Last night I woke abruptly with an intense sense of fear and shock. Maybe some of the shock was because this was the first nightmare I have had in years. The dream felt very real as they sometimes do, I was in the shower I could feel the water on my skin. My daughter was playing in her room and my partner was downstairs. The doorbell rang and I got out the shower and called to my partner to answer it. A man came flying through the door holding a cardboard box he ran straight to me and handed it to me, I then realised it was my dad and I could sense the panic and hear ticking and knew it was a bomb about to explode. I woke at this point really shaken and could sleep.
Obviously, it was a scary dream to have which is why I was understandably shaken but I couldn’t help but recognise the clear metaphorical representation of the dream to my situation.
A ticking time bomb is sometimes what life feels like when you are parenting with the person who has abused you. The bomb could represent my ex who is always a ticking time bomb, his anger always felt and still does like I am waiting for it to explode or for him to react in some way. Or it would resemble me- the stress I feel at times and how much more can I take. Or it could resemble my daughter, maybe it is a glimpse into the future of how she could feel as she gets older. My dad being the one who handed me the bomb seems clearer to me – he is the one who does all the handovers between my ex and myself so that I don’t have to see him face to face which was suggested by the courts, one thing I am relieved by, and I am grateful for. This is something on a few occasions my ex has suggested he would like to end, once messaging me saying “its unfair your dad doing this cant you do it yourself” My support worker has agreed that this boundary should be kept firmly in place. There’s no need to change this and there only one reason he wants to change it. Control.
Sometimes I feel the control over the whole situation is a ticking time bomb one that I must manage. Juggling my daughter and her feelings, myself, my ex and his anger and every now and then everyone else’s opinions. Constantly trying not to drop the bomb or wating for it to explode.
So many survivors are left with the impossible task of navigating parenting with exes who have been abusive. Its tough. Its re triggering and re traumatising for a start. It is also suggesting that once you have left an abuser, they will simply stop abusing the victim and become amicable and a great supportive ex and parent. There is enough evidence to prove that this is not true. To suggest that once you leave then all that abuse just stops is outdated, postseparation abuse is nearly always continued sometimes long after the relationship ends weather you have children with that person or not, in fact we know that when a victim leaves, they become even more vulnerable. The perpetrator has seemingly lost control therefore will go to great lengths to gain that control back and in some horrendous cases ends in the victim’s death. Post separation abuse is something that is very overlooked and undermined, and this has had repeatedly devastating outcomes.
If you have children with a perpetrator, then it leaves a door open for the abuser. You will be likely subjected to further financial abuse, a lot will use child maintenance as a control method. Leaving the other parent in a financial hole. Litigation is used to control, humiliate and intimidate and gain access to children in order to further abuse. Evan Stark (who wrote the book Coercive Control) talks about how children are used and weaponised by perpetrators quite often. Children are a direct extension of you so to abuse that parental power in some way is a direct form of abuse on the safe parent. An abusive parent is more likely to try and get 50/50 access than a non-abusive parent. That is because the abuser sees partners and children as their possessions as something they own, and they are entitled to do what they like with.
Abusers will often put their own needs first i.e., not show up to contact or re arrange if it suits them but if a child is sick and cannot make contact, they will not put the child’s needs first only think about themselves, that is when you may get threats of court or with holding child maintence because they want to punish and flex control.
This leaves survivors in an awful circumstance where they are bound by court orders and are fearful of standing up to the abuser due to the consequences, they may suffer not just from their ex but also from the courts. The court become complicit in this abuse and even empower the abuser. At the same time, you are expected to keep boundaries in place to protect yourself and the child and maintain a positive attitude to the ex-partner. It keeps the victim in a constant state of survival and therefore in the cycle of abuse. And that can literally feel like you are holding a ticking time bomb.
During lockdown in 2020 the Domestic Abuse Bill was reviewed in parliament raising many issues around domestic abuse and child arrangements and the way family court handle these cases. Our laws have been outdated for a long time and it was well overdue for them to be reviewed. The archaic nature of how domestic abuse cases are handled in court where those who cannot afford legal representation are severely taken advantage of. The pro contact culture, that says both parents must be involved taking no consideration of childhood trauma and having a parent who is causing harm to the child or to the other parent is damaging. The use of unregulated experts. Transparency and much more need complete progression. There were positive changes but we still need more so that victims and children are protected further, their safety is far more important than the perpetrators needs.