A woman who leaves abuse and then still has to share custody of her children with that abuser has a hard road.
She is expected by society to play nice, be amicable, put her “ego” aside, and unite with her dangerous ex “for the sake of the kids.”
She is warned by her judge to follow the rules of the parenting plan, at all costs, or risk looking like SHE’S the “bad guy,” and even risk the possibility of losing her kids. Let’s note: The warning is to both parents, but only she actually hears the judge and sets course to do right. The abuser will play by his own rules.
So, she is re-victimized by her ex, who doesn’t really care about the kids. He’s good at pretending, sure, to solidify his carefully curated reputation. He wants everyone to believe he’s a good man and father who could never have abused his partner. And those kids are handy, too, as pawns, so that he can keep some sense of power and control over the woman who dared leave him. You best believe he’s going to manipulate the dynamic to his benefit. More lies. More coercion. Stonewalling. Fabrication. New kinds of gaslighting. Continued abuse. All of which affects the innocent kids, too. Don’t assume they’re unscathed.
Eventually she sees that family court gets it all wrong. In the court’s effort to remain neutral and objective, they gift more power to the abuser. She and the kids, they aren’t protected.
Eventually, because she always followed the rules but doing so never helped her, she may decide she’s done “playing nice.” Maybe the best and healthiest thing for her — and the kids — isn’t looking the other way, or pretending her abuser doesn’t still abuse her family. She certainly isn’t going to pretend he’s her friend.
Maybe the best thing is putting her mental health first. That might look like firm boundaries, limited contact with her ex, and a refusal to act like he’s a good person who cares about his children.
Maybe, at some point, she starts sharing the truth. Maybe she wants to show the world that she isn’t free, that her journey is still shackled; and she starts to understand that by being honest about it, she reclaims her power.
So, she shares more of her story.
For this, she’ll be judged. There are folks who won’t know the nuances of abuse, or see the reality behind the smoke and mirrors. They will side with her abuser.
They will ask, “How can she talk about the father of her children that way? How can she be so bitter and disrespectful? Doesn’t she know she’s hurting her kids?”
To the contrary…
What matters isn’t how she talks about him, or that she talks about him, period. What matters is how he ever could have abused his partner and the mother of his children to begin with.
What matters is that, if he abused the mother of his children, what kind of father could he *really* be?
What matters is that if she meets society’s expectation by being amicable and pretending he’s harmless, she is complicit in the trauma her kids experience because of him.
What matters is the fear and bravery this woman is forced to live with.
How dare you judge her.
How dare you forsake those kids.
How dare you side with their abuser.
This topic is difficult to talk about, not just because of the subject matter and trauma triggers, but because the context and fullness are so complicated to master in a single post.
YES. Protect your kids. Shield them from hurtful truths as long as possible, especially when they’re younger.
YES. Follow your court-filed parenting plan. Not doing so is incredibly risky. And you’re in the long game here. If the ex wins a battle by exploiting the parenting plan, it doesn’t matter. Let him have it. Your purpose, with and for the kids, is to win the war.
YES. Define your boundaries. Decide that you will ONLY talk with your abuser about the children. [He does not deserve to know your personal life after him. Your life details are not safe with him. You deserve to build your own world without him being in it.] Decide that you want every exchange documented, which means you will ONLY communicate by email. This means you can avoid invasive, explosive, insidious texts and manipulative face-to-face interactions. YOU control how you’ll talk, about what, and when. Take this power.]
YES. Listen to your kids when they start to see and feel the effects of their dad’s personality disorder(s). Validate them. Help them understand that his abuse isn’t their fault. Instill in them proper coping skills, so they can navigate that world with as little long-term, damaging impact as possible.
YES. Share your story if you’re comfortable doing so. But read the room. Be diplomatic. Protect the details as necessary, so that you protect yourself. Weigh the desire to be transparent against the possibility of kickback for sharing.
YES. Hold your head high. Put your peace first. What others think — especially those who choose to misunderstand you and your circumstances — doesn’t matter. Your self-preservation and healing do.
If you have questions or need to talk privately about this topic, message me using firstname.lastname@example.org.