Whānau Stories

Rewriting the story

Rewriting the story2

When I reflect back on my early years as teen mum, it’s clear that my own childhood played a big part in the way I parented. It took a long time to undo the damage to my inner self and, later on, for me to decide how I wanted to parent my own kids.

My own mum was a young mother trapped in an unhappy marriage; my father was alcoholic and had a gambling addiction so Mum had to work hard to cover our bills. She did her best to give us a better life. She pulled together extra money to send me to dancing classes, music and Brownies. But she never seemed proud of my efforts, or maybe she just couldn’t communicate her feelings, so I spent most of my childhood striving to do something to make her love me and I just felt deeply lonely.

She did her best to give us a better life.

A significant turning point happened for me when I was 11 years old. I remember coming home one day with my school report. It had a bunch of A’s and B+’s and one C and I was so excited to show Mum. I thought she might finally say she was proud of me!

I still remember walking home that day, just thrilled to the core in anticipation of Mum’s reaction. I was nearly home when I needed to cross a road, but I froze. I was so overwhelmed with expectation. I remember looking left, then right, then left, then right again for ages, unable to move. I finally snapped out of it, crossed the road and walked inside to show Mum the report, eager for her encouragement. “Well, I hope there are a few more A’s next time,” was all she said with a stone face. I was crushed.

From that point on, I changed. I had given my best effort and it still wasn’t good enough. I didn't think there was any point trying anymore. I became really wild and angry. I hated the world and I thought it hated me.

I started fighting at school, damaging property, sneaking out at night, wagging school and stealing. I had no respect for authority; I had suffered terrible abuse from some in positions of power. I was just a tween but looked older. I started getting attention from boys and it felt good to get noticed. I was brazen, obnoxious, rude and would take on anybody. I lost my sense of caring about anything. We roamed all weekend and did our own thing, escaping our inner despair.

I still remember walking home that day, just thrilled to the core in anticipation of Mum’s reaction.

To cut a long story short, I was pregnant at 16 and my introduction to motherhood wasn’t great; I was still so young myself. My baby lived with my mum for nearly a year while I worked as much as I could, leaving just enough time to see my daughter briefly in the weekends before heading off to parties. I got involved with gangs and drug dealers. I would hitchhike around the place selling drugs that I carried in a big carpet bag. Gang culture felt like family to me; I liked the camaraderie and the feeling of being connected.

When my daughter was 18 months old, I took full custody of her as I was worried about her growing up the way I had, feeling unloved. I had a transient lifestyle and a series of boyfriends – relationships which were always volatile and unhealthy. Desperate for love, I made excuses for the abuse.

My daughter became my little sidekick, coming along to all sorts of parties and places. At the time, I didn’t realise the fighting and destruction in the background would affect her. I thought that if she was with me and knew she was loved, that was all that mattered. But of course, I was still missing the bigger picture – loving parenting looks like healthy boundaries, wise decisions and practical strategies.

My story sounds pretty dire so far, but the pages slowly turned.

My story sounds pretty dire so far, but the pages slowly turned. After having my second child, daughter Holly, I found faith and life began to have meaning. Over a number of years, I managed to slowly heal and turn my life around. I’ve had a lot of counselling and have been equipped with powerful tools for recovery and resilience, including forgiving my parents, learning more about my shadow areas and being open to change.

Now I have three grown-up daughters; beautiful women – each one remarkable in her own right. Once I’d found my feet, I really enjoyed being a mum. I loved the special moments, like taking the girls eeling, exploring new places, baking together, acting silly and having some good old-fashioned fun.

My daughters have certainly been through a lot over the years – while I was finding myself, recalibrating and finishing my education. It’s been tough, but they have also had the best of me because of this process. I’ve since trained to become a counsellor and am able to use my experiences to help others.

I’ve tried to instil in my girls the importance of compassion and empathy for others, that hurt people often hurt people – either themselves or someone else.

I want them to see my face light up like the sunshine when they enter the room.

Now as a grandmother, I encourage my girls and my grandchildren as much as I can. I want them to see my face light up like the sunshine when they enter the room. I want them to know that I adore them, and love their company. They are most important people in my life.

Everyone has a story, some have more than one. We could all stay stuck in the dark places of our stories but we have to remember that above the grey storm clouds, the sun is still shining. Always.

Karen McKenzie-Gibbons is a registered counsellor with NZCCA, working in private practice and also as a locum high school counsellor.

Parenting square

Parenting Place

For over 25 years, Parenting Place has been here offering support and advice to New Zealand parents. We think that with the right support, parenting any age and stage can be a relatively stress-free and fun experience. You're doing great!

Recommended Content

Get relatable parenting advice and inspo for your family, direct to your inbox

Subscribe now