In the past few weeks, I have gotten several emails from women who are going through scary custody situations. Many of them reach out to ask me what they should do. They tell me how scared they are because Luc reminds them of their ex, and they fear that something terrible will happen to their children. I have written on this topic before, but this is a topic that I think anyone who is going through a rough time can benefit from.
Let me first say this: People have asked me how I am able to still continue to live after my son was brutally murdered. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but one thing I can assure you of is that I am NOT the strongest woman who has ever lived. Every person has the capacity to make the best of their lives despite their circumstances. I made the choice to keep living, but that is not to say that I didn’t have days where I wondered how I would survive. I lived through many of those traumatic days while Prince was still living.
If you find yourself enduring legal abuse in the middle of a Custody War (or if you are living through another form of terrible trauma like the loss of a loved one), here are some tips that could help. While these are things I wished I had heard, there is no rule book for this sort of trauma. You have to do what works for you, and it might take a few tries at different things to get it right.
Find Your People: When something devastating happens in your life, it helps to surround yourself by people who love you and have your best interest at heart. For me this was family and a few close friends. For some people, family might not be the first group of people you turn to. Be wary of people who crawl out of their troll villas to make your pain worse. There are many unhappy people out there who enjoy feeding off of the pain of others. If you sense that you are connected to one of these people, remove yourself from their presence quickly and don’t look back.
Find Your Spirit: For me, this involved going to church, and talking to my priest. If church isn’t your thing, find a place where you can tap into your spirit and find some peace. Praying helped me to remember that there were things that were out of my hands and that I was doing the best I could.
Take Care Of Your Mental Health: If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Most parents who are in the midst of custody hell, try and focus on the children all the time. They don’t realize that by not taking care of themselves, they are not doing the best they can for their children. Children are like emotional sponges. When you are anxious, your baby is anxious. A terrible custody case can drive even the most sane individual mad. Everyone who has traveled on a commercial airline has heard that if the air pressure in the plane changes, you are to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you attempt to put one on your child. This is clearly so that you don’t pass out before you have the chance to help your child. The same concept applies to mental health. You cannot emotionally support your children through a stressful situation if you are an emotional wreck.
Enjoy Every Second With Your Child As If It’s Your Last: What happened to my son was the worst case scenario. I would never tell parents to expect the worst. That said, don’t take the time you have with your child for granted. When your children are around, enjoy the time you spend with them and try not to focus on worrying about the time when they will be with the other parent. I distinctly remember spending hours on the phone with lawyers when I should have been spending that time with my son. I cannot get those hours back now.
Lawyers Will Take All Of Your Money If You Let Them: When I was going through the custody war, I always thought that if I could just make a little more money maybe I could protect my son. There was a time when I was feeling guilty for spending money on food when I could be paying my attorneys. One night, my attorney called and told me that if I didn’t pay them 5k by the end of the week, they would stop working on my case. I cried on the phone telling them that I didn’t have anymore money, and his reply was that maybe I should ask friends or “rob a bank”. I racked up credit card debt and drained my bank account because I believed this would save my son. At the end of the day, it clearly didn’t save my son. Lawyers will continue to take your money if you let them. Try to find advocacy groups to help suggest pro bono help, and think about ways you can cut down on some of the unnecessary litigation. Money doesn’t fix a broken system. Don’t let your custody battle drive you to a financial place that negatively impacts the quality of your child’s life.
Finally, on my worst days, I read this prayer over and over:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
I know these words make many of us think of an AA meeting, but there are not many truer prayers you can say. Unfortunately, shit happens – bad shit happens – and when bad shit happens…it sometimes gets worse. Many times, there are a lot of things that are out of your control. Handle the things you can handle, and let go of the things you cannot.
For months after my son died, I went over and over in my head about what I could have done to save him. What I had to realize is that I couldn’t save him. I also had to realize that no matter how much I obsessed about what happened, it wasn’t going to bring him back to life. I could, however, change the way I lived my future. I could choose happiness, and put one foot in front of the other. Do I have days when I cry and don’t want to get out of bed? Absolutely.
There are many things in my life that I regret, but I am so thankful that I was able to enjoy many moments with my son despite the terror that my entire family was living through when he was alive. During these dark moments, hang onto the joy. There is always joy – you just might need to dig a bit to find it.