Senator Lynn Ruane: I had a few wild years. Pregnancy calmed me down

Parenting in my Shoes: ‘I hope the girls continue the journey they’re on. I’m so impressed’

Lynn Ruane with her daughters, Jaelynne and Jordanne

Lynn Ruane with her daughters, Jaelynne and Jordanne

 

Senator Lynn Ruane was only 15 years old when her first child, Jordanne, was born. “I’d had a few wild years before that,” Ruane says, “and then I was working in a pharmaceutical company. I had left school. I was working, I was trying my best to try to straighten myself out a bit.”

The initial reaction of Ruane’s parents to her pregnancy was “shock and concern and worry”, but, she adds “my parents, no matter what I did in my life, always moved from their emotional reaction straight into a very logical way of dealing with things. They just knew that this was the way it was, and they just rode in and supported me.

“It did massively help me calm down, but obviously I had experienced a lot in my life so it still threw out my raising of my children. I still would have been dealing with a huge amount of trauma and a huge amount of stuff that had happened to me in my life. So even though in that instant my life became less chaotic, I was still dealing with the aftermath of chaos.

Even though I was a mother who very much loved her daughter, I was still very much a child who was very broken

“Just because I became pregnant, it didn’t mean that the environment I was living in all of a sudden became any different,” explains Ruane, who lives and grew up in Killinarden, Tallaght. “My world was surrounded by addiction, by lots of people in lots of pain. They were the people I loved the most. Everybody I cared about in my community was still experiencing huge levels of depravation and trauma.

“Experiencing the death of my friends had a massive impact on how I engaged with life and my sense of mortality and my sense of how it was likely that many of us wouldn’t live to adulthood. When you live your life with the idea that your future may never be, you kind of take a lot more risks with your life.

“You’re nearly raising children in a situation where it’s harm reduction. You’re just trying to keep your family and yourself as safe as you can in the moment. That’s really what parenting was like for me for a long time, even though I tried my best to show my kids as much as I could what existed outside of the lack of opportunity that we faced.”

Ruane began working in the area of addiction when she was very young, which not only provided her with an income, but also access to people who guided her through some challenging times.

“I was very lucky that I ended up with a lot of mentors because it doesn’t always happen,” Ruane says. “I’ve had a counsellor since I was a child and I still link in with him now if I need to. There were lots of people doing crisis management on my life for a long period of time.

“When you match that up with parenting, even though I was a mother who very much loved her daughter, I was still very much a child who was very broken.”

Senator Lynn Ruane in Killinarden, Tallaght, where she grew up and still lives. Photograph: Dave Meehan
Senator Lynn Ruane in Killinarden, Tallaght, where she grew up and still lives. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Ruane was 22 when her second child, Jaelynne, was born. “Jordanne was a complete powerhouse for me when Jaelynne came along because I was trying to work and study and carve out a life for us so that they could go to college and stuff, but Jordanne would step in and take Jaelynne to school, and watch Jaelynne.

“I was in a much more stable position but still very much on a journey,” she says. “Jaelynne would have been quite young when I was sexually assaulted in my home. A whole new journey of trauma.

“I kept it inside me for a number of years. I never spoke about it. But, when I look back now, it definitely had a negative impact on my behaviour. I was quite angry. My window of tolerance was really, really low. There was just a few years where I was hypersensitive to too much noise, too many things. I wanted to be on my own. I wished I could just go into my bedroom and close the door and obviously you can’t do that as a parent and then you’re feeling guilty.”

The attack had a huge impact on the sense of fear Ruane developed for her daughters. “I think it made me fearful to the point of irrationality. I placed a huge amount of responsibility on my girls to protect themselves.

I’m probably the best that I’ve possibly been in my entire life. I’m much more open and I’m much softer actually

“I took the onus away from the fact that they should be able to exist and operate in a world without fear of being attacked or manipulated or hurt or coerced, and I took all the responsibility away from men. And I never really discussed that side of it.

“So it was more about ‘don’t do this, don’t go here with blokes, don’t be in a bedroom on your own with a male friend’. I was militant. All I did in this really militant way was make them 100 per cent responsible for the fact that they could be raped and that was so wrong on my behalf.”

With Ruane having experimented with drugs from about the age of 10 or 11, she became “hypervigilant” as Jordanne grew up. “I don’t think that’s because I thought she was doing anything, I think it was because I was being triggered by her age,” she explains. “I think her hitting milestones brought up a lot for me as a child at that age.

Lynn Ruane with her daughters, Jordanne and Jaelynne, at Trinity College Dublin in 2015. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Lynn Ruane with her daughters, Jordanne and Jaelynne, at Trinity College Dublin in 2015. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

“I think in the past three or four years I’ve started to really feel the benefits of all the work I’ve done for all those years,” Ruane says, referring to her years of counselling and therapy.

“I’m probably the best that I’ve possibly been in my entire life. I’m much more open and I’m much softer actually. A lot of people wouldn’t have experienced me as very soft, because I felt I had to be hard to raise the kids, get through this world. I’ve got to a point where I think I’ve reached a stage in my life where I feel some level of safety and security and a level of sensitivity that has had a positive impact now on my parenting.”

Support within the family network is very important to Ruane. “It’s quite a blended family. Their dads and their dads’ families would have their relationships with the children, and the children would have relationships with their dads and their partners and their other siblings. We all just try to make the best of that and the most of that. We would spend time in wider group settings as three big large families.

I just want the both of them to continue existing in the world in its fullness

“And we’ve all supported each other. As a family we’ve worked very hard to maintain all the identities that exist within my children’s lives. I suppose it was very important to me that the kids had access to all the parts of themselves and that included the wider families.”

There have been highs aplenty throughout Ruane’s motherhood journey too. “The kids have made me very proud at every moment. I remember walking the red carpet with Jordanne when she was 13 and she was nominated for an IFTA and just looking at her and thinking, what the hell? I remember watching Jaelynne in Trinity and watching her confidence and watching her walk around the campus at the age of eight and just know where every building was and know the names of the people who worked there.”

Looking to her daughters’ futures, Ruane says “there’s stuff that we all went [through] in terms of happiness and health but my hope is that they just continue on the journey that they’re on, because I’m so impressed looking at them now and how conscious they are of the world and the people around them and how conscious they are of the struggles of people outside of their own space.

“I was so insular and so local and it’s like my life only existed in Killinarden. I just want the both of them to continue existing in the world in its fullness.” 

Parenting in my Shoes
Part 1:
Vicky Phelan
Part 2: Lynn Ruane
Part 3: Keith Walsh
Part 4: Victoria Smurfit
Part 5: Billy Holland
Part 6:
Joanna Donnelly

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