paradise wildlife parkIf you’re in the market to see animals of all shapes and sizes, I’m pretty sure you’ll love Paradise Wildlife Park.

I can see why it’s Europe’s leading zoo, because I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen so much variation under one roof. From reptiles to big cats, penguins to zebras and a life size dinosaur exhibition thrown in for good measure, you’d be hard pressed to not find something for everyone. All three of my children (aged 4-9) were suitably impressed, which is saying something in itself.

The park is huge and it was amazing to see how much space the animals have to roam around. My memories of the zoo from when I was a kid always include sad animals pacing their tiny cages. The animals at Paradise Wildlife Park are clearly being cared for well, and they certainly seemed to be content within their surroundings.

paradise wildlife parkThroughout the day there are feeds and talks you can participate in, to hear the keepers talk about specific animals. They also have daily shows in the jungle theatre. I really enjoyed hearing all about the cheetahs, although it’s sad to think that in this day and age people still kill big cats for their fur.

Did you know that there were over 100,000 cheetahs in 1900, compared to less than 10,000 now?

Did you know that unlike other big cats, cheetahs do not roar, they purr like house cats?

Did you know that cheetahs are the worlds fastest land animals? They can achieve their top speed in just three seconds!

paradise wildlife park

 

Our favourite bits 

There are over 800 exotic wild animals at Paradise Wildlife Park, including five species of big cats. We wanted to try and see everything, and arrived nice and early so we could fit loads in.

The big cats have such a presence, but they were also really chilled out, just loafing around. It’s like they’re looking directing at you, and I find it rather exhilarating being that close to nature. The white tiger was particularly awesome and so beautiful.

paradise wildlife park

The reptile house was fascinating, and I sat watching the alligator for about ten minutes – his graceful moves were so mesmerising. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the cockroaches, because I have a strange and unfounded phobia of them, which my kids all thought was hilarious. Clara was in awe of them because she thought they looked like giant woodlouse, one of her faves.

We love dinosaurs in my house, so the mini train taking us through the World of Dinosaurs was a real treat. There are thirty life size, moving and roaring dinos in the exhibition, which opened recently. They are incredibly well made and a few are a tad scary because of how huge they are, we really enjoyed it.

paradise wildlife park

It’s always a pleasure to see penguins strolling around, who can fail to smile at these little guys? The camels were intriguing creatures, although hold your nose because they’re rather pungent. The zebra was meandering freely in his stable, and we are still trying to work out whether they are white animals with black stripes or black animals with white stripes. Have you ever pondered this?

paradise wildlife park

 

After the children had exhausted themselves inside the park, we went to the outdoor playground for them to tackle the obstacle course. They then had about ten minutes at the soft play area before it was time to start heading off. They would have happily stayed for longer had we not been watching the time so we didn’t caught in rush hour. It was a truly fantastic day out, and I’d love to go back again sometime soon.

Facilities

There are tons of picnic benches dotted around, and lots of clean toilets (including plenty of baby changes and disabled loos). We took a picnic with us, but the food looked decent, and the cafes serve a wide variety of hot and cold drinks, snacks and meals. The park is buggy/wheelchair friendly, and all enclosures have viewing windows suitable for small children and those in wheelchairs.

We had a glorious day in the middle of summer, but there is also a huge indoor play area for not so great weather. They also have several other play areas, a giant paddling pool and adventure golf course to ensure everyone is kept busy.

You can book events and experiences, such as feeding big cats and shadowing the keepers. You can have champagne breakfasts at the park, barbecues, sleepovers and team building days with your colleagues. They also run volunteering days, and are a fully registered charity (see the video below for more details).

How to get to Paradise Wildlife Park 

Drivers will need to make their way to White Stubbs Lane, Broxbourne, EN10 7QA. There are several car parks, with capacity into the thousands, and apparently even on the busiest days there will always be room to park your car.

