Getting Through a Crisis - Tips for Non Resident Mums
By Mike Wilkins
A non resident mum and friend of mine has recently been through a very dark time in her life after her ex-husband suddenly decided to limit her contact with her two children. Following a three year struggle with his unpredictable and unreasonable behaviour and six months of mediation to arrive at the now defunct contact agreement, she has been feeling that she can't take any more. So, what can she do? To her despair, her solicitor has told her that to be eligible for legal aid she has to go through the mediation process all over again. In desperation, she has applied for a shared residency order and is now waiting for a court hearing which she will have to pay for despite her meagre means. In any event, it looks like she won't see her children for anything up to a month.
We agreed that there are some times, when the problems we face cannot be solved. The more we talked about the futility of various courses of action, the more she moved towards a position of accepting that she has done all that she can do to solve the problem and that she now needs to get through this time with as little pain as possible and without making things worse.
When we talked about what she is currently doing to manage her distress, we discovered that without realising it she has been using quite a few coping skills. We thought that it might be helpful to share these with others who are also going through difficult times. The skills and strategies are probably quite personal and what works for some might not work for others but all are worth trying.
Absorbing activity. Throwing yourself into something that absorbs your attention and provides distraction. For my friend this is work, housework and when concentration allows, reading a book.
Doing things for others. My friend found that being attentive to and looking after her partner was helpful. Others might find different ways of contributing or helping others to take their minds off the problem.
Making comparisons. Looking back at when things where even more painful and difficult was mostly helpful although at times this added to her sense that her situation hadn't really changed over a long time.
Trying to stimulate other emotions and feelings such as pleasure, comfort, security and compassion. My friend is good at showing love and being close to her partner to bring on these feelings. Obviously this is difficult if you are on your own but there are often opportunities to interact with others and stimulate feelings such as compassion or concern. A sense of connection can sometimes be achieved just by smiling at others in the street. The feelings might not last long but are still worth it...these are desperate times and even the slightest relief is a blessing.
Shutting down, blocking and pushing away pain. My friend would often sit and stare. At first she thought this confirmed that she was useless and defeated as she was so inactive. She now sees that this was a way of distancing herself from her problems and mentally, taking a break. Why not...ruminating over this type of problem and our failure to deal with it better is exhausting and fruitless?
Using sensory methods to stimulate alternative feelings or to simply soothe and calm. My friend finds comfort in eating chocolate, hugging, stroking and smoking but there are hundreds of ways we can use the five senses to help us calm and soothe ourselves.
Power showers, loud music and moulding clay have been very good as ways of releasing tension and some of these can be combined for better effect.
Finding someone who is not going to judge you to talk through your feelings of guilt and despair. My friend says this has helped her to realise that she uses guilt as a way of punishing herself and that feeling rotten can be preferable to feeling good as there is nowhere to fall. This way she finds meaning in her misery. This allows her to refocus on doing what she can do now and in the future "to be there' for her children in anyway she can rather than obsessively regret the past.
Weighing up the pros and cons of various courses of action, i.e. going to the house or the school against the ex-husbands wishes, arguing, repeatedly telephoning etc. It is easy to see how these actions, although they might demonstrate to her self and to others that she hasn't given up on the children, could make things worse for herself and more painful for the children.
Accepting that she cannot change the situation at this time helps her to do what she can to cope rather than feeling that she ought to be doing more and is a bad mother is she doesn't try.
Thinking of ways to be the best mother that she can with the time that she has. Sending "I love you' postcards to the children through the absence, planning how to use the time they have together, keeping contact with teachers, asking to be directly informed regarding the children's welfare and progress and seeking advice on her legal situation.
These are some of the ways that my friend has coped with her difficult situation. We both agree that they are mostly short term measures that do not solve the problem but are sometimes useful for reducing the pain and frustration experienced during times like these.
These ideas and more can be found on the "birdflew' website at www.birdflew.co.uk. The site exists to provide support and information to non-resident mums in the UK and around the world.
About The Author
Mike Wilkins is a registered nurse therapist in the UK nhs. He writes from personal experience about self help topics for emotional and behavioural problems.