Til Death Do Us Part

When you have a partner who is narcissistic or emotionally abusive and you make the choice to leave them, the advice that’s always given is to go “no contact” and cut them out of your life completely.

That would work beautifully as a solution to healing from the emotional trauma of being in a relationship with a narcissistic emotional abuser. Except…

What about when you can’t go “no contact”?

What about those of us who created beautiful children with terrible people? What about the women and men who have left an abusive partner but can’t fully escape them because of the children they share?

What about the people like me?


The single, most difficult thing about my life now is managing the co-parenting relationship I have with my daughters’ father. It feels like I continue to hold the vast majority of the parenting responsibility, as I always did, but am required to engage in a relationship with my children’s’ father, regardless of my history with him.

My struggle in this relationship is so bad that I’ve idealized the lives of other parents whose former partners have completely abandoned them and their children. I recognize (and empathize so much with) how incredibly difficult it must be for these parents, financially and otherwise. But I envy the freedom they have when it comes to making decisions for, and being caregivers of, their children.

I also envy my friends who got divorced BEFORE they had kids. In my mind, that type of divorce is akin to ending a middle-school relationship; you both move on and it never has to matter in your life again EVER. Again, I’m not saying it’s easy, just that it’s easier than divorcing when you have kids.

I don’t actually think of what my ex and I do as co-parenting. In fact, there’s a different term for the type of parenting we do: it’s called “parallel parenting.” “Parallel parenting” looks more like a business relationship than a typical parenting relationship. You detach from the other parent and operate separately, aside from making major decisions together. This article explains it much better than I can, but hopefully I’ve given you the gist.

Thinking about all this stuff makes me wonder, how do other parents manage when their partner is abusive? Whether that person is narcissistic, emotionally abusive, physically abusive, or just a shitty person…how do the non-abusive parents cope with an ongoing parenting relationship? Because it’s hard. It’s really, really, fucking hard. And it takes time to figure out ways of coping.

If you also need to continue engaging in a difficult relationship, I do have a few ways you can help minimize the effect it has on your day to day life. You can do things like…

  • Setting a specific ring- and text-tone for your former partner. This way, when calls or messages come in you know right away who it is and you can pause to prepare yourself before answering.
  • Bathing your children when they return home (or having them shower if they’re old enough) and washing the clothes they came home in. I find that scent is a HUGE trigger for me. If it’s a problem for you too, you can eliminate or reduce triggering smells by literally washing them away and the kids never have to be the wiser. All you need to say is “it’s bath night!” and that’s enough.
  • Doing all pick-ups and drop-offs outside your house or in a neutral location. Two choices here: either arrange to meet your ex and the kids somewhere close to home, but not AT your home, or move the pick-ups/drop-offs to your driveway. Again, this is about putting boundaries in your life (and your children’s lives) to keep you feeling safe and secure. Your home should be your sanctuary and if you feel threatened by your ex, inviting them in—or even just having them stand in your doorway—may be too much to ask of yourself. On top of that, and I may have some personal experience with this, opening the door to your ex may enable them to invade your space without permission. So do the drop-offs elsewhere and keep your space sacred (or at least douche-bag free).
  • A similar solution, if it’s possible with your kids, would be to arrange pick-ups and drop-offs around the school schedule so you don’t even need to face your ex at all. Yay!
  • Calling in the recruits! When you have to face your ex, having back-up in the form of another trusted person (a parent, new partner, or friend, for example) can help immensely. Not only is there strength in numbers (or at least that’s how it will look if there are two or more of you), having another person there holds both you and, more importantly, your ex accountable for what is said and done. (Soooo what I’m saying, really, is to make sure there are witnesses, because if your life starts to look more like a crime drama than an actual life, you may need them.)
  • Hiring a professional. If you have the funds, hire a parenting coach or counsellor and attend sessions separately (parallel parenting, remember?). Let the coach do the work of managing your ex’s outbursts, irrational behaviour, out-of-whack expectations, and all other forms of bullshit. If you do end up meeting as a group, you’ll have the counsellor or coach there to keep things on track and keep everyone feeling safe.

