With motherhood fast approaching I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to be a good parent. I wont lie bringing a child into the world is a terrifying prospect, it’s not an easy world we inhabit and things like social media and peer pressure can make it even harder. What terrifies me the most is the idea of my little one facing the same psychological difficulties that I myself went through. Sometimes when I reflect back on the hardest and darkest parts of my past I still can’t quite believe I managed to pull through them and the idea of my child feeling that way scares the life out of me. I would give anything I could to guarantee that they wouldn’t have to ever feel anything close to those emotions, although I know that is impossible, there are no guarantees in life.
It had me reflecting on my own past and I began to wonder and analyse just how much my upbringing could have influenced my mental health issues and if there was perhaps anything my parents could have done differently. At this point I must just point out that this blog is by no means a way of blaming or pointing the finger at anyone, I am merely trying to learn from my own past to hopefully avoid the same pitfalls in the future.
I had a pretty idyllic upbringing; myself and my two brothers were extremely fortunate to be born into a lovely family with a beautiful home and my father had a good job so earnt a decent salary. We had a lovely holiday, usually twice a year, to Tenerife which myself and my brother adored. We used to meet a great gang of friends at the hotel and spend long, carefree days in the sun and nights playing pool and truth or dare. My parents were wonderful parents and they clearly loved us all so much, and although we weren’t spoiled we never needed for anything. I was really close to both my parents and adored them both. We were lucky that my mother didn’t have to work so was a full time Mum to us, she was brilliant, and still is, everything you could ever want in a Mother and more. Life was good, no life was amazing, or so I thought.
When I was 11 years old, and my parents had been married for 25 years, my father left us for his secretary. My Dad used to work in Oxford as that’s where his company was based, while we lived in Canterbury. He used to drive back for the weekends and I remember just how excited my brother and I were for his arrival on a Thursday night. My Mum always cooked a roast that she would keep warm under tinfoil until he arrived back, and we used to sit with him while he ate, so happy to have him home.
I wont go into all the details of what him leaving did to my family, as I said before this isn’t a way to point the finger, and believe it or not I do have a good relationship with my Dad now but it was really, bloody tough. There are stories that I could tell you to illustrate just how tough, but I don’t think I could even type them without being overcome with sadness and pain. Some wounds are best left unopened.
What made the transition particularly difficult to manage was the relationship with my new step-mum. A few weeks after my Dad had left for good they announced that she was pregnant. The relationship was tenuous as best, she would behave in extremes, either overly friendly (and I believed somewhat false) or would virtually ignore us. There would often be outbursts where she would become very angry, say hurtful things about us, once she threw my Dad and younger brother out the house and they had to sleep in my Dads office.
However once my sister arrived the friendly behaviour totally evaporated and it made it very hard to spend time with my Father, he never took our side either to make matters worse. Whenever we spent time together as a family there would always be a huge outburst and argument caused by my step-mum and in time we all started to avoid spending time together.
My Mum was amazing, she did everything that she could to hold it together and she would never speak badly of my Dad in front of us, which I admire so much. But we all knew how heartbroken she was, I remember she used to go into the downstairs toilet to cry so we wouldn’t see how upset she was. Her red eyes afterwards were the only giveaway to betray her big smile and positive comments.
The low point for me was when I was holding my baby sister, I can’t remember the exact details of what happened, as the situation was so stressful but her fingers became trapped in the door. It was a total accident, I would obviously never do anything to hurt my sister but both my father and step-mother became irate and wouldn’t let me hold her anymore, they behaved as if I had done it on purpose. This was really heart-breaking for me, I was so frustrated that they could think I would do that, it really was the last straw. After that I refused to spend the night at my fathers anymore and would just see him for a few hours when he visited. It was the downturn of our relationship, a relationship that wouldn’t recover again for a good 12 years. I remember my Dad and Step-Mum telling my Mum they believed I had an attitude problem, basically trying to switch the entire fault for the desolation of the relationship on me.
I felt like I didn’t really have a Dad for a long time during very important developmental years, years where a girl becomes a woman and to make matters worse the memories of the one I had one weren’t great. I began to form the opinion that men would lie to you and let you down and I fully believed that all men cheated (something my poor husband has had to help reverse). Ironically my father made a joke in his speech at my wedding about the poor quality of my ex boyfriends but I fully believe I allowed those men or boys to treat me that way as that is what I thought happened in relationships, in fact wasn’t just that how my father had treated my mother?
