Coronavirus and domestic abuse

This afternoon, when my wife brought my kids back from visiting [redacted] in spite of the lockdown, my two-year-old asked me to leave the lounge and go into my office – she didn’t want me in the room while she watched Paw Patrol. I’m pretty sure she learned this behaviour from her sister, my four-year-old, who in addition to wanting me out of the room most of the time, has also made it clear she wants me to sleep downstairs from now on.

Why do my kids want me out of the way? Because they’re being poisoned against me.

And there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

This blog post is a confessional. I didn’t want to reveal the full extent of what’s been going on out of respect for the parties involved. Now, I don’t care anymore. Domestic abuse is wrong, whatever form it takes. I might be a man, with a beard and a few extra stones around my middle, but that doesn’t make me any less a victim.

In order to keep it on point, because it’s long, I’m only going to focus on the lockdown. Stuff that happened before – extorting money out of me by threatening the children, for example, or throwing drinks over me, or attacking me with scissors, or hitting me while I was driving, or saying she’d abort my baby if I didn’t do as I was told – is water under the bridge at this point.

As I’ve mentioned before, as soon as the lockdown started, I became Public Enemy Number One to my wife and her family. When the Prime Minister told us to stay at home and not visit anyone who didn’t live in the same household, I took that as it was meant. My wife, on the other hand, took it to mean ‘keep visiting everyone despite living in three separate households’. Because the rules only apply to other people.

As someone who believes in doing what’s right, I was adamant we’d respect the lockdown. I was therefore horrified when [redacted] turned up on my doorstep a couple of days later. When I didn’t let her in, much shouting and crying ensued, in which I was made out to be the bad guy. To my children, I was being mean and upsetting mummy and [redacted]; to my wife and [redacted], I was being unreasonable and irrational.

The following day, my wife took the children out for ‘exercise’. When I asked to go with them, she became defensive and aggressive, so I dropped the matter because I didn’t want to argue in front of the kids. However, it was obvious she was really going to visit [redacted].

A couple of days after this, [redacted] demanded my wife and I stop having support sessions – the very support that is allowed under government guidelines and without which our family would fall apart. [Redacted] said it would be my fault if they caught coronavirus from my children – not their fault for breaking the lockdown rules!

I let it go until a few days later, when my eldest said she was seeing [redacted], but she wasn’t meant to tell me or they’ll all get in trouble. I had it out with my wife after that. I told her I knew she was visiting [redacted], and I wanted her to stop, but that as she was an adult, I couldn’t physically stop her. I asked her to stop lying, stop getting the kids to lie to me, and at the very least to stay two metres apart, which she agreed to do.

I then emailed [redacted] and told them the same – that I’d like them to support me and not come between me and my wife, but that if they were going to meet up, they were all adults and there was no need to sneak around and ask my kids to lie to me. It was, I thought, a reasonable request to make.

Their response was to call me a hypocrite who didn’t need support, and accused me of deliberately misinterpreting the guidelines.

I replied in a manner that was far more polite than I felt. I provided a link to the government guidelines that spelled out in black and white that I was following the rules. Regarding not needing support, I pointed out that I have autism and depression, while my wife has autism and a personality disorder, and I have spent four years protecting my family from Social Services, who have said that if I wasn’t around, they’d have grave concerns about my wife’s fitness as a mother. I said that this has taken a toll on my mental health, given my wife’s multiple behavioural explosions in front of support workers, including shouting, swearing, throwing things, storming off, slamming doors, making threats, raising her fists to hit me, and totally losing all connection with reality. I said that without support, my marriage wouldn’t survive.

Well. I don’t know why I expected understanding, because none was forthcoming. They tore me a new one. How dare I threaten them with Social Services, they said. How dare I label my wife (it was actually the psychiatrists who labelled her). And they said that if my wife shouted at me, swore at me, threw things at me, threatened me and raised her fists to strike me, they could understand why. That’s right, it’s my fault if she attacks me!

They said they’ll never forgive me for putting them through this ‘ordeal’, that I should be grateful to them, and that I’m a terrible father and husband who might be able to hide his true temperament from others, but they can see right through me. And they don’t want to speak to me ever again, so I didn’t even get the chance to defend myself.

I’m not entirely sure what ‘ordeal’ I’ve put them through. I asked my wife not to visit [redacted]; she ignored me. That’s it. Hardly an ordeal.

From that point on, my wife took the kids to see [redacted] every day, even though she knew I didn’t approve. When my kids told me they’d been hugging [redacted], my wife denied it and called them liars, before admitting that okay, yes they had, and she wasn’t going to stop him, so mind your own business. And when she told me she hadn’t seen [redacted], it turned out she had.

Our care manager came out to talk to her, and point out how awful it was to ask the children to lie to me. ‘What happens when the man down the street wants to play a game with them, but they can’t tell mummy or daddy or they’ll all get into trouble?’ she said. ‘You’ve trained your children that that’s normal.’ I reiterated that she’s an adult and can make her own decisions and doesn’t need to lie to me, so she agreed to be honest with me from then on.

Two days later, I caught her lying again and coercing the children into lying.

Given what my wife said in the meeting with our care manager, and from hints in [redacted]’s emails, I know they’re trying to set me up as some kind of monster. I caught her filming me in secret, trying to get evidence against me for God-knows-what, and [redacted] has told her to keep a secret diary in which to record all my misdeeds, whatever on earth these might be. I honestly don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing wrong.

I took legal advice from a specialist in family law, who told me that I’m in quite the predicament. You see, the house I live in is co-owned between my wife and [redacted]. If my wife owned it, if our relationship fell apart I would have the right to remain in the house until our divorce; because it’s co-owned, they can kick me out any time they want.

