This is a Guest Post by Whitney Rupe | Reading Time 8:15
The idea of Shared Parenting is a favorite topic to argue about these days. Even celebrities frequently discuss the issue on news and talk shows. Children having both parents, in my opinion, is something that should never be argued about in the first place. That is, of course, unless there is a danger directly related to the child.
There are many nay-sayers whose main argument involves incidents of domestic violence in the home. I would like to share my story regarding that subject.
My intent is not to condemn or bash my ex-husband. Though some of you may see it that way, I hope that you can take a step back and see how much growth the two of us had throughout this journey. Our story has parts that are not beautiful, but for you to understand how far we have come, you need to know where we started.
My story is a testimony of victory and an example that anything is possible when parents put their children first.
I was married fresh out of high school. We already had a one-year-old daughter and were encouraged to get married because it was “the right thing to do.” I was young and naïve. Getting married was all about the fairytale that I had built in my mind. Looking back, there were many tell-tale signs of him being an abusive partner, but at the time, I did not see any of it.
Due to my low self-esteem and insecurities, I felt I deserved every verbal attack directed at me. Our relationship did not start with physical abuse. At least, not at first. It was little comments that grew into more significant comments, that grew into full-on arguments that lasted for days.
Then after about a year, it got physical. Nothing big at first, and of course, I felt that I deserved it. My “ex” always apologized; said he would change. And none of the abuse happened in front of the kids.
Fast forward a few years. Things had progressively gotten worse.
The physical and mental abuse that I endured nearly every day had grown until he threw me down the stairs. He hurled things at me or grabbed me and held me down until I had no fight left in me.
I had to wear different clothing, always making sure the bruises were covered. If clothing could not cover the marks, then I would not go out in public. It was not a big deal. I had lost the privilege of having friends or any sort of social life a while ago, so not many missed me.
Family visits had to be planned ahead of time. That way, my clothing could cover what was needed if we were going to see family.
None of this is said to receive pity or any such thing. I just want you to understand what was going on. Others may even recognize themselves in my story. Unfortunately, it is not that uncommon.
The very last time he physically abused me was long after I had informed him that I wanted a divorce. It had been months. He had moved out. We were sort of working out things with the kids. However, he did not have a home of his own. He did not have a job and no way to care for our children.
A Turning Point
In my opinion, as their mother, it was best for the children to live with me, and for him to be an every-other-weekend dad. THIS was the only alternative. He was upset because I told him he could not care for our kids without basic necessities. He threw me out of the chair I was sitting in, hit me, put me up against the wall with my feet dangling off the ground, and his hands around my throat.
I kicked at him and ran up the stairs. My children were in the same room, and I felt I HAD to get what was happening away from them. Once at the top of the stairs, he caught me. He pulled me down, and I fell to the bottom. When I opened my eyes, they met the eyes of my children. They were crying and terrified. I finally said no more.
The children ran into the other room. He grabbed for them. I grabbed his shirt, tearing it, and told him that he would not take them. Everything I thought before that told me I deserved this treatment disappeared. It was a pure motherly instinct to protect my children from witnessing any more of this assault. This incident was the first time our children had ever seen the violence in our home.
Fortunately, he left. I called the police reporting the abuse for the first time. Despite years of abuse, this was the first and only report made against him by me. The police came, they spoke to me, took pictures, and spoke to the kids. The police found and arrested him. He was released the same day, and I was terrified of retaliation. I was afraid to send my kids to school or daycare for fear of him “taking” them.
In the following year, he had two more domestic violence charges filed against him by two different women. He also had a drug charge, and I found out that he had been using methamphetamine. As a parent, I felt that I needed to keep our children safe. I told him that until he could provide me with a clean drug test, he could not have the kids.
I took it to court, and the judge agreed. Roughly a year had passed—no contact from him. The kids had started to settle into their new life. One day I received a text from him. He apologized. He told me that he had been working on things and could pass a drug test, which he did. He was on probation and working well with his probation officer. He permitted me to speak to the officer, and the officer informed me how well he was doing.
Slowly we worked back into our visitation order mandated with the divorce. We started with supervised visits in public places. The first time the kids saw him was so bittersweet. They had so many questions for their dad because they did not fully understand his long absence. Yet they were so unbelievably happy to see him. And that feeling was reciprocated by him. He had missed them so much. I had no idea that this was so as I had not heard from him.
In my mind, I had convinced myself that since he hadn't contacted me, he didn't care. I was wrong. He was working hard to get better. He had to help himself before he could reconnect with them.
We moved then to unsupervised visits for a day at a time after about a month of supervised visits. This step was hard for me. I hated it and was reluctant to allow it. Looking back now, I believe I had concern for my kids, but there was also a selfish part of me that had to give up control over the situation and just let him be their dad.
The kids loved it. He planned fun days with them, spending quality time with them, and the kids loved talking about how much fun they had with dad. If I am honest, it hurt me that they loved him so much.
