Through a decision made under emotional duress, I lost custody of my two sons, who were six years old and 18 months old at the time. I went through the family court system and family counseling systems, and because of distance and other circumstances, I was never allowed routine contact with them, although I did get to see them when their father and I agreed I could.
I remember those years as the most painful time in my life. It wasn’t until I followed them to Christchurch, where I now live, and they were moved again within the first four months that I let go completely. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here—and many times over the next year, I nearly wasn’t.
I raised two more children, both as a couple and as a single person after losing the boys, and with the amazing support of my in-laws and their father, those two are great kids. I know I’m a good mum and all my children have good fathers.
Sometimes, for the sake of your children and your sanity, you may need to let go and strengthen yourself, then wait until they come looking for you when they are old enough to choose. They will come with judgements, anger, and needs, and it will be then that you will get your chance to parent.
I don’t advocate that the court system be an answer at all unless your children are in danger of abuse of any sort. You need to be inhumanly emotionally and financially strong to walk through that process, and unless you already have the day-to-day care of them or prove sexual or physical abuse, a court won’t move the child/children to the respondent.
As their parent and an adult, it is my job to let each of my children know about the man I loved who is their father, because they were made out of a bond of some mutual love. How we as parents had come to the place of separating has nothing to do with them. How I perceive their father to be or the mistakes I perceive him to have made or is still making has nothing to do with them, only the adults. They will have their own relationships and experiences with their other parent, and they get to decide for themselves how they see them.
My boys both came back to me when they were each 15 and 16 years old. One stayed for a bit then went back up north. The younger one came back and still lives here. Their lives haven’t been easy. They are both fathers now and, in my opinion, are still finding themselves and finding forgiveness for their father—and I’m mixed up in that too. I’m proud to have them as my sons no matter what they do, don’t do, or should do, and I am forever grateful that I got my chance to parent them, even though they were in their mid-teens.
I went to court believing that a judge makes a decision on who got the day-to-day care of them. That was not the case back then, and I doubt it is now. You see, the courts send you to counseling in preparation for mediation between you, the other parent, and a judge. The counselor’s report has some weight as to the decision the judge makes, if any, as they want you as the parents to come to an agreement about custody and visitation.
Should the child’s safety be at risk, then they will look at moving them but not necessarily to the other parent. You would need to prove that they are at-risk. They make their decisions based on whether or not it would it be in the best interest of the child to move them to the other parent. In reality, they won’t move them if there is no risk of harm.
Back then, you could apply for legal aid in order to pay the costs of lawyers and court costs in a custody dispute. I’m sure that there have been a lot of changes to access to legal aid for guardianship disputes now. The court’s focus is the welfare of the child. It is not about proving your character if the other parent has written a non-glowing picture of you in their affidavit.
I recently went through the court papers that I’d kept from my struggle 25-27 years ago. I have yet to burn them. I realised I’d kept them so I could prove to the boys that I did try to get them back so that they would know that I did love them. I have never shown them. It doesn’t matter, and upon reading them there are things in there that aren’t for a child to see and they don’t need to.
If me being there and having done the best I could with what I had during those times wasn’t enough, then nothing I could have done would ever be. Reading them now through the eyes of an adult who no longer has an emotional to that time is freeing. To remember the judgements of those closest to me doesn’t matter now either, even though, at the time, it was soul-destroying. Their judgements came from their own “stuff,” so it was never mine in the first place.
I have had three other children and I have raised in the most supportive of environments. “We” have done a damned good job. To the judge who allowed my boys to leave Christchurch back then, I’d like to tell him that he was so very wrong. The impact on my two boys after that time was unsettling to say the least, and the number of schools they attended affected the quality of education they got or didn’t get. It has impacted their relationships and their children today. Despite this, I watch them as fathers and they do the best they can.