For the non-drivers among us (like my family), you’ll need to make your way to Broxbourne train station from London Liverpool Street, Hertford East or Cambridge or Tottenham Hale tube. Outside the station there is a phone number to call to request the Paradise Wildlife Park minibus collects you, to take you to the park. The journey time is around ten minutes and costs £3 an adult and £1 a child for a return ticket.

paradise wildlife park

I was so impressed by how quickly the driver arrived and the cost too, as it would have been three or four times the amount if we’d have taken taxis. The journey by public transport often puts me off going to places like this, as they can be monumentally difficult to get to unless you’re in a car. It’s nice to see non-drivers being so well catered for.

You will receive a small discount for buying your tickets in advance online, otherwise you can buy them on the day at the gate. Under two’s go free and other tickets range from £15.68 to £21. Annual passes start from just £5 a month.

For news and updates follow Paradise Wildlife Park across social media

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paradise wildlife park

**Disclaimer: we were given our entry in exchange for this honest review – all thoughts and photos are my own. For my full disclosure policy, please click here.**

 

 

**For details on why I have decided to publish Become the Best You on the blog, please read this. Should you wish to buy the book, you can do so here**

respect yourself

Given that you’re reading this book you are likely to have had troubles in your life. Perhaps you were abused as a child. Or bullied at school or in the workplace. Perhaps you witnessed your parents go through a horrible messy divorce when you were a kid. Perhaps you’ve had bad relationships that have left your confidence in tatters. Or maybe you just lost your way and have turned to booze, drugs or food for comfort and escapism. Whatever your reasons are, they will almost always lead back to a dysfunctional past.

The only way to move on and properly heal is by being brutally honest with yourself. Admitting that you are troubled and pinpointing the cause is the first step towards breaking the cycle. Getting to the very root of our problems, even though it will involve dredging up painful memories, is the best way to ensure they are properly dealt with. Sweeping them under the carpet and pretending they don’t exist isn’t an option, it will only lead to long-term heartache. Unless you make peace with your past and forgive the wrongdoings of yesterday, and all parties involved, you will always be glancing backwards and won’t be able to focus on ensuring that tomorrow is a better day.

Forgiving ourselves and those who have caused us pain

When we have been through trauma and stress, especially if it involves abuse, our confidence often takes the brunt and can all but disappear. Other people’s words or actions can be tremendously damaging for many years after the event. However, if you are to break the cycle you must not let your life be defined by tragic and unhappy past events. You cannot allow yourself to be a victim. Take back control from those who have taken it from you.

It’s important now to stop torturing yourself over the things you have done before because absolutely no good will come of you beating yourself up. Put in the simplest terms the past cannot be changed so it’s best to accept it for what it was and move forwards with life. It is just as essential to let go of the hurt caused by those who have brought you pain. What has happened has already been done and cannot be taken back. Acceptance is the only solution. Rather than dwelling over what has gone on before, truly learn from the mistakes that have been made by not making them again. Repeating the same negative behaviour will only lead to the same negative outcome.

If you know you have caused someone else pain and you feel bad about it, reach out to them and apologise. Call them; send them a gift or a card; say the words ‘I’m sorry’ and sincerely mean it. A genuine apology will go a long way to help rebuild damaged relationships. Apologising and trying to make amends will also help to ease your guilty conscience. If the other person will allow you to, you can prove that you want to start afresh. If they’re not interested then at least you will know you’ve done the right thing and given it your best shot. As long as we put the experience to good use in the future there can be many valuable lessons to be learnt from failed relationships. All does not have to be lost.

respect yourself

Make better decisions

Most of us have done things in our lives that we aren’t very proud of, but admitting the error of our ways is a brave thing to do. Changing for the better has to start with making good decisions. If you grew up in an environment where the adults were setting bad examples and you weren’t taught right from wrong, then you will need to learn it. Let’s fine-tune your moral compass and work on your life choices.

