FINDING YOUR TRUE PATH - A SINGLE MUM’S REFLECTION ON MAKING DECISIONS & OVERCOMING OBSTACLES
All the decisions we make in life matter, though sometimes there are moments of serendipity where we look back at life and pinpoint a single moment where a particularly important decision changed our life path, forever...
For me, the single moment was when I was working in an inner-city café as a 20 year-old undergraduate student. I’d had a rough day at work, I’d had enough of my life, so I made the decision to change. I changed my job. Made new friends. And in the process met the man that became my husband. At the time I thought I was making a good decision.
However, as time went by, I somehow got off my own true path and onto another, which led me to an unhappy and unhealthy relationship and severe depression. My (then) husband and I bought a townhouse and had a baby. I was writing my doctoral thesis at the time, and hadn’t really planned to have a child before I graduated. I tried to go with the flow, but the pressures of a new baby, my unfinished PHD and a mortgage were immense and our relationship didn’t cope. I felt like I had lost myself and become someone I didn’t like. I was exhausted from the emotional rollercoaster of my relationship, not only with my husband, but from my own internal voices of self-doubt and perfectionism. I didn’t feel respected or loved by my husband. Despite this, I kept on trying to make my relationship and my life decisions work, and to make everything right and perfect. I thought I had made my decision to be with this man, I had his child, and now I had to stay. Things got worse though, to the point where, when I was 27 and my son just 18 months old, I felt like a terrible parent and had no hope for the future. I felt stuck, trapped, and that there was no way out of the misery and pain I was experiencing.
I only started to see that there was an alternative when one day, a friend asked me very seriously, ‘What can I do?’ and then, ‘What are you going to do?’ She saw what my situation was doing to me and that I needed change, not just so I could be healthy and happy, but so I could also be a good mother by setting an example of how to be happy and healthy. So, I decided to separate from my husband, not really knowing what my plan was, just that I needed change. At this point I couldn’t see what the obstacles were in my life
to finding my true path and happiness, I only knew I needed to get out of the relationship with my son’s father to feel able to breathe, think and to learn how to live again.
My son and I moved into a small flat close to the university, my son’s childcare centre and his father. But, I kept on trying to do everything, to be perfect, to juggle single-parenting, part-time work, and finishing my PHD. Often, I would be up at 2am either writing, doing housework or making healthy lunch snacks for my son, without thinking about how unhealthy my decisions about managing my life were making me. Having the emotional distance from my son’s father helped, but the relationship was left unresolved and this burdened me.
Life got even harder when less than six months after I left my husband, he lost his job. This left me with virtually no financial or childcare support from him, and I really struggled. Eventually, I decided to move about 40-minutes away from the university, to be closer to my mother, and to live in a more affordable unit. This worked for a while, but I still hadn’t let go of the idea of being the perfect mother and scholar. My own personal pressure and that of my circumstances was unbearable. I kept on feeling like my happiness was always just out of reach, and that something was in the way. I thought it was my unfinished PHD, and that I hadn’t finalised my divorce application. I was looking for a solution to perfection, without stopping to find out what was stopping me from achieving this. Everything became amplified around this time, and I couldn’t keep going the way I was, without looking after myself, and with trying to make everything good and right, and most of all, trying to avoid failure at all costs. I had a mental breakdown and was advised by my doctor to take time off work and study and have my mum look after my son for a while. After some time of not working, it seemed more viable to move in with my mum. So, when I was 29 and my son was 3-years-old, we moved in with my mum and her husband.
When I look back now, all I ended up doing in this process of change, starting from that moment in the café as a 20-year old student, was running and hiding from my challenges. I hid in my studies and work; for a while I hid in my relationship, and I hid from my friends and family. I put up such a façade that when I was a new, exhausted mother, without my defences and energy to keep up the show, it all came crashing down. After I had the mental breakdown I took notice and stopped when I got to the crossroads, and I decided to look squarely at the obstacles in my path and take on these challenges.
I got on my healthy, true path. I began to practice yoga and really took some time to get well and think. I realised that my biggest obstacle to finding my true path and happiness wasn’t all the people and things in my life, though they certainly played a substantial role, it was me. Once I realised this, and began to work on self-love and respect, and on building my inner strength I started to get better.
During the time when we were living with my mum, I was also able to finish my studies. After about six months, my son and I moved back to the city, I started a new job and also filed for a divorce. My son’s father also started working, and was able to contribute both financially and in parenting time. We started a 50-50 parenting plan, and while I missed my son terribly when he was away from me, having the time to focus on myself, and my research, really helped.
After these changes, and taking the time to re-evaluate my life, I felt renewed and
refreshed, and much more balanced. Releasing the pressure off myself to perfect everything, and to avoid failure was an immense relief. By taking the time to acknowledge my own inner barriers blocking my path, I was able to move forward.
The changes I made weren’t at all easy to do though; in fact they were very difficult. But, I had realised that I had been falling in the same hole time and time again, throughout all of my adult life. The universe was trying to teach me a lesson. So, finally...i listened.
It can be tempting to contemplate what may have been if I hadn’t made the decision to stop and face the obstacles in my path. I know for certain that if I didn’t decide to change my life when I was an undergraduate student, I wouldn’t have met my son’s father and therefore wouldn’t have the amazing child I do now. I also know that if I didn’t leave and divorce my son’s father, and gone through the struggles I experienced, I wouldn’t be the mother and woman I am today.
What I learnt along the way about making decisions is that there’s no such thing as a good or bad decision, the difference lies in how we choose to deal with the things that happen to us, and how we deal with the outcomes of our decisions. If we are faced with a challenge and we falter or fail, this does not mean we have made a bad decision, it means we are trying. If we get back up and try again after failing, it means we are succeeding.
Whatever decisions we make, there will always be good times and bad times. Life gives us times of happiness and times of sadness. We feel pain so we can see the beauty of life. We can’t draw correlations between the decisions we make and how much happiness and sadness, or pain and beauty we experience, because these ebbs and flows of life will continue, regardless of the decisions we make. We can’t live trying to avoid the difficult and challenging times. Our only choice, and only way to survive, is to learn how to grow from the difficult times; how to get up each time we fall down, and how to see our failures and shortcomings as signs that we are willing, and trying, to grow and succeed.
We, not just as mothers, but also as humans, are all walking along the same path, the path of shared human experience. All the challenges, the high and lows, the joys and victories, the pain and defeats, are part of the journey of life.
Figuring out whether we’ve made a good decision in retrospect may not always be useful. Finding our true path, in the end, may not be based on the types of decisions we think it should be. Rather, finding our true path may, in fact, be as simple as actually facing our challenges and obstacles, and being brave enough to make the changes needed to move forward.
Go forward bravely. Embrace your future. Seek your true life path.
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A GOOD OR BAD DECISION, THE DIFFERENCE LIES IN HOW WE DEAL WITH THE OUTCOMES OF THOSE DECISIONS