I cut my ex out of our daughter’s life: Now I’m glad he fought tooth and nail to see her

Posted on November 23, 2014. Filed under: Child Custody and Visitation, Parental Alienation Syndrome | Tags: , |

Last night I cuddled up on the sofa with my five-year-old daughter Ruby as we enjoyed one of her favourite TV shows.

It was The Story Of Tracy Beaker — who, I should explain to any non- parents, is a wonderful character created by the children’s author Jacqueline Wilson.

Tracy is a young girl growing up in a children’s home — she’s feisty and funny, but constantly fantastises about a better life. One with parents.

Whenever she goes into one of her reveries, claiming to have ‘hay fever’ when she wants to shed a tear, Ruby gets sad.

So last night, when hay fever struck Tracy, Ruby, too, became misty-eyed.

‘I’m so lucky to have a mummy and daddy,’ she said, hugging me. As I cuddled her back, I felt a terrible stab of guilt in my stomach.

For Ruby nearly didn’t have a daddy. For the first two-and-a-half years of her life, I did everything I could to scupper her relationship with her father.

In a fit of selfish pique, I attempted to come between them and deny them the right to love each other.

It was the most spiteful thing I’ve ever done.

Thank God her father, James, fought me all the way and dragged us through the hell of solicitors, legal bills and finally to the Family Court, where he won access to his little girl — access that was his by right.

He never gave up. Such is the testament of his love for Ruby. And for that, I will never be able to thank him enough.

I remember all too well that wretched day in the Family Court in March 2009 as we sat in front of the judge, with a solicitor between us. James, whom I’d once loved so dearly, looked grey and hollow.

I listened with a growing sense of shame as my legal team reeled off the acidic statement I’d made, littered with stupid accusations I’d dramatised to hurt him.

Even then I knew it was unfair, but I wanted to punish him. I blamed him for the break-up of our relationship and what better way to hurt him, I reasoned, than to take his daughter away?

The terrible struggle some fathers have to maintain contact with their children was highlighted last week when the Daily Mail told the story of an exemplary father who’d battled for 12 years to see his daughter after his former wife falsely accused him of sexually abusing her.

‘It’s like a bereavement,’ he said. ‘My anguish never stops. I wake up every morning with a knot of anxiety in my stomach. I don’t know where my daughter is. I don’t know how she is. I don’t even know if she is with her mother.’

To my eternal regret, it’s a torment I tried to inflict on the father of my child.

How could I do such a terrible thing? In my defence, I should explain I didn’t know any better.

My mother, Brenda, 73, and father, Bob, 78, though married, have never lived in the same house — they split up before I was born.

Throughout my childhood, I only ever saw my father at sporadic intervals. I still harbour resentments at all the years I spent as the ‘mediator’ in their fractured relationship.

Somehow, I thought misguidedly I would be doing my daughter a favour in sparing her this disruption if I severed all ties with her father. Ruby, I concluded, didn’t need James. She had me: I was all she needed.

How terribly wrong I was.

I’d met James, a 42-year-old newspaper reporter, when we worked together in Bristol in 2003. We were just friends until a Christmas fling in 2006 changed everything. We weren’t even a proper couple when I discovered I was pregnant in April 2007.

James was shocked, but nevertheless said he would support me no matter what. So we decided to give parenthood, and our relationship, our best shot.

We moved to the South Coast, rented a family home and determined to make it work. But our path was not to be a smooth one.

After a traumatic birth, in which Ruby and I almost died due to pre-eclampsia — a condition caused by high blood pressure, which affects 5 per cent of women in later pregnancy — I spent two weeks in hospital.

I was hardly able to pick up my newborn baby, let alone breastfeed her, and struggled to bond with her.

I don’t use this as an excuse for the bad behaviour that was to come, but the tranquil birth I’d dreamt of had been smashed to pieces. I sank into depression.

I pushed away James because I felt so sad, when all I really wanted was his love and help.

It was hardly a big surprise, then, that after a few months of sleepless nights with a newborn, tension and arguments, our relationship was in tatters.

Ruby was ten months old when I announced I was leaving. James was utterly taken aback.

I think he thought we’d somehow muddle through, but my mind was made up.

I convinced myself I could just sweep the matter of my baby’s father under the carpet. The scars of my parents’ acrimonious break-up ran deep.

I moved into a flat in Hove, East Sussex, in October 2008 and set about making it as difficult as possible for James to see his daughter.

I ignored his calls, refused to answer the door and slandered him to anyone who would listen.

I told everyone he was a dreadful father: he didn’t give her enough to drink; didn’t change her nappy often enough; and his flat was a tip.

Today I can admit my unhappiness was to blame, not James’s ability as a father.

I thought that if I just ignored him for long enough then he’d disappear. He’d give up and find someone else to pester. Ruby and I would be happy on our own.

But, thank God, James never gave up. When all negotiation failed, he sought legal advice and decided to fight me to gain access to his child.

He didn’t even go for shared custody, just the right to form some sort of relationship with her.

Despite this, I still convinced myself that James was trying to take my baby away from me and set out to fight him like a lioness.

The irony of Ruby’s first word was not lost on me: it was ‘Daddy’. But still I fought to wipe him from her life.

