Margaret's Story
I had made a personal commitment not to treat my children as  had been treated - with hidings and fear

At the time I just thought I’d done something my husband had told me not to do, but looking back on it now it is so obvious that it was a control issue.

We rented out the house and I bought another house. My husband planned to go overseas so I suggested he stay with us so he could have regular contact with the kids before he went. Two weeks turned to four months. When I suggested he move out, he just hung on. The arguments got worse. In fact, that was the worst period of all. I’m surprised none of us broke out in stress rashes.

It was a huge relief when he finally moved out and that huge ball of tension shrank. I wasn’t a bit sad. It would seem that I had gone through that grieving process already. It was sink or swim after that as I rebuilt my life. When my son started school he was way behind in the things he should have been doing at five, and I realised we had been so wound up in arguments that he had been forgotten about. I felt guilty that we had failed him. Even though I was working full-time I used to go to the school once a week and help with extra classes, and soon he was up to speed.

One of my husband’s reactions to the split up was to go back to his religion. He had only practiced once a year before, during Ramadan. But after we split up he started praying five times a day and going to the mosque on Fridays. I think it was his saving grace, because he found solace in it.

My intention was never to take the children away from my husband or stop them having contact with him – they spent time at his house and my house. But then he got a job offer in Auckland and he wanted to take the kids with him. I said no; I was happy to take them up there and bring them back but they were established at school and their friends were here. But he was claiming the DPB for my son, and he told me that meant he had custody of him and that I couldn’t do anything about it if he took our son to Auckland. I thought if they went to Auckland, the Muslim community might hide my son and his father might take him back to his own country, because he had said that he wanted to do that; I was panicking.

Then one day he came to my house. He wanted something from inside. I said I would get it for him, but he pushed me aside and walked in. I wasn’t hurt, but I thought “if you can push me aside like that, I’m quite helpless”. That’s when I applied for a protection order and was advised to go for interim custody of the children and apply for court orders to stop them being taken out of the city or the country.

After that my husband would say things to the children like “your mother’s taking me to court”, and they would come home and accuse me of things. My initial reaction was to say, “I’m not doing that, I’m just doing this ...”. But I realised he was using the kids to attack me, and decided I wasn’t going to play that game, so I stopped being pulled into it.

My husband suggested that I take our daughter and he take our son. But I said, “No. Just because we’ve split up, we cannot split our children up. I don’t care how convenient it is, they’ve got to stay together.”

My husband’s return to his religion impacted on our daughter, who was then about 11. He wanted her to wear the hajab and go to the mosque and she didn’t want to. I tried to help her walk the fine line between being obedient to her Dad and also being strong. She needed to be an obedient and respectful daughter but she didn’t have to wear the hajab or go to the mosque if she didn’t want to.

Sometimes she’d be in tears on the phone, traumatised by his yelling and blaming.

There were times when he had her in such an emotionally devastated state that I’d take the phone off her and say to him, “That’s all! You’ve done enough damage now. I’m not going to let you do this to her any more.” It would take her two or three days to recover. He would sulk for a couple of months and not talk to her and then re-establish contact.

When she was about 13 he was really on at her. She had a number of conversations with him, but nothing was hitting home, so I suggested she write a letter. I delivered it to him while she was staying with me and we both expected fireworks, but he didn’t react immediately. He blamed me.

Whenever she tried to stand up for herself, he’d say “you’re just like your mother”.

He has remarried a couple of times and our daughter has often played mediator between him and his new wives. He would be talking to her about their problems, and so would his wife. She also tried to take on the role of mediating between her Dad and me. When it came to the division of matrimonial property, my ex has always wanted to have the kids involved while I haven’t. We still haven’t resolved the property division – or that issue. We are finally going to court because I’ve waited for years, trying to come to an agreement. Neither of us wanted to go to court, but he won’t sell the house. He feels it’s his house, even though both our names are on it.

When we split up there wasn’t anyone there for me really. I didn’t have family around, and I didn’t have time to have friends. I was busy working, studying and raising my kids. As a couple we had had joint friends, but because you don’t want to put them in a situation where they might have to take sides, we gradually lost contact with all those people.