I recently had the opportunity to visit with a sweet single mom in Australia. She sent me this words that most every mom will understand as she grapples with the tension of co-parenting with a difficult, abusive father. Don’t miss the fifth pull on her life.
Pulled in 4 directions…
Balancing the tension, taming the chaos, and determining the most important voice.
Every day, I face an impossible, overwhelming, insurmountable task.
Every day, just like every other parent, I have to make parenting decisions. But unlike most other parents, almost every one of my decisions must attempt to balance four incredibly complex and demanding lines of tension. Like four rubber bands. With four loud voices. All connected, all wanting to pull me their own way. ALL with very real and potentially severe consequences, whatever choice is made.
Why? What are these 4 things?
Safety. The first, and how I so wish it was the only one, is safety. Every parent’s first instinct, right? So imperative. A priority. My kids’ physical safety – shelter, clothing, food, removal of lethal hazards, meeting medical and educational requirements… we generally make sure these are met, mostly without thinking, right? Yet I need to check these are actually being met by others too (including their father) and document any signs if and when they are not. Sometimes I also note down my own actions in meeting these needs – actions that most would never think twice about. But that I am regularly accused of not doing.
Often, though, it is the other forms of safety that prove much harder to ensure. In fact, I sadly cannot ensure them. That is, their emotional and psychological safety. Sure, I can provide it, when they are with me. It would be so much easier if it were only that way. Instead, I spend far more time putting out fires and administering emotional first aid following damage that is done weekly My heart tears apart every week when I must send them somewhere that I know beyond all doubt, is not emotionally safe for them.
Why? Surely nothing could prove more important or divert attention away from such basic safety, right? Surely there’s a safer option possible?
…sadly not. Because of the second rubber band.
Children have rights. We have all been getting more used to that idea as (thankfully) new information and documents have come out over time, to protect our kids. Parents don’t have the right to “claim ownership”, or even to have a relationship with their child! – it is the child that possesses those rights, to have a relationship with their parent. A strange new way of thinking, and one I struggled at times to grapple with.
Once the initial, horrible bitterness and chaos of my marriage ending and the ex-husband’s ridiculous actions in the first year of separation subsided, I began to explore and come to terms with this concept more. I was still both hesitant and angry. Part of me still wanted to shield my children in any way possible and prevent such a harmful person ever having anything to do with them again. But more than anything, I wanted to do what is most right by my kids. I wanted to choose what would bring the best outcomes for them, long term.
For anyone who has had any kind of exposure to the family court system, well in my country at least, you will know that this is their motto, their bread and butter, the John 3:16 of the family court world: “children have the right to a meaningful relationship with both parents”. (And other family members by extension). And I came to understand this really is not a bad thing at all in itself – that is, until it starts pulling in the opposite direction to that first rubber band (safety).
When a parent is unsafe and harmful, this so-called “right” of the child to a “meaningful” relationship and connection with that parent, if not implemented carefully, can threaten their safety. Certainly safety and abuse that is not physical does not even appear anywhere on the radar, at all, as far as I have experienced.
My Children’s Shoes. Such yearning brings me to my third rubber band which is my children’s shoes. Over the years I have been increasingly learning and experiencing each day, just how invaluable it is to be able to reach in and attempt to see and feel what the experience of another person is like for them – as far as is possible anyway. Empathy. Respect. Value. Understanding. Compassion. But there is such immense awakening and depth of insight when I listen intently to them, close my eyes and attempt to imagine a journey into their shoes.
