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Don’t Let Anyone Ever Tell You That Online Friends Aren’t “Real” Friends

In my grandmother’s home in Down East, Maine, there was a room where the women in my family used to gather. It was there that my grandmother would sit each day at her sewing machine, chain smoking cigarettes while drinking an endless cup of black coffee. The ladies would sit in there and talk about scandalous things: divorce, affairs, General Hospital, who had cancer, you name it. I was never allowed in that room, but I remember thinking to myself that one day, when I was older, I wanted to have a sewing circle of women to lean on, too.

But it didn’t exactly turn out that way. Now, some 30 years later, I don’t have a huge network of friends gathering in my living room. I don’t ring them up nightly, either.

It would be easy to blame it all on my overwhelming schedule or the fact that I have three kids who need every tiny bit of me all the time, plus a career and a rural life that requires hands-on attention. But the truth is, I don’t have a lot of personal, IRL kind of friends because I’m nervous around other people and often rather shy.

It’s for this reason that when my third child was born, there was very little hoopla at home. We threw a very small party for family and a handful of close friends to come and meet our daughter, but there was no whimsical baby shower to amp up for the big day and no rush to knock down my door with casseroles.

But online, it was another story entirely.

For that last few years, I’ve been a part of a fierce little network of women who support each other’s personal and professional lives. In the privacy of our own little Facebook group, we share secrets and make each other laugh. And when one of us is in trouble, we all swoop in to help.

One time, a friend in my group needed brain surgery, so we all worked together to give her family some financial help and flooded her with well wishes, gifts, and as much love as we could muster.

Other times, we’ve soothed aching hearts following divorces, death, bullying, and other burdensome stress.

So when it came to the birth of my third child, there was plenty of hoopla to go around in my Facebook mom group. Unbeknownst to me, the ladies had banded together to do something extraordinary: They bought my newborn daughter a small library of girl-power-themed feminist books, and had them shipped right to my doorstep.

Image Source: Sarah Cottrell

That small but kind gesture was overwhelmingly touching in its own right, but the part that brought me to tears was this: Most of the books included a handwritten letter addressed to my daughter, giving her solid, real-world advice on how to be tough, how to know she is loved, and how to one day smash that glass ceiling for herself.

I was floored.

To say that I would be lost without my mom tribe is no understatement; they truly support me.
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Having a tribe of women to hold me accountable and to have my back when my own life gets tough is a special thing that I can’t quite put into words — and considering I’m a writer, that’s saying a lot. They are more than just friends, or even sisters; they are a part of who I am and who I am becoming. Their stories and advice have significantly shaped how I think about my body, my skills, my talents, and my place in this world. To say that I would be lost without my mom tribe is no understatement; they truly support me.

The books that my daughter will come to know (and hopefully love as much as I did as a young girl) includes a slew of classics with inspiring heroines, like Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables, and Little Women. But it also includes books that I hope will soon become modern classics, like Ada Twist Scientist and Don’t Kiss The Frog! These stories all feature female characters driven by curiosity and bravery in worlds that can so often feel tailored to men. The characters are rough and prim, sassy and proper, shy and gregarious — and I hope like hell that my daughter finds herself lost in their stories the way I did as a kid.

But I also hope she takes heed of the messages written along the sleeves and front pages of each book, which all express a certain urgency for my daughter to understand her worth.

Image Source: Sarah Cottrell
Image Source: Sarah Cottrell

The take-away message that my friends, and ultimately, that I want my daughter to know in her bones, is that she has all the tools and resources available to her to be her very best self, no matter who that self turns out to be. She has a safety net of love and support to catch her and help her figure out the murkiest parts of life. Her strength will come, in part, from the marvelous experiences and life lessons from women all around her, some of whom she may never meet, but who love her all the same.

Image Source: Sarah Cottrell
Image Source: Sarah Cottrell

It’s quite a thing to be a girl these days. Never has there been so much potential for girls to grab hold of their dreams and truly own them. From the outside looking in, her little library may seem like just a pile of books sitting on a shelf right now; stories for me to read to her as she falls asleep at night. But I know they’re really more than just that. I know that these stories will plant a seed in her mind of a much brighter future. And for that, I’m forever grateful.

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