Testimony: Whose family life is it anyway?

Josephine Sheehan remembers a childhood torn apart by custody battles
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I never imagined that my parents would get divorced. I knew that they went through rough times but then don't all marriages? I thought we were a happy family, but now I realise that the marriage started falling apart years before the divorce. The first sign I had that something was wrong was when I was 16. I found Mum sleeping on the sofa one morning. She said that she'd fallen asleep in front of the telly but I knew this wasn't true. Then I walked into an argument. My Dad was shouting at my Mum: "It's all your fault, you've got to tell the children" and I put two and two together. A couple of days later they sat me and my younger brother down and explained that although they had fallen out of love and were going to divorce it wouldn't affect their love for us. My brother burst into tears and I walked out because I couldn't deal with the situation. Where was I going to live, where was my brother going to live, who were we going to live with and who would support us?

We all remained living in the same house for the two years it took for the divorce to come through and it was horrendous. My Mum was saying bad things about my Dad and my Dad was saying bad things about my Mum, while my brother and I were being used as yo-yos. I wished that my parents had stopped to realise that their childishness would affect us for the rest of our lives.

Before things went wrong my relationship with my Dad was fine, he'd always been there for me. But once the divorce proceedings began he started following me around the house, telling me that my mother was having an affair, asking me if I was intending to live with her and her ``boyfriend'', slagging her off, and trying to break me down so that I would decide to live with him. When he realised that I wasn't going to make my mind up instantly he turned on me, including blaming me for the divorce. That was it, I took my Mum's side just as my brother took Dad's. Life became a power trip for my Dad, a means of having a hold over us and stabbing me in the back as a punishment. He put a bar on the phone to stop Mum and me from using it, but gave my brother the code. He poisoned my brother against us and I hated both of them for it. If he had remained the lovely Dad I knew, then Christ knows what I would have done. I think I would have moved out and left my parents to it. When my parents went to court I asked to go too. I wanted to tell the judge my side of the story but Mum refused; she said that I had decided to live with her and that was all there was to it. But I wanted someone in authority to hear my needs. I was waiting for my Mum to ask me if I needed help, but she never did and unfortunately I didn't have the guts to ask for help myself.

It was me who had to look after her; she was on anti-depressants. I went to a counsellor but she didn't have the answers. I felt really let down, I lost interest in life, my self-confidence disappeared and I felt utterly on my own. I drank a bottle of wine a night, drinking myself into oblivion, crying myself stupid and then smashing the place up because no one was listening to me. After the divorce we had to carry on living together in the same house for another 18 months. Then one day I went back to a new home without my brother and without my Dad. I still want my brother here with us - after all, it's our parents who got divorced, not us. I don't speak to my Dad now and his side of the family won't speak to me. I sometimes wonder whether I would visit him if he was dying in hospital.

When I read about other couples fighting over their kids and being horrible about each other I really related to the situation. I pity the children because they are the innocent ones. My advice to them would be not to suffer in silence, I hope they do get help and some kind of stability. Half the time kids are too busy trying to look after their parents to look after themselves and parents don't see you crying yourself to sleep or being unable to cope at school. The trouble with divorce is that parents don't think about what the kids need. No one took a blind bit of notice of me. Until someone in authority realises what kids go through during a divorce there's nothing that the kids can do.

The point is that a couple should always intend to share parenting, it shouldn't boil down to the question of whether Mums are the best parents for their children. The situation where a Dad is expected to provide maintenance but isn't allowed to see his children is ridiculous, punishing kids by depriving them of a Mum or a Dad is wrong.

I don't want to get married myself, I'm too cynical to remain in a relationship, but hopefully that will change.

All names and some details have been changed. Interview by Katie Sampson

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