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Coming Out…To The Children

We were recently asked by a LemonAider how we came out to our children…

Our situation was somewhat different from theirs since our kids were the same age and already knew each other from various activities and social meet-ups together, so our transition into spending more time together looked mostly like a growing friendship to begin with.

The Early Days…

We didn’t tell them for about 6 months which, while sensible, was very difficult when we were in the midst of something so utterly life altering for us all!

However, we obviously weren’t quite sure (or ready to admit) whether this was something huge and important and love or just 30 odd years of pent-up latent lesbian sexual desire!! (I think we were both pretty darn sure it was the former but a bit scared to share that too early on).

A lot of our early courtship happened around the kids…

I had hardly any child-free time except when they were at school and Lea home educates hers so it was tricky! Needless to say we spent a lot of time at the cinema and in soft play centres (ugh) with them during those winter months so we could have the occasional illicit hand hold or cuddle between the seats or behind a giant wipeable block. Sexy, huh? Hide and seek was invaluable to us!

Coming Out…

When we did come out and tell them all, they were relatively unfazed by it all.

The older two had an awareness that women could have girlfriends and men boyfriends but there was no-one gay with a partner in their acquaintance who they saw regularly. We kept it brief and simple to begin with – we started holding hands in front of them and being more tactile. Kissing was a spectacle and can still, even now, cause guffaws or calls of ‘gross’.

But what they’ve all witnessed and still do is our love, physical affection and, for the most part, our care and desire for one another, something that was lacking in our previous relationships with their fathers. We both really wanted them to have a healthier model of what a loving, adult relationship can look like.

The Impact…

On the plus side for the two older girls, they quickly realised that our relationship meant they could see more of each other and be the ‘besties’ they’ve become. The younger two have had their moments of jealousy with the mummy being ‘taken away’ from them narrative playing out at numerous times.

From the beginning however, we agreed that the family model we wanted to emphasise is that we are the parents and adults at the top of the tree (and that our relationship and partnership is pivotal to the success of the family as a whole), with the children in their roles as children, NOT rescuing any of their parents (a work in progress!), and that as our children our love for them is always there, but in a different way to the love of a partner.

None of it has been without its difficulties, not least of which has been my guilt…

We’ve experienced a period when the big girls were feeling a lot of anger towards their fathers and feeling let down by them, which led to them turning even more into their friendship with each other and discussing whether they were going to be lesbians (and even whether that would be with each other!!!).

That was a tricky one and Lea had to pull me down off the ceiling to deal with that one calmly and not go off in a state of panic!

Then there was the dawning realisation from Mali that sex isn’t just for procreation which led to us letting the big girls ask us anything they wanted to know about sex, including whether we’ve had sex with each other (bless!).

They haven’t yet asked how we have sex – they know how men and women make babies and that sex is also for pleasure but thank goodness their naive little minds haven’t joined up any more dots…yet!

Let’s Talk About Sex… 

Since coming out, it’s been noticeable how sexualised a topic being gay is for many people. We’ve always agreed that sex is going to be positioned as something ‘normal’, natural and healthy, between adults…hell we’ve shown them pictures of Kim Anami weightlifting from her vagina (if you haven’t checked her out you really should – gay or straight she’s THE biz for all matters sexual).

We want sex to be a topic that we always talk about honestly (in an age appropriate way), that we’re not prudish around and connect to it as part of a loving, intimate, healthy, ADULT relationship. There are kids at school in the same year as Flo who have no clue how a baby is made or the correct names for their vulva and vagina…we want our children to grow up considering sex a natural form of connection (with themselves and others), and without the stigma or negative connotations so many of us feel. 

…And Other Things…

Our coming out has led to many interesting conversations with all the children – the vaginal weight lifting for example, vaginal health more generally, stereotyping, gender fluidity, masculine and feminine energy and how interchangable that can be.

In many ways it’s putting the theoretical meat on the bones of the gender studies degree I did twenty years ago, albeit tailored to a slightly different audience!!

Two of the children are now aware that their uncle is gay, they know about Pride and rainbows and about feeling like you’ve been born in the wrong body. They know that some people prefer not to have a gender at all (that’s not as complex for them to get their heads around as it seems to be for adults!). They know that mummy stopped being friends with someone they knew because she believed gay people would go to hell. That led to some very interesting discussions about love I can tell you!!

Having Gay Parents…

They’re also learning and telling us about their experiences of having gay parents. At our old Primary School Flo encountered some negative comments about it being unnatural for two women to be together. The Head seemed more concerned with stopping us flexi-schooling than dealing with that! Similarly, at our current school we’ve just experienced an incident with another child commenting on the girls having parents in a same-sex relationship.

These incidents are so small and yet they each have an impact which we see when our daughters are considering whether to tell people at theatre school that their mums are ‘gay together’. They made friends with two girls who they did tell, but were much more discerning about telling some of the boys, recognising that they might make life harder for themselves.

Those are the only incidents we’ve had and generally people are warm, friendly and interested (sometimes a bit too interested!).

You can see people mentally trying to work us out as a family – did we each have sperm donors and settle on two brown and two white children?!? Did we each birth each others?! It’s quite hilarious to watch, and tempting to play up to!

Lea and I have only had two direct experiences of homophobia, once in a bar in Lincoln where a guy made a rude remark as we walked in and once when we went to a dance class together. On both occasions Lea, as the more masculine energy, is the one in the firing line from men who cannot hold or handle that.

We’ve not told the children this but they are aware that discrimination happens to gay people because of who they love, just as it does to people of colour, women, disabled people, and anyone who isn’t a white, of a certain age male.

There is already a sense of injustice in them all about this, and a matter of factness that this is their normal. It will be interesting to see how this changes or develops in their teenage years, and whether it’s different for our son and daughters…

Showing Up + Being Seen Online…

Lea has been showing up online for over a decade creating a whole movement around being location independent. That was quite intimidating for me when we first met, given that my online presence was basically a personal Facebook account!! 

We’ve been showing up together online under our LemonAid banner for two years now and it’s been a fascinating journey for us both.

So what have we learnt in that time both showing up there?

(And also for me on Patreon, where I am writing about my journey penning a children’s utopian novel and for Lea on her various ventures under her own name, Lea Jovy and other projects).

Firstly, while I (Becky) thought I shared personal stuff on Facebook I now realise how much I was actually hiding. From others and from myself. Coming out and starting to live a life that felt more ‘me’ made it easier to begin to talk more frankly. Everywhere.