Worse, because of coronavirus, all the hotels, B&Bs and shelters are closed. With my wife being so unstable, if our relationship breaks down during the lockdown and the home situation becomes untenable, Social Services will have nowhere for me and the kids to go so would put the children into foster care until the end of the lockdown. If, on the other hand, it all became too much for me and I walked out and left the kids, I would be deemed to have abandoned them in an unsafe situation and would lose any right to them. Meanwhile, because of my wife’s instability, without me around Social Services would take the kids and put them into foster care permanently.

So, to recap – if I stay and the relationship becomes unworkable, my kids go into foster care; if I leave, the kids go into foster care. Therefore, the only way to keep my kids out of foster care is to stay and make the relationship work until the end of the lockdown, which is what I resolved to do.

A couple of days later, a police car pulled into the close and flashed its lights for a minute, the message being a clear STAY-AT-HOME. My wife waited ten minutes before heading to [redacted]’s again, but she was nervous about being stopped and asked what she should say if the police pulled her over, so she knows it’s wrong. I told her that if she’s decided to break the rules, she has to come up with her own excuses.

She didn’t get stopped, and as usual the kids came home with chocolate smeared all over their faces and didn’t want to eat the meal I cooked for them. I’ve told my wife before that I don’t approve of the way [redacted] buys their affection with chocolate (if he tells them off and they cry, he immediately gives them chocolate in case they stop liking him). I don’t think they should be eating Creme Eggs every day anyway, in addition to other chocolate, biscuits and sweets, and he knows this. So, what do you make of the fact that every day my wife doesn’t visit, an ice-cream tub full of chocolate appears on my garden wall?

It’s awful. I’ll finally manage to prevail upon my wife not to visit him for a day, I’ll take the girls on their scooters around the block, and every time I get back, a box of chocolate has been delivered in my absence. As soon as the girls see it, they scream in excitement, and if I tell them they can’t eat the chocolate, I’m the bad guy again. I’m trying not to be paranoid, but it comes across as a massive fuck you – it seems to say, ‘even when your wife doesn’t come to visit me, I can still get to your kids’.

I told my wife she was breaking my heart and betraying our marriage, and she decided to gaslight me in response. She told me I had it it all wrong, that she loved and respected me and was 100% committed to our marriage, and that’s why she hasn’t been visiting [redacted]. She said she goes to [redacted]’s house every day to exercise, and if he just happens to be there at his house when she visits, along with [redacted] who lives fifteen miles away, it’s coincidence. And if he chooses to cook them all a meal, or kiss them and cuddle them, there’s nothing she can do about that, is there? And the reason she lies to me and tells the kids to lie, is because she doesn’t want to upset me. But if I’d just look the other way it wouldn’t bother me so much. So really, I’m the one with the problem. And I’m not actually a very good husband and father anyway, and she only lies to me because I don’t trust her, and I should be grateful to her and [redacted] for taking the kids off my hands for a couple of hours a day. And anyway, she isn’t doing anything wrong and everyone knows I’m the crazy one and if anyone’s ruining our marriage, it’s me.

But that didn’t stop her from lying to me again last week. She said she’d only [redacted] through the car window leaving as my wife arrived, but my eldest said, ‘Mum, shush, remember what [redacted] said? We’re not supposed to tell him,’ to which my wife said to my four-year-old, ‘Shut up and stop lying, we didn’t see her, she’s lying! Liar!’

Later, my daughter told me they’d had a whale of a time with [redacted], who’d been chasing them with a hose, but [redacted] had told them not to tell daddy or they’d get in trouble because daddy’s very naughty. And she said, ‘But it’s okay, we didn’t have a cuddle with her.’

‘I did,’ said my two-year-old.

‘Well, okay, we both did,’ said my four-year-old, ‘but I’m not meant to tell you.’

No wonder they don’t like me. They’ve been told I’m being mean to [redacted] and they’re too young to understand any different.

Even worse is that the bedtime routine has been completely thrown out of whack, making my wife the hero and me the enemy. I put the kids to bed every night, and I’ve done that all their lives because after 7pm, my wife switches off as a parent. The handful of times she’s tried to put them to bed have been utter disasters that she’s abandoned halfway through because it’s hard and her job is to be the ‘fun’ parent.

Anyway, the past month my wife has been going up to bed at 8pm. What’s actually been happening is that, after I’ve put the kids to bed at 7pm, my wife’s been getting them up again and playing with them and telling them to keep quiet or daddy will come up and ruin their fun. Twice in the past two weeks, I’ve come up to bed to find my eldest camped on our bedroom floor because ‘mummy said I can sleep in here.’ Once she was in our bed itself, my wife fast asleep, so I sent her back to her own bed. This has turned me into the bad guy, and my daughter keeps asking me to sleep downstairs because she knows that if it’s just mummy upstairs, she can do whatever she wants. Consequently, discipline and respect have fallen apart.

Two weeks ago I put the kids to bed, waited fifteen minutes to make sure they were settled, then took the dog out for a walk. When I got back, my wife was in their room putting up a play tent and telling them they could sleep in it! I asked her what the hell she was doing, it was far too small, and said the kids had to sleep in their beds. It took me another 90 minutes to settle them again.

The next night she decided that from now on, she’s going to take over bedtimes. I told her this wasn’t a good idea because the girls see her as a playmate and not an authority figure, and now is not the time to disrupt their routine, but my wife had already told the kids she was doing it, and that was that. Again, I didn’t want to argue in front of the kids so I let it be.