This was happening during my crucial teenage years and it was during this time I developed incredibly low self-esteem as well as social anxiety. I was desperate for approval from anyone and terrified of not pleasing people so would go along with things that others wanted to do and often get myself into undesirable situations. I hated my appearance and felt really negatively about my body. It was at 17 when I first started obsessively watching what I ate, I used to have a book (this was way before calorie apps) and I wrote down EVERYTHING I ate and would work out exactly how many calories I had had. It was from here, a very confused and low in confidence girl embarked on a journey, making several wrong turns and bad decisions that would eventually lead to such a severe depression that she would make a suicide attempt in 2013.
Do I believe my Father had met his soul mate when my step-mother became his secretary and who can argue with the path of true love? Unfortunately I do not, while I don’t doubt that they did fall in love it wasn’t some unconditional bolt from the blue that knocked him for six, he allowed himself to fall in love. We are not idle beings who can be swayed or turned whenever the wind changes, if we fall in love it is because we let ourselves. My father should never have let himself fall in love with my stepmother. He may have convinced himself my own mother didn’t understand him anymore or was too preoccupied with the children or cleaning the house or whatever the excuse may be but there is no explanation that can condone what he did to his family.
When I read my vows at our wedding last year I did so knowing that I will never, ever break them. For better or worse I will stand by my husbands side and my child(rens) too. I know and understand how easy it may be to become swayed one day, perhaps during a tough period, but I would never allow myself to do that. We have a choice in life, I will always choose to put that effort into falling in love with my husband over and over again and not another person.
In my Dads defence he really stepped up to the plate when I hit my rock bottom, I used to speak to him on the phone a lot when I was at my lowest and he became not just an advisory but a friend. When I was starting to rebuild my life from scratch he was there for me unfailingly, in fact it was the silver lining of my breakdown, the resurrection of our relationship. I realised how much I had missed him and I think letting go of some of the anger I’d held towards him helped with my recovery.
In life we all crave stability, as parents I believe we must become the concrete that holds together the wavering platforms that our children exist upon, to make their lives feel safe. While I don’t regret what happened at all, I have a beautiful, kind, intelligent sister now and an amazing Dad number 2, Rob, my Mums partner, I do believe it helped shape me in a very negative way.
The recipe to suit my story today has to be something comforting, pasta is my ultimate comfort food and I just love a simple fresh tomato and basil sauce. Sometimes I think I was born into the wrong country as the food and ingredients from Italy are my absolute favourite. The recipe is really simple ingredients wise so make sure you choose good tomatoes or the flavour wont be there, tinned good quality plum tomatoes are ideal when tomatoes aren’t in season, the long cooking time is essential for the flavour so please don’t skip this step. I actually love lots of chilli in my paste but have only used ½ tsp in the recipe as it’s best to add additional chilli after rather than infiltrate the whole batch.
This recipe makes a huge batch of sauce that will keep for weeks if you steralise the jars but it also freezes really well too. If you don’t have such a large glut of tomatoes like me then just half or quarter the recipe. Use as a sauce for pasta, spread onto pizzas, pour over meatballs the possibilities are literally endless, this is one recipe that you really can’t live without.
Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce
Makes 6-8 servings
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 fat cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp dried oregano
½ tsp chilli flakes, optional
150ml vodka (or you can use wine)
1 tbsp tomato puree
2.5kg ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped (I leave the skins on mine but you can remove yours if you like just cover in boiling water then plunge into cold and they should slip off easily)
1 tbsp vegetable bullion
50g each light soft cheese & grated Parmesan (don’t add this if you’re keeping the sauce in steralised jars for a few weeks, it’s really tasty though and helps to balance any acidity from the tomatoes)
Heat the oil and a large pinch of sea salt in a very large saucepan and cook the garlic, chilli flake and oregano for 45 seconds, add the vodka and bubble to reduce for a few minutes.
Next add the tomato puree and chopped fresh tomatoes or canned tomatoes with the bullion and bring to a very gentle simmer. Cook with the lid off, stirring occasionally for at least 1 hour but 2 hours if you can, until most of the liquid has evaporated and you’re left with a thick, rich sauce.
Stir in the soft cheese and parmesan (if using) then blitz with a stick blender, you don’t want it too smooth so just do this roughly as texture is good and now add the chopped fresh basil. Taste and season with salt and black pepper.
My favourite is served tossed through hot pasta with melting buffalo mozzarella, extra chilli, basil and rocket. Perfect comfort food. Freeze or chill any you’re not eating straight away in plastic pots or empty jars or store in sterilised jars.