Still work to be done in some areas though as I realise there is still shame attached to sharing the bits I’m still working through or stuck in. Not that we HAVE to share every detail or the bits that are still raw for us, but I have a gut feeling that being able to delve into some of the more tricky aspects would be interesting reading for others as well as hugely cathartic and a process of ‘letting go’, for me.

Which brings me on to the next lesson, catharsis. Writing, processing, reliving aspects of our own journeys has been and continues to be hugely cathartic for us, especially when people resonate with it and reach out. 

We’ve also learnt not to judge ourselves by what others are getting done! The time pressures we experience fitting everything in with children, therapy, home educating, flexi-schooling, keeping our relationship well tended, leisure time, exercise, eating well can be a bloody big challenge.

Comparing ourselves to people without children or those whose children are at school five days a week is futile! Besides, our life presents us with much fodder for emotional growth, life lessons and thus things to share and discuss!

We are working at becoming more consistent even when we are weathering several storms at once. It also forces us to focus in the limited time we do have. Lea is really good at ensuring we still prioritise us and some leisure time, which left to me and my guilt-ridden ways would probably fall by the wayside somewhat!

We often feel worried that ‘Showing Up’ might be construed as ‘Showing Off’! This can lead to not sharing things that might be useful or of interest and also, dare I say it? Oh fuck it, I dare, what’s wrong with showing off??!!

Given that we share a fair amount of our fairly epic fails, downs, traumas, BUT EVEN IF WE DIDN’T, showing up is going to feature more! I’m going to call it ‘Celebrating The Good Shit’!

The final thing we’ve learnt – although I’m sure there’s plenty more that if it wasn’t 27℃ here in Brighton with a lack of aircon in the cafe I’m typing this in I might be able to think of – is that you’d be surprised who’s paying attention when you think no-one is paying attention!!

Sometimes it feels like you’re exposing yourself into a bottomless abyss, a void of nothingness and no-oneness, only to discover at some later date that people from your past, family, and random folk are reading your stuff, sometimes avidly!

We’ve learnt that people come to things in their own time if it’s right for them and our job is to keep on keeping on, telling our story, sharing our experience, and providing a space for people to join us/support us/work with us if it feels right for them. 

Showing up anywhere, including online can be a daunting affair…

We’ve had criticism from previous friends for ‘daring’ to do it (“But what about your exes and how they feel about what you’re doing?”) as well as from our exes themselves who take the tiny snippets we share online, jump to (wrong) conclusions and then throw it all back at us in various arguments.

But I can tell you categorically, it feels a darn sight better than hiding – from ourselves, from others (whether that’s to rescue their feelings or protect ourselves), from the life we really want, from our fears.

And if other people have a problem with that as far as I’m concerned…when it’s their shit, they can clean it up! Here’s to showing up!!

Building LemonAid: Why It’s Not Free To Join the Community!

In this video, we talk about building the LemonAid community from scratch, why we charge to join, and why we so fully believe in its role and value.

Note: Excuse my (Lea) puffy face and squinty eyes in this; I’d had some life-changing news this weekend and it was taking its toll!

 

Still The One

Still The One

So what are the things we do that we credit with us still being together, still loving each other and still wanting to have sex with each other more now than in the beginning?!

As we head towards the 3rd anniversary of radically changing our lives we’re in a pensive mood here at LemonAid HQ…

How the heck did we get here?! How on Earth have we navigated our way through the turbulent emotions – our present ones, our past ones and our kids?!

While sometimes it might feel as though we are stumbling along blindly hoping for the best, there are certain things that have kept us on the same team, moving forward as a unit of six…albeit a unit with 12 legs that seem to be attempting to wander off in a variety of directions!

So this week we thought we’d share with you what’s worked for us over the past two and a half odd years – what’s kept us together, and how we’ve just about managed to work through the frequent flouncing, tears and tantrums.

To quote the underquoted Bridget Jones, please know this is not written from a ‘smug married’ place!!!! AT ALL. Hell we’re not even married yet! There are probably a zillion more strops before we make it up the aisle! We’re also under no illusions that we’ll be two brides who periodically still flounce off on our path to ‘Happy Ever After’!

No, this is from an ‘every day we work at this shit’ kinda place, a ‘Jesus H Christ we’re having THIS argument again’ place and a ‘Ohhhh, look how much easier things are when we do it this way – if only it hadn’t taken 356 times of doing it badly to realise it’ place!

Commit, Commit, Commit…

The most important thing we’ve both brought to the table is a commitment to working through the tough times together, including dealing with our emotional worlds and turbulent childhoods. However, that commitment gets sorely tested when we’re both massively triggered by our stuff and we’ve needed more than just the fine words of ‘we want to work through this’.

I’ve been in therapy for years on and off, and very early days when we were first discussing Lea’s adoption and the ways it may have affected her she decided to see a therapist too (OK, I may have ‘suggested’ it!). 

It’s been hugely beneficial – knowing that we each have a space and a person that is ours, outside of the relationship, to process our emotional stuff with. For it not to feel one-sided, where one of us relies solely on the relationship for that processing.

Process, Process, Process…

Coupled with that is our mutual ‘processing’ – trying to figure out what’s is going on between us, especially when we get triggered; that is, when we fly off the handle about something in the present moment that reminds us of or triggers past feelings and experiences. This feels like the biggest aid to us working through stuff together.

Therapy is only once a week or once a fortnight which means there’s still the space to hide, for things not to be addressed or even come up with our therapists. In a relationship, everything gets seen, raised, triggered. Frequently!

A classic example are my intimacy issues – my inability to let love and sex go together. I’m not sure this would have been easy or as quick to unravel in therapy. Being confronted with my intimacy issues and the ways I would try to avoid an intimate connection with Lea on a daily basis made it impossible to sweep under the proverbial rug!

Sportscast, Sportscast, Sportscast…

With the kids, the biggest tool we have used to help us and them to navigate their emotions has been sportscasting.

Originally used by childcare expert Janet Lansbury to help younger children by literally sportscasting what was physically going on “Ruby took the toy from you and you hadn’t finished playing with it.” – we go a step further and use it to help our children work out what they are feeling and why: “You’re hitting your sister, I’m wondering if you feel embarrassed because she laughed at your song.”