After an hour of her screaming and shouting and the kids screaming and shouting, I went up to intervene and she closed the bedroom door in my face and wouldn’t let me in. I left it another half an hour before I’d decided that enough was enough. By this time, my eldest was crying uncontrollably while my youngest was screaming, hyperventilating and so agitated she was biting everything within reach. Walking into that room with my kids in such a state of distress, I was horrified.

I took them downstairs, and it was thirty minutes of holding my two-year-old tight to me before her breathing calmed down and she stopped sobbing. From there, it was another hour to get them to sleep.

I told my wife that from now on, she leaves bedtime alone. We can’t have this disruption. Once I’ve put the kids to bed, they stay in bed. They’re tired out and overstimulated. They’re being damaged and I need her support, because they’re the most important thing.

When the next day I told my support worker what had happened, she was equally horrified, and said she would have to report it, and in all likelihood it would be passed up the chain to Social Services. I figured the decision had been taken out of my hands. Whatever happened was no longer my responsibility – I had lost my kids.

This was a Friday, and I spent the whole weekend on tenterhooks, waiting for Children’s Services to come with a  van and take away my kids. I felt awful because since I’d clamped down on bedtime, things had improved. Worse, my wife was being nice to me, and I was racked with guilt over what this would do to her.

Nothing happened. Monday, nothing. Tuesday, nothing. Wednesday, I saw my support worker and she told me that her manager wouldn’t be passing it to Social Services because they’re my children and they’ll support me in keeping them, whatever it takes. It felt good to have that support.

Alas, it was the calm before the storm.

During my support session, my wife was home-schooling my eldest. Badly. Even though we were in a different room with the door closed, it was impossible not to hear the shouting and the crying. It was clear my wife wasn’t coping. So my support worker asked me why I wasn’t teaching my daughter.

I explained that from the start, my wife has elbowed me out of different aspects of the girls’ lives – birthdays, Christmas, days out, and in particular, schooling. When we were getting my daughter ready for school, I wanted to be involved but my wife kept pushing me out, going out to buy uniforms, pencil cases and suchlike with [redacted] instead of with me. She even wanted to take her to her first day at school by herself, without me.

I insisted I go too, but my wife conveniently ‘forgot’ to bring something vital and sent me home to get it. I asked her to wait and not go in without me, but of course, by the time I got back, she’d gone in, so I missed walking my daughter into her first day of school.

Anyway, my wife has always been incredibly territorial over our daughter’s homework, and I don’t get a look-in, and she’s the same with the home-schooling. So my support worker reminded me that she’s my daughter too, and if I want to be involved in her education, that’s my right as her father.

She had a point. My wife and I had been getting on for days, and that afternoon when she got back from visiting [redacted], we spent a very pleasant hour in the garden as a family. It was all fun and games so I thought it was a fair moment to broach the subject. I said I wanted to be more involved with the teaching, so could I have the login details for the school portal with all the lesson plans and resources she uses?

Everything changed. No, she said, no way. How dare I? Why did I have to ruin everything? No, I couldn’t have access to my daughter’s schooling – she would never give me access. She stormed inside and disappeared for thirty minutes, and when she reappeared, she looked at me like I was the dogshit she’d stepped in.

‘What have I done wrong?’ I asked, and she exploded with this whole rant about how I’d stolen bedtimes and bathtimes from her and there was no way she’d let me steal this. I said I didn’t think what I was asking was unreasonable; I wasn’t trying to steal anything, I just wanted to take a turn with the home-schooling. She replied with how I was selfish and nasty, and she stormed inside again.

But when the kids tried to follow, she told them to leave her alone, slammed the door in their faces and then locked us out in the garden! My kids burst into tears, I had to calm them down and it was five minutes of knocking before she let us in, while telling us she wouldn’t talk to any of us ever again, which again upset the kids.

I kept my head down and tried to keep the kids buoyant, but I was absolutely gutted, because things had been fine for a few days and suddenly it had all gone wrong.

Eventually, she started talking to the kids again. And then, with the kids sitting on her and glaring across at me, she said, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m putting the girls to bed tonight and there’s nothing you can do about it.’

I repeated what I’d said about routine and disruption, and I didn’t think it was a good idea, but she shot that down in a heartbeat, so again not wanting to argue in front of the kids, I went outside and wrote a long email to my care manager about the situation, before I had to hurry upstairs because my kids were screaming and crying again and bedtime was yet another disaster.

Later that night, I asked her why she was trying to push me out of my children’s lives – why she won’t let me have anything to do with education, why she’s just spent £200 on a children’s entertainer for my eldest’s fifth birthday without telling me, why she keeps arranging holidays and trips out with [redacted] and the kids but not me. She again told me she’d never let me steal this from her, and threatened to hit me if I said one more word on the matter.

Later that night, she texted me the login details, and the following day she told me not to change password and lock her out, like I’ve ‘done with everything else’. I knew immediately what she was talking about. The previous week, her account had been locked because she’d accidentally bought 17 lids for her inflatable hot tub (essential, I know), so she’d asked for my bank card so she could go shopping. When I pointed out we had plenty of food in the house and a menu plan covering the entire next week, she flipped out, so I thought it prudent to change the password on my Sainsbury’s (supermarket) account. Clearly I was right to do so, because she must have tried to get into it.

Anyway, I reassured her I wasn’t going to change the password and lock her out, nor did I want to take over or steal the home-schooling from her – I just wanted to be involved. And I asked her why she’d ever think it was okay to lock us out. ‘I was just joking,’ she said, like every abuser in history.

My care manager responded to my email and said she was very concerned about my wife’s increasingly unstable behaviour, particularly as it was damaging the kids and their relationship with me, and said that now was the time to bring in Social Services and get this resolved, and how did I feel about that?