During this process you won’t need to hide away and become boring, but you may need to remove yourself from certain situations to stop doing things that make you feel bad about yourself. This will mean taking the time to properly think over your decisions to ensure you are making the best ones possible. We want decisions that will lead to happy events, not further upset. Avoid doing things that give anyone else the opportunity to hold leverage over you, or throw those things back in your face at a later date. Occupy your time in a productive way; don’t waste it on people who don’t deserve you or situations that will damage you.

By not putting ourselves into precarious situations in the first place nothing bad can happen as a result. Often we do things because they are easy or because they have become a habit, but all habits can be broken if we put our minds to it. If you know that socialising with certain people always leads to trouble, the next time you are invited out with them politely decline. Try it as soon as you can, I bet it’s easier than you think it will be. Instead, treat yourself to a night at home with your favourite movie and truly relish the peace.

When we are surrounded by bad influences it can be very difficult to think clearly. They can cloud our judgement which leads to us doing things that we don’t really want to do. This in turn makes us unhappy, and leads to low self-esteem. We have to turn this around and get you liking yourself. It’s time to decide who has a place in your life; let’s start thinking about how your friends and family make you feel. Is anyone taking advantage of you?
Do you give too much and feel that your relationships are one-sided? Are certain people causing you to be miserable more often than not? We will discuss this more throughout the book.

Confidence is key

Having confidence in our own abilities is so much more than an external front. Once you start respecting yourself and have stopped doing things that make you miserable, over time your confidence levels should start to grow. I believe that confidence is vital if we are to drag ourselves out of a rut and move forward with our lives. When we conduct ourselves with integrity and carry ourselves with genuine confidence, it inspires faith in those around us. It will shine through every word that comes out of your mouth.

respect yourself

A suggested plan of action

– Start visualising the person you want to be and the things you would like to achieve in life. Read up on the people you most admire and how they got to where they are today. A healthy dose of inspiration can work wonders for our own motivation and creativity.
– Look for the positives in every situation and focus on all that is going well in your world. If you’re feeling low take a walk through your local park, stopping every now and then to appreciate the beautiful trees. No matter how dire our situation there is always something good to be found in nature.
– Do something small every day to boost your confidence and make you feel good about yourself. From taking extra pride in your appearance to learning a new skill, there are opportunities to give yourself a boost to be found everywhere.

Above all else at this early stage of the process: Make peace with your past no matter how dark or painful it is. Otherwise it will haunt you forever!

renee davisFor the background on why I’m publishing my self-help book Become the Best You here on the blog, please read this article. Should you wish to purchase a copy of the book, you can do so here. 

A little bit about me, Renee Davis

I was mostly ‘dragged up’. After her own unhappy childhood, my mother had a baby (me) aged 18 because she wanted someone to love her. By the time she was 25, she had three kids. I had a different father to my siblings but she felt it was best to tell me their dad was also mine. The official lie was that he was in prison when I was born, explaining why he wasn’t on my birth certificate. Growing up, it was obvious that he didn’t love me as much as he did the other two, but I wasn’t told the truth until after I had left home. Turns out my biological father was engaged to his current wife when he got my mother pregnant. To this day his wife does not know I exist.

My step-father had a horrendous childhood. His mother died when he was two, and he was shown very little love when he was younger. It’s not surprising that he was a cold man. That he turned to crime. That he was an alcoholic, manic depressive and emotional bully. I remember being at my Grandma’s house one day when I was seven or eight years old, and having to go out to daddy’s car and say goodbye because he was going to kill himself. He had a massive gun in the passenger seat and had drank so much he was paralytic. Although he didn’t go through with it, that day haunted me for years.

He and my mother had a strange relationship. They only lived together as a couple for five years from when I was eleven, and split for good after that. I viewed him as a man of mystery throughout my entire childhood. We were not allowed to meet his family and I found out some years later it was because he’d had an affair with his sister-in-law and was the father of his brother’s son. Apparently this boy and my half-brother were close in age and looked so similar they could have been twins. He knew the secret would have destroyed his brother so he sacrificed us instead.

renee davisHe was overly generous when it came to birthdays and at Christmas time, which upset my mother as she felt he was flashing his cash as a slight towards her. Day to day he provided extras which went some way towards supplementing our benefits income, but she was terrible with the little money she had. I witnessed her many times putting her last pound into a fruit machine, or going to bingo with it. She was always hoping for a big win that would change our lives. In reality, the phone and electricity were cut off more times than I care to remember, and the cupboards were often bare. It was a constant battle to make ends meet and I grew up thinking that her life must have been utterly miserable.