We have seen all of them in their different ways learn to be more direct, less passive aggressive and become more able to express themselves (including the shadow emotions of anger, jealousy, shame, embarrassment etc).

The ability to name and own their feelings usually shortens the time they spend angry and upset, and teaches them new ways to be (ways that many adults, myself included, often struggle with!).

Us, Us, Us…

The final thing that has been of such importance (although I’ve found this one the most difficult) has been the ability to treat ourselves, as a couple, as the strong and primary unit at the heart of the family, rather than act as two individual sets of three musketeers.

This has involved prioritising our relationship at times, and for me, dealing with a shed load of guilt! But that’s a whole other story, for next time…

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Left Wanting…

Left Wanting…

Dear Lea,

As you know, prior to my awakening just over two years ago, my needs and wants were pretty much bottom of my, and consequently other people’s, list.

Did I know what it was I did want? Not completely but I sure as hell knew I didn’t want much of what I had – inadvertently or unconsciously – created !

I didn’t want to live with my children’s father. I wasn’t in love with him and we didn’t share the same interests, passions or beliefs. I couldn’t imagine not having the children there between us (literally in the bed!!!!) to take our minds off our faltering, largely sexless relationship.

I didn’t want to be with someone that I couldn’t process my emotional world with. I’d been in and out of therapy and done lots of personal development stuff since I was 27 and as I’d grown and stripped away more layers of my own onion he hadn’t. This gap was becoming ever more noticeable and I was becoming increasingly lonely from WITHIN the relationship.

I didn’t want to share my space with someone who was a hoarder and whose ideas about how to live together were so different to mine. I like order and cleanliness and these were both grossly lacking, to the point that I felt I was drowning in his clutter and physically, mentally and emotionally stuck (not much of a surprise that my feet hurt so much).

I didn’t want to have sex with a man who… well for starters I didn’t want to have sex with a man!! I was in massive denial about this for various reasons. It suited me to be in relationships with men because I got to play out my father dynamic repeatedly…

Looking for the closeness I never felt from my father, I often used sex inappropriately to try and create that intimacy. Then, disillusioned with the fact that I only got sex and minimal closeness (and ignoring the fact that I was offering sex so was it any surprise that that’s what I got?!), I would retreat from them because I felt angry and disappointed that they weren’t meeting my needs…So I got to repeatedly play out the dynamic of punishing my father by punishing them.

I played this out in relationships as well as by having casual sex, and the punishment continued once I’d ‘secured’ a man through the sexual aspect of our flirtation and ‘made’ them fall in love with me. I would then lose interest and sex became something to be avoided (sex and intimacy most definitely did NOT belong together!). When your self esteem is low, there’s nothing more unattractive than someone being in love with you! Makes you have no respect for their poor taste! Ouch, that really hurts to read that back.

So almost every relationship with a man I’ve had has resulted in me going off the idea of sex with them. Ok, Ok, the gay thing is relevant here too lol.

I didn’t want to live my life as a martyr to my children with no life of my own. This was a pattern I never expected to fall into and yet somehow I did. This happened in various ways…

My ‘big/small stuff’ – patterns formed through a dynamic with my mother that have left me feeling like I can’t trust myself, that I’m not capable etc. left me all at sea in my thirties and so my children became a convenient way to hide from this on the career front. However, while one can hide from this in one’s twenties and playing small and being ditsy is deemed cute, by the time you get to your forties…not so much!

By always putting my children’s needs ahead of my own I had come to a point where I felt unattractive, undeserving of spending time and money on myself, and selfish for contemplating my own passions, desires and wants.

I didn’t want to live a life with little or no creative outlet. I’d been to enough festivals to know exactly the kinds of things that brought me joy – singing, music, dance, writing, crafts – and yet these barely featured in my life.

I didn’t want to live selfishly or self-centredly, only considering the needs of my own family and not a wider community. I’ve always wanted to give more back to the community, both local and global. This feels very hard to do when you haven’t been ‘selfish’ to yourself first and focused on prioritising your own needs.

I didn’t want to be ill anymore. Mentally or physically. I feel very strongly that health and wellness are a mirror to the relationship with ourself so I feel that the fibromyalgia and anaemia are ways of my body telling me that my coping mechanisms, defences, patterns of behaviour, thoughts and beliefs are old and defunct and that I needed to change them.

So darling Lea, I’ve basically listed all the things I didn’t want haven’t I?! But what DID I want I hear you cry?

Well, I don’t think I fully knew the answer to that, partly because some of the things that I wanted were un- or subconscious and my defences were still so strong in certain areas. Deep deep deep down, I wanted to be in a loving, intimate, connected relationship with a woman, for example, but at the same time I was so terrified of that, I couldn’t have even begun to have identified that as a want – Sex? Yes, intimacy? Way too scary!

I think the important thing for me was that I took some kind of action to get unstuck, and trust that the rest would follow and begin to take care of itself, that the path would appear as it were. Lo and behold that is exactly what did happen – granted with many a wobble along the way!!!

Love You,

Becky X

Dear Becky,

I’d aways thought I was pretty good at getting what I (thought) I wanted! But, as you now know, it became abundantly clear that I was in major avoidance and utter denial of asking for what I actually wanted (!) and, unlike for many, it wasn’t because I didn’t know what that was…

Two years ago, if you’d asked me what I wanted the sanitised, totally-in-denial version would have been something like this:

I want to be running a highly profitable business, from behind the screen of my laptop, with plenty of time to myself to work on my business, and a bit of time to spend going out for fun days with my kids and Jonathan (though definitely not taking them out on my own!). I want more time to myself to get in good shape post children, and I definitely want to travel some more as a family. Really, I’m pretty happy with the life and schedule I have…

But I knew, deep deep deep down that what I really wanted was not what I had nor what I would have asked for. So what did I want? I didn’t know the exact details of what it would look like but I knew one key part of it and when I set that intention on that pivotal day in the Spring of 2016, I knew that I just couldn’t keep things the way they were…

I knew then that my one big regret – at the end of my life – would be to have spent my life in a relationship with a man, and not with a woman. In my bravest moments, I could just about admit to myself that I’d probably known this from the age of 17 and yet there I was age 39 still not living that life. So I set the intention – by saying out loud to myself in my bedroom – that I wanted things to change, that I wanted to be in a relationship with a woman, and that I wanted it to happen within a year…

Obviously there were plenty of barriers to this happening – is it the right thing for the children? Should I just wait till they’re older? How will my (then) husband cope?

