I'll never forget the question that changed my life.
I had promised the children we could have a dog and we finally chose a beautiful German Shepherd called Ella. She was very glamourous - like a kind of doggy 1950s movie star: beautiful, intelligent and very high maintenance.
But she never lay still. She'd pace the house and began to chew the walls. Sometimes when I opened the back door she would race across the field to the local school because she could hear children playing football. I knew she only wanted to play but she'd run off with the ball and when I went to get her, a replacement for the punctured football in my hands, the headmaster warned me that it would only take one child to be scared and the dog would have to be put down.
I tried everything to help her settle - hours of walks and training, took her to classes, I even hired a dog whisperer! I lovingly cooked tripe and baked healthy treats to make sure it wasn't her diet that was affecting her. Then one day, out of the blue, my mother-in-law rang up and said "I don't think the dog is working out. You have done everything you can, you're exhausted and I think you need to let her go."
I was so shocked. I thought I'd hidden the toll that taking care of the family, running my business and trying to make the dog happy was taking.
The thought of getting rid of the children's beloved pet was agony. I knew they would be devastated, especially the youngest. I kept trying to calculate which would be the least damaging - being a stressed-out mum for the rest of the dog's life or giving her away and ruining the children's childhood to save my sanity. Every time I thought about getting rid of the dog I'd feel guilty and cruel and berate myself as a bad mother. Every time I thought about keeping her I wanted to shoot myself.
Then a friend asked me a life-changing question: '
'Are you willing to disappoint another in order to be true to yourself?'
I chewed that over for days but I knew the answer straight away. I found a home for the dog and told the children we needed to let her go as she wasn't settled with us. It was awful, one of the children just walked to the corner of the room, turned his face to wall and wept silently. They were heartbroken, we all were, but my friend's question kept ringing in my ears and, like a mantra, gave me the strength, courage and compassion to help us all through.
Ella was happy in her new home on a farm and, would you believe, four days after she'd gone a black kitten turned up at our back door and never left. Despite asking around we never found where she came from but we all firmly believe she'd heard our heartbroken cries and came to help. She's still taking care of us.
It took a couple of years for the children to work through their grief and loss. I never felt guilty, though. I was sad for the children and I was sad that things didn't work out the way we'd all hoped. Whenever we talked about it I always apologised, but I also forgave myself. I knew I had done what was best for us all - including Ella.
I learnt so much from this experience, but most valuable of all was the question itself.
Are you willing to disappoint another in order to be true to yourself?*
(from 'The Invitation' by Oriah Mountain Dreamer)