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Separated Reflections

Posted on 29th October 2016 in children/ custody/ debt/ debts/ depression/ divorce/ ex-husband/ family/ money/ only dads/ onlydads

OnlyDadsI’ve been asked to reflect upon the experience of separation, how I handled it and if – upon reflection – I would have done things differently. The whole concept here is along a theme of ‘putting the children first’.

The questions are:

1. What did you do well?

2. What didn’t you do quite so well?

3. If you were to give one piece of advice to a parent going through separation what would it be?

4. How have the decisions you made then affected the life you are living today?

I’ve pondered this for a while. It isn’t an easy thing to look back on, and I wanted to be sure that my answers were honest and that I would only go ahead with the post if I felt it could be useful to someone else.

Here’s the thing, when I found myself in this position (out of the blue), I would have been desperate to read this kind of thing, there was literally nothing around at that point to tell me what to do, how to feel, what to think. And although, obviously no one can do any of those things for you, sometimes when you can feel the floor falling away from under you, you just need something, some shred of evidence that someone else has been through this and that they got through it ok.

So, my answers are:

1. What did you do well? Not much I don’t think. I wasn’t in control of my thoughts and so I floundered for a long while, taking advice from people who were ill-equipped to help. I did my level best to put the children first, in terms of caring for them, loving them, trying to retain some normality (some context: the house was being repossessed, my partner of 10 years had run off with someone he’d known for 2 weeks, I uncovered huge amounts of debt, my parter decided he needed to put his new relationship first, i.e. before the children). So retaining normality was hard, I was an emotional wreck with very little (almost zero) support but I tried to keep up with bedtime stories, walks, collecting leaves, play dates (while I sobbed in a supportive friend’s kitchen), and, I tried to facilitate my ex seeing the children. He would make plans, then cancel at the last minute, but I would still allow for new plans the following week and explain to my confused babies as best I could.

Actually, a better answer to question 1 would be:

It isn’t about you. It isn’t about your bruised emotions, your confusion, your pride or your finances, it is about the children. The innocents who need to be protected from as much of the impact as possible.

2. What didn’t you do quite so well? This little question is deceptively hard. I think I’ve touched upon a few things above so I am going to say that I should have sought better legal advice. I had a trainee solicitor who essentially told me I was screwed. She was no help to me emotionally or practically and as such I lost my home, my children lost their home and many possessions and I ended up responsible for a huge amount of debt. I don’t think I’ve heard of many other people who were dealt such a poor hand in this situation.

3. If you were to give one piece of advice to a parent going through separation what would it be? Time is a healer. Have faith that your personal wounds will heal and that the best thing you can do is invest time (not money/gifts etc) but time with your children. Make them feel loved and secured. If your ex is willing to have regular contact with the children, let them! Do not get caught up with petty arguments, point scoring and playing the blame game, let them feel loved by the two people who should love them.

4. How have the decisions you made then affected the life you are living today? I have a great life now but that is no reflection upon things at that time. If I go back say 6 months after he left, it is a very different picture. Then I was homeless, in debt, with very little support, even from the ‘system’. I was offered a, frankly, terrifying B&B (one room for all 3 of us, sharing a bathroom with strangers, you cannot be in the B&B during the day), which was in a completely different town to our old home, the children’s school and friends. At this point I literally couldn’t afford tea bags and toilet roll.

Now, the children don’t hear from him, he hasn’t seen them for at least 6 years (and the last time was for an hour even though he was meant to have been having them overnight). I still find that I beat myself up about the fact they don’t have a relationship with him – which is the main reason it has taken me so long to respond to the request to answer these darn questions!). I have to remind myself that it isn’t my fault he doesn’t see them, I have to remind myself that no matter how reasonably one person acts, no matter how easy they make it for another person to do the right thing, it doesn’t mean that they will. I am not responsible for his lack of responsibility.

One final piece of advice. When I was going through a particularly testing time, I decided that I needed some independent advice. Initially I went online thinking I was looking for a mums support group, or Homestart or Gingerbread, but I soon came to the conclusion that I needed to hear from a MAN. Someone who would be guaranteed not to be biased to my viewpoint, and that (along with being the reason why I am answering these questions) is how I ended up contacting OnlyDads and subsequently received some reasoned, grounded and sensible support from a man called Bob.