But I also knew I wanted my children to have a model of two adults in a relationship who were deeply in love with each other – not just friends – but who were passionately, physically and obviously in love and a team in every way. I wanted my children to have a model of a woman/mother who wasn’t afraid to ask for what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to get it.

I wanted to be with someone who also had children so they’d understand the priorities and realities of that (though clearly wasn’t prepared for the many challenges that has also brought!!). I  wanted a relationship that felt more evenly matched, more balanced and in which I could be more ‘me’, though at the time I didn’t really know what that meant or looked like in practice.

Those were the things I knew to ask for but in hindsight, knowing what I’ve received since then, it’s not at all what I’d have asked for…because I just didn’t know I wanted them!

I would never have known to ask for…

A relationship with a woman whose own ‘stuff’ so compellingly (and what feels like cruelly at times) interacts with my adoption stuff, but which gives us the opportunity to work through the most painful parts together, and heal.

The experience of exploring my adoption which has been and continues to be one of the most ‘awakening’ experiences of my life so far.

A relationship which allows me to be more fully me than I’ve ever been – to be able to draw upon my more masculine energy without it threatening someone else, to be able to look how I want without having to conform to a stereotypical role in a relationship, to be able to practice being the me that I know is still underneath layers of defences in a safe and loving relationship.

It’s such a tough question: What do you want? And I know from my coaching work that it’s often easier to start with what you don’t want, but there’s definitely something to be said for admitting to yourself what you truly, deeply want and then setting an intention to get it, isn’t there? 😉

Love always xxx

This Theme’s Soundtrack…

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Down To The Bottom (Of It All)

Down To The Bottom (Of It All)

Dear you,

Good question! How exactly have we managed to stay together for 2 years, given the potentially explosive nature of our stuff – how Becky’s shit triggers mine and mine triggers hers- and with the kids in the mix?! One of the most useful tools we’ve discovered is…

Sportscasting! WTF is sportscasting you might ask? (as has many a friend when I’ve mentioned it!).

I first heard the term when my kids were little from Janet Lansbury, a huge proponent of respectful parenting. She describes it as a “just the facts” verbalisation of what’s going on for a child without taking over. It’s not about judging, fixing, shaming or blaming but giving them the “space they need to continue struggling until they either solve a problem or decide to let go and move on to something else.”

For example, saying “You’re working very hard on fitting that puzzle piece. You seem frustrated.” rather than rushing in to fit the piece for them. It’s an acknowledgment that they’re seen, understood and empowered to continue to work things out for themselves with support if needed.

We use this approach with the children in a slightly different way these days, but we also use it for ourselves to get out of the drama our stuff seems to entangle us in frequently…I’m pretty sure it’s what has saved us from even more flounces, dumpings and huge bust-ups than have already occurred!!

It’s been useful when we seem to keep having the same argument over and over again.

It’s been relationship-saving when one of us is stuck knee-deep in a long-held but highly destructive narrative that might cause us to engineer a relationship-ending argument.

It’s helped us each reach the other person, kindly and with love, without that person feeling like they have to ‘give in’ or concede.

It’s been the single most effective way to get out of child, parent, victim, rescuer or perpetrator state (yep, heavily pulling from Transactional Analysis and Karpman’s Drama Triangle there), and back into adult where we can see things more calmly and in a less emotionally-fuelled state.

So what does it actually look like in practice?

It’s a pretty simple technique on the surface but takes quite a bit of practice to get right when you first start doing it…

For example, take this morning as we were both writing these letters – me to you, Becky to her friend. Becky was in danger of flouncing off – annoyed that we were ‘constrained’ to writing in letter format and pissed off that we were writing about something she didn’t feel like writing about today.

Sportscasting what I thought might actually be underneath/behind all of this, I said “But do you think it’s because letters feel (and are) more personal? And you’d rather keep things at arm’s length, especially when they still feel too raw, too close or too personal?”.

Or going back to the early days of our relationship when separation anxiety was rife, I’d often become (even more – as Becky would probably say) aloof, engineer arguments or be unnecessarily mean because of our impending separation. Rather than buying into the drama, engaging in the provocation and arguing, whenever Becky took a step back and sportscasted what was going on – “Is this about separation? Are you needing to separate from me?” – it all became clearer.

Followed up with “So now you have a choice – either stay in your narrative or triggered place, or choose to spend the time we have together in a loving way”…as frustrating and annoying as that can be, it was and is a great way to nudge someone back towards their adult place again!

While it wasn’t (and still isn’t) always easy to own what is really going on beneath the surface, the relief, gratitude, and sense of being held and still loved are worth the uncomfortable feelings of embarrassment, shame, or anger that someone else has truly seen you and helped you verbalise what might be going on for you.

But we don’t always get it right and – as we’ve discovered – there’s a fine line between ‘telling’ someone what’s going on for them versus allowing them to identify and confirm for themselves what’s actually going on. Get it wrong and it leads to more explosive fireworks between us “Who the fuck are you to tell me that’s what’s happening?” “What makes you the expert on me?”. Ouch.

But get it right, and it’s becoming easier and easier to own our stuff and what’s at the root of some of our patterns with less shame, less embarrassment and a feeling that – just because someone else has seen it first, it doesn’t make us weaker or give them more power. It’s made for the most open, honest, authentic and vulnerable relationship of my life.

Dear You,

Yes, you’re right! The kids and how we all come together as a six – especially as we don’t live together – is one of the things people are most curious about in our new blended family.

It can feel like a potential minefield helping four under 10s adjust to their new life and family situation. As we’ve already discussed, there’s nothing like a big life change to not only throw up new stuff but also highlight existing dynamics based on all our emotional baggage.

You know that Lea and I have a raftful of our own pre-existing stuff that we’re both currently contending with in therapy, and one of the themes for both of us around that stuff has been not knowing and uncertainty.

It seems pretty obvious then that our way of broaching our life change and its impact on the children’s existing narratives – the stories they tell themselves about who they are, how their world works and their sense of self – is about transparency, knowing and comprehension.

Do you remember when we first came across Janet Lansbury, the parenting educator? (Incidentally she’s rooted in Magda Gerber’s RIE conscious parenting approach that my cousin, Sarah is writing a book about).

