Saturday, 13 December 2014

Advice for Single Parents at Christmas

I was recently approached by a representative from the Co-operative Legal Services, who asked if we could do a Q&A session with Jenny Beck, an expert in family law, specifically about managing Christmas as a single parent.

There are approximately 100,000 children under the age of 16 in the UK who have divorced parents. That's 100,000 Christmases this year which won't conform to the 'norm', and 100,000 reasons for us as single parents to worry that we are doing whatever we can to make it a happy Christmas for our kids. If we don't get on brilliantly with our ex spouses, Christmas can be...well, absolutely hideous, quite frankly.

We all want to make Christmas special for our children.  So, with help from The Secret Divorcee's Twitter followers, we've compiled a list of questions for Jenny to answer, in the hope that it might give some support over what can be a very difficult time.

This is not a sponsored or promoted post, but it's definitely worth mentioning here that the Co-op do produce a free guide for separated and divorced parents about how best to enjoy a stress-free Christmas with their children. You can access it here: .

The Q & A

Q. My husband looks after our children every alternate weekend. Last Christmas fell on days when I was looking after them, and I told my ex that he was welcome to see them over the Christmas period. He said he would do that, but wanted me to 'take that time back'; in other words, that I should look after the kids for an additional time at a later date. I refused, and he decided that he didn't want to see the children. In addition, he told his friends and family that I had refused him access. This year, again Christmas falls on days when I'm with the kids. My ex has said that, if I do not agree to his terms, he will refuse my access completely when it is his turn to have the kids over Christmas. I have capitulated, unwillingly, but feel that he has blackmailed me. I just want to spend Christmas with my children – I don't want to steal any time back. What are my rights here? 

A. You are in a difficult position here as you don’t want to inflame the situation but clearly don’t want to have no voice in the arrangements. You and your ex need to focus on what is best for the children and agree a way of co-parenting and making arrangements not just for this Christmas but for the next, and the next and birthdays and holidays. Perhaps approach your ex with the prospect of mediation? A mediator will listen to both of your arguments and help come up with a solution. I would strongly recommend you look to agree a ‘parenting plan’ so that you can use the process of mediation to tackle some of the issue which might cause problems in the future. 

Q.  My ex-husband and I have been separated for a year. I left him because he was aggressive and volatile towards me – but never to the children. However, I know that Christmas is potentially a 'pinch point' point for him and I'm nervous in leaving him alone with the children over the festive period. What should I do? 

A. If you are seriously concerned about the welfare of your children you should seek legal advice straight away. It is vitally important that you take no risks at all. 

Q. My ex-wife is having the children this year for Christmas. It's the first year I will have been without them and I have told her that I will ring to speak to them in the morning. She has told me that she will not answer; that when they are with her, they are with her, and I should keep away. Surely this isn't fair, and not good for the children? I'm finding it very hard to deal with. 

A. Christmas is a very special time for families and for separated families it is important that they find some common ground and compromise in terms of child care. I would perhaps leave your ex-wife to cool off for a week or so and then approach the subject again. Try to arrange a time that suits both of you for you to call the children. In addition to this, I would recommend you look to agree a ‘parenting plan’ so that you can use the process of mediation to tackle some of the issue which might cause problems in the future. 

Q. My ex-wife and I have been divorced for nine years. We have two children – now 11 and 13 – and have managed the Christmas period by alternating who has the children; until now. My ex and her partner have a 3 year old baby, and she is saying that she wants our children to stay at their home for the entirety of the Christmas period, so that the 3 year old isn't unsettled. But it's my turn to see my children! I think that they are just making an excuse to hold onto the children, but what rights do I have to see them? 

A. The law really doesn't look at the rights of parents but focusses on the rights of children and the importance of agreeing arrangements which are in their best interests. I'm not aware of your usual living arrangements or how close together you live but on the face of it, it would certainly be in the children’s best interests to spend time with both you and their young sibling. I would suggest you try to be flexible and compromise with your ex-wife so as to achieve a middle ground and thereafter fix some clear rules for the future to give the children the certainty they need. 

Q.  My ex-husband has family in Egypt and wants to take them abroad for Christmas. I do not want him to take them. What are my rights? 