We spent thousands of pounds and the best part of a year in court and at each other’s throats.

James could have given up at any stage and, looking at his broken figure at the other end of the bench in court, I realised just how far I’d pushed him.

Finally, an agreement was reached. The judge ruled that Ruby would stay overnight with James every other Saturday. Begrudgingly, I capitulated.

As Ruby and James set about rebuilding their relationship, I began to see just what a precious bond they shared.

They looked so much alike and, as Ruby’s personality developed, I realised how alike they were in so many other ways.

They had the same quirky sense of humour and deep concentration at something that caught their interest.

I saw all of the qualities I’d loved and admired in James develop in our little girl. I even felt joy when she came home and chirped happily about their time together.

Having gone from barely mentioning or seeing her father, I saw their relationship blossom and it brought about a thaw in our relationship, too.

“Without a father in her life, she would be bereft of so much love. What child, whatever the situation, deserves to be deprived of that?”

James and I began to trust each other again and to exchange pleasantries when we met until, finally, we became good friends.

He says he has forgiven me. I thank him for that and admire his maturity.

Today, Ruby and James see each other most weekends, but the arrangement is informal.

He sees her whenever he likes. If he’s ten minutes away, he’ll pop in for a cup of tea and help Ruby with her spellings. Often she has a painting she just has to show her Daddy right now and, of course, that isn’t a problem.

They chat on the phone most days. And the three of us spent Christmas Day together.

I know in an ideal world that Ruby would have a mummy and daddy who live together, but this is the next best thing.

Without a father in her life, she would be bereft of so much love. What child, whatever the situation, deserves to be deprived of that?

She brings endless joy when she draws pictures of the three of us, and my dog Ralph, standing together and smiling.

Thankfully, all she remembers is a mummy and daddy who are friends and prioritise her before any emotion we might be feeling.

If James hadn’t fought me in court, Ruby wouldn’t be the delightful, clever, kind and happy child she is today.

I’m just glad I eventually saw through my own resentment and hurt — and put my child first.

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Are we sleepwalking into a culture of disposable dads?

Posted on July 17, 2014. Filed under: Child Custody and Visitation | Tags: , |

The Telegraph by Theo Merz

The Breakthrough Britain 2015 study found that just 57 per cent of teenage boys were currently living with their father. It predicted that by 2020 almost half of pupils sitting their GCSEs would come from a single parent families.

Children whose parents had separated were significantly more likely to fail at school, have low self esteem, struggle with peer relationships and have behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression, the report suggested.

“For too long family breakdown in this country has gone unchallenged – despite the devastating impact it has on adults, children and communities,” said Christian Guy, director of the Centre for Social Justice, the think-tank that carried out the study.

Dr Samantha Callan, one of the report’s co-authors, said the “social norm” of having children outside marriage needed to change in order to reverse the growing number of families without fathers.

“There’s a prevailing view in society that when things don’t go well in a relationship, it means the end is near,” she said. “But all relationships come under pressure; you need to have made a commitment like marriage so you know you’re not going to bail.”

The report suggests registry office fees should be scrapped for couples who attend “marriage preparation courses” and that further tax benefits should be available to married couples.

“We’re not talking about bribing people to get married, “ Dr Callan said. “This is a very important cultural issue, there are no silver bullets here. The Government wants to avoid doing things that makes them look like they’re getting involved with people’s personal lives, but this isn’t the nanny state – it’s the canny state.

“Family breakdown is one of the fastest routes into poverty and drawing benefits. Many people can stand alone as a couple but when they split up they find they just can’t do it, which obviously has an impact on children too.”

Family breakdown costs the country £50bn a year through welfare payments and extra strain on the justice system, the authors of the study estimate.

The report also recommends the setting up of “family hubs” to provide relationship support for struggling parents, as well as giving unmarried fathers the right to be named on the birth certificate of their child even if the mother objects.

Glen Poole, the author of Equality For Men, welcomed the report but said that to prevent the rise of “disposable dads” more needed to be done to encourage fathers to stay involved in childcare after separation.

“It’s one thing to try to reduce the number of couples who split up, but you also have to be pragmatic and accept that in some cases, unfortunately, that is going to happen,” he said. “What you have to ask then, is: how do you make it the norm that men stay involved in childcare?”

“In Sweden they have the same separation rate as we do, but separated fathers there are three times as likely to share childcare than separated dads in the UK. It’s because there’s a culture of dads being involved – they have the same parental leave from work and equal rights when it comes to children.”

He added that growing up without a same-sex role model was one of the “major disadvantages” faced by young men when compared to women.

“It’s crucially important that boys have male role models around them,” Poole said. “Even if they’re not positive role models, at least then they can decide for themselves, ‘oh, I don’t want to be like him’.”

David Bartlett of the Fatherhood Institute, a think-tank and charity which promotes children’s relationships with fathers and father figures, agreed that the focus should be on encouraging fathers to share childcare rather than on financial incentives for couples to get or remain married.

“What children need is a close, positive, on-going stable relationship with fathers and father figures,” Bartlett said. “That’s irrespective of whether they are married to or even living in the same household as the mother.

“Medical professionals should talk to new parents about sharing childcare right from the start. We need to make sure both parents are involved at all stages rather than giving people a bit of money to stay married.”

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