 

CMS / CSA – Update

Posted on 31st May 2016 in boys/ children/ CSA/ divorce/ ex-husband/ parenting

In February of this year, my case with the CSA was passed on to the new CMS (Child Maintenance Service). This was purported to be the new and improved version of the CSA…

Having still not heard from them, or received any payments, I rang them today for an update. Unsurprisingly, the update is that nothing has happened. You may recall that in March they advised me I would begin receiving payments from the 1 April and that as expected the 1 April came and went without any payment arriving, as did the 1 May and I would imagine the 1 June will be equally devoid of payment.

So today I have phoned them to query what is happening and why they haven’t responded to the two letters I have sent them. The answer is that they sent payment details to my ex and that he hasn’t responded. As to why they’ve ignored my letters, well they ignored that question.

As a result of my phone call the case will now be referred to the direct collections team who will, in their own sweet time, write to my ex again and give him 14 days to respond. They will then write to him again and warn him that if he doesn’t respond with 14 days of this letter that he will be referred to the deduction of earning team.

I can only guess what happens at that point… I would place my bets on it being either a) nothing or b) they write to him and give him 14 days to respond.

So, since transferring to the CMS in February they have established that my ex IS in employment and that he SHOULD be paying but they’ve done nothing to make that happen.

Also, with the CSA a substantial amount of arrears had accrued. When the case was transferred to the CMS I was asked if I wanted the arrears wiped off or if I wanted them transferred to the CMS (yes, I really was asked that question), needless to say I asked for them to be transferred. However, the CMS have no record of the arrears. Apparently they are now a separate issue and will be transferred at some point in the future at which point the CMS will write to my ex and ask him to pay…

Consequently, my advice to anyone who is being transferred to the Child Maintenance Service is to keep on top  of them, set yourself diary reminders to chase them up as they do absolutely nothing without continual prompting.

I am now off to write to the CSA to ask them where the arrears are and why they haven’t been transferred to the CMS!

 

Child Maintenance Service – not impressed!

Posted on 5th April 2016 in break up/ bullying/ children/ CSA/ debt/ family

money in a binHaving suffered at the hands of the CSA I was actually quite pleased to hear that a new child maintenance service was being set up. Not so naiive as to believe that they’d be able to retrieve any payments from my ex-husband, obviously, but I did feel a glimmer of hope that they might have a more professional approach and greater powers available to them.

I was wrong.

It took an inordinate length of time for me to be able to transfer to the new service. This isn’t optional by the way, they just close your existing CSA case on an arbitrary date and unless you set up a new account with the CMS then that is the end of that and your ex gets away Scott free.

So, I jumped through the various hurdles to set up the new account and was advised during these conversations (it doesn’t take just one phone call, obviously) that they would take over and start afresh. As such I was asked if I wanted the arrears to be carried over or wiped off? Seriously, does anyone elect to wipe them off?!

Anyway, back to now, finally, finally, in March I received notification that they had decided what payments should be made and that I would receive the first payment on April 1 (I know, I know). Needless to say no payment has arrived. So I’ve phoned them today (twice, as the first time I failed their security questions…) and discovered that they felt I should have provided my ex-husband with my bank account details.

I should have given the man who has committed fraudulent acts, left me homeless and in debt, stolen from me and my children and my family, been abusive and has no regard or respect for me or my property – I should have given that man my bank account details?

Besides the fact that they had never asked me to do this and had, in fact, in January advised me that they would not expect me to do this given our history. Which the guy I spoke to today agreed was in the case notes, but said it was wrong and that I should never had been told it.

Their suggestion now is that I open a new bank account purely for receiving CMS payments. I asked if they’d actually had any contact with my ex and had any agreement that he would make payments? No, they said, but we have to give him the chance to.

Because 12 years of dodging payments isn’t enough of chance is it; let’s give the fella one more go huh.

Where Is The Help? #WMHD2015 #MentalHealth

Posted on 10th October 2015 in child/ child abuse/ childline/ children/ depression/ family/ swearing

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 14.08.55It’s impressive to see so much focus on mental health today as part of #WMHD2015, how we can help others and how we can help ourselves.

I have seen several posts online from famous people in support of this day and the message behind it, which is an important step towards ending the stigma and shame that so often goes hand in hand with the words ‘depression’ and ‘mental health issue’.

But where do you go for help if you currently feel like even getting up out of bed or out of a chair is like wading through porridge. How do you ‘go out and make new friends’ if you don’t find anything likeable about yourself and therefore can’t imagine for one second why anyone else would enjoy your company. How do you put yourself out there if the previous end result was that you stood in a room wrapped in a cocoon of fog while everyone around you was vibrant and engaged and fully embracing that elusive casual happiness that seems as unattainable as a lottery jackpot?