After this, we moved on to an overnight every other weekend. At this point, I had finally become comfortable with my “ex” having the children for a short amount of time. He voluntarily allowed me to keep in regular contact with his probation officer. This communication was entirely his idea. He wanted to prove how much he was trying and how much progress he was making.
We had started effectively communicating about the kid's school, daycare, different activities. It was more of me informing him and him responding, but anything that he could be involved with he was. No questions asked. I started to feel like I could count on him to be there for the kids. I continued to have doubts, but he continued to prove me wrong. The kids were his world; anyone could see that.
Finally, we started to do every other weekend. It was not a quick process. It all took place over many months. I was hesitant, probably more than I should have been. I held onto everything that my “ex” had done to me while we were married, and I held my feelings against him. I used our children as my pawns for my lack of cooperation and held his previous actions over his head. He could see the kids, but on my terms only. There was no negotiation.
He continued to be there for them, despite me giving him a hard time if he messed up even just the slightest. Despite my holding on to my own hurt, he continued to be there and spend extra time with the kids whenever I would allow it. He was there for all the extra stuff for them, but I kept telling myself it would not be for long, and he would hurt us again. He continued to prove me wrong.
I am not sure what the exact moment was that I had the epiphany: our children love him, he is their father, so why am I holding so much against him? The kids were the ones suffering. It is unfortunate that it literally was an unexpected thought rather than what should have been my feelings all along.
I remember every time they saw him how they were SO excited. Every dad-weekend, they would remind me joyously that he would be picking them up. Just like that, one day, it clicked: He was not a good husband, and he had moments that his decisions were not in their best interest, but he cleaned up FOR THEM. He LOVES our kids just as much as I do, and they love him.
He was clean. He had completed anger management and went to a therapist to work through his demons. He had changed. ALL for our kids. He made sure that he NEVER hurt them by making poor decisions again. He became employed and has held on to his job, and got a place of his own. My Ex-husband's life is stable now. He has grown into a loving and involved father.
I realized after taking a step back from my bitterness because of what he did to me, that he did not do it to them. All that hurt was between him and me. He has shown that he wants to give our kids everything that they need. When I finally realized this, I was free from all the bitterness and resentment that I held against him. There was no more tug of war. There was no more “my terms only.” We became a team.
A Bright Future for the Kids
Now, I can proudly say that my ex-husband and I have a great co-parenting relationship. We sit together at our daughter's concerts. We save each other a seat at our son's baseball and football games. I will never forget our son telling his teammates pointing in our direction “that's my family.” It consisted of my ex-husband, myself, his parents, his brother, and sister-in-law, my parents, my sister, and my niece and nephews. Co-parenting looks like this.
Our children will NEVER question that we are a family and that we are in this for them. No matter how blended we may be, Mom and Dad will ALWAYS be there for them, rooting them on as their biggest fans. We are currently working out a 50/50 custody arrangement that we can set in stone. In the meantime, we are incredibly versatile with each other and work together to solve problems—especially time with the kids.
I know that not every story can have a happy ending. Some would even argue that this is not a happy ending. However, when I see that my children are better adjusted and can be comfortable with both parents, I know we have gone in the right direction. I would encourage others to set aside their differences, look at why they are fighting, explore the possibilities of co-parenting for the best interest of the children.
Whitney Rupe is passionate about FUAN and what it stands for. From being the child in the middle of her own parents’ divorce, learning how to work well with her oldest kids’ dad for the sake of the kids, watching her husband struggle to get the minimum “visitation” with his son because extra time isn’t ordered by the court, to raising their son together
Whitney has learned from every experience and seen how kids thrive when given the opportunity to have equal access to both their parents.
Whitney was born in Vermont and spent the first part of her life there. Her parents divorced when she was young. The divorce was everything but civil. A few years after the divorce Whitney’s mother decided to move back to Iowa where she was from. Whitney and her younger sister came with her leaving her dad and family in Vermont.
As Whitney grew up, she discovered a passion for cooking and decided to pursue it as a career. During her senior year of high school, she became pregnant. She was 17 when she gave birth to her daughter. She continued to pursue culinary arts and began the program at Indian Hills so she was able to stay close to home.
The responsibilities of being an adult and a young mother were problematic and she had to make the difficult decision to drop out of the Culinary Arts program to work more and afford a life for her daughter and herself.
Fast forward a couple of years, Whitney got married and had a son. The marriage was rocky, to say the least. Eventually, she and her husband split due to emotional and physical abuse. He fell into drugs and was unable to see our kids for a while. When he came out of this rut, they were able to gradually work out a way for him to be involved with the children.
The growth in her ex-husband that she has witnessed has been phenomenal. She is proud of him and what he does for their children. After everything that they have been through, she can happily say that they co-parent wonderfully and look forward to being able to move into a 50/50 custody arrangement someday. Whitney says the kids have never been happier.
Whitney met her current husband Ryan a little more than 5 years ago. Ryan has had his own battles with parenting time with his son, but this issue has only brought them closer together. Ryan and Whitney welcomed their son to the world almost 3 years ago and got married last year.