On March 24, 2013, a Washington Post Editorial shed light on the ugly realities of Child Abuse in our country. According to the Washington Post, experts estimate that more than 2,000 children die from abuse and neglect each year, with nearly 82 percent of victims being under the age of 4. The Post then goes on to disclose a possibly even more disturbing comparison when it mentions that between 2001 and 2010 15,510 children were reported to have died from child abuse and neglect. This number is 2 1/2 times the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When I read the Post editorial, I stared at my computer in shock – completely hung up on these statistics. Ironically, while I was reading the editorial, the national news was playing in the background. The newscaster was discussing how careful we must be when we send our troops to war, and the tragedies that occur on the home front when a soldier doesn’t return. My son was sent to war too, but it was a different war. It was a domestic war that children are fighting every day. Healthy mothers and fathers are forced to send their children to the battle lines of a disordered/crazy/abusive “co-parent” – armed with nothing more than the hope that they will return unharmed.
I have spoken with many parents about Family Court, my beliefs when it comes to the system, and tips I learned the hard way. When I describe Child Custody as a Custody War, I am not trying to be dramatic. That is exactly what it is. If you are faced with going to court for custody of your child, with someone whom you believe to have a personality disorder, it will not just be a battle it will be a full on war. These individuals need to feel as if they win no matter what happens and they will continue the battles until the war is won to their satisfaction. The reality is – this war could very well last 18 years. It will be ugly, your child will likely suffer as a result, and the court will inevitably not put the child’s needs first – ever.
Not every custody situation needs to turn into a war. While I understand first hand how emotions can run high when it comes to your child, it is in the best interest of your child to step back and try to look at the situation with the most objective eye possible. Before entering into a war, I suggest asking yourself the most important question every parent should ask themselves in a situation like this: “Will my child’s parent physically harm my child – intentionally or by neglecting the child’s immediate needs?”
If the answer to the above question is “yes”, you need to find the most intelligent/aggressive attorney you can afford, dig your heels in, and prepare for an all out Custody War. Your child deserves to be protected and deserves the healthiest life you can possibly provide them. If the unthinkable happens to you, as it did to me, you will need to know that you did everything in your power to save your child or else you will blame yourself forever.
If, however, the honest answer is “no” then you need to think hard about what is making you uncomfortable about the other parent. The hard reality is that the world is full of terribly immoral jerks. Your child’s father or mother might just be one of them. Your child will run into a lot of jerks in his/her life and you will not be able to shield them from these deplorable people forever. Trust me when I tell you that if the other parent is a scumbag, your child will probably realize this before you need to even utter a word.
One of my readers told me about something her young daughter recently said after coming home from a visit with her father. (Note: the child is about four years old) The child wisely said, “Mama, I don’t think Daddy is a very good person. He lies a lot.” The woman was shocked (and a bit worried) as she had worked very hard to make sure her daughter never heard her speak negatively about the father. While the father would without a doubt blame parental alienation for his daughter’s statements, the reality of the situation is that this child is just perceptive. Children can spot bad sometimes sooner than adults can. Prince hated evil. He was always able to spot it and it didn’t take me having to tell him. In fact, he wouldn’t have understood me even if I had tried.
Possibly the most painful part of any Custody War is the days when you will have to send your child to someone you wouldn’t even hire to be your daycare provider. Even worse, the constant reminder that you had a child with this person and will be battling this monster for 18 years. No matter how awful it feels to constantly drag yourself into court day after day, turn most or all of your salary over to attorneys, and face legal abuse every single day – your child is the real soldier. Your child will be on the front lines of this war and you will not always be there to protect him/her.
I wish there were something I could say – some advice that I could give on how you could prepare your child with some sort of weapon for protection. The only weapons there are in this fight are the weapons of love and hope. I will never forget the last time I saw my son. As I placed him in the supervisor’s car, I kissed him on the face, hugged him tight, and told him how much I loved him. I armed him with love that day. It was all I had to give him. There are days when I am angry at myself – wishing that I could have armed him with more. In the end, however, I know that at least my son knew real love in his 15 months of life. My son knew that day how much his Mommy loved him. That is what I hold onto when I am so angry and full of rage at the outcome of my Custody War.
I had hoped and prayed that I would be able to give Prince more, but that is all I had – love and hope. I now fight every day to make sure that your children are armed with more than mine was. In order to make children safe, we need to stop making them soldiers and stop sending them to the front lines of battle. We need to change the minds of those who feel the need to send them – the courts.
Prince was a brave soldier. I am a proud Mama knowing that even after he is gone, he will fight to protect those who will stand on the front lines after him. I will fight to make sure of it.