Mixed emotions on Mother’s Day

It seems like a wonderful idea; a day to celebrate the most giving, caring and nurturing person in your life.  The person who gave you life and raised you, perhaps with the help of another, or perhaps alone, to become the person you are.  A day to acknowledge mothers all over the UK who deserve to be pampered and looked after and put-first, even if only for today.

Indeed, it is a great idea.  I’m a big fan of it; especially since I became a mother, 28 years ago.  However, as an adopted child, and as a child who is estranged from her adopted family too, I have mixed emotions each year as the cards begin to appear in the shops.  I find myself staring out of windows and contemplating “what ifs” that become more ridiculous as the frenzy builds.  Radio adverts and reminders to buy gifts, or make lunch or ‘just give mum a cuddle’ seem to bring emotions out that I had not anticipated.  From anger to fear, from instant tears to derisory laughter, I run a marathon of emotions by lunch time that leave me seeking silence for the rest of the day.

Not every mother-daughter relationship is worth celebrating; and that is ok.  Seriously, it has taken me until the age of fifty to be able to add the last bit.  It is ok to not think of your mum as your best friend.  It is ok to not look forward to her phone calls or visits.  It is ok to be real about how she makes you feel and to just “be ok” with that.  I know it sounds like I’m making that seem simple and it is far from that.  However, it is a choice to accept that you can be ok with it.  That it might take work, there might be days when you struggle with being ok with it, and that at times you’ll decide “this is bulls*** of course I’m not ok with it, I want to fix our relationship” and that is ok too.

All I’m suggesting is that, once you’ve given yourself permission to move on from the “if only” you still carry around, you can begin to let go of a lot of baggage.  I know that I carried mine for most of the last 35 years.  When I finally acknowledged that it was ok to not have either of the women in my life who had been my mother, and instead to focus on the incredible young woman in my life to whom I was a mother, I think I actually began to like myself.  I began to see what a great mum I was too.

That’s the great thing about letting go of our baggage;  we’ve got the energy available for new things and feel more able to manage change and make choices.  No longer weighed-down with unrealistic expectations or regrets, we can become open to positive thoughts to replace the often-reinforced habitual negative ones.  The positive self-talk I use in my head these days, far outnumbers the negatives,  I know this change has come since I let go of the daily reinforcement of my mother’s negative words, that had long been part of my own self-bashing,

This weekend, my daughter will be here after a couple of weeks away.  I’m hoping we’ll get some time together to talk about everything and nothing, to hang-out for a bit with a coffee in our woodland and perhaps even watch a movie together.  Being around her reminds me I love being a mum.  It also reminds me of all the women in my life who are amazing mothers that will be spending the day being pampered and loved and appreciated.

Five years ago I wrote a letter to my birth mother and another to my adopted mother on Mother’s Day.  I never posted either of them, and last year I dug them out and threw them in our Rayburn.  I didn’t even bother to re-read them.  I knew what I’d written and I knew I deserved to move on.  That process of letting go has allowed me to look forward with less dread to Mother’s Day this year and instead, focus on being appreciated as a mum.

Dinah

I’m not a Christmas cynic; I’m cynical about what it’s become

 

I love Christmas; getting excited about being with family, choosing which silly games we’ll play and which of our favourite movies will get played for the umpteenth time. I love how quiet the towns are on Christmas day, how everything seems so peaceful and serene. I love going for the traditional walk on Christmas day, after eating more than I should, and admiring the amazing surroundings of where we live.

I’m not a Christian, and consider myself non-religious. I do, however, love the sense of family that comes with Christmas, and as such, have always enjoyed the celebrations. However, as I age and become more questioning (some might say cynical), I don’t like what Christmas has become for many.

It feels like a competition, which you may not have actually signed up for but you’re in it anyway. As gifts become more extreme, with families buying the latest electronic upgrade for their children’s phones and game-stations and couples getting in to debt to out-shine their friends in the “you’ll never believe what he got me this year” stakes, it all strikes me as nothing like what Christmas is really about.