Well, when we first discovered her we were obsessed with the techniques of sportscasting and used it loads with our then toddlers, didn’t we? We had many a chortle about how useful it would be to use on the men, parents or any other difficult people in our lives!!!

Well, it’s this sportscasting approach that has helped us so much with our children. Yes, even now they’re not toddlers – in fact especially now they’re not toddlers! Janet Lansbury’s work seems to be aimed at younger children and I’ve not been able to find anything about continuing to use it throughout their lives and with adults too and yet this seems so useful to everyone.

When we reflected back to our toddlers the facts of what was going on in a non-judgemental, factual way, as a narrator or sportscaster might do, the idea was to empower our children to figure things out and resolve things for themselves. The same is true now, although it feels like we get to a much deeper layer these days as we try and figure out what might be going on for them on a more emotional level – and whether they’re responding from within their narratives.

Narratives have been really important to get to grips with as they are essentially the lens through which they view everything else…

For one of them this centres around the belief that they play second fiddle to their younger sibling (they even verbally expressed that they thought the sibling was wanted as a second child because they themselves weren’t good enough ?), for another the focus is on them not being special or good enough to have air time or attention, and for the youngest two it seems to be the belief that they have to be different or special to be loved and that they will never be as good at things as their older sibling and that it’s not ok to make mistakes when they try.

Layered on top of these narratives are their additional anxieties around parental separation and new relationships and step siblings.

Sportscasting enables us to discuss with each of them what might really be going on underneath the surface behaviour of crying, shouting, lashing out, hitting, kicking, whining, etc – that often stems from their underlying narratives.

For example, “Are you feeling jealous because mummy’s spent time with your sister and you felt rejected and not as important?”, or “Are you cross because I’m cuddling your brother and you think he’s the favourite?”. Often we have to make numerous guesses at exactly what is going on, but can usually tell when we’ve got it right because they ‘feel’ its accuracy and feel understood, and confirm that to us.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still a work in progress. I still struggle not to judge or attach blame or criticism at times but when it works it really changes things…

We’ve seen all four of them become more comfortable discussing emotions, be able to better access what’s going on for them more quickly and express this, understand the lingo around their own and others’ narratives, admit when they’ve been triggered, feel less embarrassed that their stuff has been seen, more able to discuss their emotions in a matter of fact way, and generally come out of their triggered places much more quickly.

These skills that they’re learning and the ability to talk so freely about their emotions feels to us like some of the most important tools we are equipping them with for adulthood, and sportscasting continues to be a really useful means of doing this, with their stuff and our own!

This Theme’s Soundtrack…

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Children of Ours

Children of Ours

Hey you,

I think it’d require a book to cover the ups and downs of the journey for the kids so far. As you’d expect, mine were both devastated at the breakdown of our family unit. Even now, almost 2 years after their father and I decided to separate, they have their “I wish we were all still a family” moments, and I know Becky’s kids feel similar.

We’re pretty sure that, at times, there’s still that tiny little ray of hope for each of them that things will just go back to how they were before and that their mummy and daddy will get back together again ? 

From the very beginning – having read about how children internalise blame and (if they’re not explicitly and repeatedly told otherwise) they’ll think it’s their fault – we have worked hard to tell them none of this is their fault.

So what have we told them? I’ve focused on a few key things…

That mummy and daddy still get on and have love for each other, but not enough for us to want to be together as a couple anymore. That I will always be their mummy and daddy will always be their daddy and nothing or no-one can change that. That they get to choose how to feel at any given moment. That it’s ok to feel sad, angry and hurt. That none of this is their fault. 

And that it’s important to me that they have a model of what (I believe) a loving relationship is between 2 adults, in as holistic and rounded way as possible. So yes, that means they see Becky and I arguing, that they see us kissing, holding hands and being physically affectionate, and that they see us prioritising our relationship too.

This last one has been the hardest to find the right balance. I do NOT want to raise entitled, bratty children who think the universe revolves around them but there’s been an inevitable reaction of jealousy as the kids have experienced us sometimes prioritising our relationship and doing things together while they’ve been with their fathers. They’ve all reacted as you might expect – with rudeness, a certain amount of aggression at times and all manner of ‘playing up’ which is basically them communicating their unhappiness and powerlessness at the situation.

It’s struck me recently (DUH), quite how much this has had an impact on mine’s little lives…

The life they previously had and knew – with 2 adults who very much shared the parenting duties and had a fairly decent balance when it came to division of labour – has been totally turned upside down and on its head.

They now experience their father and I individually doing our best to parent them on our own while still working together to be on the same parenting page, despite the ups and downs of separating from each other. Funnily enough, I think it’s been more of a shock for them to experience me parenting them on their own than it has been to have had their father parenting them on his own ?

There have been positives though! One of them has been becoming far more emotionally aware of and tuned into what we’re all going through, emotionally. Both Becky and I have regular therapy sessions (separately!), mine’s father also has therapy sessions when needed and, as you obviously know by now (!!), Becky and I constantly process what’s going on, between us and with the children. Yes, it’s exhausting but it’s yielded some really interesting and useful things.

For a start, I now have a much clearer idea of the narratives both my kids have – it helps when one of them specifically has expressed some of her ‘stuff’ very coherently, eloquently and directly! As you’d expect, it’s almost always around rejection of some kind.

It’s rarely been easy – the children as a ‘theme’ have been one of the most challenging parts of the dynamic of our relationship. At the worst of times, I think they might still have the capacity to derail things in a major way as we each go into our ‘mama bear’ modes, and protect what is ours. But we work exceptionally hard to remain a strong and united front, and not be divided and conquered…

Dear You,

You’re right, you don’t embark on a midlife awakening – when you’ve got four children under 10 between you – without taking it seriously. However, if we’d thought about it too much we might never have done it!

Weighing up the pros and cons of splitting up the family dynamic my children knew, and acting ‘selfishly’ to ensure my own happiness and improved mental health wasn’t actually that difficult, when I could stop feeling guilty!

The bottom line was I didn’t want my kids to have the model of a relationship based on me and their father and I also didn’t want them to see me sacrificing my own happiness out of fear of the perceived consequences or to see me experience my entire life living a very ‘straight’ lie! (Not the greatest modelling…)

Lea and I figured that however hard they all found it, we’d deal with it. We were in love after all and with the right gender finally – so that felt like pretty big stuff in the pros column!

