A letter to my children: What reflective practice can achieve.
So today The Guardian published a piece on the work that the New Beginnings organisation does, and mentioned specifically the reflective letter I wrote to my children during the 24 week programme I did during Cohort 6 in 2021.
The article in question can be found here: New Beginnings: How a parents-first approach to child services in north-west England is getting results
So upon reflection I spoke with my amazing children (who since I began my journey in New Beginnings have followed my work closely) and asked on how they'd feel about me sharing said letter publicly. They emphatically agreed that I should share it. It has no personal information contained within and I have edited it to protect their names and reflect the fact my eldest has a different gender identity now, that they were empowered to be open with me about in response to the work we (as a family) made during the New Beginnings process.
To A and H. To my beloved children.
You might be wondering why this letter exists. Truth be told I'm pondering that same thing right this second as I write. This letter is many things to you both from me. It is a confession, it is an admission, it is a reflection, it is an apology. But it is also a statement of gratitude. The question is where do I start? I guess let's start with reflection.
Reflection, they say; is about looking inwards. At myself. We are very close now and so you both know certain truths about me. About my struggles, about how hard I have found certain things in life. I haven't always felt loved by those who came before me. You both have seen for yourself how my mood depends on how I believe others perceive me. Whether that is real or imagined at any given time is difficult for me to dissect. So for that reason I always vowed to myself that I would make sure my children KNEW how much I loved them, that I would go above and beyond to prove this to them. That I would never admonish or in someway unfairly criticize any life choices you both made and in doing so I never set boundaries to guide you. That is the first chapter in the chronical of my failings as a mother.
You may think it's incorrect that I failed you both in someway. You may feel it's utterly validated but fear my reaction to this idea. And I guess that brings me to the second part: Confession. The truth is, I did fail you both. Not in everyway... I never failed to love you, in fact I think I potentially overwhelmed you with that part, because I wasn't always present. My mental health problems, my physical health problems and the denial I lived in would sometimes swallow me whole and that meant mummy wasn't always around, even when I was physically present. You couldn't always count on me to be consistent and that is potentially my biggest regret because it's this fact that robbed you both of your childhood. Sometimes I relied too heavily on you both to be there for me. To fetch for me or to calm me down, to govern my routines rather than me govern yours. I gave you insecurity in a place that should have been your safest harbour: Your home. I created a fear within you both that one day you may wake up to me having taken my life. In loving you both so much, I almost smothered your childhood away. Especially considering I did so without balance or structure.
My confession leads to the next part of my letter... My apology. Not all my faults and failings reside entirely upon my shoulders... That is true. But there were times I could have fought my demons harder, could have taken a stand sooner, could have done so much better. Yet I didn't. It wasn't out of spite or stubbornness or apathy that I chose not to. It was a combination of sloth and fatigue. The constant fight left me with little energy and that energy I poured into someone else. You both know who likely. I gave him all my energy and time and then some. Usually to your detriment. I'd miss appointments for all of us on his whim, I let another condition the time I spent and in doing so neglected the two amazing people who'd been there from the start and before him. But that was my choice. Sure he manipulated me, sure he knew how to get under my skin and push my buttons. But ultimately it was me that let him in in the first place. That is my responsibility. That is my fault. That is my shame, yet it was your burden. And that is truly the definition of unfair.
But yet, despite all of this. Despite the disruption, despite the inconsistency, despite the torment and neglect that I unwittingly bestowed upon you both. You both loved me unconditionally. There is a quote by a man named William Makepeace Tackery (what a name right?) that reads: "Mother is God, in the eyes of a child." and I understand this completely. Because when kids are babies, when they are toddlers or still very little, children regard their mothers with somewhat reverence. It's a loyalty, love and level of respect without equal. But as children age, as they become pre-teens, teenagers and young adults that reverence is no longer without condition. That respect has to be earned. I don't believe I did anything to earn such devotion from you both and yet I feel it. Everyday keenly and without exception. You both do credit to the adversities you faced growing up in a house without safety and security. And yet you look at me with reverence I didn't earn. My two children, my whole world. You both love me so much without expectation, without question and without condition. And I need to stress my gratitude for your affection, for your never ending belief in me, for all the support and guidance you have given me. It's difficult for me to articulate the love I've received from you.
Now that I have acknowledged my failings, I know you maybe asking yourselves... If I could go back and change it, if I could do it again, would I? And my answer may seem unfair, it may seem hypocritical or confusing. And I'll clarify. But my answer is: No. I believe strongly, that everything that happens to us... The good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful shape us. For boon or bane, despite all the tragedy and insanity that has befallen our family these past 12 years. I wouldn't want to risk who you both have become today. And furthermore where we all are now as a family. That is my admission.
Lastly I want to finish off by explaining to you both a statement. I am now and continue to be everyday inspired and proud of the exceptional young adults you are growing into.
"A": You are learning to push through difficult circumstances, you are using your voice to take a stand, not just for yourself but for others as well. Your work at High School is leading you to do something I never did. Which is go to college. To build your life in the shape you want it. You may still struggle socially, but when I look at you I see a person without fear. Free thinking and bold as you are beautiful.
"H": You have proven almost everyone wrong in everyway. I once got told that you would never gain enough independence to live your own life. That your difficulties would shackle you to me eternally. But you have broken through the expectations and fears of experts and family alike and you continue on with a fever I envy, a confidence I admire and a grace that speaks volumes.
So this is it. My letter. From me, to you both. I hope that one day, this letter can bring us all answers and peace.
My love, always Mummy x
I remember reading this to them, choking a little on my words, something about vocalizing my thoughts, made them inexorably real and impactful, not just to me, but to the two wonderful children sat before me. My eldest cried and they hugged me so tight I found myself fighting a wave of emotions. My youngest smiled at me, he winked, clicked his fingers in my direction and nodded. In his own beautifully autistic way; it was the biggest compliment. One that I wouldn't have picked up on years ago.
I am grateful that The Guardian was able to shed light on the amazing ethos, practices and key-components that make up the work New Beginnings endeavours to achieve alongside our families.
I am honoured that it is a service and practice I get to be a part of and provide to those who came both before and after me.
It is one of the most empowering sensations of my life to grow and spread change, to be seen as helping, to bring positivity and hope to the lives of families who's journeys, trials and tribulations mirror my own in some fashion.
To see people grow to love and understand themselves, to make impactful differences in their narratives and to give their stories a place to live, and their voices power trauma had previously denied them.
As Matthew once said to me: We will change the world... One family at a time. And from my family, from our perspective... New Beginnings completely changed ours.