I’m Going to be a Matriarch

Last week, I posted an article from the Wall Street Journal on the Life in the Hot Lane Facebook page. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Darcey Steinke knew she was going to write a book about menopause when she read that two of the only creatures to go through it are human women and killer whales. Instead of disappearing into the murky depths, she learned, the whales become leaders of their pods.

Since then, I’ve become a little bit obsessed with the idea of the middle-aged killer whale, commanding full authority over her pod.

Elephant society also coalesces around a dominant female, usually referred to as the Matriarch, although sometimes described as the old cow, which is altogether less aspirational. The elephant matriarch is not elected after some show of strength, but rather she earns respect through her wisdom, confidence and connections with other elephants.

So, I have decided that I am going to become a matriarch.

You see, matriarchs don’t spend vast swathes of their day doing housework, for which they get little or no thanks. Oh no. They just sit in their throne-like chair (which no-one else, not even the dog, would dare to sit in) and issue instructions to the assembled mass of their adoring family.

Matriarchs don’t have to deal with an endless litany of complaints about where someone’s stuff has been moved to and didn’t we have pasta just yesterday and why is my hoodie in the wash when I NEED to wear it today? No-one would dream of talking to the matriarch with anything other than the correct amount of deference and respect.

“You want poetry, you listen to Neil Diamond. You want good advice, you listen to your mother.”

Sophia Petrillo, “Golden Girls.”

As you may have guessed, I’m rather a long way off achieving matriarch status, so I’ve been doing some research, mainly by re-watching old episodes of Downton Abbey (the things I do for you). Here’s what I’ve learned:

The first thing you need is a good matriarch name. Now Violet has one already – she’s a flipping Countess. You could, of course, insist that your family start calling you Countess, or My Lady, but the danger is that you start looking a bit class obsessed, and this is not about class, it’s about power.

The time to insert your matriarch name into the picture is when you first become a grandmother. This happy event is (hopefully) way off for me, so I have loads of time to prepare. ‘Granny’ is not a good matriarch name. It’s way too cuddly and cutesy.

I’ve googled some alternatives, and humbly suggest the following: Oma, GiGi, GamGam, or Nonna. My current fave is ‘Nonna’, as it has slightly dangerous mafia-style undertones, whilst sounding deceptively harmless. Or I may just go by initials. ‘GM’, perhaps. That should discourage any over-familiarity, although it makes me sound a little genetically modified.

Once you’ve announced your new name, you need to dress accordingly. No ‘fading into the background’ in beige and slippers for the matriarch. Oh no! It’s statement dressing all the way. It doesn’t have to look good. It certainly shouldn’t even try to appear sexy. It just has to get you noticed.

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.”

From ‘Warning’, by Jenny Joseph

The next step for the aspiring matriarch is to start pronouncing. This is different from just saying stuff. You need to deliver sound-bites of wisdom. Don’t worry, they needn’t actually be wise, so long as you say them with enough confidence and gravitas, people will believe them to be so.

“Principles are like prayers; noble, of course, but awkward at a party.”

the Dowager Countess of Grantham

It doesn’t matter if your pronouncements are rather embarrassing either. In fact, this is a wholly good thing, and just revenge on your children for all the sleepless nights they’ve inflicted on you over the years. Talking about sex, loudly, is de rigeur for the accomplished matriarch.

“In my day, a lady was incapable of feeling physical attraction until she had been instructed to do so by her mama.”

the Dowager Countess of Grantham

And, finally, the matriarch should never apologise and never explain. She must not show weakness. Otherwise she risks losing her position in favour of another ‘old cow.’

“How you hate to be wrong.” – Isobel

“I wouldn’t know, I’m not familiar with the sensation.”

the Dowager Countess of Grantham

So, there’s no slipping quietly into later life for me. It’s killer whale all the way.

There’s lots more on the Facebook page including the full article which inspired this post, a wonderful piece by Lisa Timoney on the wisdom she’s picked up from her eighty-year-old mum and, of course Throwback Thursday.

4 thoughts on “I’m Going to be a Matriarch

  1. The Dowager Countess is indeed an aspirational character for me and I love the quotes you have picked out – I collect them! I don’t have children of my own but am a Nana (obvs) and an aunt to 20+ nieces and nephews. It is becoming easy for me to practice my matriarchal role. Never ever say “I think …” or “In my humble opinion …” (what?, humble?), pronouncements must be pronounced, not tentatively offered up for perusal! I love this Claire, as you may have guessed. Nana xxx


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