Category Archives: relationships

I am the elephant in the room – the ‘ugly’ part of self-discovery

A new year and a new exercise book have a lot in common. When I was young, I loved receiving my stationery at the start of the school year. Fizzing with belly wobbles of excitement and intention, I stroked the clean front page of my exercise book as though it was a precious gift. A blank canvas. An invitation to create fresh colour where every squiggle and stroke would be my absolute best work.

Those days are long gone, but I still feel those same belly wobbles of excitement the new year offers. It still feels like an invitation to add fresh colour and make new shapes, an opportunity for a fresh, clean start. Splashes of colour normally festoon my canvas from day one. I make new intentions with sincere intention – a fitness promise, new writing goal and, of course, something spiritual to contemplate – giving no thought to what lies between the idea and the destination.

This year though, things feel a little different. My roadmap assisting me on my path to self-discovery is looking a little battered and crumpled. It is taking me to a place I have been avoiding with a vengeance, and I cannot U-turn my way out of it. So, I am not as enthusiastic as in previous years to daub my canvas with self-appreciating images and dreams. Instead, I find myself delving into a painful family truth. I am the elephant in the room.

What do you do when you realise how your past parenting behaviour has deeply affected your children’s lives? What a harsh, ‘where the rubber meets the road’ moment of self-discovery. In hindsight, I can see that parenting is as much about self-discovery as it is about nurturing. It is a time of relentless self-revelation. What we consider to be the absolute best of ourselves is challenged, and what we know to be the very worst of ourselves is exposed. And I made some terrible parenting choices I wish I could erase.

In 2017 I wrote an article about my family’s experience of domestic violence and sexual abuse. During the separation period between my leaving and finally gaining custody, my two girls suffered the most horrific, sexual, mental, and physical abuse by family members. The article describes how we got there and the consequences of my thinking making a fresh start was a complete ‘fix’ for their pain. The effects have lingered longer than they should, due to this attitude about this very dark period of our life.

The article was called Consequences. Here is an excerpt from the article:

“My stomach clenches when I hear how my youngest daughter is forced to lick the genitals of her babysitter. My eldest daughter forced to stand the other side of a locked door calling out to her sister. When my eldest daughter told her father what was happening, she was given ‘a hiding’ and returned to the babysitters. The feeling of helplessness and hopelessness of not being believed must have been achingly devastating. Of how their abusers told them to take their underwear off then hung by their feet out a window. Family members beating and raping family members.”

It’s a challenging story to tell and read. Mistakenly, once again, I thought I had ‘fixed it’ by writing about it. But the healing had only begun. Over the years, I have watched my daughters grapple and wrestle with life as they attempt to expunge their pain and hurt. I find it hard to immerse myself in the trauma and pain my two girls suffered during this time and the part, I as their mother, played in it.

Yes, there are aspects of self-discovery that are dreadfully and uncomfortably unpalatable. Self-discovery not only includes the healing of your wounds but also confronting the damage you have inflicted on others. Especially those you love. This truth is my point of no return – a place where I cannot go back, cannot unknow what I already know to be the truth about myself, and cannot erase the ‘ugly’ from the self-discovery journey.

It is easy when you are in the pilot seat driving your soul-searching – where you control the unravelling and rebuilding of your inner and outer life. But even though I sit at the controls, I sense I no longer have control of where the journey is taking me. I am deeply aware of how my children need to continue to address their feelings of the past with me, as part of their healing process. It is a humbling discovery to experience, and there is a sadness in knowing this.

Understanding the past and dwelling on the past have two different outcomes. Understanding is liberating. Dwelling is debilitating. If we deny or ignore the importance, the past has on the present we will always dwell in past pains. I can see this now. And this is where I start the new year.

The belly wobbles are still there … still simmering with hope. But this year, I am reluctant to colour my canvas with pre-empted plans when my family is very much part of this stage of my journey. A healing process is happening, and I do not want to cage, capture or ‘fix’ how I perceive this year should unravel. So, for now, my canvas remains blank, but I do hope your canvas fills with bright colours.

Happy New Year

When you get that tap on the shoulder

Acrylic montage of human shapes floating in space. Freedom feels like floating in space - falling, rising, and discovering - free to be you.

Sir Winston Churchill once said that to each one of us there comes in their lifetime a special moment when you are, figuratively speaking, tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to your talents.

If I could pinpoint the time I first recognised my ‘tap on the shoulder’, it was when I was invited to speak at a wedding.  My relationship with the engaged couple was through the mother of the bride, and I assumed I would be sharing a few prosperous wishes to cheer them on their future journey. I was astounded, when my friend said, “I want you to talk about love.”. Tap, tap.

Onto my second marriage, I was hardly a shining example of marital success. Nothing has thrown me more curveballs and challenges than the issue of love, or one of love’s many threads, marriage.

Weeks of worry preceded my putting pen to paper What was I going to say?  What could I tell this couple about love that might break through the glorious fizz-pop mix of youth, success, lust, and the feeling of being in-love when my own track record seemed so dismal?  My inner critic had a field day. ‘Hypocrite’, ‘Charlatan’, ‘Phoney’, it screamed. Tap, tap!

So, I did what is now a familiar pattern in my life when life gets tricky – prayed, read, journaled, and reflected.  Technically I was researching for my wedding speech, but in hindsight, the seeking belonged to my own heart as well.

During my research, I was struck by how, when we talk about marriage or long-term relationships, we use the words ‘love and commitment’ as though both words have the same or similar meaning, when in fact they are completely different. They have surely got to be one of life’s greatest contradictions. Little or no thought is given to the paradox that occurs between the two.

Whether a civil union, a de facto relationship, or marriage, everything about commitment suggests togetherness – a partnership, a binding of two people who commit to a relationship. Commitment is where plans and decisions are made that best serve the relationship – the doing part of the relationship; a conscious choice, the ‘outside-in’ framework. And when you feel deeply ‘in-love’, commitment can feel remarkably, albeit mistakenly, like love.

Now here’s the paradox. While commitment has everything to do with togetherness, love, is about letting one another go. Committed to being together while at the same time, as German Psychoanalyst, Eric Fromm says, “preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality”. The ‘being’ part of the relationship.

Acrylic montage of human shapes floating in space. Freedom feels like floating in space - falling, rising, and discovering - free to be you.
Falling, rising, and discovering – free to be you. Artist: Louise Taiaroa

Traveling with Pomegranates is a lovely story where mother and daughter authors, Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor chronicle their evolving relationship on a trip to Greece.

Ann, soon to be married, recalls a recent event when her mother gifted her a small box – a wedding gift. Inside the box lay three linked pieces of chain with a card that read,

“Years ago, your father and I adopted this piece of chain as a symbol for our marriage. The two outer links represent each of our lives, and the center link, our marriage. It reminds us that we have independent lives, dreams, and journeys, but at the same time, we are joined in a center space where our lives are one.”

And that was the message I delivered to the young couple on their wedding day. Commitment and love – intrinsically woven, yet individually apart. To walk together and to walk alone. One a journey of togetherness the other a journey of self. I stood that day and hoped that what I shared would be as liberating for them as it was for me.  What I did not know at the time was just how tough ‘liberation’, is to attain.

Which brings me to my next question(s). Can a woman remain true to herself when she is in a committed relationship?  The most important relationship in your life is the relationship you have with yourself. But how do we live independent lives, dreams, and journeys? How do we walk alone, the journey of the self, amongst the committed togetherness of a long-term relationship? How do we stay single, AND be married? Tap, tap.

Tough questions I hope to explore in my next few blogs.