The positive survival strategies are based in lived experience. We hope that they may assist others.
- Be prepared to forgo all material possessions.
- Gather friends and family and give them the reality of the situation.
- Ask for assistance. Create support networks.
- Find appropriate role models. Get the children to counselling if necessary. Be prepared to do parenting courses, and divorce and separation courses.
- Move on in such a way that your credibility is established.
- Be prepared for it to take a long time, to face discrimination on a daily, subsiding to weekly, monthly, then very occasional basis, as your example speaks for itself.
Keep steady for the children. Do not talk to them about the issues,
- Rely on your support system for this need and ensure that the childrenare not exposed to any of the negative feelings associated with theseparation and your (theirs and your) safety.
What information would have been useful for you to know at the beginning of the separation process?
No amount of bending over backwards to appease an abusive ex-partner will change the behaviour. This sort of behaviour may continue for well over a decade.
The authorities are not able to do much about protecting you and the children without proof. You must have witnesses; your word is not enough.
Friends and family may be used by the abuser to create difficulties for you and the children; however they may not be aware of the role they are playing.
None of the systems and the staff associated will want to get involved and ensure your safety.
If your mental health is in question you must remain calm, reasonable, and unflappable, under extreme pressure in all situations. No amount of asking for your rights to be taken in to consideration will be effective until you have established your credibility.
What advice would you give other women about to go through this process?
Document everything. Diarise all abuse and the children’s behaviour,
and have no contact except to write letters regarding the children to the abusive ex-partner. It will eventually be your strength, that you have maintained appropriate parenting and have not resorted to the behaviour of the abuser.
What support systems were available to you that you found useful?
Throughout this entire process only firm friends and family, were eventually, supportive. Every other system maintains a careful stance, first of all not to get involved, secondly to ensure that the children’s best interests are paramount (safety of mother and the children without proof is not relevant). Until you have established yourself (in our case over five years later) the Police, Family Court, etc will be unable to do for you what they say you need to do for yourself.
When you have fully recovered from the abusive relationship, you will have established firm boundaries, these will eventually only be occasionally breached by the abuser. You may cycle through the same feelings you had when you left with each breach. Eventually this cycle will take minimal time.
The system will maintain that resiliency in the children is more important than their safety, unless they regularly sustain major injury. Psychological injury will not necessarily be disclosed at counselling, however, this process is a resource for the children and will give them the opportunity to disclose to someone else. This may be due to the extreme fear the abuser has established in the children, or be much more subtle.
It is very important to have friends around that can play an active role in your children’s lives. We have a pseudo Grandmother, Uncle, and many close friends with children of a similar age. These relationships normalise life while with you, and will combat extremely inappropriate parenting, undermining of yourself and your boundaries, and influences from elsewhere.
It is important to have the children in extra-curricular activities that will give them a physical and emotional break from the feelings that they have to deal with if one parent is involving them in the breakdown of their parent’s relationship. The leaders in these activities can also provide strong mentor type relationships which will ensure the circle of people supporting the children are large and accessible to them.
What things did you do to make life easier for you and your children?
I spoke to the children about personal responsibility and included them in a very limited way, appropriately for their age, in most household decisions. We discussed our feelings in all sorts of situations, and play acted various scenarios, to ensure their coping strategies were effective. None of these were directly about the situation they experienced while visiting their abusive father, however the skills were and are easily transferable. These skills also are of use in the playground.
We also ensure that we spend a lot of time having fun.
If the children are particularly vulnerable upon return we would use activities to distract, and normalize home life as soon as possible. All discussions with systems and people of import in our lives were documented either by a follow up letter, or email.
What helped you and your children survive?
A just world belief. Positive thinking at all times.
- Friends to witness incidents and intervene.
- The police service eventually.
- Never reducing myself to any behaviour that did not fit with my morals and ethics, therefore able to discuss my choices with anyone who asked, and sleep well at night.
- Building my legitimacy to the point where most attacks on my status are ridiculous and unable to be given credence.
- Having great success in child rearing, ensuring the children had opportunities for a sense of achievement, being involved in their lives and interests.