SPS Blogs – Sylvie

Many parents, grandparents and other family members over the years have shared with us their experience – sometimes positive, often troubling – of their ride on the family law roller-coaster. SPS BLOGS gives individuals the opportunity to share what they felt and what they have learned. All stories are anonymised.


“We shared the same pain round the table of parents fighting against the odds, needing to prove our worth over and over, month after month, watching our kids grow up without us.” ‘Non-resident’ mother, Sylvie*, recalls her journey from rehab to shared parenting. 

I remember walking into that meeting four years ago. It was Families Needs Fathers Scotland then. The room was full of fathers maybe 10 or 12.  I was the only mum. I sat at the big round table listening to everyone’s stories and could relate to them and realized, “I’m not alone. This shit really happens”. 

I can only tell this story by being honest. Me and my ex-partner were both in addiction and our children were not at the centre of our world.

I wanted to change my ways and built up the strength to leave. I wouldn’t be free of drugs while I wasn’t free of him. Due to the drug abuse Social Work got involved. They put the case to the Children’s Panel. I told the Panel I wanted better for my children and was willing to go into rehab and do an 11-month programme. It was best the children stay with their dad in that time as he was on prescription medication.

I went into rehab in a different part of Scotland and started on my journey of recovery where I had only the Bible, no newspaper, no television and no contact with the outside world. The panel agreed that I would be allowed to see my kids once a week, supervised by social work, so they would still know me as their mother. My support worker then wrote an email to their father recognizing I was in rehab and part of my recovery was to have communication with my kids. I never got it once. I was being cut out of their life.

One day my support worker called me into the office. I had an e mail. It was court papers to tell l me my ex-partner had filed for custody of the kids. I spoke with a lawyer and due to me being in rehab she advised me not to contest.

Myself and my support worker then wrote to the Children’s Panel and advised them I had not seen my children since I arrived at the rehab centre 8 months ago despite what they had originally instructed.

The Panel made a new instruction and for the first time, after 8 and a half months I was able to see my children.

Even though damage had occurred I had to find a way forward. My kids were only young. They needed me as much as I needed them. I hadn’t died and hadn’t abandoned them whatever they might have been told.

I left rehab and moved into a one bedroom flat. I felt totally alone. I didn’t know anyone where I was living never mind know anyone that was going through this process with their children that I could talk to. I started to look on social media to see if I could find some support. Society knows there are fathers without their children – maybe doesn’t care too much about them sadly – but it’s very uncommon for a mother to be without her children.

I came across Families Need Fathers (Both Parents Matter). I grabbed on to the ‘Both Parents Matter’.  I’m not sure who I got with my very first phone call but they invited me to one of their monthly meetings.  I put the phone down and actually felt as if I had just done something important for my children.

At that first meeting I was so nervous when it came to me to speak. I was sitting there with all my emails that I had collected over the past 9 and half months. I remember Alastair and the solicitor who was there both listened the same as they had to the fathers and gave me advice as to where to start. 

Alastair then invited me for a meeting at his office in Glasgow so I could go over everything with him. I was finally starting to be able to sleep at night as I felt someone was listening and recognizing the effort I had made to be a fit mother for them. But in court it was like a Catch 22. The very commitment I had made by going into rehab was being used as an argument against me by their father that the kids didn’t need me at all.

I found that support from all the guys at the meetings allowed me to feel as if I was doing all that I could for my kids.  We shared the same pain round the table of parents fighting against the odds, needing to prove our worth over and over, month after month, watching our kids grow up without us. That acceptance allowed me to concentrate on myself, building a new life for the time my children would be back into it. 

I started an Adults Returner Course. That gave me something to focus on and I continued to go to meetings every 4 weeks. At the third meeting Alastair announced they were changing their name to Shared Parenting Scotland. That was a powerful message for me. Going to these meetings I have been supported in setting up social work meetings, asking questions and now expecting answers. 

I have continued to educate myself and I’m studying at university. I have my children firmly back in my life. One lives with me and we share care of the other. I never gave up but also never allowed the hurt from their father to affect my focus. We could both have been better.

The children say they are very proud of their mum, but I couldn’t have done any of this without them and I am very proud of the young adults they are turning into. We would not have got this far without the support of Shared Parenting Scotland and solicitor, Billy Finlayson, who set me up in the right direction of my journey and I hold them forever thankful.

*Sylvie is not the writer’s real name

SPS says: Family cases exist within the adversarial civil justice system along with debt, or medical negligence or personal injury. Parties put forward their arguments and any evidence they may have. At the end of the case the judge’s job is to declare a winner and inevitably a loser. We think that may be desirable when the decision is whether a doctor made a mistake or not or a contract was either fulfilled or not but is inappropriate as a means of resolving disagreement between separated parents who may both be competent and loving and loved in return by their children. It is unsatisfactory that the system itself encourages parents to attack each other’s character in order to ‘win the case’. That inevitably puts unbearable pressure on the children at a time of confusion and vulnerability. Parents need support and encouragement to put their children first, not a second in their corner urging them on for another few rounds in the ring.