One of the things that gave me some confidence was the nature of my relationship with Lea. We don’t just talk about stuff, we process it to within an inch of its life!! We talk about our feelings around everything, where they come from, and why we’re triggered by certain things so we can understand each other and ourselves within the relationship better (and of course reduce the number of flouncings off, something we’re both highly skilled at!).

Between us we’ve done counsellor training, NLP, Louise Hay Teacher Training, and Lea has over a decade of coaching experience. We’re both interested in personal development and trying to understand ourselves better and we’re also both in therapy, still unravelling painful parts of our complicated childhoods. Basically, as someone once said, we’re pretty good at navel gazing (ok, that was the polite version…!)

So what does that mean for the kids? It means they get to navel gaze with us of course!

We talk with them about their emotions, their different personalities, their individual coping mechanisms and defences. We discuss the dynamics between us all, our triggers and how our individual triggers interact with everyone else’s (‘cos it’s so much fun when that happens!!).

We don’t ignore what’s going on for any of them, or hide from it. We deal with it head on. I confess I don’t always find that easy. I don’t like confrontation. Lea is the more direct communicator (except when she’s really in her stuff), I’m usually too busy feeling everything and anything.

We spend a lot of time and energy figuring out how to map a way through things by working out, together, what might be going on for the kids, seeing if our own stuff is involved, and discussing the best way to handle it as a united front. 

For the kids – as much as they sometimes roll their eyes when their mummies start talking ‘about emotions’, I think they secretly get a kick out of learning skills at such tender ages that lots of grown ups, us included at times, are pretty rubbish at!

Giving them an idea of – and helping them verbalise – what’s actually going on beneath some of the angry, hurt responses has been empowering for them in a situation in which they’ve essentially been powerless and had no say in, and we’ve already seen changes in how they deal with things because of this.

Hahahahahaha! This makes it sound like we’ve got this ALL under control, that we know what we’re doing, that we get them and their stuff and everything is rosy!! That sure as hell ain’t the case, and we have many a tantrum (especially the grown ups!) and feel like we’re making it up as we go along on a minute by minute basis!

However, I would wager that most families rarely examine what goes on underneath the surface of each other’s behaviour and typical responses, what makes every family member tick, and the patterns and dynamics that develop. So, there have been advantages to our upheaval. I know it’s taken being part of this blended family to make me see an unhealthy dynamic that I had fallen into with my children (more on that later!).

So while it certainly isn’t ever easy, we remain committed to ensuring that all four children and two mummies feel heard, loved and respected as part of our six and beyond…

This Theme’s Soundtrack…

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Big Magic

Big Magic

Dear you,

We’ve had an interesting few weeks. As part of my birthday present, Lea got tickets to see Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. She was running a Big Magic Event in London based on her book ‘Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear’. I was afraid!

Lea had booked a very swish hotel nearby and we got there on the Friday afternoon in time to have a Pret lunch in the park with a very tame squirrel and a small afternoon nap, before she took me out for a Lebanese dinner and a wander round Chinatown (bubble tea, who knew? Not I!). So far, so good…

We arrived at the venue the next day unsure what to expect. It was held in the Quaker building, in Friends house and we were to be in the Light room. All good signs. Yet I was nervous…

I’d read Big Magic a year earlier and had found it annoying, challenging and button pushing!! I can remember calling Lea on numerous occasions from my bathtub, indignantly ranting about some passage or other and insisting on reading said section out, spitting each word out venomously. My kids started to think ‘Bloody LIz Gilbert’ (BLG) was her real name!

And the reason for such tantrums and outbursts? Well, one of the biggest triggers was her insistence that ideas aren’t loyal. That they emerge out of the ether and search for a suitable host to bring them forth into the great universe of ideas to be magically realised. Surely that’s not so awful, I hear you cry? Ah, but you are forgetting something my friend…

Given that I’ve had an idea burning away inside me since I was in my mid twenties – an idea that I’ve never been brave enough to birth until now, some 20 odd years later – it feels more than a little unnerving to have BLG discuss my idea as some unfaithful, unloyal and fickle wee sprite, off to attach itself to another willing host if I don’t get my proverbial shit together – and the fear that maybe it already has…

Obviously, Bloody Lea Woodward (BLW) knew that behind all triggers there is damn useful learning fodder and so my present was purchased! But that wasn’t the only reason for us attending.

As you know, we’ve followed Liz Gilbert closely since we got together because nine years after Eat, Pray, Love’s romantic hetero conclusion, Liz Gilbert announced that she was in love with her, by then, terminally ill, female best friend, Rayya Elias. Following their love story whilst ours was also in its infancy was moving, poignant and ultimately painful when Rayya passed away in January this year. We identified with them and their journey, even looking vaguely like them as a couple, and to see someone find the love of their life and then lose them was a further wake-up call in our own vivid mid-life awakening.

Clearly there were a fair few other lesbian couples there who felt the same that day and that brings me onto my next issue with the day…the green eyed monster!!!

I’ve never really done jealousy before (more clues I was in the closet??!!) and yet with Lea I feel those pangs on occasion. It’s a most odd sensation in a relationship and quite disconcerting!!

To make matters worse I was in a very moony (for want of a less humiliating word) place with Lea, given that only a few days earlier we’d had quite a pivotal conversation about our relationship and the respective space we each occupy within it. This conversation deserves a whole post of its own, so I won’t dwell here, but suffice to say, I feel like I’m back at the start of our relationship; giddy, lovesick, yep there’s no less humiliating word, moony!

And yet here we were on a course with 998 other mainly women, unable to work together and Lea working with another pretty fit dyke. Seriously, this never really bothered me with men! I can even remember encouraging one of my exes to befriend his younger, fit PA, as I sensed a spark between them and thought it would make my life easier given I didn’t want to have sex with him! (Oh god that sounds so awful when I see it written down!).

On top of all this was Lea’s stuff; her utter loathing of being in a room full of people and being seen, especially when Liz was going round with a microphone and getting people to read out some of their answers and one of Lea’s partners, had her hand up wanting to read Lea’s! (I think she may have combusted had she not sat on both her partner’s said extremities and issued the Lea ‘stare of death’).

With all this emotional stuff going on as a backdrop, the workshop itself didn’t feel too taxing! We were guided through it beautifully by Liz who, still in the midst of grief, was open, warm and extremely skilled at making a room of 1000 people feel like a cosy intimate space where we could all share some pretty personal stuff, with strangers on a one to one, as well as with the whole room.