This post is focussing on children and teens as if we don’t start reaching out to change their attitudes and improve their self-confidence and self-worth then this situation is only going to keep on growing and self-perpetuating.

So for children and teens in the UK, where can they go for help? If the generation above them is full of people with no tolerance and no understanding then they will be met with a wall of ‘don’t be so pathetic’ and ‘oh for god’s sake, just get on with it’ not forgetting ‘man up’.

I personally think there needs to be a new programme throughout schools put in place to deliver grass roots help and support to children and teens, building their confidence and self-esteem in such a way that the earliest niggles of self-doubt may well never develop into anything further.

I’ve seen that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are championing #WMHD2015 and I hope that with their backing and support there might finally become a time for our children and our children’s children when mental health can reach a parity with physical health. A time when children will grow up with a sensitivity to others so that they are an inbuilt peer support system for each other.

You don't have to hit to hurt

However angry you are with a child, shouting and using abusive language is never the answer.

I have found it fascinating on #EducatingCardiff to see how the teens change their behaviour once the adults change theirs; the commitment and patience shown by several of the staff at Willows High is a joy to observe and surely should serve as an example to others in the profession. This ties in with the quote ‘You don’t have to hit to hurt.’

It can’t be coincidence that shouting, punishing and belittling students makes their attitude and behaviour deteriorate (along with their self belief and sense of safety and wellbeing), whereas praise, encouragement, trust, friendship and support makes them flourish and re-engage with their work, friends and the world around them.

If children were built up and nurtured at home and at school then they would stand more chance of growing up to be strong, confident, caring adults who would in turn build up and nurture their own friends, family and children; there is a great quote by Frederick Douglass ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’

So what is there in terms of support for this age group? The local mental health services are all suffering cut backs and only the more severe cases are getting through to access care. (Needless to reiterate if children were loved and nurtured appropriately in the first place this would vastly cut the numbers who would need to be referred.)

For adults there are many services available, like Blurt.org

For children and teens there is of course Childline, our local YMCA runs a free counselling service for this age group and there are several Facebook support groups out there but it is important to check that it is a supportive one as there are also several very scary pro suicide groups too.

There is also Big White Wall which offers an interesting take on support and is well worth looking into, I believe they have an app too. Speaking of apps, here is a list of apps that may help with wellbeing.

With support it is a case of finding what works for you. Joining a club or an evening class may be the solution for some people, but having secret online peer support is what works for others. Don’t give up if the first thing you try doesn’t work.

If anyone can suggest other support options in the comments that would be really helpful.

With love – and remember – you are worth it, you are a good person and you are doing fine x

Free Money? Yes, really…

Posted on 26th June 2015 in children/ debt/ family/ money

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 18.41.14Free money! Yes, literally and yes, really… I have been using KidStart when I buy things on the internet – M&S, Amazon, Sainsburys, Expedia, Mothercare, Boden, Disney, Boots, Wickes, Debenhams, for tickets, furniture, clothes, hotels, trips, gifts, shopping, clothing, comparision sites etc etc etc. So long as I click through to the site via KidStart then they pay me a percentage straight into a bank account for one of the boys.

It is literally that simple, you just need to remember to go via the KidStart website first. At Christmas and holiday times you can receive quite a lot of FREE money – it makes it kinda rude not to :)

Take a look for yourself

Do YOU have to reapply to the CSA?

Posted on 20th March 2015 in child/ children/ CSA/ money

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 19.16.04From June 2014 all new applications for child maintenance are processed via the Child Maintenance Service.

However, a representative of the CSA has confirmed to me today that ALL existing CSA cases are going to be closed.

ALL CASES.

She advised me that this process has commenced and that within the next six months to two years ALL cases with the CSA will be closed and anyone wishing to use the service will have to reapply to the CMS (Child Maintenance Service), for which there will be fees.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 18.55.34

It has rules, like Fight Club, the first rule of the Child Maintenance Service is that you must talk to the Child Maintenance Service before you can talk to the Child Maintenance Service…

Fees

There will be a £20 fee to apply to the CMS and then there will be a deduction of 4% from the maintenance paid to the person receiving the payment and there will be a 20% fee charged to the person making the payment.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 18.55.45

So a little example for you – if the person making the payment has 2 children and therefore pays 20% of their salary, they will then pay and extra 20% of that amount in fees to the CMS. If that person is already in arrears, the CMS will endeavour to capture those arrears as quickly as possible, often increase the amount taken by a further 20% – leaving the person making the payment with virtually none of their salary!

