If you came from a dysfunctional family that emotionally and sexually abused your child, what would you do?
My Page 1 Woman has led an unusual life of setbacks – child sexual abuse and abduction, stalking/harassment, eating disorders, murder – I could go on. And she’s experienced victories too- for example inventing an award winning multi-combination safety ladder.
When the system failed her young daughter, she immersed herself in the world of mental health and psychology. Equipping herself to handle the impact of sexual abuse, she enabled her daughter to heal. This was her ‘unpaid occupation’, which she ran alongside her paid occupation as a business woman. This approach to setbacks has helped her to succeed.
Meet Christina Valentine – determined, forthright, fearless, risk- taker, with bags of self-belief and resilience. A woman who gives back to the community by decorating hostels and women’s refuges, free of charge. Her mantra, ‘do it yourself’, is one that she’s used in business and in her personal life to protect her daughter. ‘The system was failing so I had to do it myself’, she said.
With immense chaos in her family life, how did she keep things together whilst building a business that continues to thrive 30 years on and get her the second place award in Screwfix National Competition ‘Britain’s Top Tradesperson 2018’?
Read on and find out about the extraordinary Christina Valentine.
Describe what you do
Christina: I'm a multi-skilled trade specialist, trading as ‘Tradeswoman Extraordinaire’. I refurbish properties - which includes painting, decorating, carpentry, plumbing, tiling, bathroom fitting, kitchen fitting, flooring, restoration - so pretty much everything in my clients’ homes.
Growing up, I loved derelict buildings and breaking into them. When I was twelve, I helped dad, a builder, change the roof of our house without scaffolding as we couldn’t afford it. I'd climb onto the roof passing tiles. So, I've grown up doing it and I’ve never seen it as a man's job.
What attracts me are the creativity and the end gratification. You start something and you know it’ll be fabulous when finished. I see the vision in 3D, so implementation is easy. At school I was the only kid who could do the Rubik’s Cube.
I’ve lived a parallel life - my paid occupation (my career) and my unpaid occupation (my personal life). It began 26 years ago with my concerns about my dad’s relationship with my daughter. My head said everything was fine, but my gut told another story that I couldn’t work out. I eventually understood the power of ‘grooming’. My daughter, so ‘expertly groomed’ by her grandfather, portrayed that she’d rather be with him than with me. She’d often say, “You don’t love me Mummy, only Granddad loves me”. I too was groomed and believed I was a terrible mother.
It was reinforced by my mum and sister, Julie, constantly saying in Daisy’s presence, "Lesbians can't love children." Or, ‘Parents that work don't love their children’. So, by the time Daisy was five I thought I was mad.
When Daisy was fifteen months old, we moved to London to escape from my emotionally overbearing mother. However, my dad followed and was constantly in our home - a shared lesbian household. He played on his depression and I couldn’t get rid of him. I switched care taking my mother to care taking him. I bought a place with my girlfriend, Nikki. My sister joined us. But dad visited more frequently and my concerns increased. When I overheard Daisy calling her aunt and granddad, ‘mum and dad’, I felt terribly sick.
For a couple of years I tried to deal with this madness and the conflict between my head and my gut. I had no actual proof to base my gut feelings on. My relationship with Nikki ended and we sold the house. I set up a lesbian separatist household to stop dad from coming to our home. My new girlfriend attempted suicide, and my child-minder was murdered 24 hours later. Worried and grieving, I didn't know what to do. I contemplated suicide with Daisy to protect her from her granddad, but changed my mind, went to my GP and reported my suspicions. Eventually we got the evidence and I could protect Daisy.
My dad was furious. I had taken away what he believed was his – my 5 year old daughter. He removed his mask and went to war - abusive letters, phone calls, death threats, stalking. To other family members he was ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ who painted me as the mad abuser. Due to police incompetence the case didn’t get to court. Over the years, I successfully fought my dad’s, sister’s and mother’s separate applications for contact and residency of Daisy.
When aged 11 Daisy was abducted by Julie. With police intervention I got Daisy back within 24 hours. By age 12, Daisy began self-harming as my mother and sister stalked her. Daisy didn’t tell me in order to protect me from stress and worry.
Aged 14, she won a place at the Brit School for Performing Arts and her life was transformed - apart from being stalked by Julie. Daisy’s experiences have caused her longstanding severe mental and physical health issues. Now aged 26, with the help of psychotherapy, a specialist clinic, her psychiatric assistant dog and me her mum, she manages her triggers well and has returned to studying Fine Art at university.
What essential steps took you to where you are today?
Christina: Doing psychology courses, learning how abusers operate, understanding the system and its failings in order to fight for help for Daisy. Many organisations weren’t doing their job properly so I did it myself. I've also had many years of psychotherapy.
