You must forgive me, reader, if I have not been wholly honest with you. The anxious vise in which I've found myself these past few weeks has become something of a reccurring theme on this page and, while I offered you several of my anxiety's sources, I did not disclose its mainspring. It loomed too large and worrying. And it is only now, now it has passed, that I bore it, enjoyed it even, I feel able to write of it.

For various and uninteresting reasons I shall not bother you with, earlier this year a family holiday was planned. A holiday to visit my brother in Queenstown. A holiday to celebrate my father's 70th. We would be eight, travelling down, my husband and I and our two children; my father and his partner, my mother and her partner.

I was 8 when my parents separated. There were some hard and tricky times, but over the past 34 years they have shared the odd Christmas, invited each other to parties, and been bound together through their love of my brother and me, a bind made only stronger by the arrival of their grandchildren. On paper I had nothing to fear. And prior to our big trip south, when I expressed my angst to any of my four parents, to my husband, all were genuinely puzzled. But then none come from parents who have parted ways, and I could not, quite possibly could never, make them understand what it is to be between the two who made you.

I have seen so many behave badly when breaking up. Eaten up with bitterness towards their ex, they will try to turn their child against them. The selfishness of it takes my breath away. To grow up with hatred in your heart for your parent is hugely damaging. No matter what your feelings toward your former partner, if you truly want the best for your child, you will put your ill will to one side. A child should have the opportunity to know and love both their parents. And I have always counted myself fortunate that my parents settled amicably enough on a custody agreement.


But when a dear friend recently went to stay with a mutual friend of ours, and on her return told me how our friend's young daughter and sons had arrived back from a week at their father's and given their mother merry hell, I was troubled. It's not that I pity those children their parents having separated.

I wouldn't wish my parents back together. The presence of their partners in my life has benefited me in ways that I would not undo. However, every time I thought about that little girl and her brothers having to readjust to their mother's home, to her rules, to her way, a sense of misery and panic overcame me. If you told an adult that from now on they would have to pack up their life every week, remember everything they would need for work and Wednesday's indoor netball game and Marion's birthday party, and move to a different house, fit in with different people, they would understandably tell you to piss off.

When my parents split up, my brother, three years my junior, made it very clear how he felt, acting out in childishly destructive ways. But I tried so very hard to keep everyone happy. To ensure neither parent was lonely. That everything was okay. And last Saturday night in Queenstown, looking around the dinner table at my beloved and complex family, it dawned on me it wasn't my friend's children, loved and cared-for children whom I hardly know, who distressed me. It's myself, aged 8 and all tied up in knots, I've been feeling so sad for.

Following on

Previously I wrote about the unkindness I'd shown a stranger and pondered whether it would have been better to have said nothing at all. Nick admits he has difficulty judging what people mean by what they say. "Words, things we say and the way things are said, have the power to make or break situations." Hinu, whose mother passed away 24 years ago, said her words were ringing in her ears when she read my column. "What right do you have to judge someone when your own life may not be perfect?"