I did a lot of soul-searching that day, but eventually I conceded that yes, the time had come. My children would be damaged by going into foster care, but they’re being damaged anyway. Things couldn’t go on as they were as it wasn’t healthy for any of us. It’s what’s in the best interests of the kids, after all.

This was a massive thing for me to do, because I knew it would spell the end of my marriage, but there needed to be resolution of some sort, whatever that was.

The next day, Adult Social Services rang and said I could have an extra couple hours of support each week. Not hugely helpful, but a start. But Children’s Services didn’t ring, so I waited for them to turn up and take my kids for a second weekend in a row.

Nothing.

Over the weekend, my wife has decided that [redacted] will now read the girls their bedtime story on a video call, despite me doing it for four years and it being one of the few fun things I have left to do with them. The girls told me they don’t want me putting them to bed anymore and want me to sleep downstairs from now on. As a father, that’s not pleasant to hear.

I spent the weekend doing everything an abused spouse does, like prevaricating, like making excuses for my partner’s behaviour, like wondering if I was the one in the wrong.

Finally yesterday (Monday) they rang. They told me they’d heard my wife had locked us out of the house and to tell them what was going on. So I did. I told them everything of the above. The lying, the undermining, visiting [redacted], poisoning my children against me, disrupting bedtime, shouting and swearing in front of them, all of it. Like I said – time for a resolution.

Well. Don’t believe what people say about Children’s Services wanting to take your kids away. They couldn’t care less. They said that if my wife decides to visit [redacted], so be it, it’s already done so there’s no point intervening. They said they can offer us some Early Years Support to teach us how to ‘cooperate better’ with each other, but not until after lockdown.

They asked to speak to my wife and said it wasn’t good to ask the children to lie to me, so she said ‘Okay, I’ll stop,’ and the person on the phone said that that was now all sorted, and if there was nothing else, thanks for calling.

I quickly asked her about the possibility of my eldest going back to school, just to get her away from the toxic atmosphere in the house, and she said she could perhaps ring the school and see if they’d take her for a couple of days, but she wouldn’t be able to do this until later in the week.

And that was that. To say I felt like somebody had ripped out my insides is an understatement. Children’s Services weren’t helpful, they were positively harmful. Why? Because they’ve essentially just told my wife that everything she’s done is perfectly acceptable and the only consequence of her actions is to maybe attend a voluntary parenting course. So of course, last night when they should’ve been in bed, she painted their toenails and let them camp on the floor, because there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

So, in summary, apparently you can:

  • Shout and swear in front of your kids;
  • Slam the door in your children’s faces;
  • Lock your husband and kids outside;
  • Take your children to visit multiple family members almost every day of the pandemic despite it being against the government guidelines;
  • Undermine your husband with his children;
  • Tell the children to lie to him;
  • Call them liars when they tell him the truth;
  • Tell them daddy is the one being naughty;
  • Tell them that if they get caught, daddy will punish them;
  • Disrupt the bedtime routine in a way that makes the children frantic and distressed;
  • When he tries to intervene for his children’s safety, shut the door in his face and put your foot against it;
  • Refuse to give your partner access to your children’s lives;
  • Threaten him with violence when he asks to be more involved;
  • Manipulate him into missing his daughter’s first day of school:
  • Shut him out of any and all decision-making around your children;
  • Allow your parents more influence on your children than their own father;
  • Not support your husband when the kids no longer want him in the same room as them or even sleeping on the same floor;
  • Use your children as weapons in some sort of twisted power game against your partner;

And Social Services will do nothing about it.

My care manager was utterly shocked by their response. She feels I’ve been badly let down by the system. While you’re in the house, she said, those children are not deemed to be ‘at risk’, so Children’s Services will sit on their hands until you leave, and then they’ll be in like a shot. Instead of preventing a crisis, they’ll wait until it becomes a crisis before intervening.

No wonder Baby P fell through the cracks.

My children have been poisoned against me, and will go on being poisoned against me.

And apparently there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

 

When you’re in love with Dr Jekyll…

…then Mrs Hyde comes as part of the package.

I knew that when I married her. I knew that if I wanted to be with Dr Jekyll, I was inviting Mrs Hyde into my life. But I didn’t care, because Mrs Hyde was a small thing to put up with in order to spend time with Dr Jekyll.

You see, Dr Jekyll is lovely. Dr Jekyll is kind, and attentive, and a joy to be around. I love Dr Jekyll.

Mrs Hyde, on the other hand, is awful. She’s irrational, unreasonable and aggressive. The stubbornness and lying, the disruption and heartbreak – that is all Mrs Hyde. And I loathe her.

I understood why people warned me off. From the outside, they only saw Mrs Hyde, and allowed Mrs Hyde’s behaviour to taint their impression of Dr Jekyll. I knew different. Two identities competed for control of one body, and I could not sacrifice the positive aspects of one for the negative aspects of the other. I fell in love with Dr Jekyll in spite of Mrs Hyde.

Most importantly, I knew that Mrs Hyde wasn’t Dr Jekyll’s fault. She was as much a victim of Mrs Hyde as I was. I couldn’t abandon my sweet and innocent lover to the ravages of her alter ego. I had to protect her from it. And if I punished Dr Jekyll for something that Mrs Hyde had done, that goes against every precept of justice I believe in. We take responsibility for our own actions, not those of others.

But Mrs Hyde – Mrs Hyde takes no responsibility for anything. Like a wrecking ball through our lives, she leaves a trail of destruction in her wake, and then she’s gone. She never has to face up to the consequences of her actions. Dr Jekyll and I are both left to pick up the pieces.

