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Hi, I'm the bottom of Tats' navel, where some guilt still lurks - Tactical Ninja

Apr. 17th, 2012

10:00 am - Hi, I'm the bottom of Tats' navel, where some guilt still lurks

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If ever you need motivation to go and live on another planet by yourself, here it is. This woman calls herself a 'relationship lawyer' and has written two books:

1. BOY, DROP THAT CHILD SUPPORT - How to keep your baby mama from draining your pockets dry.
2. GIRL, GET THAT CHILD SUPPORT - The baby mama's guide to tracking down a deadbeat, finding his cash and making him pay every dollar he owes you.

I am .. utterly gobsmacked. To the point where I have no idea what to say about it.


The last three months I have randomly received child support. I say random because the amounts bear no relation to the amount that is supposed to be paid ($62.37? Really?) and the date it arrives on bears no relation to the dates IRD says we'll get paid on. The amount is so low it's almost a joke - at this rate one month's worth equates to the proportion of the YoT's school fees that pays for registering his achieved credits with NZQA, or about what it costs to feed him for one week. But hey, after 18 months of getting nothing at all, it's a bonus. At his age I put half of it straight to his bank account - if it were the amount we were supposed to be receiving he'd be expected to buy his own clothes out of it but at the amount we're actually getting it's more of a token thing - what exactly is he supposed to do about supporting himself with $35 a month, you know?

I'm told that even after he turns 18, the IRD will continue to chase his father for the amount outstanding. Who knows, maybe one day he'll win Lotto or invent something and we'll get it all in one lump - which would be useful. More likely he'll continue to drag his heels and I'll get $10 a week for the next 15 years, at cost to the country of a dollar per dollar I get, for the efforts on my behalf to retrieve it.

I am not without sympathy for some of the people who might read those books up there (and yes, I know there are also people on high incomes who are forced to pay substantial amounts with absolutely no say in how that money is spent). What bothers me about it is the way they are set up in juxtaposition and the horrible stereotypes they play into. I was a paying parent for 8 years, and one of the things I find offensive about these books is the complete lack of acknowledgement of my existence. Non-custodial parents are always men! If you're a woman and a non-custodial parent then you must be a terrible person to have lost custody of your child, because women always get custody! Because they are naturally the caregivers who make the sacrifices and their careers aren't as important, so it should be men (after all they get paid more) who pay and women who care! And if you don't, you are a deviant and we don't want to encourage deviance so we won't acknowledge you at all!

Once I tried to find a support group for non-custodial mothers, and such a thing does not exist. There were plenty for fathers, but they were (unsurprisingly) sausage-fests full of people who were bitter about their own experience and extrapolated that all women were *insert whatever their ex was like here*, and fully buying into the stereotype that the child support issues they were having were because they were men. Suffice to say, I wasn't welcome there.

Other mothers, of course, had their children with them, and there's not a lot of understanding among those people for a woman whose child lives with the father. You see, while we like to think we're enlightened and so so bloody modern, it seems that most people still believe that if a relationship breaks up, the children should go with the mother. This is, apparently, regardless of circumstances. For me, the fact that my kid lived with his father carried with it a tacit assumption that I must have done something wrong, to lose my child like that. Thus, I probably deserved whatever unhappiness came along with it. If I were a man, people would see my non-custodial status as normal and not question my ability as a parent because of it. Frankly, I don't think these assumptions do anybody any good. Why is it 'natural' for a man to not get custody? Why is it seen as 'abnormal' for a mother to be the one paying child support? Why is it assumed that if this is the case, the man has made some great sacrifice for the sake of his children, to rescue them from the evil that is an unfit mother?

