Thursday, 27 June 2013

The impact of a Father leaving his children. Part 1

I didn’t know where I would live.  At this point, I was sleeping on my parent’s sofa.  I was extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of my children.  Although their mother had never been physically aggressive to them, my counsellor pointed out to me that they were now at risk because I wasn’t there to absorb the attacks of my ex-wife.  She was so concerned about their safety and well-being that she wrote to the church leadership expressing her professional concerns.   The church ignored the letter because they saw no risk. 

The church eventually offered me a house which they were about to sell to live in.  My ex-wife and myself were given 3 months compassion leave to try and reconcile the marriage.  This meant that with a roof over my head, the children could stay with me at weekends. 

The next school holiday came and I had the children stay with me over the first weekend of the recess.  The oldest child was very distressed and didn’t want to return back to her mother.  She felt that her mother had been picking on her unfairly and couldn’t cope with much more.  So on the Sunday night, I took the younger two children back and explained that our eldest child couldn’t face returning home because of the atmosphere.  She slept on my parent’s (her grandparents’) sofa for several nights.  However, she was missing her siblings terribly and they were missing her.  So for their sakes, she returned back to her mother explaining why she’d returned.  I hoped that this incident would empower my daughter but also make their mother realise how close she was to losing all her children.  Faced with such a threat, surely she would change her behaviour?

Every time I saw the children I would always ask how they were coping.  I remember asking my eldest daughter if her mother had shouted at her: “Yes Dad, but I deserved it, I was playing up,” was the answer I received.  

However, a very testing time came when my ex-wife decided to take the children away on holiday.  I received the following text from my eldest daughter:

14th August 20xx 17.09
I can’t wait to come home she’s doing my head in x

I responded along the lines of try and stay calm.  Minutes later the next arrived.
14th August 20xx 17:17
I can’t take it anymore she’s actually making me want to end my life before I end up killing her x

I was distraught as I didn’t know where they were specifically.  I knew where she had taken them in terms of the town, but had no idea where they were staying.  I felt so helpless.  Later, I received a text to say that the situation had calmed.

The next time, my ex-wife took the children away, there was another explosive moment between the eldest child and her.  They were staying for the weekend in London.  Again, I had no idea of the actual destination.  This time I received a telephone call from my daughter to say that they had left the hotel and were walking to the train station when her and her mother had verbally argued.  Her mother had left her alone in the street and gone off taking the younger children with her.  My daughter had tried texting and telephoning her mother, but mum was not answering either the texts or calls.  So my daughter was alone, on a London street not knowing where she was and was getting extremely concerned because a strange man was now trying to talk with her.   Eventually, my daughter managed to find her way back to the hotel and found that the rest of the family were already there in their rooms.

Once I left the church ministry, I eventually found a house to rent near the children and their school.  The eldest child and I spoke quite often about her moving in with me.   She showed a very mature attitude and while she wanted to, she recognised that if she moved out, both her younger sister and brother would also want to come which would effectively leave their mother with no family so she stayed.  However, it wasn’t before long that tensions rose again and she could take no more.   She actually gave her mother a week’s notice, informing her mother that she would move in with me the following weekend.  Rather than try and build bridges, her mother immediately took back off her the house key making my daughter feel even more that she was being forced out.

And so, Father and Daughter number one were re-united.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Should I stay or should I go?

This is a reflective piece of writing based on my ongoing thoughts.  I continued to stay in an abusive marriage for the sake of my children.  I didn’t want to be, nor could I be an absent father.  Nor in the early years did I know whether the physical assaults I experience would subsequently take place on my children.  In their young childhood, would they understand the reasons why I wasn’t living with them?  

These were questions I asked myself daily.  I couldn’t leave them.  Neither could I leave with them for I had nothing to fall back on.  If I walked out, I would lose my home and my job.  No agency would be interested in housing a man claiming domestic abuse.  Had I left with the children, no-one would question their safety or well-being and I would probably face police charges for child kidnap.  

So I stayed, but came up with an escape plan.  Once, the children had grown to independency I could leave and start living my life free from domestic violence.   Staying until then, I believed, would minimise the impact on them of living with Domestic Abuse and I would have protected them.

