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
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.