Have I Failed My Child With The Family Court System?

Have I Failed My Child With The Family Court System?

10 Things to Help Your Child After Losing Custody*


There’s no doubt in my mind (and in many other mothers’ minds) that currently, the U.S. Family Court System is broken, inadequate, dysfunctional, sometimes corrupt, and often biased. More than that, when children die every year due directly to bad rulings and/or a judge’s lack of detection (Read K’s Story), they prove themselves totally inept at protecting abused children and keeping children safe. It’s clear that the family court system has failed when our children are abused, continue to be abused, neglected, and remain unprotected. But did we fail somehow, too?


Did I Do Enough? Did I Fight Hard Enough?

After one brutal loss in court, where I lost legal custody and would only have half-time with my child going forward, I often asked myself, “Did I just fail my daughter trying to avoid legal fees?” Looking back, I often wonder if I failed my child by not fighting more, doing more, or paying more for a better attorney. What I do know is that I would have been beyond financially devastated to have hired a better lawyer. Besides, I didn’t even have a retainer to get a decent attorney at the time. Also, with my ex’s ability to “lie on the fly”, he would have most likely got off any hook I tried to catch him on. What’s worse is that going after him meant risking getting speared back. It felt dangerous to go up against him. My instincts were kicked in.

What I was doing — was the best I could at the time. I was afraid of him, craving peace, trying to protect myself, sanity, and my young child. I was working hard on too many fronts, trying to keep all the balls in the air that I was juggling while my ex would throw a jagged rock in seeing if he could distract me and sabotage my efforts. I can tell you that I, too, needed to survive. I barely came up for a breath on days she had colic, ear infections, colic, or a high temperature with the flu. Somedays, I forgot to eat — being a do-it-all single mom under the constant threat of family court attacks!


Abusers Abuse, Inside or Outside of the Home

FYI: Leaving the abuser didn’t end the abuse. The bottom line is that his abuse needed a stage. He needed a stage to play out his abusive nature. If it wasn’t in the home with me directly, it shifted to the courtroom. He was going to be abusive no matter what — it was who he was. Abusers abuse. It’s what they do. It’s not personal, it’s simply their nature. An angry person needs a target, and unfortunately, I was it.

This also meant that he would verbally and emotionally abuse our child and there was not much that I could do to prevent that, no matter how much I begged the courts. Any contact with him and my child stood a high chance of being put down, diminished, minimized, blamed, insulted, or called names. She actually told me that her dad “emotionally kills her.” I thought that she was very insightful for a 7-year-old, to know what emotional annihilation is. It’s hard to explain and even comprehend how this happens. If you dare to have a feeling, or difference of opinion, taste preference, or thought of your own around a coercive controller, prepare to be shut down, made to feel wrong and bad (and wish you never said anything)! She learned to keep things to herself to spare herself. She got really smart to stay away from her destroyer. She also began to lie a lot, of which I realized was her coping strategy and honorable survival skill for dealing with someone so hot-tempered/pathologically jealous/insensitive/mean/cold/cruel/dangerous to interact with. While she found ways, I found ways to add extra cushion around his abusive nature for her. (Read my blog: 25 Steps to Win Against a Narcissist in Family Court)

My Pleas on the Deaf Ears of Family Court and CPS

I wanted prevention, but the family court and Child Protective Services demanded undeniable physical, documented proof of harm. This meant that she had to be so damaged and it had to be so documented that the evidence was clear. This is hard to do with emotional abuse. You can’t see these inner wounds and scars. 

The thing is… I didn’t want it to get that bad. I didn’t want to see my child dead, harmed, or hurt in any way. I was willing to do backflips as a mom and even appease the angry-monster-of-an-ex to stop his anger with me from spilling onto her. I did all I could. One strategy that I had going for years was to tell her to blame it on me if her dad gets angry at something. This worked for years. This kept the attack off her precious, young, vulnerable, sensitive soul and psyche. However, it backfired in my custody trial because I was essentially being blamed for everything wrong in everyone’s life and tried like a witch in a witch trial. He also got years of practice blaming me for every little thing and became rather good at it. 

For my child, I took the psychological barrage of false allegations, accusations, and attacks for a full ten years in family court to preserve her soul. It definitely did damage to me in the form of the harmful effects of excessive stress and fear. I was always afraid for my safety and hers dealing with him. It was always beyond stressful dealing with him at any level, whether it be text, phone, in person, in court, in therapy. He was just an awful person to have to deal with while he struggled with his personality disorders and anger issues. 

Creating Buffers and Pop-up Emotional Emergency Rooms

These are some of my personal tips, tools, and secrets to success. I had to find a strategy for helping her when the custody order was changed and she told me that she didn’t want to live anymore at only 8 years old. Then, she threatened to run away if she had to spend more time with her father. Facing those two threats with no legal rights and being under an abuser’s gag order left me scrambling for survival tactics to just get through this. (Read my blog: Family Court Failures / National Family Court Awareness Month)


Here are some key things that I did to put layers of protection on her when the family court failed us:

  1. Got her into therapy with a male therapist who couldn’t be charmed or manipulated and who could show her what a respectable, sensitive man was like. She grew up with him for 6 years, building a bond and a trusting relationship. This therapist testified in my defense.
  2. Enrolled her in sports so that she was protected by her peers. This cut down on his time to abuse her. We all knew that her father was often nicer in public than in private. This also put us on the same team, cheering for the same child. (There’s something psychologically good about doing that with someone who is “after you” or hates you.)
  3. Kept a space of time to connect with her before she went with her father. Comforting, cuddling, talking about feels, talking about the schedule and what’s coming up. At first, she needed 3 hours of this, then 2 hours, then 45 minutes. It was time carved out to handle all the emotions and feelings. Letting her feel her feelings was essential. 
  4. Made her a scheduler/calendar and color-coded it so that she could look forward to returning home. She had 1 to take with her that I left love notes in and 1 for her wall in her bedroom that I also marked for her to see. It was something she could count on, and she often counted the days until she saw ma again!
  5. Sent her with stuffed animals (AKA: transition objects) that helped her have something to hold. This ended up being a full backpack of stuffed animals that she used as an overnight bag. It was packed full! Yes, she needed that many “furry friends” to feel comfortable going with her dad. We named each one and gave them special jobs for everything from helping her heal to helping her sleep.
  6. Gave her a necklace with our names engraved so that she had something that connected us. She often wore this to school, under her clothes, as this meant a lot to her. Having a symbol of someone who loves you always helps when you are grieving.
  7. Allowed her to take something of mine with her. Sometimes she just wore my hair scrunchie or a sweater. This helped her so much in coping with her dad, as he always tried to alienate me from her in odd ways.
  8. Have a ritual and routine for when she comes back. Rituals help us feel connected, while routines help us feel safe/relaxed. I had her play on a playground and run out her pent-up energy of feeling so confined and controlled by her father. This discharged any stuck feelings. She enjoyed and appreciated all the freedom I gave her.
  9. Comfort food. We had a meal schedule that included her favorite foods (on my parenting time) that she found comfort in.
  10. A promise that we would survive this and get through this together. I was her “emotional emergency room” for her feelings. I had to be strong enough to hold her while she cried, knowing that my appeal time had passed and I didn’t have the best legal representation to change anything at the moment.


A Message of Hope and Healing

The light at the end of the tunnel was that she would grow up. She would be an adult and able to leave the abuse and the abuser, just like I did. Until then, we had to take it one day at a time and survive it. My best success secret was that I told her that “we would get through this together.” This helped her know that she wasn’t going through this awful hell alone. We were a team, even if in secret. I was still standing and still her mother. Knowing that she had a comrade in this experience helped her. I had big shoulders and had to carry a big burden. We would overcome this together.

The other good thing that happened was that I grew. I got stronger as a result of the loss. I learned more about who I was and who he was. I got savvier. I got smarter. I found more recourses. I got a better lawyer and was able to put more things in our court order to protect her. 

There was hope that my new lawyer and my new way of dealing with my ex could change the circumstances we were in. I was changing and being less afraid to take a stand. I was also swallowing my pride and appeasing my ex to prevent further conflict. I allowed him to maintain the illusion of control, which limited his need to abuse us. I found ways to not make him mad since his anger would inevitably end up as his stress and potentially harm our child who was unprotected. 

For me, I had to confront my guilty feelings and inadequacies. I had to take an inventory of my vulnerabilities and weaknesses. I had to look at myself and decide on how I was going to handle loss, failure, and my many mistakes like an adult. Knowledge plus experience is wisdom. I had to take this wisdom and use it for the next battle and apply it to my next choices.  I comforted myself by saying; “She is still alive, so there is still hope for her!!” I reminded myself of that often. We both needed to hang onto any hope — it was essential and kept us both alive and wanting to live.


There is Always Hope

To comfort my broken mommy-heart when hearing her share her pain, I had to remind myself that at least there is therapy. Therapy and healing programs will be available for my child who had to be raised by a toxic parent. She will eventually have the opportunity to get the help she needs to sort out her feelings of powerlessness — even if my ex blocks this avenue for her (which he did for a full year). Then, someday, as an adult, she will get her power back. Healing was on the horizon and so was changing legislation and family court practices. Until then, we lived with injustice in the most dignified way that we could. Who knows? Maybe someday, she will be that lawyer that helps change these awful family court practices and tragedies! We have to hang on in order to see that day! I never imagined that I would be the author of 5 books, so anything is possible!

—Grace W. Wroldson, mother, author, survivor, and thriver of 5 self-help books available on Amazon

Website: GraceWroldson.com

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Read my books:

  1. Co-Parenting with a Narcissist: 7 Self-Rules to Stay Sane (A Survivor’s Story)
  2. How-To Fight a Narcissist in Family Court and Win: Super-Smart Strategies for Success

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*Disclaimer: These are helpful tips based solely on the author’s thoughts and opinions. The author is not a qualified mental health professional nor a crisis caseworker. She cannot give legal advice or appropriate counsel and is therefore not liable for any injury or harm. Please follow your doctor’s, therapist’s, counselor’s, and lawyer’s advice, as well as your own good common sense and intuition based on your unique case—to see if these tips could be helpful. Child custody situations may vary where some of these will not be applicable for your circumstance. Furthermore, court orders may dictate otherwise. Please use your own good judgment when reviewing this document. This is for personal self-help only. These were created from the author’s own lived experience and not based on any laws or rules of the courts. This is copyright protected by the author and is not to be sold, distributed, or quoted without the author’s written consent.

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