• Racquel Foran, Publisher

Be True to You

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

One of the most valuable things we can learn in life is who we are and how to be true to that person.

It is a rather sad fact of my life that I do not remember a time when the people who were supposed to love me most weren’t telling me I needed to change. It began in my early childhood. I was an exceptionally shy and anxious little girl. I would hide behind my Mom’s leg, peaking around her thigh to mutter hello to people, never raising my eyes to meet theirs. My shyness irritated my Dad, and he would often yell at me to speak up and say hello properly. He scared me, so I would cry, which led to me hiding behind my Mom, which bothered him more and led to a vicious cycle. I was always being told that I needed to stop being so shy. That I needed to learn how to speak up. That I couldn’t go through life hiding behind my Mother. But I did for a long time.

My parents divorced when I was seven years old. I went to live with my Mom, just the two of us for a while. I was in grade 2. My Mom worked full time and had to leave for work in the morning before I had to leave for school. She used to set a timer on the stove that told me when I needed leave for school. She would then leave for work and I was left to walk to school alone. At 3 o’clock when school let out, I walked back home alone again. I let myself into our apartment and let the building’s landlady know I was home safe; and then I again stayed alone until my mom got home at 5pm. I was scared and lonely, and more than once ran all the way home after school because something happened along the way that gave me a fright. I still had not found my voice and I was still extremely shy, but I had learned how to take care of myself and survive.

About a year later we moved from North Vancouver to Richmond, my mom had bought a townhouse with my soon-to-be stepfather. The dynamic of living with this man began my transformation from quiet and shy, to someone who was loud and outspoken. He encouraged that I learn how to express myself. From the outset of us living together he always had very adult expectations of me, particularly when it came to communication. He taught me that if I wanted something, or if I wanted a rule to change, or some privilege, that I must learn how to present my case/argument in a mature way. If I were not able to do that, he would not even consider what I was asking for. But also, as in life, just because I presented my case, it did not guarantee I would get what I wanted.

Changing to please others would become a fruitless pattern in my life, starting with this first effort at change. My newfound voice soon became a problem. My stepfather was a nightmare for me, but it turned out that I was a fast learner, and it didn’t take long before I could verbally outwit him. Something that did nothing to help an already tense relationship between us. Now instead of being told I needed to speak up and come out from behind my mom, I was being told that I was too loud, too opinionated, and even disrespectful when defending myself against my stepfather. Once again, the people who were supposed to love me for who I was was, were telling me that I needed to change.

While I was being told at my home that I needed to change, I was also getting the same message at my Dad’s house but in this case from my siblings. My Dad had also remarried, and my stepmom brought three children to the relationship. So, I would move back and forth from a household where I was an independent only child, to one where I was the middle child of five! And guess what?, I didn’t fit in with those other kids. They called me “Miss Mature” and made fun of me for using “big” words when I talked, and for reading books instead of listening to music. I was also the least athletic among the bunch; my brother loved to throw balls AT me and hold me under water at the pool because I didn’t like putting my head under water. The message from my parents was that I needed to “toughen up.” Once again, I was being told I needed to change to get along.

As I entered my teen years and was in the full throws of the daily battles with my stepfather, I was frequently told that I was too emotional, too sensitive, or too dramatic. If only I learned how to control myself then, I don’t know, his abusive behaviour would become more acceptable? I never really did understand the message where he was concerned. All kinds of people thought he was weird, that something was “off,” or they didn’t like him, but all these adults would also tell me that he was my elder I needed to respect him. I, the teenage girl, was clearly the one with the problem. (When years later he cheated on my mom with a woman my age, everyone was mysteriously silent about the instincts I had had about him.)

The calls for me to change continued into my adulthood. Boyfriends and bosses had criticisms of my personality: I was too forthright, too honest, and my expectations of others were far too high. Both my father and the father of my oldest biological daughter have told me I am crazy and that I need mental help. (I am and always have been a stable, fully functioning member of society who is able to form and keep relationships, work, etc.) But in a nutshell what I heard continually until I was almost 30 years old, was that I was flawed and needed to change. This has had a profound impact on who I am.

When from such a young age the people you love most (Mom, Dad, siblings) start telling you that there is something wrong with your personality and you need to change, two things happen. The first is that instinctively you think they must be right, so you must try and please them. If your Mom, Dad and siblings think you are flawed, and they know you best and love you, then there must be truth in what they are saying. And of course, a child wants nothing more than to feel loved and accepted by her parents and siblings, so I tried really hard to change in the ways they wanted. But as you might have already noted, they asked me to change when I was quiet and shy, and then when I did, they asked me to change again. So, I learned relatively early on that I was not necessarily going to please others even if I did change.

