My son started Year 1 last week.

He was so excited to go back to school – it was cute, hearing him talk about his new teacher, and which kids ended up in his class from last year.

We’re fortunate to be part of a strong school community on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. The teachers are committed, the Principal cares, and the parents are involved. It’s made the transition back to Sydney so much easier, knowing my son is happy at school and making good friends.

The honest truth is I was nervous about moving schools. Not for my son – he is turning out to be the personification of resilience. I was nervous for me. I showed up in Sydney 16 months ago, newly separated, and worried about one key thing – how the other Mums would judge me as a result of my single status.

It can be hard being the new person, breaking into a community. I’m outgoing and confident in a work and social setting, but something about the school setting made me doubt myself.

Then I met Cherie.

We went to the same gym, and I’d noticed her at school. But it was a few weeks into term until we realised our boys were in the same class. That led Cherie to invite me to a Mum’s night out – and that was the night I realised what an incredible group of women I had the fortune of meeting. Friendly, inclusive, interested and – the most important factor of all – completely non-judgemental.

Since then I have become friends with a number of the women, and others, from the school – they have invited my son, and me, into their lives with open arms and hearts. From the start they helped me in times of need (even when they barely knew me, or my son), and they have also been there recently to support me through a difficult personal time.

What I’ve realised is that there was judgement – but it was all on my side. I had fixed ideas in my head about what it meant to be the separated Mum, the single woman, and how others would see me.

When my personal coaching clients come for a session I tell them at the start “Leave the judgment of yourself and others at the door”. And I think that’s the best approach we can all take when looking to create new relationships, friendships and networks.

One of the things I love about watching the evolution of the SmartWomen Connect Clan is the growing strength of relationships I can see happening within the group. Feedback we get after every event is that guests and non-members who attend feel welcome and that it’s refreshing to be in a room with women who have no pretences – they are real and willing and open to share their knowledge and experience.

I’m proud to be leading a growing group of women who understand that we actually are STRONGER TOGETHER: that we all have a past, we all have things that have happened in our lives to bring us to where we are now. But that past is not the definition of who we are now, or who we will be in the future. Judgement is neither helpful, nor required – understanding, compassion and a genuine desire to help other women succeed, that’s all that’s needed to form relationships that will stand the test of time, and support us when we need it most.