Separation can be hard. It is hard on parents, and it is hard on kids. We do not live in a society of fairytales and there are times when being apart is the best outcome for both adults and children.
Sadly, shared parenting where domestic violence is involved is more prevalent than most of us would like to admit. In these situations, the complexity, fear, stress, and need for self-awareness, escalates. For many single mothers facing memories of domestic violence and the threat of ongoing abuse, it can be difficult to cope. It can be difficult to prevent re-injury or future harm from occurring, to you or the kids.
You are not alone.
Domestic violence is a complex issue. Whether physical, emotional, financial, or social, or a combination of these, it can be overwhelming.
Many people struggle to talk to friends and family who have no experience in these areas. Despite people’s best intentions, what someone says they would do in a certain situation can differ dramatically to what they would ACTUALLY do in that situation. Victims can therefore feel alone, misunderstood, silenced, and wishing to avoid the spotlight.
There are many fabulous resources to aid DV victims. This article does not intend to replace their assistance, but provide support to those trying to cope with DV triggers during shared parental care with an abuser.
Here are seven key tips to this affect.
Further reading: How to survive a breakup with a narcissist.
1. A boxer can’t fight without an opponent
Emotions can be incredible fuel for DV situations.
When two or more parties become emotionally charged, the possibility of escalation increases ... and rapidly.
It is important to consider that a boxer cannot fight if no one enters the ring with them.
This is a powerful tool that can aid you in so many areas of your life, not just in relation to the relationship with your ex. This mantra requires you to identify where you currently ‘get in the ring’, and how you can ensure you get out and stay out in future. A little bit of self-reflection and planning can go a long way in setting you up for peace.
Comments from your ex do not require a response. Many times, no response is the best response as it doesn’t provide the signal that their words are affecting you. If child support arrangements are managed via a third party, leave financial discussions to that forum, and not during pick up and drop off.
Physically, staying ‘out of the ring’ and out of physical presence can also be another valuable strategy. This might mean drop off and pick up is done by someone else or at a public venue.
Emotionally and physically, the safest place is as a spectator and not as a participant. Consider how silly a boxer would look in a ring on their own, punching thin air and getting worked up over it.
2. Breathing and DV triggers
It is significant to note how many of us struggle to breathe deeply and diaphragmatically when under pressure.
When oxygen levels become lower than optimal, thinking is compromised, and catastrophic beliefs can invade our space. We do not see things are sharply as we could. We might:
- Stay in the ring
- Yell at our kids
- Blame ourselves
- Say things we don’t mean
- Basically get in a flap
Right here and now, I want you to stop and take a deep breath. Place your hand on your abdomen and try pushing it in and out. Now slow your breathing down and keep pushing your hand in and out. How do you feel? Energised? Sharpened? Focused? Calmer?
We underestimate the role of the breath in our lives. I’m not suggesting that when you are in the middle of shared parental care, that you tell everyone to hold five while you do your breathing exercises. But, I am suggesting you pay more attention to your breathing and practice slowing down and getting full amounts of oxygen in your system.
Before you attempt drop off, spend ten minutes deep breathing and focused on your state. After pick up, pop to the loo and increase your oxygen levels to help you recalibrate.
The sharper you can think and the calmer you feel, the better choices you will make, especially in the heat of anything stressful.
3. We give energy to what we pay attention to
For the scientists among us, you know that energy must go somewhere. It doesn’t disappear. Energy is within us. It is in our bodies, and it is in our thoughts.
This is relevant when discussing DV triggers as we need to understand that what we pay attention to, creates energy around that situation.
Creating energy around something can be good when it relates to taking action or getting healthy or helping and loving our kids. If we pay attention to those things that help or grow us or our kids, that is a wonderful blessing.
However, similarly if we create energy around negative people or occurrences in our lives, those things grow in significance. They are fuelled by the energy, and we need to own the role we have played in disrupting our own peace.
There is nothing more powerful than self-management and self-awareness. Ask yourself:
- What do you pay attention to or think about that does not need anymore energy?
- What do you fixate on that is out of your control yet eating away at your energy levels?
- What can you focus on and pay attention to instead?
- Where is the best target for your energy?
- How are you currently living with fear or pain that is in the past and no longer present?
Your ex says you are the problem, and they have a ‘great partner’ now. That doesn’t need your energy or attention. Your ex denies what has happened and attempts to distort your recollection. That doesn’t require your energy or validation. Your ex says they are going to reduce their income to punish you or that you are nothing.
Nope, nothing here that requires more energy.
What they say and what is real is not necessarily connected. You decide what you pay attention to, not them.
We need to pay attention to those things that propel us forward, not those things that restrict us.
4. Teflon coating to protect from DV triggers
Our minds are powerful.