This would be easier to bear if there was any pattern to Mrs Hyde’s visits, but she comes and goes without warning. Sometimes I spend days with Dr Jekyll; sometimes days with Mrs Hyde. Sometimes, in the midst of a sunny afternoon, Mrs Hyde will descend upon us as if from the sky, and stay just long enough to ruin any pleasure we were having, before disappearing again just as quickly.

Sometimes in hindsight I can identify the triggers – the innocuous word, the momentary look, or even the lack of words or looks, that transformed sweet Dr Jekyll into evil Mrs Hyde – but mostly, it’s impossible to locate. And afterwards, when Dr Jekyll returns to me, she often has no idea what it was either.

We’re held prisoners to Mrs Hyde. The question of my marriage has always been: how much can I take? How much can I endure? There’s never been any discussion of how much should I take. How much should I endure?

But there are children in our lives now. Mrs Hyde’s behaviour doesn’t just impact me and Dr Jekyll anymore, it impacts our children. After twelve years shielding Dr Jekyll from the effects of Mrs Hyde’s behaviour, and four years shielding the children, I’m all burned out. How much can I take? The real question is: how much do I want to take? And I don’t want to take anymore.

Somebody asked me the other day if I spend more time with Dr Jekyll or with Mrs Hyde – if that’s a way to settle my chaotic headspace. That’s not the point, I replied – it’s not about how much time, but the extent of the damage that Mrs Hyde causes. If you spend six days with Dr Jekyll, and on the seventh Mrs Hyde burns down your house, the negative consequences of one day with Mrs Hyde far outweigh the six positive days with Dr Jekyll.

And it no longer matters whether it’s the fault of Mrs Hyde or Dr Jekyll – the effects are still the same. If I don’t want to put up with Mrs Hyde anymore, that means I have to give up Dr Jekyll too.

It would be so much easier if I could hate them both. I wish I didn’t love Dr Jekyll as much as I hate Mrs Hyde. To save my children and myself from Mrs Hyde, I’d have to abandon Dr Jekyll to her fate. And how can I abandon someone I love?

Or is this mental gymnastics the reason the abused so often stay with their abusers? And was it always easier to pretend the lover and the abuser were two different people instead of one and the same?

Confronting abusive parents

When I was a teenager, I’d often notice kids being shouted at by their parents, belittled in public, sworn at, smacked, nagged, grabbed and abused, and it never failed to ruin my whole day – partly because of my sympathy for the poor tyke, and partly because of my failure to do anything about it. I would roast myself for my cowardice, relive what I had witnessed over and over, wondering what I could, or should, have done.

These ruminations always ended the same way – with the reassurance that though I was currently unable to intervene, when I was older, bigger, more confident in myself, and packing both the muscles and bank balance equal to my ego, I’d never let a transgression go unpunished.

Trouble is, I never got much bigger. Nor did I develop the muscles, bank balance or confidence that would enable me to face down bad behaviour. In fact, following several breakdowns and a diagnosis of autism, I have an almost pathological aversion to confrontation, something I’ve covered in depth in Takers and the Took: Asperger’s and Confrontation. So when I say my evening out last night, the first without the kids for a year, was horribly ruined, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

As we entered an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant, out burst a man with a shaved head, tattoos, tattered clothes and a scarred face, carrying a crying seven-year-old boy by the arm. He slammed this poor kid down on a low wall, shook him roughly, shouted and swore into his face and then dragged him back inside and threw him down into a chair. At the table, the mother, dolled up to the nines with bleach-blonde hair, black eye-liner and a top showing off her cleavage, said to the kid, ‘What you crying for?’ whereupon the man thrust his finger into the boy’s face and hissed, ‘He’s being a right [expletive deleted].’

All the while, the kid hid beneath his hoodie while his many brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles acted as though this was nothing out of the ordinary. And, judging by the speed with which this kid seemed to get over it and start mucking around with the others, perhaps he’s used to it. But it shocked the hell out of me.

I’ve always admired those maverick characters like Martin Riggs from Lethal Weapon and John McClane from Die Hard, the kind who if he saw something like that would step up and make them regret ever lifting a finger to their kid. Unfortunately, those people don’t exist outside the pages of fiction, or if they do, I’ve never met any.

So I sat there trying to enjoy my meal, watching this kid and his father, bathing in my own cowardice. I tried to look at it from all angles – maybe the kid was being a shit, maybe his dad was at the end of his tether, maybe they were out for a birthday and the kid was ruining it yet again and his dad just lost it. I know what that’s like – I planned this really special surprise day out for all of us on Boxing Day at Monkey World, only to have my three-year-old daughter bitch and moan the whole way round about how she’d rather be at the playpark and how monkeys are boring and how she wanted to go home, until I shouted at her and said she was ruining my enjoyment of the day, which made her cry. Who am I to judge another father’s parenting style? And what right do I have to stick my nose in where it’s not welcome? Am I really that arrogant and presumptuous to think that my way is best?

That was a good way to get me off the hook, but really it was making excuses for my inaction, because this dad’s behaviour was more than the normal, run-of-the-mill fed up parent stuff – it was uncomfortable to watch and it crossed a line. True, he didn’t assault the boy – not in a way that would stand up in court – but the way he mocked, manhandled and humiliated that kid in public just wasn’t right.

But what could I do? Go up to a table full of burly builder-type blokes and say to them, ‘Good day, sirs, I beg your pardon for interrupting your meal, but I thoroughly disapprove of the way you treat your child.’ I’d be lucky to get told to mind my own effing business. And would having my face rearranged really improve things for the boy? Knowing the way these things work, blood being thicker than water, and all, he’d probably have cheered his dad on.

