It was a pivotal moment for Anna Mathur – juggling three kids on her local high street, one screaming and the other two lagging behind.
Completely depleted and fighting back tears, she looked around her and saw so many strangers. She wished – hoped – someone would come to assist her; to offer a kind word, smile, or an extra pair of hands.
But nobody did.
“I felt like a couple of people could see me struggling but may have worried I’d feel offended if they offered to help,” the psychotherapist and author says.
Drawing on her experience from that stressful excursion, as well as conversations with the mums she supports in therapy, Mathur, who is based in Surrey, pondered what actually stops people from offering help.
“Maternal mental health issues are on the rise, and loneliness is a huge part of that,” says the 37-year-old, whose children are aged four, six and eight.
“I know what sometimes stops me from offering help is because there have been times when I’ve felt like a failure, so to be offered help just feels like proof somehow.”
Knowing she would be more than happy to help if someone needed it – on hand with a pack of wipes, or some words of comfort, to other mums struggling, Mathur decided to do something about it and has set up the Mum Ribbon Movement.
The premise is simple: women can add a ribbon of any colour to their bag. It lets other people know you are open to being helped, but also that you are open to helping someone else if they are struggling.
And rather brilliantly, it removes the need for any awkward conversations or the need for permission – which can be a barrier to helping or seeking help.
“In a society that pits women against women, this is a battle cry that needing each other isn’t lack of strength,” says Mathur.
“This is an antidote to loneliness, comparison, division, fear of being rebuffed when supporting others.”
The simple idea has really blown up on social media and the therapist says she’s already received hundreds of messages and replies from people and businesses wanting to support the idea.
“I truly believe that the ribbons can help cut through the awkwardness and uncertainty of approaching someone to offer support,” says the mum-of-three. “Who knows what conversations and connections could occur?”
If you use the ribbon and have been able to help someone else because of it, or have been helped yourself, we’d love to hear from you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.