Telling abuse survivors who are parents to go no contact with our abusers is actually shitty advice We don’t get to go no contact—it turns out that when you have children with your abuser, “til death do us part” is a life sentence whether you stay married or not. Instead, we should be given tools and language that enable us to set up and, here’s the key part, maintain strong, healthy boundaries that protect us when we feel (or are literally) threatened. Life’s not as simple as just turning away from our problems and when you have kids, you always have to stare those issues straight in the face.  

xxJ


My home is my sanctuary. I feel safe here and my daughters feel at home. We can be secure in these walls no matter what else is going on.

Let’s Get Physical

Some days, you just have to sweat it out.

I’m sore right now.

In fact my body is so sore that it’s hurting to type these words. This kind of pain is the best kind, though, because it comes with a deep sense of satisfaction. I’m sore because I worked hard today. I used my body today. I got a bunch of shit done that needed a bunch of muscle to do it.

Hell yeah!

Living on my own and being a single mom means that I’m the only adult around about 99% of the time, so when something breaks, I have to fix it. When someone gets hurt, I have to look after them. When something needs doing, I have to do it.

I don’t always like living this way, and sometimes I do have to recruit help, but overall I get things done and I take pride in what I accomplish as a single woman.

Today my kids are with their father. I haven’t seen them since last night at 7:00 pm and I won’t be with them again until two days from now at 4:00 pm. I can’t express how awful it is to be forcibly separated from them so often. I still struggle to reconcile myself to this new reality in which I am forced to be a part-time parent.

Please don’t give me those bullshit statements that people always seem to say when I’m sad about not having my kids with me:

“But now you have so much time to yourself; you can do the things that you want to!”

or,

“I wish I had that much time to myself! My kids are driving me crazy!”

Fuck that.

No, seriously, stop saying that shit to me! I am not a mother who wishes she wasn’t one. I’m not a parent who intended to have a rigid custody and access schedule and who wanted to be put in a situation where I had to choose between staying in an abusive relationship to be with my kids full time, or leaving that relationship and giving up the freedom and flexibility I had as a mother before my marriage ended.

I miss my kids like crazy when they aren’t here. In fact, I have a physical sense of hurt deep within me that never goes away now. I’m trying to find ways to dull that ache and one of the best coping strategies I’ve found is to get outside and, in the immortal words of Olivia Newton-John, get physical.

Today I spent the morning weed-whacking my front yard. I then cut the grass—all 1.3 acres of it—with my lawn tractor. I chopped wood for two hours. I then finished weed-whacking and trimmed up all the edges in the backyard that my tractor couldn’t reach. Then I ran around with the dog for awhile because I just couldn’t stop moving yet. I made sure that for the majority of my day I was outside, breathing fresh air, moving my body, and focusing on anything other than the fact that I am hurting so much on the inside.

I’m kind of proud of being sore tonight; it’s a testament to my physical strength. It felt so  damn good to swing that ax and watch as a pile of freshly hewn logs stacked up beside me. It felt fucking amazing to have the energy to spend so many hours doing physical labour, when chronic fatigue has been my constant companion for almost a decade.

I’m proud tonight, because my calluses, my blisters, and my aching muscles are also a testament to my emotional strength.

When you hold a hurt like I do, deep inside of yourself, every day and every night, it sometimes feels impossible to do anything else. When I’m able to get beyond those feelings and summon the motivation to DO SOMETHING, to take real action and to find something to feel positive about, I think I’ve earned the right to feel pretty fucking good about myself.

I may wake up tomorrow and find it hard to move. My joints may crack and my back may groan with stiffness, but those pains will be a reminder of what I accomplished today and they’ll help inspire me to try to move beyond my pain and do something else with my day. I know there will be times in the future where all I can manage is to keep breathing—I’ve accepted that relapse with my mental health problems is a part of my life from now on—but a day like today shows me that there will also be days when I can shut off the emotional pain by channeling my energy into productive things.

I will gladly take the bruises. I will happily sport blisters and calluses. I will willingly put my body to work so that I can ache all over again. 

There was a time, not too long ago, when I didn’t think I could keep going. On a daily basis I felt like I should give up on life. But here I am. Here I fucking am! And my sore fingers, typing on these keys, are well deserved. It took more than yard work to earn them today: it took guts, and it took grit and tonight I’ll sleep soundly and relish the ache in my muscles tomorrow, and hopefully hang on to the strength I feel right now until my babies get home.

xxJ

2018-07-21 12.22.50-1
Gettin’ physical, ridin’ dirty.