I thought of interacting with the boy when he got up to replenish his plate, asking if he was okay and offering some reassurance, but I decided that was an even better way to get beaten up. And then I started thinking about the times that I’ve shouted at my kids, or grabbed them and dragged them to the naughty step, the times I’ve threatened to take away their toys if they don’t stop misbehaving, or simply snapped at them because I’m tired or unwell or overwhelmed, and I wondered: am I like that guy? Am I getting so upset because I recognise in him a trace of what exists in me? Is he what I could become if I don’t constantly keep myself in check? And is that how I appear to my kids – a hulking, angry monster with a shaved head and tattoos?

So, as you’ve probably already figured out, I did nothing. Nothing but watch them, excoriate myself for my faintheartedness, and then dwell on it all of last night and all day into this evening. The world’s children are not my responsibility, I tell myself. I do not possess the skills or authority to act in such a situation. Anything I did would probably have made things worse. In short, I’m a gutless, spineless, powerless coward.

My on!y consolation is that when it comes to my own kids, I’m able to overcome my natural aversion to confrontation. I learned this a couple of months ago when I discovered a family member had disciplined my child in a manner of which I did not approve, a person set in their ways who has always intimidated me. I’ve always clung to the belief that as a parent, your instincts take over and enable you to be a freaking tiger when you need to be, but it doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t make you any less afraid or any less alone, and nor do you look inside and find a strength you never knew you had. The truth is, you simply don’t have a choice – right is right, wrong is wrong, and as a parent, when you see a wrong being done your child, you have no option but to confront it, no matter how scary it is.

And so it was, legs shaking, palms sweating, heart beating out of my chest and my stomach doing cartwheels, every fibre of my being telling me to run away and hide, that I drove round this person’s house and told them in no uncertain terms never again to discipline my child in that way. I had psyched myself up for a fight, and you know what? They absolutely crumbled.

I guess that’s what matters – knowing that when push comes to shove, I can look after my kids and keep them safe.

I just wish someone could do the same for that kid.

Twenty ways to lose your partner

Here are some sure-fire techniques for driving any partner up the wall. Use them wisely, as they might harm your long-term prospects for happiness.

  1. Only talk to your partner through their child – look at their child and say, ‘Daddy hasn’t given you a bath in two days.’ Never talk to your partner directly, because that would be to show them respect.
  2. Only ask your partner to do things through their child – look at their child and say, ‘Would your daddy like to give you a bath?’ because asking your partner directly would be to show them respect, and as we’ve established in point 1, you don’t want to be doing that.
  3. Back your partner into a corner by only asking them to do things through their child – look at their child and say, ‘Would you like your daddy to give you a bath?’ That way, if your partner refuses because they’re exhausted or busy or wants to know why you can’t do it yourself, the child becomes upset and it makes them the asshole. 
  4. Combine all of the above – look at their child and say, ‘Why don’t you ask your daddy to give you a bath?’ because that really twists the knife in the emotional kidneys.
  5. Pick a fight with your partner through their child – look at their child and say, ‘If your daddy doesn’t give you a bath, he’s being really selfish, isn’t he?’
  6. Then say you don’t want to fight – look at their child and say, ‘You don’t want mummy and daddy to fight in front of you, do you?’ because with the child on your lap, you can say anything and your partner isn’t allowed to react.
  7. But blame your partner for everything anyway – look at their child and say, ‘I hope you don’t end up messed up, with a father like yours.’ But it’s okay, because with the child on your lap your partner can’t defend himself at all.
  8. Then go to bed – leave your partner to deal with both kids by himself, and when he asks for help, claim he’s being selfish and unsupportive of your needs.
  9. And bad mouth him to your mother – ring your mum and tell her how hard your partner is to live with and how he’s a rubbish dad and partner, just loud enough so he can hear it over the sound of running the bath. But when he comes into the bedroom with a face like thunder, tell him you’re having a ‘private conversation’ and wait for him to leave.
  10. Have ten hours sleep to his three – and snore really loudly while you’re at it.
  11. Then ridicule him for his needs – make light of his tiredness in the morning, take half an hour to get dressed while he gets the kids up, and be sure to call him selfish again if he wants you to help out. Ignore the fact he’s had a headache for seventeen days and an upcoming heart scan, and has been referred to the Mental Health Team to learn how better to manage his stress.
  12. Act moody – snap at your partner, give him the cold shoulder, and sit on the sofa to eat your breakfast while the rest of the family is at the table.
  13. But… – when he asks what’s wrong, tell him you’re fine, that nothing’s wrong, and that he should leave you the hell alone. Then give him the silent treatment.
  14. Go out shopping all day – because, why not?
  15. Tell him afterwards you’d wanted him to come – say you’d wanted it to be a ‘family day out’, with him sitting in a cafe with the kids while you shopped, and get upset when he says that doesn’t really qualify as a ‘family day out.’
  16. Then suck up to him and say, ‘Love you really’ – because you do, really. Because for all your talk about his laziness and selfishness and lack of support, and how you want to kick him out, you know he does the lion’s share, and the lioness’s, and you wouldn’t be able to cope without him. And that’s why you hate him too. He’s living the dream that you wanted, the challenge you haven’t risen to, and breaking him down piece by piece stops you feeling quite so bad about yourself by comparison.
  17. But never say sorry – because brushing everything under the carpet is the best way of ensuring it never gets dealt with and the cycle will repeat, day in, day out, until the end of time.
  18. And don’t try to get help for your issues – because that would be to take responsibility for your actions and behaviour, instead of blaming it on autism, hormones, depression, your upbringing, abandonment issues, and other people.
  19. Expect him always to be there – because he always has been, through thick and thin, and no matter how badly you’ve treated him he’s always forgiven you.
  20. But don’t be surprised to wake up one day to discover you’re alone – because doormats eventually wear thin, and punch bags split. And sometimes love just isn’t enough anymore.