Those of you here who read the Booj, I have seen so many discussions in which this tacit assumption is the main defining factor. Remember the one where people were talking about leaving abusive relationships and what to do about the children? The general view of most of our open-minded, lateral-thinking, oh-so-enlightened Booj dwellers was that if a mother leaves an abusive relationship, she should do whatever it takes to make sure she takes the child as well - even if the abuser never abused the child. The thinking is, if he's an abuser he's an abuser and the child is not safe, therefore the child's safety should be paramount to everything else and the mother should move heaven and earth to get the child out too, or she is a terrible selfish evil person who doesn't deserve the title of mother.

Oh boy was my LJ note facility going hard out during that conversation.

You see, that's exactly what I did. I left an abusive relationship and I left my child there.

Go ahead, make your judgement, if you think you're qualified.

What those people who wax so bloody poetical about what abused mothers should do don't seem to understand is that abuse affects your mind. That is the reason why people stay in abusive relationships - and folks are finally getting their heads around that idea, but it hasn't stretched to understanding anything else that an abused person might do.

When I left my husband, my self-esteem was at rock bottom. I was sick, vaguely suicidal, and absolutely convinced that I was not only insane but a selfish, evil person who was immature, irrational and incapable of making adult decisions. Remember, pretty much everything I had done, every decision I had made for the last seven years had been subject to questioning, twisting and gaslighting to make me not trust my own judgement. At that time I genuinely believed that my husband was a better parent than me. I had to move several hundred kilometres away to prevent him from following me, to a place where I didn't really know anyone and had no support. In that situation, my decision to leave my son with his father was based in my belief that having family around in an environment he was familiar with would be better for him than being with my sorry arse. And his father had never abused him, only me. To the YoT, he had been nothing but loving and affectionate.

The other thing? I didn't realise I had been abused until over a year after I left - when I'd been around normal people and relationships enough to see that the way things were for me was not normal. When I'd got my head together enough to realise that I wasn't insane, that my decisions were rational, that I could make my way in the world without someone second-guessing me all the time, that my judgement was sound. When I'd healed enough to realise that I'd been abused, that I didn't actually deserve all the things that happened to me, that I was a decent person. And that I was probably capable of being a parent to my kid after all.

As soon as I made this realisation I went for custody. I lost. Part of the reason I lost was because of his knowledge of the justice system and a well-placed bribe to the right person who had a word in the judge's ear off-the-record on his behalf*. But another, large part of it is because any woman who'd leave her child with a man like his father is clearly an unfit mother, and the justice system thinks so too. I copped flak from all sides for this decision, but none quite so harsh as the berating I gave myself. I've had to work really hard to forgive myself for those 8 years, and sometimes in my darkest moments I still ask myself if I was imagining it all, if actually that is just something I made up to rationalise because I'm a selfish, evil person who deserves everything I got and threw my child to the lions to save myself.

Then I think about what 'saving myself' has meant in practical terms, what that year of healing allowed me to achieve, and the kind of parent I am now. And I forgive myself again. And I remind myself that those making judgements are talking from a place of assumption rather than understanding - assumption that an abused mother leaving a relationship is totally in her right mind and capable of making perfect decisions at all times. I call bollocks. Compassion and understanding, people.

I had a fight with the YoT last night, over something silly. I feel stink about it, but I am still thankful to have the opportunity to be having fights with him.

* I found this out several years later as part of a court case in which I was a witness. The lawyer asked me if I knew about *subject of case* speaking on behalf of the YoT's father as part of our custody dispute'. I didn't, and was floored by it.


Gosh, that went a long way off track. Anyway, I guess that's why I had such a strong reaction to the sight of those books. Fuck them and their stereotyping bullshit. Also fuck them setting up custodial relationships as more adversorial than they already are, by making it all about money.

Wouldn't it be nice if people just took responsibility for the kids they created?

Oh, and just so there's something light in here: three of my four books arrived this morning! The other is being replaced. Maybe it went down with the Titanic or something.

Comments:

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From:friggasmuse
Date:April 16th, 2012 10:19 pm (UTC)
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Yes. Every counsellor who helped me out after leaving G could not believe that I "allowed" him visitation. They even accused me of not actually leaving him and just trying to attempt welfare fraud because they couldn't wrap their heads around why I felt it was important for our kids to comings a relationship with their bio father. I just.

