This week I’m celebrating. This week my daughter is walking home from school with friends. This might not sound out of the ordinary for many, but to us, it’s kind of a big deal.
Encouraging my daughter into increasing independence has not been an easy journey. Domestic abuse has left her with lingering insecurity about not being in a place or with people she feels 100% secure. If I’m honest, I have anxiety about not knowing exactly where she is and who she’s with. Of course, those feelings are common to all mothers but they are more heightened with my daughter due to our past experiences.
9 years ago I took my two children and fled severe domestic abuse. Whilst that was a huge step in the right direction I soon found out that leaving was not the end of the matter. It was harder to leave an abusive partner in the past than I thought. Particularly when they are intent on keeping control.
Firstly, I want to make it absolutely clear that domestic abuse is not perpetrated by the abuser solely on his partner. I say ‘his’ because over 90% of domestic abuse is perpetrated by men on their female partner. This abuse happens to any children the couple have too. It may take slightly different forms, but it is myth that children are not involved in this most private abuse of male power.
My daughter was a month shy of her fourth birth when we fled our home with little more than the clothes we stood up in. Although she couldn’t articulate her feelings, I quickly saw an improvement in her behaviour over the next few months. During this time she had no contact with her absent father. He never asked to see her, enquired about her welfare or offered any financial support.
It was only when divorced was instigated and legal representation become involved did he suddenly discover a burning desire to renew their ‘relationship’. When came next was five years of court-ordered contact. Initially, this was held within a secure contact centre where he was observed. This progressed into observed contact outside of the centre, until finally, in their wisdom the powers that be decided he could have her to stay at the marital home on some weekends.
The contact was despite my daughter coming home telling me she was scared; she didn’t like it and she felt vulnerable, even when other adults were present. Her court-appointed guardian (a man who saw fit to side with her father as the wronged party) agreed she could go with him for alternate weekend stays. He ignored my daughters' wishes - in the presence of her trusted teacher - when she stated this was not what she wanted during one of their meetings at school away from my ‘influence’. My protestations were seen merely as those of a ‘scorned woman’ hell-bent on discrediting her former partner.
On only her second weekend stay with him, her father watched hardcore dwarf and gay porn where my 8-year-old daughter could clearly see. This was not the only cause for concern, he had been verbally abusive and left her unattended in public gambling arcade miles away from home. She was traumatised and would not tell me the details when she returned home. I knew as I collected her from him that something was badly wrong and when she got home she was so withdrawn all she wanted to do was be cuddled. I am very grateful that her school fully supported us and with their support the next day she wrote a detailed account of what had happened and that she no longer wanted contact with her father.
The school informed social services and police. Despite my having informed that on several occasions that he was sexualising his daughter in his language and had done before we fled, no action was taken by social services or the police. Watching porn where she could have been ‘a mistake’ they said. A shocking example of the safety of a young girl not being taken seriously. Exposure to porn is well-known desensitisation tactic of men in positions of trust who go on to physically sexually abuse girls.
She has had no contact since that incident three years ago and during that time her father has never enquired about her welfare, sent her a birthday or Christmas card or gift, or made any financial contribution. The only interest he had in her was to secure the good opinion of the Court in our divorce - which is still ongoing!
The system let my family down, our abuser was not held accountable and I was left to rebuild my daughter’s self-confidence. My son is extremely grateful that this man was not his father and he was spared the ordeal of contact. My son's recovery is a story for another day.
Thankfully my beautiful daughter is now wonderfully confident and articulate. She is a high achiever at school and is already learning how to run a business as she intends to start her own empire whilst still in education. She has strong personal boundaries, does not tolerate bullies and is well respected as a kind and considerate member of the school. She feels safe in school, she feels safe at home. The problem has been the space between the two.
She still has a gut fear reaction when she sees any man who resembles her father. I will feel her hold my hand or coat, or she will walk glued to my side if she sees a bald, spectacled man of a similar build. Of course, we have worked on this fear, but a healthy dose of caution will always be present due to our experiences, and those of women and girls in general.
Finally, this week she decided she was ready to walk home from school on her own. In a week where women in the UK are in pain as male violence is once again in the news, my daughter's decision to claim the next step in her independence is a big step.
We celebrate this as a family, my son, daughter and I. Why? We may not be where we yet want to be in terms of our big dreams, but in rebuilding our life and having the time and secure space to express ourselves, we have come so, so far from where we were.
And this is worth celebrating. In the workplace, progress is recognised for its importance, as the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress—even a small win—can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.
The progress principle doesn’t just apply to our creativity and productivity in the workplace, it applies to life. It is much easier to embrace new situations, conquer our fears and develop self-belief if we can see progress. In life and in business it’s not always the outcome of actions that you should concentrate on, but the progress you make towards your goals and dreams.
So this week, walking home from school with friends is progress in self-confidence, resilience and independence. And that is well worth celebrating.