Just like in point three, what we think about is creating energy and impacting our outcomes. It is therefore valuable to understand the power of imagery.
I want you to imagine that someone who cares deeply for you is pouring a bucket of Invisible Teflon Coating all over you right now. This coating is going to stick to you permanently and coat you with that special stuff we see on the infomercials where nothing sticks to it – not melted cheese, not burnt milk, nothing smelly or gooey. And not what your ex says and does.
I want you to visualise the Teflon coating each time you feel DV triggers. Imagine it glistening all over your body and protecting you from that smelly cheese ... and those looks … and those comments.
You have got this.
Further reading: Keeping body language positive when talking to your ex.
5. Expectations are not reality
In life, we can confuse what WE THINK is happening with WHAT IS happening.
We can expect more of people than what people are capable of, or indeed, what people will do. We can hold high expectations and hopes, and then feel poorly when those expectations are not met.
The brutal truth is that people are not what we would like them to be; they are what they are.
It is important to remember that we can control ourselves and no one else. We can change ourselves and no one else. We can hope someone will change yet we have no control over whether they want to, will, or even see a need to.
Expectations are not reality. We are best served looking at reality and not for the achievement of our expectations. You will never meet the expectations of an abuser and they will never meet yours. Expecting that this weeks’ drop off will be significantly better than the last is setting yourself up for hurt. Planning that it is unlikely to change and preparing to stay out of the ring is dealing with a more realistic outcome.
Facing risks and utilising the support services of people trained to assist is a far more beneficial approach than expecting change or a reduction in risk.
I have been expecting to win lotto for quite some time now. Sadly and annoyingly, the reality is I have not. I have higher levels of control and can make better decisions for the future when I deal with reality and recognise the gap between that and my expectations.
Face your reality, as hard as that may be.
6. Records are priceless
At the end of the day, ‘he said-she said’ is tough. Your view and their view will never meet.
When someone is attempting to control the narrative, they will remember what they want and leave out the elements that paint them in anything other than a good light. This can be so upsetting when you know what happened and yet you have no proof.
Proof is priceless in helping you achieve physical, emotional, psychological, and financial safety. There is nothing worse than being asked 'can you prove it,' knowing that you had evidence but didn’t keep it.
Small things matter. Texts, witnesses, times, rego plates, missed appointments, emails, may not seem significant as an isolated event. Yet, small things can accumulate quickly and so tucking things away just in case you need them is a habit that can be encouraged.
The best outcome is that you will never need to use anything you have collected. Yet there is real comfort in knowing you have done your homework, kept your evidence, and it’s all there if you need it.
7. Boundaries Are Invaluable
Domestic violence relies on the abuse of boundaries. Whatever these boundaries may be, boundaries are breached and typically there is a beginning point where these breaches are tolerated and overlooked.
We do this as we are in love or seeing the good in others and trying to minimise the significance of the breach.
However, in all DV cases, you can strip everything back to breaches in boundaries and the associated acceptance of this.
Regardless of what has occurred in the past, now is the time to learn the importance of our needs and wants, and the boundaries that are required to protect those needs and wants. No one tells you in high school that you should spend more time working out what your boundaries are then studying for your final exams ... but if truth be told, you should.
We sometimes don’t know how important our boundaries are until they are breached and repeatedly breached.
Today, right now, I want you to stop and think about what boundaries you have in place for your shared parenting arrangement, and what boundaries are missing or being walked over.
Today is the day to right this.
Today is the day to own where you have allowed boundary creep to keep the peace.
Today is the day to identify what boundaries your children need you to have in place for their well being and safety.
When we employ strategy number one of ‘not getting in the ring’ with setting and upholding appropriate boundaries, we can make life a lot easier in the shared parenting scenario (this is the case for both DV and non-DV families). You do not need to debate, defend, fight over, or fear having boundaries.
There are times when you may wish to explain your boundary setting to the older children affected by their implementation (i.e. the ex no longer entering your home). However, what is most important is that you know what they are and what they are protecting you for or from.
When we have clarity in our minds about the significance of the boundary, strategy three comes into play. That is, when we pay attention to our boundaries and clearly articulate what they are, we give energy to them and to the need for them to be upheld.
Until this occurs, it is likely that people, whoever they may be, will be sliding all over the place, knocking you over with their brashness, own needs, demands, expectations and DV triggers.
Boundaries create peace. Boundaries create awareness. Boundaries create ownership. Your ownership!
Coping mechanisms for DV triggers during shared parental care
Shared parenting with DV triggers at play can be incredibly difficult to navigate.
The above seven strategies are not exclusive. They will not make the world a perfect place, because it is not.
However, hopefully, one or some of them can help you as you journey this all-too-common path.
And remember, you are not alone.