A. No parent should take their child out of the country, even for a holiday, without the permission of everyone who has Parental Responsibility. If a parent has a residence order in their favour they can take the child abroad for up to one month, but it is still good practice to talk to the other parent, especially if it affects arrangements for them seeing the child. If you are worried about your child being taken abroad without your permission you can take urgent steps to stop this so you should seek legal advice.


Before signing off, I have to mention Gingerbread, a charity specifically for single parents like you and me and another fabulous resource for advice. They have produced a fact sheet about managing at Christmas, and you can read it here:

With lots of love and festive wishes for a calm and peaceful (and somewhat magical, of course) Christmas for you and your children.

Merry Christmas!

The Secret Divorcee xxx

Thursday, 4 December 2014

My vagina's all over the place

I'm sure that, once upon a time, my vagina was 'peachy'. Probably before I had kids - you know, that time when all my insides suddenly came out.

I remember it vividly. I'd just had my first baby and, like a lot of women, the labour hadn't quite 'gone to plan'. What I mean by that is, after the first twelve hours of labour, I got my birth plan and rammed it down my husband's throat. After 24 hours, I had consumed all the drugs the hospital could offer and was in an epidurally induced haze of Hello Magazine and jelly tots. I had lost all feeling pretty much everywhere. I couldn't even remember my own name.

So when it was time to push, I hadn't got a bleedin' clue what I was doing. I was making the right noises - I think. Sort of mooing. And I was holding my breath so my face went red. And I tried and tried and tried to shift the sodding alien that appeared to be stuck in me, by imagining - as we all probably did - that we were having the most enormous, melon-shaped poo.

It appeared that I may have pushed a little too hard. Because when Tween had slithered his way out, quite a lot of my vagina kept him company. I was too high to care, too impressed by my own powers of drug-induced pushing to notice that part of me had exploded. Nurses came and looked and tutted, and there were mutterings, and suddenly a needle, and then AN AWFUL LOT OF PAIN (which, quite frankly, I'd had enough of for one day).

And then, thankfully, sleep.

The next day, A MAN came to look at the battleground of my netherparts, and told me in a matter-of-fact tone of voice that my stitches had all come out.

"What have you been doing?" he asked, sternly.

I looked at him, bemused. What The. Actual. Fuck. did he think I'd been doing? Getting it on with my husband after giving birth to a 10lb baby with an inside out vagina? Or masturbating, perhaps, because I couldn't stand a single night without some form of sexual gratification? Or just wiping my wee off REALLY HARD?

"Never mind. It will heal naturally." And then, an afterthought: "Given time."

At that point in my life, I really didn't care. My baby was in special care (had he been smothered by my moving vagina? Perhaps we'll never know). I was glad that he was alive. To be honest, I wasn't really thinking too much about my lady parts.

Time passed, and I was aware that - although healing ok - my vagina didn't have the same...form... as before. My labia or 'beef curtains' (as one boyfriend fondly called them) drooped so far between my legs that they could have really done with their own bra to hold them in. Tucking them up worked for a while but, inevitably, after a few hundred yards of walking, they would fall out and start swinging like a cats cradle.

One day I made the mistake of putting a mirror between my legs and having a good root about. It was shocking. My nethers were unrecognisable, and seemed to have morphed into chopped liver (with added gristle).

This is roughly what a normal vagina looks like:

And mine:

I have never examined my vagina again.

When I was married, it was ok to have a shattered front bottom. My husband understood what had happened - he'd been there, for God's sakes - and so he could never, ever, EVER express any form of disgust. Which he no doubt felt, but was forced to cover it up unless he was happy never to have sex ever again.

But now I'm single, what do I do? When I'm about to go to bed with a bloke, do I say, "Umm...bit embarrassing this...but do you like chopped liver?" Do I turn out the lights and hope he doesn't notice? Or do I celebrate it and dangle my curtains in his face?

I don't know. So for now, at least, I'll keep on tucking in the hanging bits and hoping for the best.

Postscript: By the way, if you are properly concerned about the way your labia look, Women's Health Victoria have this wonderful website which will no doubt set your mind at rest.

Liked this post? You might also like: My vagina is noisy - the underground world of fanny farts

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