Takers and the Took: Asperger’s and Confrontation

Every day at the moment, I’m having between sixty and seventy arguments. Some are mild, a witty response to a provocative remark; some are longer, a tussle between players on opposite sides of the game; and some are long drawn-out, bloodthirsty affairs that leave souls destroyed and lives in ruins. Sixty to seventy, every single day.

But it’s not as bad as all that: they only take place in my head.

Like many people with Asperger’s, I have something of a phobia about confrontation, to the point of enduring any amount of abuse in order to avoid it. When it does happen, I avoid eye-contact and retreat into myself, and all the cogent, coherent arguments I could make evaporate. I have a visceral reaction – acid, like liquid copper, spreads from my gut, my chest tightens, my throat constricts, and the back of my neck starts to burn, because even though words can apparently never hurt me, I feel as though I’m being physically attacked. So I wait for it to end, mutter some platitudes that completely undermine my own position, and then slink away in a turmoil of guilt, shame and humiliation like a dog with his tail between his legs.

And afterwards, I dwell on it. For days. I relive the argument, word for word, re-experience the feelings, the fear and helplessness, think of what I could have said or should have said but didn’t because at the time all I wanted was to retreat. Like someone who has taken a beating, it takes me a long time to recover. It’s as though my psyche is bruised, and the world is now altered, everything out of place and dangerous until I manage to rebuild my walls and feel safe around people once again.

I worked in telesales for a time. Last thing on Friday afternoon, a stranger eviscerated me down the phone line. I didn’t sleep that night, couldn’t relax all the next day, had bad dreams on the Saturday, ran over the incident a million times all day Sunday, and on Monday handed in my notice and bought a plane ticket to New Zealand. Growing up, people said I was sensitive – too sensitive to survive in society. I think the truth is that I’m autistic, and my problems with social communication and social interaction, married to anxiety, insecurity and an obsessive nature, make conflict something I’m particularly incapable of dealing with.

So I tend to avoid confrontation, if I can. You might have heard the opposite to this – that people with Asperger’s are themselves argumentative, self-centred egoists who run rough-shod over the feelings of others – and this is also true, no matter how contradictory. So how does that work?

I can only answer for myself. When it comes to facts – or at least what I consider to be facts – my natural pedantry, honesty, commitment to accuracy and inability to let things go mean I often get into arguments over trivial matters. Like when over dinner one time my (ex) sister-in-law was talking about someone overly concerned with their appearance, and concluded with the statement, ‘People are so fickle.’

‘What do you mean by that?’ I asked.

‘You know,’ she said. ‘People are so shallow and superficial.’

‘Oh, I totally agree,’ I replied. ‘But that’s not what fickle means.’

‘Yes, it is.’

‘No, it’s not. Fickle means changeable, inconstant, not shallow.’

‘I’m an English teacher.’

‘And I have a dictionary. Shall we look it up?’

‘Well, whatever it means, most normal people would have known what I meant.’

‘Then most normal people are using the word fickle incorrectly too.’

Sure, it’s a little thing and in hindsight it comes across as kind of petty, but that’s the sort of argument I can’t resist having – those to do with facts, where I will back myself to the hilt because I know I’m right.

On the other hand, when it comes to disagreements about less concrete things – emotional things – that’s what I struggle to cope with. I approach life in a rational fashion and expect other people to respond in a rational way, but that’s not what tends to happen. Instead, people are complex and confusing and behave in ways that aren’t rational at all. I just don’t understand it. You try to discuss something in a calm and controlled manner and they flip out, fly off the handle, scream and shout, and in a split second I’ve backed down, lost the argument and dropped into survival mode. Otherwise, if I try to stand up for myself, I get eaten alive.

I link this to my autism, especially since I know many others who experience the same anxiety over arguments. Perhaps having poor Theory of Mind skills – the ability to understand another’s thoughts, feelings, and point of view – means we are incapable of successful conflict-resolution. Or perhaps my aversion to confrontation is something more particular to me.

As a child, I grew up in a household in which confrontation had very real consequences, then at 19 I moved in with my girlfriend’s family, where a violent brother and emotionally unstable mother meant that any confrontation led to holes being kicked in doors and phones smashed against the wall. At 21 I formed a band with a girl who ruled my life for the next three years because I was terrified of her spectacular outbursts and felt powerless to escape her anger, while at 28 I moved into a ‘supported living’ house, where my housemate would break milk bottles on the kitchen floor if I disagreed with him. Over the years, I’ve learnt that confrontation means danger; backing down is the best way of surviving.

But it isn’t, because it’s incredibly damaging to your self-esteem and your long-term happiness. Living like this makes it very easy to be taken advantage of – unless you isolate yourself as a hermit, which, to be honest, is a very attractive option sometimes. I get churned up inside just thinking about the potential for arguments. I walk on eggshells, terrified of upsetting people because of how they’ll react, and I know what that makes me.

There’s that common expression about the world being divided between ‘givers’ and ‘takers’. This assumes that givers and takers are in some form of symbiotic relationship that fulfils one another’s psychological needs. I think the truth is much darker than that.

To paraphrase the 1960 movie The Apartment, there are ‘takers’ and ‘the took’. The worst thing about being the took is that you know you’re being taken, but there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Because takers don’t take what is freely given – they take whatever they want. It’s a form of abuse, one that people with Asperger’s are very susceptible to because of our difficulties handling confrontation.

So when I know I need to confront someone about something – when I’m being taken advantage of, for example – I obsessively plan out what I’m going to say. And then how they’ll respond. And what I’ll say next. And so on, and so forth.

