Monday, January 12, 2009

Good Mothers Don't Lose Custody...

Last year, I attended the "Battered Mothers Custody Conference" in Albany New York, where I had the sad privilege of spending the weekend with around 200 non-Custodial Protective Parents (mostly mothers) and Custodial Protective parents (again, mostly mothers) who through their efforts to protect their children, have either lost custody of their children or live under the constant threat of losing custody of them to the abuser.

The Dorcas Network has protective parents among its members who are attending this year's Battered Mother's Custody conference.

At last year's conference, I met Christian mothers who feel they cannot hold their heads up at their church fellowships because of the shame attached to a mother losing custody of her children.

The prevailing stereotype is that good mothers do not lose custody of their children, but this is simply not true. So as we strive to be light and salt to those within our spheres of influene, let's be aware of the protective parents in our midst, who may or may not have lost custody of their children, and let us strive to lovingly support these parents as they struggle with a horrendous reality that is incomprehensible to most of us.

(Network members who are protective or non-custodial parents, we ask that you comment to this and other posts with suggestions as to how we can support you best. What is it that you need most from your friends and family in Christ?).

A protective parent can be either a mother or a father who, in attempting to protect their child from abuse or sexual molestation by the other parent, experiences retaliation, or the threat of retaliation, by the family court system in being accused of parental alienation (PAS) and having their child/children ripped from their arms and placed in the home of the abuser.


1 comment:

www.wanetadawn. com said...

Thank-you for this opportunity to share some of the support needs a non-custodial parent has.

In my case, the judge awarded my daughter to her dad--the man who abused me, and only allowed me every other week-end, 2 weeks in the summer, and approximately 1/3 of holidays (although it was called 1/2. They didn't count minor holidays, and the court document frequently allowed me to have her 4 days during the Christmas holidays, while giving my ex the remaining 10 days. I was allowed one day every other year at Thanksgiving, while my ex got the other day one year and both days the next year. I was allowed no visitation on no-school days that were not connected to a holiday.) I was not allowed any mid-week visitation, unless my ex chose to allow it. Far too often he would tell us we could have a particular mid-week evening together, and then when I went to pick her up, would deny us that time. We never knew if we would actually get to have time together, since we couldn't take his word for anything. To get this behavior to stop, I had to return to college, which indeed resulted in her dad allowing TWO! evenings during the week, and an overwhelming schedule, which resulted in a messy house.

I share those details so that you will understand how this impacts a child of divorced parents going to sleep-overs, birthday parties, church functions--especially all night ones. If the event occurred on my weekend, I often did not allow her to go, and people did not support me in that, and pressured me to let her go to their events. They did not seem to understand the yearning, the longing in my heart to be with my daughter and to parent her (her dad chose "sugar-daddy combined with neglect" style of parenting, and I had a huge responsibility to try to compensate so that my daughter could succeed in school and in life. She needed MORE than those four days a month with me, not less. A night of fun with friends cannot possibly make up for a lack of quality parenting.

May I comment here that I'm not sure why people seem inclined to offer what appears to be genuine caring at special events, but the rest of the time behave as if we are too undesirable to socialize with. The double message is very confusing, and I'm more inclined to believe the week-to-week message than the special occasion one.

Even if her dad had been the perfect father, I still would have wanted those 4 days a month with my child. (that's 26 fewer days than other parents have with their children!) I understand most parents see their children every day, and may welcome an evening of freedom from that responsibility. In my case, my daughter desperately NEEDED me and I desperately needed and wanted time with her. To deny her yet another day would have been neglectful and would have suggested to her that I really didn't want her--a message her dad was already telling her. To deal with this issue, I often asked to be allowed to be present and/or to help out at birthday parties. If they were all-night ones we often chose not to stay the night.

In addition, if my daughter went to a sleep over (even if I was present at the sleep over) the next day she would spend a large portion of the time sleeping. That meant I would essentially lose BOTH days of my weekend, and I may not be allowed to see her or speak to her again for 12 long days. (yes, her dad often refused to allow telephone or any other contact between us, too. This was so painful, for awhile I visited her at school when my work permitted.)