Being the eldest, I was regularly left alone to babysit my half siblings from a very young age. One distinct memory shines through the rest. The remains of a Guy Fawkes bonfire rekindled and the garden caught light one evening while she was out. I was nine years old and seeing fire through the living room doors was absolutely terrifying. Fortunately our neighbours across the road were home and came to our rescue. Shortly after this my mother took in a friend’s 16 year old son and he lived with us for a while.

He would take advantage of me when she wasn’t home which led to me having an unhealthy attitude towards men for many years afterwards.

My mother used to run up as much debt as she could get away with, and when it looked like it was catching up with her we would move house. Unbelievably, in the 80s the debt would mainly be attached to your house rather than your name. By the early 90s it was becoming harder to get away with but not impossible. If there was a scam to be had she would seek it out. We’d had over a dozen addresses by the time I left home, which meant going to eight different schools.

I often endured low level bullying for being the new girl and over the years I was spat at, sworn at, threatened with violence and routinely humiliated. The bullying I suffered in the last school I went to was significant, and led to a suicide attempt. I had gone to a sleepover and one of the boys molested me in my sleep. He then went into school and bragged about it. The police got involved and my so-called friends turned against me, saying it was all my fault. I found myself in the unfortunate position of being the most hated girl in the whole school. By then it was my final year and my self-esteem and confidence were at an all-time low. I loathed going in and would do anything for a day off which meant falling behind with my work.

My step-father was a permanent feature in our lives by then, and the best way to describe him was that he was a deeply unhappy, ‘functioning’ alcoholic. We got into a fight one morning about me not wanting to go to school and he punched me in the face. He was often harsh with his words but usually kept his fists to himself. He almost broke my nose, and this ended up being the catalyst for me leaving home. I was 15, had no qualifications and only £50 in my pocket. He said I’d be pregnant and living in a hovel within the year. I went to stay with an aunt in her tiny maisonette where I slept on the floor of my cousin’s bedroom between the cot and the bunk beds. It wasn’t ideal but at least I was safe.

No-one escapes the psychological fallout of a childhood like mine.

I went through major bouts of depression as a young adult, and lived life in self-destruct mode for many years to numb my pain. I spent my teens and early twenties going from one all-weekend bender to the next. I had a string of disastrous relationships early on, then spent a handful of years sleeping with just about anyone. I wouldn’t have even looked at half of them once, let alone twice when I was sober.

Eventually I had a breakdown aged 22 and sought professional help. My counsellor was an amazing women who had lots of experience dealing with family dramas. During the eighteen months that I saw her regularly she taught me that I needed distance from my family, that I deserved to be loved and how to respect myself. Although she tried her hardest she couldn’t get me to tackle my love of booze or partying. That would come later. Along with breakdown number two.

renee davis Even though my finger was firmly attached to the self-destruct button, I knew from day one that it was up to me to fend for myself and have always worked. My first few jobs were cash in hand affairs in grimy market caffs and pound shops. As soon as I had my National Insurance number I went searching for something that paid more money and offered more respect. After working in a couple of London department stores a friend suggested I learn some computer skills and try finding an office job. I took their advice and worked locally to gain some basic experience. I was the only non-family member in a small office and treated like a second class citizen, not exactly the step up I was hoping for. As soon as I felt competent enough around the computer I set my sights higher.

One sunny day armed only with a flimsy CV and the ability to talk the hind legs off a donkey, I ventured into the City of London and went door knocking on recruitment agencies. After a lot of rejection someone offered me a temp job on the reception desk of a major financial corporation. I knew it was a huge opportunity, and I worked my socks off to ensure that my initial two weeks led to a permanent role. I was given an administration role and stayed for three years, after which I moved to a company around the corner for a decent pay bump.