The impact on my business was a nightmare but I managed. I led a double life - the life with my daughter and the life my family imposed on us. I'd try to keep us both safe, but we were constantly thrown back into my family’s unsafe world. Taking my frequently sick child to work throughout her childhood was tough. She'd lie on the floor in a sleeping bag and I'd give her paper and pens and she'd happily draw. Daisy has turned out to be a triple distinction artist and an amazing tradeswoman.
What was the greatest challenge on your journey and how did you overcome it?
Christina: The greatest challenge was deciding to tell my dad he could no longer see Daisy, purely on the basis of gut instincts as Daisy hadn’t yet disclosed. When I attended MOSAC, (a charity for non-abusing parents and carers of sexually abused children) many mothers I met there had acted to protect their child after that child’s disclosure. I acted first and then got the disclosure.
I now know that the grooming started way before Daisy’s birth. As a child, I was left to my own devices, so I gained incredible curiosity and strength. I believed I could achieve whatever I wanted. Everything my dad taught me, as his princess and builder buddy, and my own innate strengths, I've used to fight back. But in order to be able to do this, I had to act on my gut feelings, which were in direct conflict with my inner voices, created by family indoctrination and dad’s grooming. So, the greatest challenge was deciding between the inner voices and my gut instincts. Self-belief told me that my instincts were right.
We all have a sixth sense, but learn to blank it out as we develop. I didn’t consciously know it, but my ‘sensory’ memory helped me accept my gut feelings. When Daisy was a toddler, after being with granddad, she’d often hug me and, I’d ‘smell’ him on her. My own 5 year old inner child ‘knew’ that smell and helped me to trust and act upon my instincts.
What was your greatest lightbulb moment?
Christina: When I acted upon my instincts, I asked dad to leave us alone. From then on he fought me. His ‘guilty’ reaction confirmed my instincts had been right - my first light bulb moment.
I decided that even if Daisy never disclosed, I’d do everything to make sense of it all and help her to disclose. I was utterly convinced that my gut feelings were right. My next light bulb moment was when I realised Daisy had been disclosing for a while in a language I eventually understood. For example, “You don’t love me mummy, only granddad loves me”; the language used by my father to sexually abuse my daughter.
What resource was crucial to your success?
Christina: Unshakeable self-belief. So, it doesn't matter who’s coming at me or how much authority they have. And even when Daisy said ‘It didn't happen really mummy’, (because the child tries to take it back when they see the chaos it causes), I was unshakeable.
That self-belief comes from being a child who believed she was invincible. Playing in derelict buildings, I never thought of falling through the floor and dying. Aged 8 and 10, me and Julie broke into a derelict hotel and climbed ten flights down the fire escape with stolen goods we’d found. I learned to be invincible and prepared to take the consequences. So, if I'd fallen through the floor boards and hurt myself, I would have hurt myself. If I'd gone to court and the judge imprisoned me, I would have assumed there would be women rioting, ready to back me up.
Throughout my childhood, having to rescue mum and dad from each other taught me I was strong. I’d accompany mum to see her lovers as a cover and then lie to dad. Mum suffered from depression and my role was to keep her together. She’d often flirt with my lesbian partners and I dealt with it to stop her getting depressed. I've been bulimic and self-harmed. I've survived. My life experiences taught me to spot opportunities in risk rather than vice versa.
What's your understanding of leadership?
Christina: I’ll share my story, show you how it’s done and I’ll help you by being a positive role model. I lead by example to inspire others to succeed.
My leadership is often subtle. If I'm doing something ‘watch me’. When I’m decorating I often lead assistants; or if I'm on a job with a client and they don't know what to do, I show them and let them have a go. I've led apprentices and trainees. And in my private life I had to educate the system about Daisy’s abuse. As Daisy's mum, I’m driven, like a lioness with her cub, to do everything to enable her to become a lioness too.
Over the years I've led in circumstances of mental health, physical health, sexual abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism. I've lived in a women's refuge, been homeless and penniless, and I've eaten from bins. There's not much I haven't done, and mainly as a single parent.
What are your top three tips for women who want to lead in their field?
Christina: Know your field. You need to have experienced it to be an expert. When you know your field you can talk easily about it. It’ll flow from you and you can lead on it.
Second, have unshakeable self-belief. When other people start doubting your convictions give them the knowledge needed to make informed opinions. To get unshakeable self-belief, do the things that terrify you and see what happens. When they work out, you’ll fill your ‘Unshakeability Bank’ with evidence that you can do it. And if things don't go well you'll have enough in your ‘Unshakeability Bank’ to help you ride the wave.
Third, be yourself. Be who you were, what you've experienced, and who you are today. I used to disown ‘Tina Walker’, the person I was brought up as. And years of psychotherapy got me to see that that feisty little girl got me to be Christina Valentine. So if people ask about my past I share it because it got me here. At one point, I couldn't talk about my dad and the abuse. Now, I recognise that I learned much from him which has helped me succeed.
Being yourself means being honest. People will trust you. My clients trust me, so I get referrals and repeat business. So be yourself.
To find out more about Christina's work click here.
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