She joined in all the exercises with us which was useful (to see her examples), powerful (she’d done this process many times before and could get to the nub of things very quickly) and important as we felt she was really ‘with us’. Her relaxed and utterly authentic presenting style is still a rare one and – given that one of my core values is that people show up in my world with vulnerability – made me feel instantly trusting.

And the Big Magic? Well, the day itself was a gift in many ways – emotionally challenging, charged and thought provoking, however the really Big Magic happened after the workshop – but that’s really Lea’s magical tale to tell…

Dear you,

Yep, it was brilliant. I’m pretty sure 1,000-odd people left The Light (such a fitting name for the venue) wanting Liz Gilbert as their best friend!

The workshop itself was interesting – watching someone do their thing in such an accomplished, authentic and congruent way was worth the ticket price alone; the content of the workshop was valuable too. We basically had to write letters to ourselves from different parts of ourself – our fear, our enchantment, permission, trust and persistence.

And then we had to read each one out. To a stranger ?  She made us switch who we were sitting next to in the morning and after lunch; you can imagine my (and Becky’s) reaction to that!!

As I think back to the day though, my overriding emotion throughout was fear – probably more like terror actually. I felt highly visible, uncomfortably seen and towards the end of the day as Liz was doing a Q&A I had an overwhelming sense of being desperate to leave; and we practically ran from the venue once it was over.

This experience – the sensation of terror – in itself was the nugget of gold…in our processing after the event, it was like a download of my stuff directly into my head.

Why on earth did I feel such terror? Why did I feel so visible? Why is the prospect of being seen so utterly repulsive to me?

You know how I’ve always preferred to stay in the background – personally and professionally, avoiding the limelight and never wanting to be front and centre…why?

The answer: Because my first experience of being seen resulted in my ‘primal wound’.

The memory that felt like it was downloaded straight into my head that day was a sense that while I was in my birth mother’s womb I somehow knew I wasn’t wanted, but I had a hope – an expectation in fact – that in being seen (born) things would change and I would indeed be wanted, kept, loved and not rejected, not abandoned. Obviously that wasn’t the case and therein lies my first and fundamental experience of being seen and what happens when I am: Rejection, abandonment and separation. Ouch.

It was a powerful insight and I’m sure you can draw the same conclusions from that around my career (and personal) stuff of wanting to stay in the background, never being front and centre, so I’m never really seen.

And yet, when I look back at the letters I wrote, one common theme emerges: my desire to be more fully and wholly seen ?

As for us – Becky and I – it’s yielded all sorts of interesting insights!

On the day, we felt totally disconnected – which I think was largely down to me and my utter discomfort and need to disconnect.

And we didn’t actually read each other’s letters till a few weeks later – this past weekend in fact – which in itself was interesting and feel relevant to the whole theme of being seen and putting/having the focus on myself.

In a nutshell, Becky’s letters included a lot of me and mine didn’t include much of her!!! Although that caused a minor wobble, fundamentally I think it’s a perfect reflection of our stuff – our past experience of relationships, how we work together, and how we view our relationship together.

And no, it’s not that she’s not a feature of my life!! It’s that she’s already so embedded in my life as a defining feature, I didn’t feel the need or desire to make that explicit through my letters. And given there’s a current theme floating around of me finding and fighting for space and airtime, it feels like my letters – which were so unusually focused on me and no-one else – reflect that rather fittingly.

So…Big Magic indeed. And given what’s currently going on, this feels like just the beginning!

This Theme’s Soundtrack…

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Underneath The Stars On A White Horse

Underneath The Stars On A White Horse

Dear you,

I know lots of people say that winning millions on the lottery is the thing that would most change their lives. But for me, ‘life changing’ seems to have decided to gently tiptoe in the back door rather than announcing itself loudly with a fanfare and a big cheque!

In the past year and a half, I have finally begun to do more of the life changing things I’ve always wanted to be doing before ‘being a grown up’ got in the way. Even more excellently, I get to do those things with a person who’s nearly as excited to do them as me, the person I utterly adore spending time with.

These life changing things aren’t as dramatic as coming out, (think that’s enough of a massive life changer for one millenium!), they are the everyday things that make me feel glad to be alive, that make my soul sing and that frankly I’ve been putting off for far too long!

I can hear you impatiently telling me to stop getting lost in the romance of it all and just tell you what these bloody tiptoeing in lifechangers are!!!

Well, it’s the joy of doing the i crossword together, (lazy days sans enfants should always involve words of crossness!), of holding hands to the ‘Silver Screener’ period dramas she reluctantly consents to see at the cinema, the delight of making brunch together.

It’s our craft fetishes – stone painting (who knew painting rocks could be so addictive, once you’ve spent a small fortune on the right tools that is!), the ‘make yourself a human pin cushion’ delights of needle felting, that resulted in my most beautiful gift ever.  It’s the baking together when our sweet teeth get the better of us and it’s finally making it to the swimming pool, managing ten lengths and then spending the rest of the time in the sauna.

Gifts for the handmade Christmas that never was!

It’s going to the hairdressers together, (when are we having coffee Warren??!!), becoming addicted to things on netflix together, (Suits anyone?), all the in jokes we share  (wily nily, cocky wocky, dicky wicky) and gaffs we make – “Furnace Everdene – you know the main character in the Hunger Games” (Woodward, 2018).

It’s finally embarking on writing the book I’ve always wanted to write with nothing but love and encouragement, it’s working together, separately and jointly, fuelled by too many chai latte’s that give rise to loads of ideas, support and laughter. It’s our post therapy processing, our post shower processing, our pre dinner processing – it’s a lotta processing!! It’s me reading Eleanor Oliphant to her at bedtime and my sneaky hope it’ll lead to ‘Book at Bedtime’ on Radio 4 in due course.

It’s also letting more music in to my life, listening and playing. I never made time for it very much before but now I finally have Spotify, my piano lid is always open and Lea is painfully teaching me the guitar. It’s playing and singing together, something I’d never done in a relationship before. Did I ever imagine being brave enough to sing one of my beloved Kate Rusby songs to another human except my children? Nope. Could I be embarrassed about it? Yep! But I’m jolly well choosing not to be, because this, like everything else on my list, has been utterly joy inducing…

Quite glad she came by on her White Horse and took me off to lie Underneath the Stars…

Hey you,

What do we actually do with our precious child-free time together?? Well aside from some of the more obvious things one does when one starts a new relationship (?), we’ve been busy exploring our inner children and ‘playing’ away…

Remember I used to play the guitar? One of the best things about having some time without kids around had been getting back into it and discovering that I can actually play songs I want to play and sing to rather than have to because a teacher says so! Which means bring on the Taylor!! Though to be fair she is bloody difficult to play to and sing to at the same time and we’ve spent many an hour trying to!