Anyway, turns out he didn't want a relationship with them so it's neither here nor there. Regardless, it was difficult being "called out" repeatedly over such a sensitive issue by people whom are ultimately supposed to be offering support. I quit coniding in my counsellor and she thought I returned to him. I think she was so burnt out by her job but it really pissed me off to watch a fellow feminist become so latched to stereotypes.
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From:tatjna
Date:April 16th, 2012 10:22 pm (UTC)
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Wow. That's.. really something. I find it easy to imagine though - I've met very few people who don't harbour some kind of judgement around the issue of abused mothers and how they should behave.

I'm sorry that happened to you. *hugs*
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From:friggasmuse
Date:April 16th, 2012 10:36 pm (UTC)
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Ack-typo heavy much? /typing on my phone
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From:t_c_da
Date:April 16th, 2012 10:24 pm (UTC)
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To the point where I have no idea what to say about it.

She's a lawyer - all she's interested in is stoking the courtroom battles so she can get paid more...

/cynic

You've done well for yourself, and you're looking after YoT to the best of your ability, so don't flagellate yourself over a fight with him. Kids and parents always have the odd battle now and again as the child works out what (s)he wants to be independant of the parentals...

Eventually they'll grow up and be grateful for your input into their lives...
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From:anna_en_route
Date:April 16th, 2012 10:53 pm (UTC)
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This was the article that first started jolting me out of that horrendously smug judgemental frame of mind:

http://issendai.livejournal.com/572510.html

It generalises a lot but it just seemed to make *sense*.
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From:tatjna
Date:April 16th, 2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
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"After a while the stress and panic feel normal, so when you're not riding the edge, you feel twitchy because you know that the lull doesn't mean things are better, it means you're not aware yet of what's going wrong. And the system or the partner always, always obliges with a new crisis."

Y'know, I've never quite managed to convince myself that the lull is an ok thing to enjoy and not the silent approach of impending doom. ;-/
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From:anna_en_route
Date:April 17th, 2012 03:09 am (UTC)
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I was on the periphery of a job that was slowly in the process of turning into a sick system and it's amazing just how quickly it warps your thought processes.

It really is almost addictive
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From:tatjna
Date:April 17th, 2012 03:15 am (UTC)
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It's addictive in the same way tower defence games are addictive.

"This time I'll last a bit longer before being overwhelmed."

"Maybe this other strategy I haven't tried yet will be effective."

etc
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From:anna_en_route
Date:April 17th, 2012 07:49 am (UTC)
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It's the intermittent success that really did it for me, "oh this one time it worked so it will work again...right?".

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From:polychrome_baby
Date:April 16th, 2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
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I knew things were bad in my first marriage and that I was unhappy. I even knew that he was a very disturbed person. I did not realize how abusive he was until I was out by almost a year, though. Even carrying the destroyed muscle on my leg. Even... ugh. All sorts of things. It took healing. And time. And perspective. And realizing how much I had been hiding. Which is truly ridiculous, because you would think that knowing you are hiding things would alert you to the fact that you know other people would think something of the stuff you're hiding.

Abuse is a weird and insidious thing. I think it's probably pretty important that women (or men, or children) who are abused should be counseled and helped by others who have been through similar abuse. It's just too hard to understand the dynamics that are possible if you haven't experienced it.


As for the custody/child support. Ugh. Yeah. I'm right there with you. Can't people just pay for the children they make? But I guess that's part of that whole "be a decent human being" thing. Many times, if people could act like decent human beings, the divorce wouldn't have happened (not always, but often). So. Yeah.
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From:tatjna
Date:April 17th, 2012 05:09 am (UTC)
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I did an equally scientific survey Google search, using the term "non-custodial mothers" and limiting to pages from NZ. It got a whopping 164 hits (fathers got 726 and parents got 2960). After controlling for repeats and for sites advertising "non-custodial mothers" t-shirts and bumper stickers, there were 10 hits left. Here they are:

1. Not a NZ site after all.

2. Waiting list for support group for non-custodial mothers and fathers.

3. The findings of a complaint to the BSA in which a programme dealing with divorce and the rights of noncustodial fathers was deemed to be balanced despite not addressing the issues of noncustodial mothers in NZ (dated 2001).