As it happened, my ex-wife eventually placed me in a situation when I choose not to go back to the family home.  That was, and will remain the hardest decision I will ever make in my life.

Did my staying until then minimise the impact of Domestic Violence on my children?  I don’t know.  I do know that it has affected them all in different ways and this troubles me. 

I have been reluctant in my blog to write too much about the children.   This was to protect their identity.  However, time has moved on and we are all living with the after-effects.  This is a summary of their story through my eyes.   I have two daughters and one son.  At the time of separation they were aged 15, 13 and 11. 

My eldest daughter was often on the receiving end of her mother’s vicious tongue.  This has caused her to be very sensitive to received comments and also very defensive.

The middle child was very placid in nature, trying to keep away from conflict and often would try and placate her mother.  She wrote for me the previous blog movingly explaining how the abuse affected her.

My son right from birth has had developmental issues.  Countless medical tests have been conducted on him right from birth until present day.  No diagnosis has ever been made although he does display symptoms in keeping with some of those on the autistic spectrum.  His gait and posture is very infantile and he displays frustration which quickly turns into vented anger when things don’t go right for him.  School has always been a struggle for him.

I have written elsewhere about my leaving the family home.   On the following Monday, my bishop had arranged a pastoral interview discussing the state of our marriage in the family home, first of all with my ex-wife and then I was asked to return for a joint meeting. 

My two daughters were still at school when I arrived.  My son was at home because his school hadn’t returned from their recess yet.  As I entered the house, I went straight to my son’s room where he was watching a film.  When he saw me, his response to me was very angry, shouting at me that I must pack my things and come home.  I was in tears and tried talking with him, trying to reassure him but he was in such a frenzy that he didn’t hear.  My bishop came up to try and calm my son down, telling him that he was loved and we were trying to sort everything out.

The girls were walking home from school and saw my car parked up so came running and screaming “Dad.”   I ran out to meet them and we embraced and cried.  No-one said anything, we just held each other for what seemed like eternity.  It was very heart-wrenching.

Although leaving the children was very distressing, once I’d broken the cycle of abuse I knew I couldn’t go back. Should I stay or should I go?   I went, there could be no going back.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

A child witness speaks out about the impact of living with DV

I'm immensely touched by the bravery and honesty of my daughter who has written for me about the ongoing effect of witnessing Domestic Abuse has had on her and her siblings.

People don’t seem to realize that domestic abuse effects the children who have grew up watching it. But as a child who witnessed it myself, I am writing to show it has a big effect on us. 

When I was younger and saw the way my mum behaved towards my dad I would just often go quiet. I don’t know if it was because I didn’t know what to say in fear of what my mum would say or do, or whether it was to try and keep some sort of peace in the house. But whichever reason it was for I know it just kept me out of arguments. 

However being quiet about it and bottling things up didn’t help me. 

When I was 14 I struggled more than ever. By this time my dad wasn’t living with us, and for this reason most people would assume things got better, but they didn’t. I felt like I couldn’t cope with the things I had seen, but also because I felt like I was on my own with a mum who didn’t seem mentally well. On top of struggling with her being ill, my younger brother also seemed just as ill as her. 

I remember one day in which my younger brother became so angry, when it was just me, mum and my brother living together, he became angry to the point where I was trapped into a corner because he was hitting and kicking me and I couldn’t move. This wasn’t the only time he would hit me or be violent towards me. However I didn’t blame him because I knew he didn’t understand it and only did it because he has grown up with it being the ‘normal’. 

So as I have said, I struggled and didn’t know how to cope. This resulted into me becoming very unstable and eventually, very suicidal. I began to self harm almost every night, not for attention as people think you do it for, but because I really thought my life couldn’t get better, and this would be the only way out. On top of this I began to have stomach cramps, this resulted in me having three weeks of school because most days I didn’t want to or feel the need to get up. I was given pills to help my stomach cramps which resulted in me taking the whole packet one night, as well as taking different paracetamol with them.

 I also remember wrapping a wire around my neck one night before I slept in hope that one morning I just wouldn’t wake up. Eventually I told my friend what I was doing and she soon told school. I don’t blame her for telling school because it was certainly the best and only thing to do. I ended up having to see the nurse once a week where she told me I was suffering from stress, anxiety and depression. With the help of my friend, the school and finding God through it, I soon got better.