I queried this with her and she said it is meant to encourage people to make family arrangements rather than use the service. That’s fine, except that most people using the service do so because the absent parent refuses to pay and is often out of contact entirely. So this system will penalise those who actually need it most.

This is utter madness.

Below is a list of what this new service will do for its money. Yes, it is exactly what the CSA does now.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 18.55.57

 

For further information please see this article by Gingerbread.

Or visit the Government information page here.

An Afternoon’s Fun With Epic Straws! #epicstraws

Posted on 15th October 2012 in children/ craft/ review

I don’t often take up offer to review products in return for a guaranteed post, however the Cravendale Epic Straws combined two things that my boys love so it seemed rude not to! Both my boys love milk, they always have done and they are always building and constructing things so were keen to take up the Epic Straws challenge.

Here is how they got on:

And the last one, combining both their efforts:

As you can see, they had great fun with the straws – if you’d like the chance to build and epic straw take a look at the website or see promotional information on the labels of Cravendale milk cartons in stores right now! If your children don’t currently enjoy milk, this could be the perfect way to get them into it!

Made With Love

Posted on 5th July 2012 in boys/ children/ origami

I’m so touched, my lovely boys have just presented me with these ‘for all the lovely things you’ve done for us’ – how sweet is that!

From my dyslexic 10 year old, who has painstakingly followed all the instructions, a paper swan:

 

And from my 12 year old, who knows I love cats, a cat in a box!

Does YOUR child use the school toilets?

Posted on 11th June 2012 in bullying/ children/ school

I’ve noticed that when I pick my boys up from school they are always busting to use the toilet.

I hadn’t really thought anything of it until I jokingly said to my oldest “What’s wrong the the loos at school?”

and he replied “I never use them.”

NEVER?

When questioned further he had several reasons for not using them:

– fear of ‘getting pranked’

– lack of privacy as the cubicles are open top and bottom

– embarrassment

– cleanliness

The end result being that he goes from 8.15 am to 3.30 pm without going to the toilet which simply can not be good for him!

I’m horrified that he is doing this and also quite sad that he doesn’t feel that he can safely use the school facilities. He tells me that hardly anyone uses them for the same reasons.

It’s a couple of years old, but this BBC story seems to echo what he has said: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11539933 – actually the fact that it’s a couple of years old really suggests how deep seated (no pun intended) this problem is.

When your children come home from school – please ask them for me if they use the school toilets?

Mother’s Day Meme

Posted on 21st March 2012 in children/ love/ meme/ Mother/ mother's day

This meme was created by over at More Than A Mum as a way of celebrating motherhood in the run up to Mother’s Day.

I have been tagged for this meme by the lovely Kate from Makeshift Mummy. The only person in the world I’ve ever had to tell that I don’t own a horse. Bless her :o)

Q1. Describe Motherhood in three words.

So. Much. Love.

Q2. Does your experience differ from your Mother’s – how?

I think this is the hardest question of them all for me to answer. In some ways I guess they’ve been similar as we’ve both been single mother’s. But we’ve both dealt with it very differently and I think we all try to learn from what we perceive to be our parents mistakes.

Q3. What’s the hardest thing about being a mum? 

The fear.

The fear you feel when they are ill, or when you momentarily lose sight of them, is heart stopping.

There is also a constant battle between wanting to shower them with everything they ask for and knowing that you will teach them more about life and the differences between want and need by sometimes saying no.

Q4. What’s the best thing?

Kate’s answer “All of it” was so spot on. Sounds twee but every experience is amazing in it’s own way, even the bad times!

The pride you feel when your child does something of their own volition. When they suddenly smile at you. When they share without being asked. When they tell you they love you without any prompting. When they confide in you. When you share a moment because you both ‘get’ something and you realise how much you genuinely have in common.  When they reach out to you for a cuddle or to hold your hand; just because they want to.

Q5. How has it changed you?

It made me find a selflessness that I didn’t know I had. I would do anything for my children. I would lay down my life in a moment to save either of them.

Q6. What do you hope for your children?

I hope they learn to be happy with themselves and not require external validation. I summed this up in one of my favourite ever posts, called My Legacy.

Q7. What do you fear for them?

Oh god, everything! I want to be able to protect them from every mistake I ever made even though I know it’s not possible.

Q8. What makes it all worthwhile?

They do. Seeing them smile. Seeing them be friends with each other. Watching them grow into their own personalities and make their own footprints on the world.

 

I won’t tag anyone else as Mother’s Day has passed – but it’s a nice meme to do so I would invite anyone who wants to do it to consider themselves tagged by me and to go for it!

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