When Oldest Daughter was 18 months old, she came down with a nasty bout of gastro-enteritis. Literally everything she ate went straight through her, causing her huge distress (and causing me a huge amount of washing and carpet cleaning). The best treatment for this was just to give her minimal, very plain, food and lots of fluids. It was horrible not feeding her. Every instinct I had was screaming at me to feed her, but, for her own good, I had to just keep giving her water for a couple of days, until the infection cleared. I hadn’t realised until that point how, basic, almost primal, the need to feed and nourish your children is.
Since then, I’ve noticed a tendency in me to worry about food, and feeding my children, in times of crisis. When I started working full time, the first thing I did was plan how I’d feed the kids. When I have a day off, I usually make cakes and biscuits for them (as if they’ll make up for everything that’s happening). When E didn’t pay any money into my account this month, the first thing that frightened me was how I’d feed everyone.
Just in case I was under any illusion as to the non-appearance of his money, E sent me an email confirming that the withholding of cash was deliberate. Rather than paraphrase, or quote him unfairly, I’ve put his email in full below:
Given you are not responding to emails, I will assume that either you have blocked me or simply have no intention of responding. Maybe both.
Maybe this email address is also blocked. I have no way of knowing.
I am sorry I have not yet sent any money this month. Until we have a way forward, I cannot continue to keep getting into more debt and we need a solution asap. In fact we needed it 3 months ago when I asked that we sell the house, so now we have gone past the point where there is any more time left.
Presumably you want an agreement for a way forward, and it makes sense that this is in writing. I imagine we would both prefer to avoid legal costs on top of everything else but obviously that is your choice.
Contrary to what you might think I have no desire to do anything other than something that is fair for all concerned.
I suggest it is best if you make a financial proposal, rather than me.
Leaving aside for a moment his implication that withholding the money was somehow my fault because I hadn’t responded to his emails, the coldness of his tone, and his assumption that his problems were in some way my problems (the “we” need a solution, not “he” does), and ignoring the fact that this is the first time I have ever not replied to any of his emails, whereas he’s consistently ignored mine for two years, I was struck by the fact that he didn’t once mention or express any concern for his children’s welfare and how his actions would affect them. As he’ll tell anyone who asks (and anyone who doesn’t), he’s an intelligent man, he must know that withholding financial support will directly impact upon his children, and yet, they don’t once warrant a mention in his email.
I’m no saint, and I have never been a perfect Mum. I have shouted and snapped at my children, sometimes just because I was stressed, not because they had done anything wrong. I’ve come home drunk a couple of times and they’ve seen it and, whilst they’ve been sweet about it, I know that it wasn’t fair for them to see that. I have been too tired, or to busy, to cook food in the evenings and they’ve had to forage in the freezer for a meal, they don’t mind, but I could have made more effort. Since E left, they’ve seen me cry, far more than any child should see a parent cry. I’ve tried to be honest, but fair about what’s happened with E, but I’m sure there have been occasions where they’ve not been given a ‘fair’ viewpoint of things. But, since the second Oldest Daughter became a part of my life (in the form of two deeply blue lines on a pregnancy test stick on March 10th, 1998), my children have been at the heart and centre of my life and I have put them first in everything I have done.
I can understand E’s irritation and frustration at the fact I didn’t respond to his emails (it’s probably very petty of me, but that’s one of the reasons why I ignored his emails – that, plus the fact he didn’t mention what he intended to do re the kids and I). I can imagine the pressure he’s under because of his debts (I have been there with him many times in the past). But I can’t understand the fact that he’s prepared to make his children suffer because he wants to force me into doing what he wants.
Anyway, I thought about it for a day or so (whilst watching my accounts go deeper and deeper into overdraft), and I decided to respond to him. This is what I said – it was rather braver and feistier than I felt, but I felt strongly I was being bullied and I knew there was only one approach to take:
“Interesting negotiating tactic – holding a financial gun to my head until I agree to talk to you?
Attempts at bullying don’t scare me and will never get any response from me. The three, now four, emails you have sent have been disrespectful, patronising and bullying – stating what you wanted only, with no regard or consideration for me or your children. What response were you expecting?
You’ve had many ways to get in touch with me apart from email. You could have called, you could have written, you could even have spoken to me face-to-face like a grown up. You chose not to use any of these methods. It’s down to you, not me, that there has been no conversation.
Regarding withholding payment until I agree to discuss selling the house – I think you’ll find that you are legally obliged to provide financial support and a home for your children. If need be, I can go direct to the Child Maintenance Service and arrange to have this money taken direct from your salary, on a weekly basis (if you don’t pay anything this month, they will also collect the arrears). The absolute minimum amount they’ll take is less than you pay now, but I understand that the courts have discretion to grant much more, particularly in cases where one parent has a high income, and, as a result, there are things like tuition fees etc to pay. Given the fact we have four children, who are all financially dependent upon us, and considering Youngest Daughter’s particular mental healthcare support needs at the moment, and Oldest Daughter’s expenses at University, I hope they’ll be sympathetic. Obviously, if you insist on paying the minimum, I’d have to employ a solicitor to negotiate for the money the children actually need and this would involve legal costs.
The fact you feel it is appropriate to withhold payment of money that the children and I need because you want something, means that I have very little confidence in your intention to honour any kind of informal, non legally binding, agreement. I want to avoid legal costs as much as you do, but at the moment I’m not sure I have much choice.
Regarding suggesting to you what I want from the sale of the house. I’m not sure why you think I’d do that? You’re the one that wants something. Perhaps you should suggest to me what you have in mind and I can come back to you? I’m not averse to discussing the sale of the house, but I’m not committing to anything until I know the children and I are protected as much as possible.
Withholding payment is already having a detrimental effect on your children’s lives. At the moment, I can’t afford another supermarket shop this month, let alone provide the money for school trips, clothing, petrol or transport. It’s already impacted upon Oldest Daughter’s ability to pay her rent and Youngest Daughter’s ability to travel to her counselling sessions in Bedford. It means that Oldest Son may not be able to take up the opportunity to play in a music festival that he’s been selected for on the basis of his talent. It means Youngest Son might not be able to attend a school trip. However, if you think this is going force me into anything, you are mistaken.
I understand that you are struggling financially (perhaps you shouldn’t have funded a Florida wedding, with – was it two – wedding dresses?), but your problems really aren’t my problems anymore. You have a wife now, maybe she can do what I did so many times over the years and step up and help you?
I’ve copied Oldest Daughter in on my reply. I’ve tried very to keep the children out of everything that’s happened with you, but as she’s been affected by this the most, and, as the oldest, she also has to deal with her siblings when they’re upset I think she has a right to understand what’s going on.
I sent that email on Thursday, hoping that, as I’d met him halfway and at least responded to him, he might see this as a sort of victory and put some money into my account, but so far, he’s reverted to form and ignored my email and no money has appeared.
I’m not sure what will happen next, but I’ve been in touch with the Child Maintenance Service and have the number of a very good solicitor. So, I’m fighting back, but its distressing watching my accounts go deeper and deeper into debt, adding the shopping bills to my credit card and wondering what I’ll do for Christmas. There was a slightly bitter irony to the fact, that in the middle of all this, the Christmas presents I’d bought for E from the kids arrived – I think I’ll give the ‘world’s best dad’ socks to my Dad instead of him.
In the meantime, I’m doing what I always do when I worry about my kids – I’m cooking. I’ve got meals planned, cooked and frozen for the rest of the week, so at least they’ll eat well.