When I was made redundant after two and a half years I was given a £10,000 pay out. It was the most money I’d ever had and I decided to book myself an around the world ticket and go travelling. I had so much fun and met lots of interesting people, a good handful of them are still a part of my life. The trip was the best decision I ever made because it was where I met the man I now call my husband. I’d been on the road for almost six months at that point and in South East Asia for two.

Andy and I met on Serendipity Beach in Cambodia.

It was supposed to be my last night in the town before heading to Laos, and it was his first night there. I had been out to dinner with some friends and we went to our favourite bar afterwards for a nightcap. I spotted him as soon as I walked in and introduced myself right away. Sparks flew and if this doesn’t qualify as ‘love at first sight’ then I have no idea what does. We stayed up talking all night and the next morning had breakfast together and chatted away for over four hours. We clearly had a connection. Not only was he handsome and my type but he was down to earth and easy company. He was just what I needed and I decided to get an extension on my Cambodian visa and travel the country some more with him.

We spent six blissful weeks together and each day was an adventure. When we went our separate ways (him to Australia and me home) it was awful, we missed each other so much. After just three days in the UK I realised I was making a huge mistake, and within a fortnight I was on a flight heading to Melbourne. My future was uncertain and funds were fast running out but I knew I would regret not going and seeing what could have been. We spent our first six months together living and working in Australia, then went back to Asia for a little holiday before returning to the UK. Neither of us could properly settle at home because Cambodia had gotten well and truly under our skin.

We headed back out there longer-term around our first anniversary. The original plan was to find English teaching jobs, but we were given the opportunity to set up a shop above an established charity. By day we sold clothes and other tourist trinkets then four nights a week we became the Revelation Vodka Bar, specialising in different flavoured vodkas that I had created. The paint had barely dried when a spiral of events caused me to reach boiling point with my mother, and I made the tough decision to cut ties with her. I will tell you more about this later in the chapter Calling Time on a Toxic Relationship.

renee davisAlthough I now view it as one of the best decisions I have ever made, at the time it sent me to a very dark place. I pushed Andy away and crossed the line to the wrong side of partying. I was completely out of control. I was hardly eating and existed mainly on iced coffee during the day, then I’d drink vodka all evening and well into the early hours. I wasn’t averse to hanging out in undesirable places either, getting wasted with the wasters. I had a sizeable valium addiction by this stage, and would regularly take other powerful pharmaceutical drugs. My sense of what was normal and acceptable became more and more skewed each and every day. I honestly feel that had we stayed in Cambodia any longer I would have ended up dead.

When Andy and I returned home almost a year to the day after we left, it was separately. We then had an on/off relationship for months which must have driven our friends crazy. During this time I worked for a small company with high expectations of me, both professionally and socially. I used to work 12 hour days, then go out drinking until the early morning at least three times a week. After living like this for about six months I ended things with Andy ‘for good this time’. A few weeks after we split I went on the quarterly work social weekend. An all-expenses paid trip to Reykjavik. After parting non-stop for 36 hours and being so wasted I picked a fight with my boss, I took a taxi alone from the bar to my hotel on the other side of town.

When I woke up the next morning I was utterly appalled with myself.

I had gone too far this time. I’d argued with my boss, shown myself up in front of my colleagues and put myself in unnecessary danger once again. I looked in the mirror and told myself that enough was enough. This nonsense had to stop right here and right now. It was my rock bottom. The penny had finally dropped. This is when I woke up to myself and my addictions and decided to get clean. Rock bottom came with the epiphany that I was in great danger of losing the best thing that had ever happened to me. The gravity of my foolishness hit me like a whack in the face, and for the first time in a very long time I did something right.

I worked incredibly hard to become a better person than the one I was perhaps ‘destined’ to be given my background and start in life.