The second thing that happened is that I became obsessed with self-observation and self-improvement. I wanted to be the best version of me that I could. I wanted to like myself with confidence. And sure, I wanted my family to like me too, but I knew that I needed to figure out who I really was and learn to like, love, that person. I started on that journey 40 years ago now. There have been many ups and downs along the way. A lot of times I lacked confidence and lost my way. But somewhere in my early forties I finally started to feel comfortable in my own skin. My husband in particular had helped me find a person within me that I didn’t know was there. Someone who was laidback and relaxed. I woman who wanted to grow her hair long, wear flannel shirts, and go on long walks in the forest with her dogs. My taste in music diversified and I finally started pursuing my lifelong dream of being a writer. I was raising three lovely young girls, I had a happy (if sometimes challenging) marriage, I was at peace with my folks, and I had lasting friendships. Life was good and I liked me.

And then my girls started to hit their teen years and all the hard work I had done on myself seemed to disappear in a flash. With shocking speed my girls went from being kids who were fun to be around, to hypercritical, judgmental young people who I found difficult to be with. Let me clarify this by saying all three have always made me exceptionally proud and I have always tried to let them know this. At school, visiting family, and staying with friends we never heard anything but excellent reports about their manners, behaviour, and ability to carry on intelligent conversations. Employers describe them as reliable and hardworking. And as adults they are responsible, kind, contributing members of their communities. But the people they present to me are are not very nice. They have all decided, like family before them, that I am somehow flawed. They tell me I “need help.” They say I am unhappy despite having no knowledge of how I spend my time. Generally, they are just critical and insist “I need to change.”

However, when you are someone like me who has spent a lifetime defending who you are, you tend to become a bit defensive about who you have become. And yes, I am defensive. In my childhood, teens, twenties, and even thirties, I took all these criticisms to heart. I read the books, did the therapy, and have had the hard discussions. And I finally figured out who I am, and that newfound confidence helped me achieve goals like graduate from college, become a writer, and launch a national magazine.

I believe that we should all spend our lifetimes working on being better people. And I believe we should listen to those we love. But we should not turn ourselves into pretzels trying to become what someone else wants us to be. My daughters’ criticisms of me sent me back into an old pattern of questioning myself, of trying to change to please others, and ultimately of landing me in a place where I had lost sight of what I liked about myself, and how much I loved my life.

This demand from my daughters that I must change has, in large part, been the catalyst for launching Midlife Madness – they do make me feel like I am going mad. They describe a version of me that I simply do not know. Midlife Madness is an affirmation that I am rightminded, know who I am, and am good with that person.

This blog will also acknowledge that the journey of life is a tough one. The bumps, forks, canyons, and roadblocks are many and unpredictable, e.g. my current unexpected rocky relationships with my daughters. I have felt a bit lonely in the problems in my relationship with them, and a bit ashamed that my relationships don’t look those you see on social media, and like a failure that I have not done better at something that was so important to me. I know though, when they hit their teens and started criticizing me, I lost my way. But I am determined to get back on track. I am reminded everyday that life is raw and real, this only motivates me to be truer to myself, so I am never get lost again. And hopefully, if I focus again on being true to me, those I love will learn to love the true me!

“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

About this Blog


Welcome to Midlife Madness. This is something I have wanted to do for years; that is, write a blog about what life is REALLY like. I have always been too cowardly to pursue this though. I was so worried that my honesty would hurt the people I love most, I simply did not want to try and pursue it.

But a lot has changed over the past few years, both for me personally as well as around the world in general, so the idea has been festering again.

A few years ago one of my daughters started blogging; she  had never considered herself a writer. I on however, have always  considered myself one, but I didn't start calling myself a professional until after I graduated from a college writing program in 2007. You can do the math there... 14 years since I graduated, and I am only now mustering the courage to do what I have been told to do all along - write about what I know best. My daughter on the other hand just started doing it!

So, I am finally going for it. The plan is to write a raw, honest account of what is like to live the life of a daughter / sister/ wife  / mother / grandmother who is in middle age+. All life's joy and laughter, all its challenges and changes, and all the hopeful dreams and ugly realities. I hope what I share makes you laugh, cry, and rage. And I hope it opens up conversations between family members in a positive way. Finally, I hope it makes me feel I little less crazy while navigating all life's madness!

#midlilfe madness

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