Shifting sands

Right now I am pretty numb with despair. Despair that my life seems to be dictated by the vindictive whims of one man. Despair that my children have to witness me breaking down in tears so often. Despair that they must be subjected to emotional abuse.

Things reached a critical mass a few weeks ago during a hand over at lunchtime one Saturday afternoon. He hadn’t had the children overnight for a month. I needed a break. Our five year old refused to go, screaming and crying whilst I told him he must go. If he didn’t go it would be setting a precedent that he never had to go to his dad if he didn’t want to. I would be accused of ‘poisoning’ him against his father.

His father started being unkind. In the street outside our jointly owned home (where he still lives) he began telling our child “Mummy doesn’t want to take you with her because she’d rather have her social life”. He approached me with bitterness and anger in his eyes and demanded to know where I was going, who I was going with, what I was doing. He demanded to know if I had a boyfriend, mentioned the name of my ex and kept repeating to the children the notion that I didn’t want them because I wanted to go out without them.

Maybe this doesn’t sound too bad to read it written down like this but I was desperate to get away. I was upset, frustrated, worried about the effects on the children, I felt harassed, provoked.

He leant in to my car where our five year old was still sitting and began saying something derogatory about me. I gave him a tap on the bum to ask him to move away from my car and our child.

Little did I know that 24 hours later he would have reported me to the police for assault.

I had to wait three weeks to be interviewed (voluntarily) and I won’t know the outcome for a few days yet but I get the impression that the matter will be dropped. It has been an enormous waste of police time and resources and left me reeling.

In the meantime I have had to chase my solicitor relentlessly to try and figure out just what on earth to do going forwards. I simply cannot be around my ex – I have started to show physical symptoms of stress and anxiety and when he is nearby I feel tearful and shaky.

I need to change the way we handle hand overs of the children. I need to find a way to force him to provide me with contact dates in advance and stick to them for the sake of us all.

However I have now discovered that pursuing a ‘Child Arrangements Order’ could cost up to £7500 in solicitors fees and I cannot pay that sort of money.

I have begun to feel as though I am trapped in my own life – at least until the children come of age, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen years from now.

These are supposed to be the precious days of our lives aren’t they? Not some kind of ordeal to live through.

I have so much sadness right now.

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One way flexibility

When I made the decision to leave my marriage I always knew that child contact was not going to be straightforward. My husband is a shift worker and his rota follows a ten week rolling pattern. I also had first hand experience of how he manages child contact due to the fact that he has a daughter from his previous relationship and his ex wife had gained a court order (I think) which required him to give her a list of dates for child contact a month at a time.

Despite this requirement I found him to be highly flaky when it came to getting organised and in the first couple of years of our relationship I acted as his personal secretary and compiled a list in triplicate – one for the ex, one for him and one for his mum who always wanted to know and be involved.

When I had my own children, I pretty much stepped down from that role and in subsequent years he has all but lost contact with his daughter – only seeing her on a very sporadic basis.

His ex wife has since told me that she wouldn’t have minded if he was out of her daughter’s life completely so she never really cared whether or not he wanted to see her – it doesn’t seem to have affected her – she took her daughter with her to the stables (where she spends half her life), but she also had a lot of family support on her doorstep.

If I want to take a weekly exercise class, join a book group, sign up for a local walk, cycle ride, talk or social event – well, I can’t because there is no family member who can drop in for an hour or so to do a bit of casual (cost-effective!) babysitting.

The other thing is that, much as I love my children, sometimes parenting them solo for a couple of weeks takes its toll. When I know that there is respite for a day or a night just around the corner, psychologically it takes the pressure off.

I appreciate that army wives have to live their lives like this but the difference is that I didn’t marry into the army – I think you have to be a certain kind of person or have a certain support network in place to thrive under those circumstances. Knowing your partner is out there, supporting you, a sounding board for parenting decisions or whatever, makes a difference.

Now, I’m not saying that I don’t get to make plans in advance with or without the husband’s cooperation. My parents have been great – taking the kids for a couple of days or the odd night when I’ve had a girl’s night out, a blog conference to attend or, this year, my big night hike in June and the pre-event curry and ‘practice run’ in May. They also take on childcare duties for a couple of days a week during school holidays which helps me out enormously.

But here’s the thing, the husband treats the child contact arrangement as a casual, last minute thing which he bases on his own convenience. Yes, he is often working – that’s not the issue – the issue is that he picks and chooses dates from his own spare time that are the best for him and he doesn’t want to commit in advance just in case a last minute social invite comes up that he doesn’t want to miss out on.

For example, at the beginning of this week he suddenly popped up asking to have the boys on Thursday. It had been 8 days since he last saw them and he had yet to give me a list of dates going forwards – he still hasn’t). I told him that I’d booked paid child care with my neighbour who needs the money (it’s school holidays). Later after talking to CiG, I decided I should be more flexible and I offered to cancel the arrangement so he could have them. He then suggested a compromise and now he is having them in the afternoon and overnight.

That’s all fine although I’m not thrilled that he left it to the last minute as it is a headache arranging child care and needs to be planned and booked and often paid in advance and I think when he already knows he has days off work during that time it would be so much more helpful, responsible and just plain courteous to let me know well in advance – particularly when I always make sure he knows school holiday dates in advance.

The arrangement was made on Monday, I asked him to let me know by the following day what time I would get the children back on Friday. It’s now Wednesday and today I asked again for a time (bear in mind that it’s Easter weekend and if I want to plan anything, either a child friendly day out or, if they’re not going to be around, an adult get together, I need to know what’s going on). He responded “I don’t know yet. Sorry. I may be invited out somewhere’.

Not only does he expect complete flexibility for himself, but he also deliberately holds back information from me knowing that it will prevent me from arranging anything myself – he continues to feel angry and aggrieved at the thought of me having a social life – he wants to punish me for leaving him.

I know this is not uncommon. In fact, I think this is probably more common than anyone would like to admit going by some of the single parent forums that I follow.

I read a lot of commentary that implies that wanting some kind of set pattern for yourself and your children (even if it is a changing pattern from week to week and only available a few weeks in advance) is just unrealistic and selfish and that trying to stand your ground and in some way ‘force’ your ex-partner’s hand in order to obtain a pre-agreed arrangement in a timely fashion would just be damaging to the children and their relationship with their dad. So essentially, put up and shut up.

I also appreciate that there are plenty of single mums out there who would point out that their children’s father is not on the scene at all, or that they have no family to baby-sit or help out or offer respite at all. In a way though, that situation at least comes with certainty – you know exactly where you stand, as hard as that life may be.

So what I’m left with is this constant questioning of my own decisions – am I being selfish wanting to have more certainty day to day? Or am I being a doormat when I let the husband get away with last minute requests or when he fails to tell me what time the kids will be returned? It’s not fair, but life is not fair so maybe I should suck it up? Worse things happen at sea? What do you think?