Discover more from Your Midlife Matters with Alana Kirk, the Midlife Coach
Relationships are about becoming better
But mostly about becoming
I think we forget that don’t we? That relationships aren’t a static status; once achieved, always the same? Like our individual selves, relationships evolve and shape shift, often inhabiting different domains in our lives at different times . I see it with my three daughters; because of the length of my relationship with my mum, I can find breadth in my relationships with them.
Eight years ago my mum died in my arms.
Eighteen years ago she held my first child in hers.
Hers were the arms that first held me, and mine were the arms that last held her, and in between those two embraces there was a lifetime of love. And I realise now it was never static. I kept becoming within it, as did our relationship.
That’s not to say it was always easy. Doors were slammed shut. Phones where slammed down. Fights were fought. She drove me demented. I drove her round the bend.
But it was a relationship, and like all good relationships, it required investment. Investigation. Compassion. Forgiveness. Growth. Space. Renewed commitment, over and over again.
We forget that sometimes, don’t we? That relationships need renewed commitment over and over again.
She had a catastrophic stroke four days after my last baby was born. One of her last acts before being rendered mentally and physically incapacitated was to cradle my new daughter in her arms and soothingly sing the song she had sung and still sang to my other two. The song she had sung to me forty years earlier. And so as she lay bed-bound for the next five years, I would sing it gently to her, our relationship always becoming something new.
Five years later, I would clamber on to her bed to give my dad space to sit and hold her hand, my brother holding her other hand and her head against my chest. We whispered our love to her as she took her last breath, torn apart by our grief, bonded together by our effort as a family to give her the death she deserved. She died as she had loved living, surrounded by her family. A family of relationships that had constantly changed and grown, adapted and shifted. We had all had to become better with, and to, each other to accomplish that gift for her. Some of us had needed to become better than others had. But become better we all did and continue to do.
One of the things I’m most grateful for is the fact that as an adult I found the time and emotional maturity to start to see my mum as a woman, not just a mother. That as I grew, so did my understanding of her. Just as she had invested so much of her time on me as I was growing up, so I invested time on her as she grew older.
We became as mother and daughter as I became a mother with daughters. I took her to concerts… I still remember her happily doing the crossword in the car as we sat for three hours stuck in late night mud of an outdoor venue field after watching Barbara Streisand. We danced and sang to Neil Diamond. We chatted and she mothered me still, even when I became a mother myself. Especially when I became a mother myself.
And so it is helping me as I face into the shape shifting phase as my daughters get older. As my eldest daughter became a young woman, I see how I have become better from our relationship. How much better I have still to become.
Relationships are about becoming. Friendships in particular shouldn’t just be defined by the good times; or that they’re there when the times are bad. They are about helping you become a better person. Poking and pulling at the threads of you, helping you constantly weave the fabric of your life with new patterns.
I see this through the women I coach - in their marriages, their relationships with their parents, their adult children, their friends. Often they have stopped becoming in their relationships and that is the stick.
They have stopped becoming in their marriage. They have stagnated as a person. They no longer become better in the reflection of the relationship; they become a fixture. Fixed. Fixated on fault.
They have stopped becoming with an adult child, perhaps stuck for years in a teenage dynamic, fighting the same fights under varying pretences.
They have stopped becoming with a friend group. Personal growth means change, and no-one likes change and so they stay in the same boxes despite living in different boxes outside of the friendship group.
Most of all, they have stopped becoming with themselves. They have become a role - partner, parent, person at work - and they forget to grow themselves. Like the Nesting Dolls, they forget they are the core, and they smother her with layer upon layer of other - mother, friend, job title, wife, ex-wife, widow, and they focus on surviving those roles rather than thriving within them. Or it’s not so much that they forget, they just lose the space to be, they are dragged every which way for so long, they feel scattered, relentlessly ruined and exhausted from the sheer weight of external demands and expectations that befall women in midlife.
I look at my daughter, becoming a woman, and I see with such urgency that I must continue to become more of a woman too. I must invest in my relationship with myself, I must move along with myself as well as move on from my roles as wife, mother to a child, daughter to an ageing father. In a few years they will have gone - my girls to explore and adventure their lives, becoming. My dad to the end of his becoming, and will become what I can bring along with me. Which is a lot.
Who will I be in that space they leave behind? It frightens me, it excites me. I have to renew my commitment to myself again and again, becoming something new again.
I spoke to a woman recently who is mourning the loss of her husband. She kept mentioning the term “moving on” but I suggested she considers it more as moving along. She immediately saw the difference. One implies you have to get over your grief and leave the person behind in a static state of death; the other implies you bring them with you as you carry on. We don’t leave them behind, we bring them along, the relationship still becoming. And we must move along, bringing all parts and stages with us, never really leaving her behind.
There were a few years when I didn’t know if I was coming or going, never mind becoming, my life so external - caught in the draining ‘sandwich years’ scenario of caring for my mum who needed 24 hour care, caring for my dad who became her full-time carer, caring for a newborn baby, caring for two other young daughters, caring for a husband and a marriage that was always doomed, and I lost the ability to care for myself. To keep investing in myself. I became something to everyone else and became very little to myself.
That can never happen again. These have been tough years. Single parenting. Grieving. Caring for dad. But they have been tremendous years. Becoming. Coming back to myself. Coming to my senses. Coming out of surviving mode and realising that thrival mode is something I have to create.
As I watch my daughter become a woman, and my two other teenage girls gloriously becoming who they are becoming, my dad still becoming as an 86 year old still driven by curiosity, as I work with women helping them become who they need and want to be, I remember my mum, moving along with me, and I am becoming still. Some days it feels harder than others, but that’s ok too. There is as much power in the quietness of becoming gently, as there is in the giant steps of becoming loudly. I am thankful I get to take whatever steps I can.
How are you becoming?
If you’d like to take a moment to check in on your path of becoming, you can book a one hour 1:1 Discovery Coaching Session where you get to think about you, how to manage this life you are living, invest some time and thought on you. Radical idea that is it? To invest some time and thought on you? Details are here.