The best thing my parents ever did (apart from have me, of course) was split up. I don’t remember much about the 7 years before my dad had an affair with a family friend, but I remember how our house felt – despite being a safe, comfortable family home, there was an underlying sense of unease that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
It was my mother’s second marriage and she had sworn never to marry again. She had married far too young the first time round and had two kids, my sisters, by the time she was 21. That marriage was mostly unhappy and marred by affairs, so when she finally found a way out and started to have the career she always dreamed of, the last thing she wanted to do was marry again and have another kid at 40. But she fell in love with my father and had me, so you can imagine her despair when she realised she’d been betrayed again. We had a tough few years – there were attempts at reconciliation and I do remember screaming rows and long nights of crying, but by the time I hit puberty, their separation was the status quo. I would see my father maybe once a month as he moved to a different town, but I had much more important things to think about, like schoolwork and boys.
I’m aware that this is a fairly typical tale of a kid from a broken home, but it really is only half the story. The remarkable part is that I never once felt unloved, or like it was my fault. My mother was never cruel about my father in front of me (God knows how she managed that) and I actually felt more at ease in my home now that the strange feeling of unease, which I believe was a symptom of their incompatibility, had lifted. I also had a beacon of support in my sister – or rather half-sister, if we’re being fussy. She invested an unbelievable amount of time and energy making sure I was okay and not adversely affected by what was happening. It was only years later that I realised she was giving me all of this love and attention at a time when her own relationship with the father of her first child was breaking down and she was struggling to get by as a single parent herself.
Now, 28 years later, I am surrounded by the most incredible, inspiring and mixed up family. I am close to my father who, after many years of it being ‘on and off’, is still with the woman he left my mother for, who I now call a friend. My sister is in a good relationship following two bad ones, which were not all bad since they produced two very brilliant daughters, to whom I hope I can repay a fraction of the support and love that their mother gave to me. My eldest sister has three gorgeous daughters, just got a PhD and is working hard at her marriage – and my mother is a towering matriarch of inspiration, even at 5 foot 3 and a half. She unsurprisingly never married again, but she lives for her three daughters and five granddaughters (yes, we are essentially a family of women) while still tearing around to social engagements aged 75 at a pace I can hardly keep up with.
I look at my parents now and can only see them as individuals. I can’t imagine them together as they are such different types of people. I am so thankful then that, whatever the catalyst, they realised this early on and didn’t waste time trying to hold onto something which was no longer there.
Families are complicated, but I know that most people’s lives don’t turn out the way they expected them to. Nobody I know sets out to make mistakes or bad decisions or to hurt other people. In order to live free of bitterness and resentment, we must learn to progress to understanding and forgiveness, to accept what has happened, learn from it and move on.
This may sound like therapy speak and sure, I’ve had some therapy and my life hasn’t all been plain-sailing, but the same goes for a lot of people I know who come from ‘stable’ homes, and I would argue that the love and affection in my family would rival anyone else’s. Therefore I’m grateful for my wonderfully complicated, not ‘broken’, family and I wouldn’t change them for the world.