I was out walking the dogs this morning and a car pulled up alongside me, it was a woman who lives in my neighbourhood who I hadn't seen since the summer. She asked how the kids and I are doing and I asked her the same - poor woman, she is really having a hard time. She had been married to a very emotionally abusive man and finally left after ten plus years of marriage only to find that her little girl (age 6) is being manipulated when she goes for access visits. How terribly sad that this happens so often. How many women do you know who have left abusive relationships only to have their partner manipulate their children in an effort to continue to exert power and control? These kids come back home all mixed up - often they are privy to information that they should have no knowledge of (like how poor dad is now that mom has left him) and they just don't have the maturity or skills to deal with their feelings. Angry outbursts become common, lashing out at their mom becomes a daily event and eventually this spills over into the classroom or daycare setting.
My conversation with this lady today was about how frustrated and exhausted she is having to deal with her little girl's behaviour. This child has regular outbursts of anger and has started lashing out at classmates. The Pediatrician that cares for the child has recently recommended that access visits with the father be stopped temporarily to see if it helps the child's anxiety. Those of us that have gone through the Family Court system know all too well the difficulties that this kind of recommendation presents: great idea but is the physician prepared to put it in writing, to contact the proper authorities to help the mom to stand on a firm legal leg when she stops court appointed access? In my experience there is this expectation that we as parents can do whatever we need to do for the health of our children, that if stopping access would help our child's anxiety then that's what we should do: unfortunately it is not that simple.
Before I had any access agreements worked out through the court, I took the liberty of keeping them away from their dad for a large period of time last summer. I let them go just enough that he couldn't say I was withholding them but I didn't offer any extra. My hypothesis was that my son's anxiety would go down and that I was right. When I told my lawyer what I had been doing she let me know that I actually didn't have the right to stop their dad seeing them - I agreed - since he wasn't asking for summer holidays or making the extra time to see them I was skating on thin ice but able to get away with it. Now that there is a court ordered access schedule, I would have to prove beyond doubt that my child is being harmed by going and this is not an easy thing to do.
I have met a great many women survivors of Domestic Violence over the last couple of years and many of those women are mothers. I have seen children who have the same problems as my own and I have listened to enough shared histories now to be able to draw some comparisons. In my opinion, children who have been exposed to Domestic Violence when the parents are together continue to be at risk when the parents have separated. Domestic Violence is so often about manipulation and power and control. Children who go for visits are often the extension of the abused partner and they are the means by which the abuser continues to be able to exert control. This isn't new to any of you I'm sure.
If you are dealing with a child who struggles with anxiety and anger and you think it may be related to Domestic Violence then I recommend seeking assistance earlier rather than later. If indeed your child is traumatised or confused when he goes on access visits then your only real hope of getting the support necessary to protect your child is to get the right agencies involved. Stopping access on your own because it's a good idea is unfortunately not going to stand up very well in a court of law - getting third party agencies to be able to independently corroborate what is going on is the way to go.
Check out the information that we have available under our Resources tab. Many agencies offer counselling for children as well as valuable counselling for women (ask about Violence Against Women (VAW) counselling). Contact Hamilton is probably the best place to start at, as they can really set the ball rolling... you will be able to speak with a Resource Coordinator who will do an intake interview over the phone and then be able to make recommendations as to what services would be appropriate to get your child referred to; they will handle the referrals and keep you up to date. The last point I want to make is that any service, including Contact Hamilton, will need to get consent from both parents (unless you have sole custody). This is a good thing! So he won't want to give consent? No problem - he won't give consent to anything that he thinks you want and certainly not if he thinks it might validate that there was any abuse. You need all of this information eventually so that you can show the court that you are dealing with someone who is obstructing what is in the best interests of your child. If he gives consent great, then maybe there is hope that he can be reasonable. If not, you're not surprised anyways and now at least there are some more agencies starting to understand what you are dealing with. Hang in there 🙂by