If you had told me three years ago I’d be writing about acceptance, gratitude and happiness as a ‘stuck’ mum, half a world away from my family, I wouldn’t have believed you.
I’m English, living in Australia with my two children. I came out here seven years ago with my partner on the understanding that it would be temporary – three to five years. In Australia, he pushed for us to stay permanently. The gulf between us grew. So did his control and the emotional abuse started – I was a terrible person for wanting to go back, a bad partner. I was lucky he wanted me because no one else would. I started to believe it and with no support network I started to feel isolated. We separated. In hindsight I ask myself why I didn’t pack up then and go home but I was in survival mode and I had a job I loved. Plus, I didn’t know that going home wouldn’t be an option in future.
Then I lost my job. Alone with primary care of two small children, I was broke and struggling with no support. After four years in Aus it was time to go home. My ex said he was happy for me to go back to England first then he would send the kids. I found a house to rent, a school, but something felt wrong. A family lawyer told me about the Hague Convention and told me straight: Do not return without your children. I confronted my ex – he admitted he had no intention of sending the children to England. He said he had never intended to return to England once we moved to Australia. He thought he could convince me to stay, that this was my fault for not seeing that Australia is the better home for us. I spiralled into depression then he used my mental health to file for sole custody of the children. My lawyer told him there were no legal grounds. I learned court action to take the kids home would take four years, $250k plus and I would have no chance of winning. I was stuck.
Depressed, broke, lonely, resentful and in open war with my ex and his partner, I believed ending it would be the best thing for everyone. But something stopped me. My doctor put me on anti depressants and arranged subsidised counselling sessions. It was hard work wanting to exist again. I made myself write a list each day with headings: REASONS TO LIVE. THINGS I’VE DONE TODAY TO BE PROUD OF. THINGS I CAN DO TODAY TO FEEL BETTER. Sometimes I could only write one thing: my children. I walked, swam in the ocean. I gave my body good nutrition (I had put on 20kg.) The shift was gradual – my mindset became healthier but I was still rejecting life in Australia because my longing to go home was so acute. I was wasting my beautiful life.
I realised to move forward I had to accept that my life and home are now in Australia. This realisation meant a fundamental shift, as I’d spent the past three years yearning for a life and future I now had to accept wouldn’t be mine. Acceptance of life in Australia also meant ‘letting go’ of a life with family close by. The kids accept this – I’m the one who grieved it and I allowed myself to feel the loss. I told my family they needed to be positive. We re frame it so that visits to family, though short, are packed full of love and greatly anticipated. We Skype regularly.
I looked for the reasons to be GRATEFUL for my life in Australia. I made a list and referred to it when I wavered. I joined groups – swimming, F45, school mums, people I work with – to create a tribe for myself. I had to force myself to do this but I did it and my community grew. I realised, despite my bitterness, I was grateful my kids have a dad who loves them. So the final piece of the acceptance jigsaw was my ex. We had become unwavering foes and I knew that this had to be mended and I had to work with his control and narcissism. He eventually agreed to do mediation and in a fraught session with wonderful mediators we put together a parenting plan, which enables me to travel with the children abroad and gives guidelines to our co-parenting (he never signed it). I am civil to him and only speak well of him to the kids.
Now I don’t recognise myself. I’ve built a good life and I’m happy and proud of myself. I am lucky. I have the right to work in Australia and many stuck mums don’t have that. There are challenges, of course. My ex is challenging and the control and abuse leaks out often but I have learned positive communication and boundary techniques to manage it. Financially it’s difficult. I avoid grandparents’ days at school and it twinges when I see family gatherings. But learning the power of acceptance and gratitude has changed me and enriched my life. I realise this has been the making of me. I’ve discovered I am a resilient, independent, strong and capable woman. Hannah Gadsby said “There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself” and it’s true.