I TOLD her I knew how to treat my plants well and actually keep them alive…serenading them is just one of my many secret tips 😛

Becky also declared her desire to ‘do’ crafty stuff so we’ve painted stones galore (after a slight detour for a hot stone massage and £30 of fancy pens later!!!), needle felted until our fingers bled (quite literally. And yes, had to have all the kit for this too! The garland of toadstools I made for Becky took AT LEAST 10 hours!!!) and baked – a very glutinous gluten-free banana bread, the most gluttonous all-butter, Toblerone and Lindt chocolate cookies and a few more experiments that have been greedily guzzled by Becky us both.

We flirt with exercise too – bike rides (usually ending up at somewhere that does a massive all-day breakfast!), swimming and sauna (though getting there for 10am when we’re child-free of a morning can be a bit of a stretch!), and I’ve coaxed her into the gym a couple of times…the lure of a big purple ball has been too much to resist!!!!

We also spend a fair bit of time working – Becky’s started writing her book (know any publishers looking for a world-changing epic adventure series???!) and I continue to swing between my various ventures.

So, while we’re not exactly doing anything earth shattering much of the time (we save that for the bedroom, ho ho ho!!!), it is really nice to be enjoying some of the things we’ve always wanted to try, get back to or simply enjoy doing, with someone I’m utterly in love with.

This Theme’s Soundtracks…Spoiling you with two!!!

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Fireworks

Fireworks

Dear you,

It’s not all been a bed of roses. I know it can be easy to focus on the upsides, especially in the beginning when a new relationship is fresh and exciting, but there have been many difficult aspects in making this leap to totally change all our lives.

First, having the courage to end a 12-year relationship was not easy. It had been the longest relationship of my life and the man in question was my children’s father. However, I had known for a long time that things weren’t as I wanted them to be between us, and while my coming out might seem the reason for that, it was by no means the only reason and our differences were, for me, too great to try and work through. Although it was difficult at the start I think he realises now that we were both in denial, not facing up to the reality that we just weren’t in love any more and clinging onto the relative safety and security of our familiarity.

Once Lea and I were aware there was something between us, even though we didn’t know what, we knew we had to be brave and end things, not just because we wanted to give us a chance but because regardless of whether we worked out or not our relationships weren’t right for us anymore and hadn’t been for a while.

That was a difficult call to make because once we did, it meant facing up to the fact that we would be breaking up the family unit for our children. We both come from divorced parents and each have our respective emotional baggage around that. So, the idea of consciously creating emotional baggage for our own children was painful, however much we believed that in the long run it would be better for them having two happier parents.

We’ve had to navigate our way through holding four little hearts and minds, and help them come to terms with all the change that has been thrust upon them through no fault of their own. There have been many challenges, but overall we have worked tirelessly to try and ensure they all have a voice and aren’t internalising their feelings. That’s certainly how I felt as a child, and there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that holding onto those painful and unresolved emotions from childhood can lead to illness and disease in later life – I have fibromyalgia ?

Helping the kids navigate their emotions has got easier as Lea and I have navigated our own, both individually and together. We were both pretty self aware when we met but being together has taken this to a whole new level! As we have processed our way through aspects of our own individual unresolved stuff and supported each other to look at our defences – the ways we hide and the games we play, often unconsciously – we have become better equipped to help our kids unpack their emotions and deal with them in a more direct and straightforward way. It’s been a steep learning curve though and continues to present challenges!

All that said, despite the difficulties, challenges and sadness I wouldn’t change any of it. I have never grown so much in so many ways – ways that have helped me grow as a parent, as a partner and as a person.

I’ve made tons of mistakes and will doubtless continue to do so, but I’m living a life that feels far more authentic, makes me feel happy and offers my children a chance to see their mother taking her own needs seriously, managing (for the most part!) to have an amicable, adult relationship with their father and helping them learn emotional skills that sadly they won’t learn at school. That’s the thing with fireworks…after the loud bang and the shock, you’re treated to something spectacular ?

Hey you,

Well, I think the hardest thing has been making sure the children are as ok as they possibly can be with what’s happened. We’ve all worked really, really, really hard to make sure they know it’s not their fault.

Navigating the dynamics of each of them individually, as siblings in a pair, and then all four of them together has been and still is a massive challenge, and can be quite triggering for us both at times especially given some of the dynamics currently playing out. I think it’s probably been one of the biggest causes of friction between us, aside from some of our own stuff. Fingers crossed that the endless sportscasting will eventually pay off (for adults and kids!!!).

The second hardest thing was obviously the ending. How do you end a 22-year relationship as smoothly and amicably as possible for all parties? From dividing house things and sorting out joint admin to agreeing how things are going to work with the kids etc., never mind the emotional stuff.

It seemed much easier in the beginning strangely, but even months later it’s still not a clean break – not sure it’s really ever going to be given the kids and some of our respective ‘stuff’. 

And then I think it’s been the realisation – from being in a new thing with someone – that we all have so much of our own shit to deal with. Obviously mine relates hugely to my adoption (rejection, abandonment and separation, as you can probably guess ?).

There’s something scarily powerful about the dynamics of being in a new relationship that will highlight all sorts of insecurities, patterns and behaviours that an existing ‘safe’ relationship just doesn’t. And being with someone who is so good at seeing my shit – sometimes before I even know anything’s going on – is both a blessing and a curse!!

But while this has been really, really hard, it’s also been one of the best and most precious things about what Becky and I have together…the ability to see through the BS and the defence mechanisms we’ve so cleverly hidden behind throughout the years to keep everyone else at bay is something I’ve never experienced with anyone before. There’s nowhere to hide and for the first time, it feels like I’m being really and truly seen for who I am by someone who gets me, sees me and loves what they see.

So yes, there have been some very tough times and there continue to be. But was it worth it and would I do it all over again? Hell yes!

This Theme’s Soundtrack…

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