When did Christmas stop being about giving your time and become about giving an indication of how successful you are? When I watch people giving expensive gifts, I have to ask whom are they really doing it for? Is it for the recipient, or, is it more for themselves; a way of announcing, “look how well things are going for me. I’m so successful I can spend loads of money on generous gifts for those I wish to impress.”

I will always remember the first year my brother and I were working, full time. We both still lived at home and that Christmas was a perfect example of my theory. Did we save the money we’d earned in our first few months of independence? No, we spent most of it on gifts for our parents, grandparents and each other. Looking back, I see it was our way of saying we had grown-up and were playing with the adults now. Naïve if well intentioned.

This year, after several challenges for all our family, and some dear friends, we had a quiet Christmas day. Our daughter cooked and hosted us and her Nan (my husband’s 80 year old mum) and the day was a real joy. We exchanged a few gifts, mainly little things we’d spotted that we knew were needed, but the main thing was that we were together. A family, with memories shared of those who were missing, and laughter at many of the memories. A precious day.

“Imagine if people stopped thinking Christmas involved giving gifts” Hannah remarked this morning. What a wonderful thought. Perhaps we’d return to the idea that Christmas is about giving just one gift: your time to the ones you love.

Here’s to a positive, joyful and family time over the week ahead

Dinah

Why I became an Independent Celebrant

This summer, I was ready.  Ready to decide where my new life in Myddfai, Carmarthenshire, was going to head in the next chapter.  When you’ve been lucky enough to live a life that has been full and varied (not just because of opportunities but also challenges) then finding the next thing you want to focus on can be a challenge.

“I need to make a difference, I know that” I told John, my husband and partner for over 30 years now (we will celebrate 30 years of marriage next spring) as we sat by our woodland pond celebrating being discharged from my Cardiologist.  I’d been given a less than rosy picture for the next ten years, and thanks to Myddfai air, plenty of exercise in the garden and sheer determination as a couple, we’ve re-written our next chapter and I am well enough to work, part-time again.

As a business speaker and mentor, I was doing something I loved, with people who were taking control of their future, determined to make positive change and life-time goals come true.  It seems there is already common ground when I take on the role of Celebrant for couples who want to make a life together.

As an adopted child, I was officially given the name of my new family on my brother’s second birthday.  Becoming part of a family as an adopted child gives you a new sense of belonging, of being part of a tribe.  Working with families to welcome new children into their world, perhaps after a second marriage that means step-kids will be becoming a larger family unit, fills me with excitement.

As a daughter-in-law, who wrote and held the service for her father-in-law, who deserved to be remembered by those who loved and cared about him, who knew his humour and his dreams, I want to support others in saying their good-bye in authentic words, with meaning and love.

Becoming a Celebrant has been my new chapter, and I hope it will allow me to be part of the next chapter in the lives of many families.

Dinah

The gift to myself of a clean slate for my mum-in-law

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I’ve known my husband for 31 years this month and by association, I’ve known his mother, Elma. Over those three decades our relationship has been interesting; we are both strong-willed women and at times we’ve clashed head-on whilst in times of crisis we’ve supported each other un-conditionally.

when John and I took the decision to live in Wales, with Elma, it was a life changing decision from which we knew there would be no going back. We knew mum would feel safer and less isolated if we lived closer to her, we knew we wanted this to be our last house move and we also knew it would be a challenge to find somewhere that suited all of us, with very different lifestyles. Our greatest concern was that we’d find it a huge challenge to live too close to each other, as we all like our own space and wanted to be sure that would be respected.

within a few weeks of Elma arriving in Wales, I began to struggle with our relationship; I found I was losing my temper frequently, feeling undermined and taken for granted. When I started to resent her for having fun in her volunteering work, which she goes to every day now, I knew I had to challenge my feelings or we were doomed to failure.

