than mine. We went our separate ways, me with new shoes under my arm and a relieved toddler in tow. I’ll never see the woman again, but her comment lifted me during a slightly stressful moment.

Later that afternoon I watched my girls at their gymnastics class, while chatting to two mothers. I’ve never spoken to them before, but in 40 minutes we talked about queuing to enroll in schools and homework and commuting and X-Factor and bosses and kids at bedtime and teething and Ergo carriers and The Good Wife and Thursday night wine and how none of us had anything ready for dinner.

In the seven years since having children, I’ve had conversations like this weekly, sometimes daily.

They’re the chats that keep you going on the tough days, the ones that lift you up on the lonely days.

Chats with mothers who are a few years ahead in the child-rearing game and can pass on a “keep going, you’re doing fine” message with just a few quick words.

Chats with mothers who are at the same stage; muddling along together, nobody knowing the answers. But each gaining some knowledge or confidence through conversations with other mums who are gingerly treading the same rocky part of the path.

Chats with mothers who have younger children – paying it forward – sharing hard-won wisdom, or just saying “It will pass, I promise”.

There’s an intense need to reach out, to connect, to ask and to answer, to share problems, to share knowledge, to vent.

And there’s an unwritten rule that there’s no need to wait for friends or family – it’s just fine to strike up a conversation with any other mother anywhere. A licence to link. A quick tonic for the parenting soul.

Not a friendship in the usual sense – often these are in-depth conversations with people we never see again. But a fleeting friendship of sorts – a universal, fluid thread, weaving through the fabric of motherhood in every corner of the country. So maybe not friendship, but a mothership; keeping us all afloat.

Andrea Mara has three small kids, one tall husband and one office job. She writes at about being a parent, being a mother working outside the home, and being a woman in the workplace. She’s just trying to keep her balance. Follow her tweets@office_mum or on Facebook.

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