Years ago, when Shane and Simone Warne broke up, they lived together for a while as separated husband and wife, to maintain some stability for the kids.
It was something I noticed, despite only being in my early twenties, because I knew first hand how difficult moving between the houses could be for children of divorce. So I always joked to my husband that if we ever got divorced, that’s what we would do.
Little did I know that five years from then, I would leave, and take my two-year-old with me, and my son would never spend another night under the same roof as his father.
Because his dad has never, ever asked for a single night – which really shouldn’t come as a surprise because it’s that complete apathy towards our son and my ex’s paternal duties that is the reason why we left. I would have dearly loved to have an ex who was more involved, who wanted to assert his parental rights. That would have been great for my son. My son deserves that.
Leaving my husband and learning that there are so many good men, so many good dads, out there, has been bittersweet. But after a year or so of trying, post-separation, I realised that I can’t force someone to care.
My ex does, deep down inside, in his own way, love our son. He wouldn’t ever do anything to intentionally hurt him. He doesn’t care enough about either of us to do that.
But that’s the part that creates my dilemma: because if anything ever did happen on his watch, it would be a total accident. It wouldn’t be intentional. So I’m lucky, right? Of course. But there’s a small problem with that: it means I don’t have any real excuse to not allow my son to spend a few hours with him each weekend.
So why would I want to?
My ex may be an apathetic parent, but he can do a lot of things in just a few hours.
He can take my son to a pub lunch with his mates and decide to drink and drive home. He can leave him in a parked car on a public street, with the engine off during summer, strapped in his car seat, to “just dash in for some cigarettes.” He can forget my son’s anaphylactic allergies and feed him food that gives him a reaction, because he doesn’t take anything seriously.
He can drop him back home when he's had enough of being a dad - sometimes one or two hours earlier than the agreed time, when I've gone out - and I'll arrive home to see my son's little face sitting on the doorstep, because his dad has driven away and not bothered to check if I'm there.
I know all of these things can happen in just a few hours - because they all have.
But they've been at irregular enough intervals that I can't justify saying no to any contact at all. Trust me, I've spent dozens of hours thinking about it. I've seen lawyers, and argued with my ex repeatedly. But invariably, my son wants to see his dad, so I let him go, keeping the time to the bare minimum.
I wave that amazing, brilliant, beautiful child off, hoping to God that I will see him again - that it's not a final goodbye. I give him a big squeeze, close the front door, and make a deal with the devil:
I'll sacrifice anything, please just let him come home safely.
And when he does? It is the greatest gift of relief.
Do I sound paranoid? A cliché of a distrusting divorcee? This is why I haven't shared my terror with anyone. What's the point, anyway, because 80 percent of the time, it works out ok, right?
But that other 20 percent - the times when there's been a significant risk or safety breach - that's where my fear lives. That's where my mind goes, for every second we're apart.
Have I considered 'tailing' them? Absolutely. Sending a babysitter along? Of course - and I know my ex wouldn't care because he'd have help looking after his son for the handful of hours he has him.
I've tried to address my concerns in other more practical ways. My son has a proper mobile phone on a proper plan, so that there's always connection for him to call me. I've trained him that if he's worried about eating something, he needs to say, "Dad I can't eat that", and not worry that his dad might get annoyed. I've reminded him that he's allowed to ask for food, and for a drink. I send him with a packed backpack of things just in case, anyway.
It's been nine years now, and my son has a key to let himself in if his dad-time comes to an early stop. He has his phone to text and call while he's on a visit, which brings me so much peace of mind.
I've discovered that things you thought would never change, can get better as kids get older. They speak up for themselves, assert their needs, and also draw their own boundaries.
But I want every parent out there who's going through what I have to know that they're not alone. I hope even my words here alleviate a little of what feels like a private hell.
Just hang in there, and it will get better, I promise.