I so appreciate the comment one woman said to me. I don't recall the exact words, but I do recall the feeling of being 100% understood and supported. She said she tried to imagine what it would be like to not be allowed to be with her children, to be a part of their lives and parent them every day, and that the thought was so horrid to her, she felt sure she would be devastated and barely able to handle it if her children were kept from her. It was very difficult to even think about--the thought was so painful.

Another place support is needed is when the single mom needs people to be open with, people who will listen to her pain and grief and genuinely CARE. I admit I'm a talker. I lived alone, I worked alone. I had no human being to talk to most of the time. It was painful at church when people wanted to limit our conversations to the 30 second variety of "hi, great weather, bye." And then they went home to their husbands and children, and I went home alone. Again. Suggestions that I go to a counselor felt like a slap in the face. It felt like they were saying I was so unimportant, so unwanted, that I needed to PAY someone to take the time to listen to me, to share my pain. I did try the counselor route, and it did not help. It only made the pain of my loneliness and my longing for my daughter all the more raw. It highlighted the lack of genuine caring of those around me.

Another source of pain was that they never called me to ask how I was, how my week was going. I had to call them. They usually talked to me, but also excused themselves if their children came home from school, if their husband was home from work, whatever. I finally understood that they really did not want to talk to me, and I tried very hard to stop calling, in spite of my huge need for emotional support. (When I didn't get the support for a week or so, I tended to get very stressed, which resulted panic attacks.) They never called or made an effort to keep up the relationship. I guess I was seen as too needy, perhaps as someone who "sucked the life out of them."

So then I started keeping my mouth shut. With God's help I carried the burden alone, deciding it must be too much for people to handle. I thought perhaps they wanted me to help them carry their burdens, even though I was dealing with a super-full load of major trauma myself. But keeping mum about my situation and asking them about theirs didn't result in close or long-term friendships, either.

Even if I was successful at laying aside my own grief and pain, I still had no trust-worthy spouse to consult about parenting, about my daughter's needs. Although some women did listen to me, I often got the sense from their suggestions that they didn't understand. And the woman who made that wonderfully supportive comment, also withdrew her support and friendship when I referred to the abuse her sister was dealing with to our Sunday School class, who I thought all knew about it. My apology was not enough to restore the relationship.

In addition, my daughter needed one or two men to step forward and model for her what a respectful, loving dad was like, but men (and their wives) shied away from that, too. I didn't want to leave her alone with a man, I just thought if perhaps a family would include the two of us in their family time at least once a month, and allow my daughter to be their daughter, too, that could meet her need to see real manhood in action. But that didn't happen, either. It took a school teacher, secular and bordering on atheist, to show her what a father-figure is like.

I lived like that for 8 years, trying different churches, looking for a place to fit in, especially for the support my daughter needed. When she was nearly 15, my daughter came to live with me, but then went to see her dad every other weekend. For a long time the pain of being allowed to see her so seldom and never knowing if I could see her even on court-mandated times, made me unwilling to part with her for sleep overs, etc. Indeed, I had to parent very carefully, making sure I did not demand too much, because that could send her back to living with her dad. So my daughter has not been raised like your children have. For 8 years she lived with a man who did not teach her discipline, yet expected her to be able to handle adult skills. When she came to live with me when she was in 9th grade, the focus for the first 4 years was to help her develop the discipline, study and communication skills, to succeed in school. And now that she's in college, that is still the focus. I can't expect her to help around the house much, since school is hard for her--frequently from her poor choices in time management, which is still a throwback to her days with her sugar-daddy.

What I'm trying to say is that the traits you don't like in children who are from single-parent homes, may not be from the mother's inadequate parenting, or just because they are from a "broken home." It may be because of the threats, nastiness, and traumas the abuser in their lives continues to use to maintain power over his ex-wife.

Asking the mom what you can do to help is key. Be willing to discuss and help Mom figure out what she needs. Please, don't appear to listen, but be mentally elsewhere. It is very frustrating to have to repeat what you've said, yet to be blamed for your much speaking.

And please, if the Mother lost primary physical care and only sees her child(ren) a limited number of days, don't pressure Mom to allow you to act as "big brother" or "big sister" by taking the child to a movie or other fun stuff so Mom has more time away from her child(ren). Neither Mom nor children need more time away from one another (unless Mom's work demands it.) They have plenty of apart-time as it is. Whatever you offer for the child(ren) offer to include Mom, too.