I incorporate some reflection on what I did/thought/felt when I was their age – what I thought about life etc. During this process, I engage with every emotion they describe or express, verbally or otherwise. I imagine that I am experiencing the exact circumstance or issue that they are right now. Putting on my kids’ shoes has gifted me more insight than I ever expected. I can imagine what 3, 4, 5, or 6 year old me would desire. What my heart would feel. Here is an example of when this rubber band pulled strongest…
The. Children’s. Best. Interests.” The fourth and final rubber band is really quite difficult to explain in words. It is somewhat vague. Which is why I have left it until last. It kind of attempts to jump in and collate all the other rubber bands into one category. Often it tries to say “actually all the others don’t exist, I am the only important one”. In terms of a label, or a description for it, there are four words. For me, and perhaps some of you, they are just cringe-worthy and invoke quite unpleasant feelings: “The. Children’s. Best. Interests.”
Ah, okay then. Got it. Crystal clear, right? Sure, if you first roll your crystal in nappy rash cream, mud, and dried-up regurgitated weet-bix. Maybe add some concrete for good measure. Yet it is the court’s second favourite phrase. A sub-motto, perhaps. When I first learned of this phrase and its importance nearly three years ago, I was very confused about what it meant. I asked a lot of questions about it to quite a lot of different people. I read lots of articles, a couple of books, and yes, of course I googled it! With deep sadness, I admit to you that I have gained no further clarity. Nope, not even from Google! I am still totally and utterly confused.
But perhaps the good news is, I am now very, very confident that every single other person who deals with this phrase, is also just as utterly confused. As far as I can tell from what I have heard and read and experienced, within the family court context, “in the children’s best interests” is, for the most part, a phrase you place on the end of a request for something you want in relation to your kids. It does not actually matter what the request is. Kind of like the family court’s version of “please? I promise I’ll be good”.
If safety, meaningful relationships, and the children’s perspective wasn’t enough, I need to also consider the bigger overall picture and try to somehow solve the ever-impossible enigma of what really is “in the children’s best interests” in the context of whatever decision I happen to need to make today.
Phew! Wow. You know what? I think I know now why I am utterly exhausted so often. Those painful rubber bands. They pull, they pull, and oh how they all pull. No decision is ever simple or clear-cut. They don’t just pull at my thoughts, either – they yank at my heartstrings. Daily. They scream loud. Oh so loud. Sometimes they are helpful and positive. Sometimes draining and harmful. Often each one is very compelling. And oh so conflicting. So how does anyone keep surviving this constant internal chaos? For me, it is deafening. Overwhelming. Crippling…
Until a fifth voice is finally heard. It is the most important one. Yet it is not loud like the others, and so it is too often drowned out. This one is small, still, peaceful, enticing… it can be heard ONLY once all the others are quietened. Or blocked out. It should be the first I listen for, yet most often it is the last, when I can no longer cope with the other four and their overbearing noise in my head. It is often when things build to breaking point, and I cover my ears to scream “ENOOOOUUUGGHH” whilst I collapse to the floor. When finally, I breathe… deep. When I empty the lot and reset. When I stop just enough to find a perfect moment of stillness… that is when I hear it.
“I’m here” Jesus whispers. “Come to me”.
Most often by this stage I am left with little other choice anyway. So I come. I sit. I breathe. I rest. I pray. I seek. I plead. I read. I sit. I listen… and I sit… most often in stillness. Perfect peace. In His comforting presence. And as I do, somehow the tension from each of the directions I am being pulled begins to decrease. Eventually, it fades. Suddenly nothing else matters but tuning in to that still, small voice. I’m desperate to hear it. Desperate to find Jesus.
Each time, I do. And each time, without doubt, He reminds me who I really am, and who He really is. He reminds me of the Father’s promises for me. He brings perspective like nothing else. And like the parent I strive to be for my children, He holds all things in perfect tension, sees the bigger picture, and says “just trust me”. Yet I know that unlike me, He already has everything all worked out for our good.
And so despite all the tension, the loud voices, the chaos, the uncertainty… I can somehow rest peacefully, knowing that whatever my decisions, and whatever the outcomes, my good, good Father holds us, and I can always trust Him. Always.
“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you” Isaiah 26:3 NLT
“For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” Isaiah 64:4 NLT