There are some days/weeks/months in life where you feel you can’t get it right, no matter how hard you try. As I prepare to leave my ‘mid’ 30s and hurtle towards 40 I realise a lot of this is just being an adult. You have good days and bad days and hopefully, more good days than bad. What tends to complicate things is by the time people get to my age often they don’t just have themselves to consider so retreating under the duvet until the world feels a friendlier place again isn’t an option.
We’re going through a tough time in my house at the moment. It’s January, moods are low and irritations, high. We’ve all had a change with my partner moving in 10 weeks ago and are all adjusting in our own ways. A lot of the time this works but sometimes everyone gets the wrong end of each other and it causes tension and irritation.
I always knew I wouldn’t be the same parent that I was raised by. Whilst my partner, the kids other parents and I are leaders in managing the kids emotional development, wellbeing and physical safety, our childrens feelings are as valid and equal to our own. How do you explain this and really get through to someone who has relatively draconian views on this subject? Parents are parents and there to be respected and obeyed. Of course we need to teach our children manners and the benefits of listening to instructions and awareness of others’ feelings and how we impact on those. In my parenting that is part of the leadership I mentioned above.
The thing is everybody is damaged. No exceptions. Even those who think they’ve had the most glorious, happy childhood may have been subjected to over-parenting, parents who have more ambition for the child than the child is able to achieve. Or those who are such a stickler for manners that the child’s feelings are suppressed.
Then there are children who are subjected to plain old abuse. In 2014 (I think) the government changed some of the Safeguarding protocol to include that children who are witness to one (or both) parent abusing another are considered to be subjected to child abuse. This includes children who witness parents arguing in a loud/aggressive manner.
For those who are curious my children fall into the latter category having spent 7 and 3.5 years (respectively) witnessing daily emotional, physical and sexual abuse towards me from their father. How/why didn’t I protect them is a question I’ve been lucky to not have been asked but in case anyone who has stumbled across my little corner of the internet wants to know, simply put, I grew up in an abusive household and to begin with, in my relationship, I didn’t realise that what was happening to me/our household, was abuse. It felt as though it was a continuation of my childhood and I figured that this is what life was; a matter of survival, making the most of situations when I was out of the house and felt like I could breathe, and buckling up for going home and whatever was waiting there.
Once I’d left my ex-husband I thought I was free. I recognised that I could live a life I wanted for me and my children and it didn’t have to include abuse. The euphoria was great; the depression at times, was greater. A lot happened in the first year of separation; I lost friends who didn’t want to be a part of my new life even though we’d walked together for 30 years. I made new friends who hadn’t known the old me and we could start with a clean slate. Some friends I thought would step up and support me and the boys didn’t, they continued in the odd night out/playdate with the kids. The friends I’d been close to rallied round in every way they could. I learned that leaving a marriage wasn’t the same as leaving any old relationship and just when you felt the world was a safe place and you knew your place in it, something would come along and whip the rug from under your feet.
There were a few incidences in that first year where my ex-husband’s abusive side kicked in, where he became controlling around the children, taking them away without me knowing where they were and refusing to have them during his scheduled time which scuppered work meetings for me, all the time screaming ‘you wanted this, you chose this life’ at me. 10 months after we separated he came to the house, his behaviour was awful, abusive and mine and my friend’s children witnessed it. My kids were added to the Safeguarding register at school, Social Services were called, my counsellor became involved, my eldest son started having debilitating anxiety attacks and life was a mess. My ex-husband’s behaviour became more erratic, admitting to stalking me online, scuppering relationships with important contacts I’d made and on one occasion, exposing our fatally allergic child to the allergen then not reporting it to me.
What followed were some of the most stressful months I’ve encountered in my adult life. Not being able to work enough because I was constantly in meetings with Social Workers, therapists and the school. Not having the confidence to work because my ex-husband was stalking me and chipping away at me, character assassinating me and my work in abusive emails. The children started to show their fear and pain, some pent up, some new, through their behaviour and everyone was telling me what I ‘must’ do on a practical level, basing it on their own experiences/prejudices, without having any understanding of what I and my children were going through emotionally.
When you live in an abusive situation you know what’s waiting for you at home. When you detach yourself from an abusive situation but still have to be a player in it by virtue of the fact you share children, you don’t know what’s waiting for you, when they’re going to attack, how they’re going to do it, who it will involve. You just know that at some point, they will.
In the meantime you get on with life. You arrange therapists for your children, you have meetings at school, you cut out toxic people from your life, you stop drinking alcohol because a glass of wine doesn’t help anything and you spend hours explaining to your partner and friends that yes, they may parent differently to you and they may be more forceful and less compassionate in their parenting, and yes, their children (generally) do as they’re told but they and their children haven’t lived under the cloud of abuse that you and yours have.
The message that this well meaning advice gives out is… ‘you’re failing at this’. It’s a hard message to hear. I’ve already failed to protect my children from abuse. I failed at my marriage. Since separating I’ve failed to be as successful as I need to be in my work. If we want the full blown pity party here I also failed at school with the worst A Level results in my year. I get it. I fail at stuff.
I also get up and face another day. Relentlessly, even on the days I want to hide away and pretend the world doesn’t exist, I face the day, I face my children and all I can say is ‘I’m sorry this was your beginning but I’m working so hard to ensure abuse has no part in your middle or end story’. I face my partner and friends and say ‘I’m sorry you don’t always like my parenting and you feel frustrated with it but I’m not sorry for parenting the way I feel meets my childrens’ needs best’.
Integrity is what I have to give. My skill. For so long I couldn’t live with integrity, having to hide what was going on at home, having to tell myself that this life was ok for me and my kids, it’s all I deserved. These days people may not always like me or my actions very much. They may not understand my motivation or my back story but integrity is my bedmate. Coming from someone who lived with their (ex)husband gaslighting them for 8 years, integrity, knowing the real me and behaving autonomously is all I’ve got left.
Some days life is hard. Some days I struggle more than others and I may stumble, but I will never quit.