Two years on I can say I no longer hurt myself like I did. However that doesn’t mean I am not still hurting deep down. The only reason I am hurting now is because I don’t have great childhood memories where as it seems everyone else has. But I’m coping so well now because I know I can’t change anything. I also know that without this happening I wouldn’t be as strong as I am now. 

So surprisingly I’m glad all this happened and I’m grateful for having such good people around me who were, and still are willing to help me. However just because I’m now coping so well doesn’t mean my brother isn’t. Which is why my mum needs to admit things and eventually help herself and my brother. Because right now the biggest effect of the whole situation is the one it has had on him.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

My own Learnt Behaviours

I hadn’t given too much thought to the behavioural patterns that we learn from our parents that influence our own lives and development until recently.  Perhaps, having reflected on the learnt behaviour of my own children and the impact of witnessing domestic abuse has had on them has caused me to look back on my own upbringing.

Elsewhere in my blog I have already written about the biggest benefit I received from the counselling I underwent was discovering the coping strategy I employed during my marriage was one I developed in my childhood.

My childhood was unusual.  My parents had met in church ministry and were part of a church that constantly moved their ministers to different locations.  A two year placement was considered long-term.  I attended nine different schools, four of those were in five years of secondary education.  With the exception of my last school, I was always the new boy in the classroom.  Although at the time I thought that this had no effect on me, I clearly failed to achieve my juvenile academic potential.  Life was one of constant change, with perhaps the most significant factor moving home and school during my O level option year.  When arriving at the new school, the O level syllabus had already been decided, so I ended up studying subjects for my GSCE O levels that carried pupil vacancies rather than the subjects I either particularly excelled in or had a passion for.

What of the influences that have made me the person I am?  I am the oldest child of three.  Although there are only 3 ½ years between me and my youngest sibling because of the way in which our birthdays fell, I was two years ahead of the middle child and this most often meant that I was at a different school to my younger siblings.   They were in successive years at school and therefore tended to attend the same school and perhaps, developed a closer bond with each other.  Therefore I was nearly always the new boy in the class, but also had no sibling to play with at break time.  I just got on with the cards life had dealt me.  I seemed to understand that things occurred beyond my control and so there was little point blaming my bad luck or circumstances.  There was no point in getting angry or losing my temper.   Therefore I have never been confrontational and would often seek to pacify should I find myself in a situation.   I just had to get on with living my life. 

My parents raised all three of us in a happy home where the family was important.  Of course, there was the occasional parental argument but these never ever resulted in any form of violent or aggressive behaviour.  My parents came from different backgrounds, my father was raised by his widowed mother and always tried to be the father that he never had.  He very rarely spoke about his own childhood but we knew that it was one of immense hardship and struggle.  Perhaps in taking this on board myself, is where I learnt my own coping strategy of ‘that’s life, get on with it.’  My paternal Grandmother was alive during my childhood, but we were separated by a vast distance so visits tended to be an annual holiday.   What was evident was the tremendous love my father had for his mother who showed great strength and fortitude in raising her family with little support.

My maternal grandparents were the one constant in my childhood.  They never moved house and their home was the one my mother grew up in.  Although we lived in various parts of the country, we were always able to journey there.  While my home and school continuously changed, my grandparents provided the roots I never really had elsewhere.  The family was everything.   Anything done in life was for the family and its well-being.

Although my childhood was unusual in comparison to most, by the fact I attended nine schools and had lived in twelve different houses, I had a good upbringing and happy childhood.  The adult I grew up to be was shaped by positive childhood influences.

However, no one imagines to find themselves in an abusive marriage.  I certainly hadn't.  These childhood influences meant that keeping the family together was of paramount importance to me and I just had to cope as best I could with all the issues.  I made excuses for her violent behaviour.  I tried to pacify her rages.  I reasoned that it was the 'worse' of the 'for better or worse' marriage vows I had taken. I had to shield and protect our children from her anger.  I just had to grin and bear the violent and verbal assaults and pretend to everyone that all was well.  Life goes on.

I still try to analyse my ex-wife’s abusive behaviour and always wonder whether it was fuelled by her own learnt behaviours, her childhood (of which I know little about) and even possible jealousy towards my own upbringing.  I guess I will never know.