“I don’t know what to do differently” I said to John, “I’m doing everything I can to make this work, but mum is just driving me mad. She’s doing nothing to contribute here, she’s out enjoying herself all day while we’re working our **** off…”

This was one of those moments where I’m reminded why I love my husband and why we’re so good together; he helps me see things so differently.

“I know mum’s upset you over the years, I know she’s said and done things that really were pretty bloody awful, that you’re still unable to think about without getting angry or tearful. So how about letting it go? How about giving yourself the gift of a clean slate?”

“A clean slate? You mean what about forgiving her?” I was getting angry, could feel myself thinking that, yet again, I was going to have to back down for the sake of peace and quiet.

“Not forgiveness, you don’t really believe in that, you hang on to feelings and then you end up going over and over what it was that upset you. No, I’m talking about totally wiping the slate clean, behaving as if our life with mum starts here and now, today. No “history” together, no details of who had done what or said what in the past and no blame. A new beginning. How would that feel?”

i had to think about this idea for two days; mulling it over in my head, looking at why this might actually be a clever idea and also looking at whether I was able to stick with it, to actually let go of these memories that served no purpose in my life other than getting me angry and feeling hard-done-by.

This was about ego, my ego! This was me choosing to stay angry with Elma for things she’d said and done already, some of them many years ago. How was this serving me? What was I getting out of staying attached to this stuff? Honest answer – nothing positive or helpful was coming from it and it was making me stressed and not that nice to be around.

The following day, I got up with a new slate, fresh and clean in my mind.  I decided to give myself that gift, to allow myself to live in the moment and enjoy it for what it is, to experience my own joy and not allow my head-talk to go back to past experience, focussing instead on the now.

Six months in to our new lives, the slate is still clean and I’m possibly the calmest and most content I’ve ever been. I’ve learned something hugely important about how I had remained stuck because I dwell on things that seem ‘unfair’ that are not resolved. I’ve also learned that somethings will never be resolved, simply stirred up and re-lived with many different versions of people’s truth.

Wiping the slate was a real gift to myself, one of the most precious ones I’ve had. It has given me a new life and a new sense of happiness I had not experienced before. Who is holding you back and keeping you in a place of anger or self-doubt? Imagine what you could achieve if you started with a clean slate in that relationship…

Was it something I didn’t say?

Arguing Middle Aged CoupleWe’ve all heard ourselves, and others, say it: “Was it something I said?” often in total confusion, as we wrack our minds to work out what it was we said that could have resulted in the reaction we see in another.

I wonder though, how often it is what has gone UN-said that really causes most communication breakdowns?

“Sorry” or “Thank you” would often be enough to stop another feeling taken advantage of.

“How was your day?” or “I want to hear about what you’ve been up to.” can be equally effective.

A couple of years ago, I was working with a mentoring client, who was finding it difficult to wind-down from work in the evenings.  To top this off, he told me that when he tried to talk to his wife about his work, he could see the interest in her face drift and he suspected she was planning dinner rather than really listening.

Asking your partner how their day was does require you to care about the answer.  Give them real attention, turn off the mobile and social media can wait for 20 minutes while the two of you talk. And listen.

I heard from a great friend last week, who is celebrating 15 years of working with her business partner.  I asked her what she thought their “secret” was. “Communication” she replied. “Communication, communication, communication.”

“We talk to each other constantly. I’m sure a stranger would thing we’d lost the plot” she laughed, “But it works for us.”

I asked her whether they ever disagreed on things, argued about which clients to work with, or what focus they wanted for a project.  “All the time” she replied “But with respect and a willingness to listen to each other.”

The next time your partner, or a friend or family member seems upset with you, ask yourself if it could be something you haven’t said.

I’m off to say “Happy Birthday” to my father, who’s 84 today – I can only imagine the reaction I’d get if I didn’t remember to say that!

Dinah