I didn’t so much as sniff an alcoholic drink for three months then I learnt self-control, something that had been absent until that point. I disassociated myself from bad influences and stopped partying. I knuckled down at work. I read lots of self-help books and developed a truly positive mental attitude. Above all else, I became happy with what I saw in the mirror and started enjoying my own company.

After three months of no contact I got in touch with my then ex and told him about the new me. Fortunately he gave me one last chance, and we headed into a fresh year under very different circumstances. I was no longer unable to have a glass of wine without finishing the bottle. I didn’t want to go out partying all night anymore. Fast forward to today, who is Renee Davis? I am a happily married mum of three. I’m highly regarded among my peers and considered to be well-rounded and dependable: a good mama, wife and friend.

There are people who you meet who seem to easily breeze through life. It’s as if they were born under a lucky star and it follows them everywhere. On the flip side, other poor souls get the rawest end of the bargain. For most of us though, how we deal with the hand we are dealt determines our fortune. The way I see it is this: we all have control over our own destiny. It is up to each of us to ensure that we live our lives being the best we can possibly be.

I truly believe anyone can change their ways – no matter how naughty or wicked. Anyone is capable of breaking the cycle of dysfunction as I did. You just have to want to badly enough.

When #SolidariTEA was kicking off last year, I must have been the only “mummy blogger” on the block who didn’t post a photo on social media of kids eating fish fingers with a glass of wine or G&T in the background. I didn’t feel it was morally right to do so, just because everyone else was. Instead I wrote this piece here. The way I saw it, and still do, is a group of highly successful bloggers/authors/merch makers were slated in the Daily Fail (nothing new), and accused of being bad parents for feeding their children still-frozen food whilst swigging neat gin from sippy cups.

keeping it realSeriously who does that? No-one, and anybody who actually took the article seriously needs their head read. I always suspected the main outcome would be driving blog hits/book and merch sales of said bloggers through the roof. I’ll leave you to ponder that for a second.

Many bloggers now boast about their six figure incomes, which basically means there are people at the top getting paid a shit tonne of money while the rest of us are left to scratch around for the scraps. Ooooooh, sound familiar? Every week, it seems, bloggers are releasing how to books, and e-courses about blogging. Apparently anyone can do it, and with the right attitude, work ethic and GRIT an uber lucrative new career is at all our fingertips. By grit they mean playing the social media game.

My three kids are my main priority and I don’t have the time to be permanently attached to social media engaging with my audience. Nor do I have the money to pay a VA to do it for me. 

This week I have seen the very worst side of blogging and social media. I have seen a wonderful woman get torn down in the most vicious of ways. Her character has been decimated, and her abilities as a parent have been questioned. There have been accusations thrown around saying her daughter would be better off going up for adoption. Apparently she is an unfit mother because she’s going through a very hard time financially, and sometimes has visit food banks. Trust me, I have know many unfit mothers in my time, and this lady ain’t one of them.

She is constantly trying to be a better person, and in turn a better mama. She doesn’t hide behind a cloak of G&T when life gets tough, she goes to AA meetings. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, that’s something to aspire to. What on earth is our world coming to, when one side of the fence are allowed to use their channels for keeping it real, they’re allowed to have fun,  yet the other side are vilified for the same things? The double standards in the so-called sisterhood astound me for all the wrong reasons.

keeping it realI know all about the trouble with keeping it real online

With my properly raw posts I quite literally bleed all over the screen. I’ve been told by some readers that they wince as they’re taking in what I’ve written. I have questioned myself over and again, wondering if it’s absolutely necessary. Doesn’t all this emotion just leave us vulnerable? Well in a way yes it does, and of course I can only speak for myself here, but I would never change the way I write. I don’t make much money – a few grand a year, which keeps me ticking over (and by a few, I mean less than three last year). We get some nice meals and lovely days out for the kids, in exchange for my words. But I am rarely paid in cold hard moolah. This illusion that we’re all earning six figures has to be shattered!

