One of the most difficult things to talk about when it comes to how abusive my ex was is co-parenting. This is partly because I still have to co-parent today, and will be doing for a long time to come. Also, partly because I know that he is a master of manipulation. Anything I say he will always twist to make himself look like the victim. I struggle to communicate with him as he is never open to communicating about our son, it is always overridden by whatever it he is feels he needs to control the narrative as.
I look at friends who have managed to form a co-parenting relationship that is healthy that I can’t help but feel sad that I will never be able to do that for my son. It is hard to understand that there are people that will use their own children as a means to an end – his end being that he still wants to cause pain and have control.
In March 2013 I was one of the 70,000 people in the UK using family court., after my ex had pretty much missed a year of our sons life because he refused to go through courts to arrange access for our son to see his father. I knew nothing about court proceedings or what to expect. Luckily, I was entitled to legal aid at this point due to there being a history of domestic abuse. My solicitors bore the brunt of my ex partner’s tantrums and demands, with his own solicitor eventually refusing to represent him due to him not following their instruction. The whole situation was scary, and a mess; above all I was terrified of losing my son because I knew how good my ex was at painting elaborate pictures of how he was the injured party. As I’d expected this is exactly what he had tried to do.
Every time I stepped into a court room – and I have been more times than I care to count – I was terrified of what he would say and how seriously the court would take his accusations. I knew that he was a liar. To the extreme that he really does believe his own lies. He always displayed a lack of acknowledgement for reality. We have had so many investigations done, medical checks and criminal checks etc. The whole process is invasive and anxiety inducing. Somehow because he doesn’t display the behaviour I try to highlight as alarming or a possible problem going forward it is disregarded.
Another experience I’m not keen on trying again in a hurry is mediation. I have been twice. Twice I have had to sit in a room with just him and one other person to explain what I think is best for my son and why. Twice I have had to sit and listen to him counter every point I made and feeling so powerless in the process. The third time that mediation was looked at as necessary I didn’t have to do it because by this point in cases where domestic abuse had been evident, mediation is not a necessity. If you have to go through family court for child arrangements you will have to go through mediation first, unless there has been incidents of domestic abuse or child abuse.
I’ve always felt like I had to project the image of being a perfect parent. My worst nightmare would have been being made to look like an unfit mother – to the point of courts ruling my ex the residential parent. I kept my poor mental health to myself as I was terrified of it swaying judgement. I run myself into the ground constantly keeping and updating records of continued abuse for courts to not take it into consideration at all. I always felt a sense of ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ when it came to what I provided for my son. I would become paranoid that anything I didn’t do or provide or have for my son would be twisted into an image of me being unfit to be a mother. The amount I would worry and panic became unhealthy.
In terms of how I co-parent, I do have my own boundaries in place. They are there for the sake of my own mental health and have been carefully managed because whilst I have every right to protect myself by any means necessary, the family court system don’t treat the mental welfare of parents as a priority. As they should do, the court system place the child at the centre of the situation and act within the child’s best interests. What they fail to do, is take into account the mental welfare of the parents, particularly those that have been the victim of domestic abuse at the hands of the other parent. Having no form of protection in place leaves victims open to further abuse at the expense of their mental health – which will always have a knock on effect to the child involved.
So until the courts put into place a system that provides protection for the parents that have suffered and endured abuse, or continue to, I will be holding my boundaries. I will be making sure that I love our son unconditionally, because it seems the only option I have is to wait until our son makes his own mind up about what kind of relationship he wants with both of us.