Of course, in real life, people don’t respond how you want them to, so I try various permutations – if the person responds rationally, irrationally, emotionally, angrily, defensively, offensively, how I’ll react, how I’ll respond. I have the same argument sixty or seventy different ways, every single day, all in my head.

And then the moment comes, and all the preparation goes out of the window. You’re aggressive instead of assertive, you stumble over your words, the other person explodes and you cower, or worse they deny anything’s going on and it’s all in your mind, which confuses you, until at the end of the argument you’re in a worse position than when you started, and all the things you’d meant to say, and all the rights you were going to insist upon, lie unspoken in your heart.

And you realise that there’s really no reasoning with some people, so it’s best to leave those arguments where they belong – spinning around in your head all day, every day, because they’re the taker and you’re the took.

And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

Asperger’s, Parenting and Unexpected Change

As is well-covered in the literature of autism, people with Asperger’s have a love of routines and struggle to cope with change. What I’ve been realising lately is that this bald statement covers up the nuances of what this means in practice, particularly when you’re the parent of a seven-month old.

And it can affect two people with AS in opposite ways.

I cannot handle change in terms of things being added. I need time to process and accept things that are coming up. Ever since I was a kid, I needed plenty of notice – at least a week – to get my head around a visit from relatives, a trip out somewhere, or anything out of the ordinary. If not, I tend to moan, kick up a fuss, say some nasty things I don’t really mean, and then go along with it anyway. But I don’t have much of a problem with things being cancelled anymore – indeed, the principal emotion is relief I don’t have to go through the effort of painting on my ‘public’ face and holding onto a fake smile for however many hours. I would be a hermit if I could get away with it.

Lizzie suffers the opposite extreme: she can’t handle change when it’s things being removed. She is mostly fine with things being added to the routine, especially if she’s the one doing the adding, but if something is cancelled her first response is to throw a tantrum. I liken it to a person walking along a road and finding a brick wall blocking their path. While other people would try to find a way around it, or else turn back, Lizzie bashes her head against it until one of them gives – sometimes the wall, but most often the head. Actually, scratch that – most often the heads of those around her.

Babies, as some of you are well aware and others can easily imagine, are unpredictable. Not only that, the world becomes unpredictable when you have them. Visitors arrive with little or no notice, longheld plans need to be dropped without warning, and you have to rush off to the doctor out of the blue. It’s impossible to say which of us struggles the most with the changes having a baby has brought to our lives, but I can guarantee that I suffer the most.

Now, when I say ‘suffer’, I’m not being melodramatic. I’m not talking about the discomfort I feel at friends, relatives and healthcare professionals clamouring for our time or pitching up on our doorstep unannounced. Nor am I talking about the disruption that sudden trips to the shops for some vital knick-knack cause to my quiet, ordered life. Fact is, the baby’s needs come first. I have accepted that. My needs, as an autistic individual, are immaterial next to hers. I have made that choice.

Unfortunately, Lizzie is either unwilling or, by dint of her condition, unable to make that choice. And so I genuinely suffer.

Like before Christmas when Izzie had a cold and I hadn’t slept for two days. Sunday morning I was so tired I couldn’t see straight, my back ached, I was covered in snot and dribble, and my throat felt like I’d been swallowing razor blades. I hadn’t had the chance to drink, eat, go to the bathroom, since the night before. When Lizzie arose, well-rested, and made herself some breakfast, I asked her to please look after the baby for an hour to give me a rest. But she had planned to go shopping, and, unable to alter her plans, she toddled off for more than three hours of non-essential retail therapy. I suffered.

Or like a couple of weeks ago when I got a migraine about teatime. Lizzie had planned to go out, so out she went. I couldn’t open my eyes more than slits as the light burned, I kept seeing spots of light dancing in front of my face, and my head throbbed with every beat of my heart like somebody was burying an axe in my skull. Every time I bent forward, it felt like my brain was being forced out of my eye-sockets. But I duly bathed the baby, gritting my teeth and shouting in pain whenever it became too much; hissed as I dried the baby; roared as I dressed her in nappy and sleepsuit; cried out as I placed her as gently as I could into the cot; snarled as I sang her to sleep. And then I collapsed, nauseous, into bed. I suffered.

Or the other week in the storms – our village turns into an island during heavy rain, and three years back I wrote off my car by driving into floodwaters (the single-most butt-puckering moment of my life!). So although we’d planned to take the baby to town, I refused point blank to expose her to the risk of getting stuck down some country lane surrounded by cows pretending to be ducks. The sensible thing. Unless you have autism and can’t change plans, in which case you kick off like a wild animal, say some truly awful things, and then go out anyway sans partner and baby. It was only later she admitted I was right, it had been too wet and downright risky to go out in that weather, with or without the baby.

Now, as this is mostly a positive, light-hearted blog, I’d like to say that whenever this happens I smile wryly, roll my eyes, say, ‘That’s Lizzie!’ to hoots of canned laughter, accept that it’s just her autism, and forgive and forget.

But nor is this a fairy tale.

There is a lingering resentment bubbling away under the surface as my needs, and Izzie’s needs, repeatedly come second to Lizzie’s inability to alter her plans for the greater good. Whether she can help it or not doesn’t matter – the resentment is there.

I have heard it said before that partnering a person with Asperger’s Syndrome is a form of abuse – not for the Aspie but the poor neurotypical saddled with their unreasonable behaviour. As someone with AS, I disagree with that, but let me be clear – people with Asperger’s can be cold, insensitive, selfish pricks at times. That’s the reality hiding behind the innocuous words, ‘people with Asperger’s have a love of routines and struggle to cope with change’.