The reason I’m still blogging, even though I have gone through many cycles of wanting to stop over the years, is because my readers regularly get in touch and tell me my blogs are their therapy. That I make them feel less alone. Trust me, no matter how understanding friends and family are, no-one truly gets how utterly all consuming it is to raise kids on the spectrum, unless they’re also doing it.

More than anything though, I’d like to be remembered as someone who isn’t afraid to talk about the things most people shy away from. I will never stop standing up for injustice when I see it, online or IRL. We are living through a seriously sad and polarised era, where Donald Trump is the most powerful man in the world, and the Tories have been voted in THREE TIMES since 2010. Largely I think due to non-voters and those completely unaffected and apathetic towards the devastating austerity cuts.

Which is why I point blank refuse to be silenced through the fear of people rolling their eyes at me. I will never stop keeping it real, and talking about things that are truly important. After all, isn’t that what blogging is supposed to be about?

**For details on why I have decided to publish Become the Best You on the blog, please read this. Should you wish to buy the book, you can do so here**

Question: What is the cycle of dysfunction?

Answer: A negative pattern of behaviour passed on from parent to child, which will continue indefinitely unless the person at the end of the cycle actively breaks it.

My mother had a rotten childhood. Her father was killed in a road accident when she was small. He left behind my pregnant Grandma who was carrying their sixth baby, along with five kids aged between one and ten.

They were living in the United States at the time and she came back to London where she raised her family alone. She worked six days a week to provide a roof over their heads and food on the table, yet her kids all resented her for it.

They would have preferred to have had a mum who was home more, but she thought she was doing the best thing by working. While Grandma grieved for her husband and threw herself into her job, the six of them were largely left to their own devices and brought each other up.

cycle of dysfunctionMy mother and her siblings are classic examples of a dysfunctional childhood. As adults, the four women chose their men badly and suffered affairs, violence, emotional abuse and loneliness. Although the men chose their partners well, they both had their fair share of issues.

All six had two or three children each, and the last time I saw any of my cousins it was clear that we were all (in some way or other) still reeling from what we had gone through. None of us were spared our parents’ dysfunctions.

My mother was deeply affected by her childhood and she emerged from it knowing she wanted a better start for her own children. There was no way she would go out to work all hours leaving her family behind once she was a mum. She wanted a family desperately and felt that constantly being present would be enough to ensure her kids grew up happy. Unfortunately, the reality couldn’t have been further from what she had intended.

Rather than dealing with the past, healing herself and gaining some life experience, she rushed into having a baby with my biological father when she was 18. A man who abandoned her to marry the woman he was engaged to throughout their brief affair.

She then did the exact same thing less than two years later with my step-father. She’d only known him for a few months before falling pregnant with my half-brother. My half-sister came along three years later even though they were not a proper couple.

From my earliest memories I knew my path was straightforward. I would not just talk about how my kids would have a better childhood than the one I had yet still rush into having babies anyway.

I knew I had to do everything in my power to become emotionally stable before bringing children into the world

Once they were here I would ensure I did not repeat history. In my early twenties I honestly didn’t think I had a maternal instinct. I was far too busy experiencing as much of what life had to offer to be getting broody.

For me, breaking the cycle of dysfunction meant finding true happiness within myself. I then had to settle down with a suitable partner before even entertaining the idea of starting a family. I found my husband long before I found inner peace, but both were firmly in place before falling pregnant with our eldest daughter.

Now as a mum of three, one diagnosed autistic, I know with absolute certainty that I did the right thing. I would have never been able to cope with the trials and tribulations of motherhood had I not fully dealt with my demons and put the past to rest before having my children. I also know that I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without the support of my wonderful husband and amazing friends.

the cycle of dysfunction

This is a chicken and egg situation, because without becoming the best me I would not have kept hold of the fantastic people I have in my life

I believe most negative behaviour patterns lead back to a cycle of dysfunction, and you can apply the rule to almost any negative situation. The hardest part can be realising the cycle exists in the first place. Once you are able to recognise the cycle and are committed to breaking it, you’re half way there.

