My daughter came home this week with an assignment. As soon as I saw the piece of paper I thought perhaps it wouldn’t be the simple task I originally assumed it would be.
Her and her classmates were asked to put together a simple family tree diagram (with as much information was possible) and then do a speech about it.
Initially when I thought that the concept of a family tree, it seemed quite basic. Mum, Dad, Aunts, Uncle, Grandparents etc. But upon doing my own rough diagram of our history, it appeared as though the ‘branches’ of our family tree had become tangled and our tree started looking more like a haunted forest filled with thorns of broken pasts.
Branches intertwining, branches breaking, re-forming here and there but weaker than before. It then dawned on me that my family and those before me were broken.
I helped my daughter write a sweet little poem about her family tree, sensitive and age appropriate for her to read to her classmates, but I couldn’t help but think to myself – I wish I could show what our family tree actually looked like.
Some branches split and splintered with marriages ending in divorce, some branches poisoned and diseased with parents staying in toxic relationships for the sake of the kids, some branches burnt and still smoking with the embers of hurt and resentment toward cheating ex-spouses.
As the family tree grew from the roots upward, it became very apparent to me that through the years, patterns had been formed on both sides, leaving it in a tangled mess.
Printing out photos of my ex and his family left me feeling deflated, resentful of all the hurt they had put me through. I thought to myself, is this what all families look like? I wondered what a ‘normal’ family would look like.
And then it occurred to me that there is no normal.
Chloe Shorten on how to blend a family. Chloe Shorten separated from her husband of ten years, after having two kids, and then married Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. She speaks to Mia Freedman about blending families, navigating custody, and breaking divorce to the kids. Post continues after audio.
While I could clearly see that our tree had haunting histories, stories of hurt, betrayal and even suicide. I began to extend its branches to where I am now in my life.
Yes, there was hurt, pain, betrayal, lost hopes and dreams and unkept promises. But then I discovered something beautiful.
I extended the branches to where I am now at in our family tree and even though the branches below are battered and bruised, twisted and tangled and barely alive. I now see beautiful solid branches, blossoming in bloom with love, trust, respect and hope. In fact, if I look down below me, I now see that those branches although twisted and withered, have actually lead me right where I am meant to be.
If my marriage hadn’t broken down over time ending in disaster, me suddenly becoming a single mother and forcing me to regain independence, learn to trust my gut instincts and rebuild myself and essentially discover love for myself again, I would have been trapped in those brittle branches and the patterns of my past most likely would have reoccurred.
I wouldn’t have met the true love of my life hadn’t I made the decision to open myself up to new possibilities, and to love again.
I now sit in the nurtured branches with my beautiful daughter and we are surrounded by the blossoming beauty of a new family life.
I have learnt that love comes in all different forms and there is no ‘normal’ family out there. My partner and now recently fiancé Joanne have three beautiful daughters between us. Their friendship at school is what brought us together, our pasts and our similar stories with marriage breakdowns, separation and divorce gave us common ground to build our friendship upon with a deep understanding to both know what it is like to be in those knotted and rotting branches of control, deceit, hurt and fear in our pasts.
Though our love, we have broken the patterns formed before us. We have nurtured our relationship, watered it with love and deep care for one another.
Our blended family is not ‘normal’.
But I have realised that no family is.
For anyone who feels stuck in the mess of what their family tree looks like, please remember that even the weakest of branches can be repaired and you can change your path if you allow yourself to be open to transformation, to be open to love again and to absolutely never allow anyone to tell you that your history dictates your future.
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