Sons and lovers

Fathers who leave their partners for another woman run a 50 per cent chance of losing contact with their children. How can mothers make sure they stay in touch?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Jacqui Smith, 32, and her boyfriend Kevin, 34, separated a year ago, after living together for seven years. Their son Rory, seven, lives with Jacqui and visits his dad twice a week.

`People say, "Didn't you know something was going on?" My conscious mind didn't know, but I actually said, "Are you having an affair?" So, subconsciously, I might have had suspicions. I expected him to say no. It felt like someone had shot me; for days I couldn't speak above a whisper. Although Kevin and I weren't married we were totally committed. We both knew that if either of us was unfaithful that would be it. He moved out two hours later.

When I told Rory he just put his head back and screamed, then he walked round the room retching. It was the worst thing I have ever seen. His behaviour was how I felt. It took ages to get Rory to sleep that night. I couldn't bear to think about the next day because of the fear of this repeating itself and not knowing where to turn.

I went upstairs and Rory had made a nest out of all his toys, and he said, "Come and lie down with me, Mum." It was just so sad. I could get really mad when I think about that now.

The next day my parents took us to Toys R Us and Rory walked round crying and shouting "My mum and dad are getting divorced." Everybody was looking and nobody said anything.

For the first few weeks Kevin came back to see Rory every day. But that was absolutely dreadful for all of us. Rory didn't know what was going on. Then we had this massive argument and I hit Kevin in front of Rory. That's when I knew we had to sort things out and we started to arrange regular Saturday visits. I wrote out formal terms of access and made Kevin sign it. I didn't want to go to court because I thought we could work things out ourselves, which we have.

At first I don't think Kevin knew what he wanted with Rory, and I honestly think contact might have been lost if I hadn't pushed for regular visits. Every bit has been fought over - not in a loud arguing way but in a pressure from me type way. I wanted Rory to have a relationship with his dad because I know how much he loves him. I told Kevin there was no way I would ever let him get away from his responsibility. I was determined that my child would not grow up without a father.

In fact, Rory sees Kevin a lot more now than he did before and they have a much more interactive relationship. Because Kevin worked long hours as a taxi-driver and he was at college Rory only used to see him about twice a week. Even so, Rory really misses his presence in the house. He misses being a child of two parents. And I miss seeing him with his father.

It's taken a long long time for Rory's behaviour to settle down. He still hates leaving his dad, but now when he comes back he's all right. It used to be dreadful. I've seen him crawl around screaming for hours; then he would sink into these horrible depressions. At school he became a "difficult" child. I was always being called in because he had been aggressive or wouldn't do what he was told. Every morning on the way he used to talk about how sad and alone he felt and how he couldn't stand to be away from me.

Then one day when he was playing in the garden a wall fell on his leg and he was off school for 18 weeks. Bizarrely, that gave him a breathing space out of the context of home and school. Even when he could only walk with a frame I was adamant that the Saturday visits to Kevin wouldn't stop, so I used to get on the bus carrying Rory, a disabled buggy and the frame as well as all his stuff.

I have been aware all along that in the end I would get over Kevin. So I didn't want any decisions based on how I felt about being left, but on what was best for Rory. I've tried to separate every decision from how I feel - apart from during the first few weeks when I just couldn't.

I've always tried not to criticise Kevin in front of Rory, and I've told everyone else not to as well. I didn't want Rory to feel it was him trying to protect his dad against everyone. Rory knows he can talk about Kevin in front of me and he often carries a photo of his dad around. He's even said he thinks of Kevin's girlfriend as another mummy. I say, that's nice Rory. And it is nice. In a way I'm glad Kevin and his girlfriend are still together. It's better, more secure for Rory, and Kevin is less likely to bugger off completely if he's with someone. I hope they stay together for ever.

It's still awful some of the time. I still feel really anxious and scared about everything. It's a twofold thing. Not only have you got the responsibility of another human being totally to yourself, but also the fact that something you believed in has been taken away rocks your foundations. Your belief in yourself goes. No wonder some women hit the bottle.

On occasions I have rung the Samaritans, and I still do. At first you baulk at it because you think only sad people do that, then you think, "But I'm sad now." I do what's best for me - not only is it better for me, it's better for Rory.

Jacqui's story is told in `Modern Times: Broken Homes' on BBC2 tonight at 9pm.