You have to be willing to unlearn things that have been passed down from your family, and shun deeply ingrained thought processes. It’s time to start truly thinking for yourself.

If you have a cycle of dysfunction to break yet do nothing to actively break it, you will almost certainly pass your dysfunctions on to your children one day. The cycle has to stop with you to ensure they are given the very best start to life that you can possibly offer them. If you are already a parent then please do not feel the opportunity has been lost. As long as you are 100% committed to the cause, the cycle can be broken at any time.

Today is a good day to start your journey.

More examples of the cycle of dysfunction

Emotional and physical abuse
– Growing up in a violent environment, then going on to become violent yourself or having a partner who is violent towards you.
– Growing up watching one parent always putting the other one down, destroying their self-confidence with every comment. You may do the same as an adult or have a partner who is derogatory towards you but feel you do not deserve any better.
– Watching a parent be cheated on and generally treated badly by the other, then going on to treat your own partners badly or being treated badly yourself.

Health Issues
– Growing up around alcoholics or drug addicts and developing addictions yourself. It’s imperative that you wake up to these addictions and seek help as soon as possible.
– Having a bad diet as a child which has led to weight and/or psychological problems as a result. If you were never taught how to cook and are still eating badly you are likely to be struggling with these issues well into adulthood.
– Some minor health complaints can be completely fixed and avoidable in the future through eating well and looking after our bodies.

Other examples
– You may have felt you were a disappointment to your parents when you were growing up which has led to having low self-esteem. If your parents expected too much from you as a child, this could lead to feeling that nothing you ever do is enough.
– Not being good with money and getting into debt while you are young is a curse. If your parents were bad with their cash then you have never known any other way of life.

cycle of dysfunction

What separates the cycle breakers from the cycle repeaters?

This is of course the million pound question. What is the fundamental difference between a person capable of breaking the cycle of dysfunction, and a person who goes on to repeat history and continue it?

The answer is of course complex, with too many variables to pinpoint any one defining factor. I believe there are three core steps we need to go through to break the cycle. We will look at each of them in depth throughout the book.

Step One: Awareness
It can seem so much easier to just ignore our problems in the hope that they disappear, but they never do. In fact they become harder to deal with as time goes on. To break the cycle you have to acknowledge the cycle exists in the first place. Self-reflection can be a bitter pill to swallow but it is absolutely necessary during this process. There will be lots of looking long and hard at yourself, and the company you keep, to assess the changes that need to be made so you get to become the best you. No matter how bad your earlier life has been or how messed up you think you are, it is down to you and you alone to secure your future happiness. No-one else can do this for you.

Step Two: Determination
Breaking the cycle of dysfunction is hard work. Some people convince themselves that they don’t possess the tenacity to do the job. It is much easier to just follow in the footsteps of our parents because it’s all we have ever known, but if you want to have a different life you will need to do things differently. Waking up to wanting more is a massive step in the right direction, but you’ll have to surround yourself with the very best people in order for it to happen. A supportive partner, real friends or loving family will want to help you, not try and sabotage your efforts. People who genuinely love you would only ever want to encourage your success. You have to be strong and not let anyone take advantage of you. If certain people are bringing you down then you’ll need to be prepared to get some distance from them.

Step Three: Courage
You will have to get to know yourself, and always be true to who you really are. This means not getting swept up with the crowd, and never living your life according to anyone else’s timetable. You will need to be a ‘what you see is what you get’ type of person, not someone who changes their personality based on who they happen to be. Anyone can put on a brave face but a cycle breaker will have a truly positive attitude towards life. Once we are thinking positively we start acting positively and after a short while it becomes our natural default setting. Cycle breakers do not sit around waiting for a lottery win or dream job to fall at their feet, they make stuff happen. Ultimately it’s one thing talking about change, but actually changing is a huge challenge. You must always have the courage of your own convictions, stay focused and believe without doubt you are doing the right thing.

I hope you found this useful. Please pop back next weekend when I’ll be sharing the second chapter.