4. An issues paper from the centre for public policy evaluation discussing the process of the family court, which has one line claiming that Family Courts "enthusiastically supports the relationship of non-custodial mothers with their children" (dated 1998).

5. An article from the USA posted on the menz.org site in which a USA Bill strengthening fathers' rights is commented not to have reduced the rights of non-custodial mothers and therefore is advancing gender equality (dated 1999).

6. Another article on menz.org claiming that the percentage of non-custodial mothers that default on child support is more than twice that of non-custodial fathers (dated 2008). Vitriol abounds in the comments, directed at women in general and Ruth Dyson in particular. This is the most active non-custodial parent advocacy site in NZ btw.

7. An American study of non-custodial mothers for sale on The Nile.

8. A lone commentor on a response to the Welfare Working Group's report last year, admitting she's a non-custodial mother.

9. I'm not even sure what to call this, but it doesn't mention non-custodial mothers at all and I've no idea why it came up in the search. It seems to be a rant about how policy development is gender biased in favour of women (dated 1998).

10. A comment on a Standard article in March this year in which the commentor claims to have a non-custodial mothers' group, advertised in something called "WCC magazine." I couldn't find a WCC magazine to check.

From that I can conclude that nothing's really changed except there might be a support group - only I can't find it and the person mentioning it was in the context of how her contact details were published with the add and she was stalked and threatened by an MRA over it.
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From:pombagira
Date:April 17th, 2012 12:00 am (UTC)
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fighting with YoT, i figure two things.. 1/ pretty normal in that becoming an independent unit of human,which seems to be a thing with parents and children and a good thing to.. and 2/YoT is now feeling safe enough in his home setting to have said fight with the consequents not being A/ violent and or 2/degrading, so to speak.. yes yelly at times, yes hard but still safe.. *coughs*.. yeah

also today is better, its nicer that way plus there is sewing.. could be a correlation *ponders this*.. combine with just feeling and letting it full the vessel and then pour over the sides until it was once again empty..

err dose that make sense?

also **hugs returned 100fold*
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From:clashfan
Date:April 17th, 2012 01:27 am (UTC)
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Wot she said. It's normal for teens and parents to argue, even about silly stuff. It's part of the process of them becoming independent adults. The trick is to remember to fight fair--no name-calling, no You always or You never, that sort of thing. Showing him that people can argue and still treat each other decently, showing respect for each other. And that you still love him.

I'm told that the advanced-level stuff is all about discussing the behaviour in question and not the person, but that might be beyond me. 'Sides, I don't have a kid myself, so it's kinda theoretical anyway.
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From:tatjna
Date:April 17th, 2012 05:15 am (UTC)
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There was a mutual apology session when I got home from work this evening, and the thing that was argued over was fixed. All good.

It's always the behaviour in these things, never the person. I learned that lesson well through having the 'you are a ..' argument applied to me.
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From:clashfan
Date:April 17th, 2012 02:03 pm (UTC)
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See? Very clearly, you're Doing It Right.
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From:whatifitworks
Date:April 17th, 2012 02:00 am (UTC)
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A++ for getting out, healing yourself, still being a parent and not being consumed by hate, guilt and bitterness. That's as close as you can get to perfect decision making, in my humble opinion.
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From:tcpip
Date:April 18th, 2012 07:21 am (UTC)
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I am .. utterly gobsmacked.

I'm somewhat impressed - and not for the first time - by how pure evil can overcome cognitive dissonance.
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