My ex-husband’s family live next door and I feel afraid
Tell Me About It: I feel frightened every day when collecting my daughter from school
'I think I stopped loving him before our daughter was born and finally I felt worn down.' Photograph: Getty Images
I am living in a town in the country and for the past year I am on my own following a separation. I moved here to my ex-husband’s home place full of hope and optimism nine years ago and now I am in a very different place.
My ex’s family live next door and my daughter goes to school with her first cousin but I feel that I am the subject of huge judgment and gossip. I left my husband because of his unrelenting negativity and anger.
I think I stopped loving him before our daughter was born and finally I felt worn down. Now everyone supports him and I feel like I live in a fishbowl. I feel I have to behave (not go out with anyone else) and smile at everyone so that my daughter does not suffer.
The school gates and school meetings are torture. I feel tense and frightened every day as I collect my daughter and I don’t know how I can keep going with this sense of loneliness and judgment.
You are in a tough situation and it seems you will continue to be in this predicament for some time unless you have enough money to move. However, you have demonstrated a capacity for resilience as you had enough strength and courage to end your relationship, knowing the response of the community you live in.
The question now is how to follow that action and create a single life for yourself and a secure base for your daughter. You will need friends and supporters in your community, a good relationship with your ex and his family plus the possibility of expansion for yourself.
A year is a short time in terms of everyone coming to rest after a separation so you may need to have a long-term perspective on healing the relationships with your ex and his family. The key is to always behave in a reasonable manner so that your reputation is steady and good. This requires that you never respond from resentment or anger as this will just fuel your in-laws’ bitterness.
You will stay resentful if you believe that they are deliberately causing you to be an outsider – you must let this idea go so can draw the best out of them. This is the opposite to adopting a victim mode and will give you confidence in your own power.
Making new connections in your community will take deliberation and time but should pay off in the long term. Ironically, offering to join the school parent/teacher association or helping out is a way of allowing people to meet the real you and will tackle your fear of the school gate as you will have other things to talk to people about.
You are not the only person who feels judgment at the school gates so be open to other people’s positions and reach out if the opportunity arises. While this can seem risky, it is what you would like your daughter to do and perhaps you can model this risk taking for her.
Expanding your sense of self can be done by taking on a new course of study, learning a new language or setting yourself a target such as completing a mini marathon. As your confidence grows through achievement you will be able to see more opportunities in your life. This resilience and courage will allow you to make decisions without the fear of community judgment, or at least handle this judgment in a wise manner.
You are now free to engage in new romantic relationships but perhaps you still need to negotiate this with your ex-husband as he is key to your community acceptance. Could you ask him to agree to some mediation or couple counselling to discuss how both of you might best provide good parenting to your daughter while allowing the possibility of future relationships?
This is difficult as you say your ex-husband suffers from negativity and anger but it is worth putting the time into this negotiation now as you will have a relationship with him (as a co-parent) for life.
In an article on the 10 best parenting competencies (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-makes-a-good-parent) the top three are relevant to you. The first competency is love and affection for your child and this is a given. The second most important competency of parenting is managing your own stress and it seems you are tackling this through the tough decision of separating and committing to creating a life for yourself.
However, it is the third competency that now requires action – this is “relationship skills”, described as how you talk and relate to your partner or co-parent. Putting the energy into a good and functioning relationship with your ex-husband is worth all the effort and setbacks.
Be determined and patient and in the long run you will not only have a secure child but you will discover your own power to influence others and construct a good life for yourself.