I learnt the power of an education, because I watched my mum study and then get a job. And through that job, she could provide for us. Life wasn’t perfect, I saw my mum have boyfriends, we spent time at the pub, and I cried when we didn’t have money for even the basics. But the hardship taught me about what I didn’t want my life to ever look like. I never wanted to be a single mother, live in housing commission or be poor. I wanted to have a husband, kids, buy a house and have a job so I always had money.
Some might have thought I had all that a few years ago. I was married, owned my own home, had two beautiful children and had established a successful career within the Education and Training Sector. I had moved away from my large family and was living in one of the most beautiful coastal towns, Port Macquarie. But like most good things, at some point it comes to an end. I was unsuccessful in winning a job I had acted in for over a year, and started another new role that I didn’t like. Cracks had well and truly developed in my marriage, and I had a strong desire to come home to my large Aboriginal family in Sydney.
Watch a snippet of Kristal on tonight’s episode of Insight below (post continues after video).
Fortunately I won an amazing job in Sydney in late 2012. Exactly two weeks after starting the new job, my ex-husband gave me an ultimatum to choose the job or choose him, and given at the time he was only working 10 hours a week, and someone had to pay our mortgage, I refused. He told me to come and get our kids, and so I did. I literally packed up my house and put it in to storage and moved my kids and I to Sydney within weeks.
Two months after being in Sydney with my kids in my sole care, my ex-husband objected, and said that I had taken our kids without his consent. This was just the beginning of a long, emotional, and financially draining process. In November 2012, we agreed on 50/50 shared care and I had to move back to Port Macquarie.
For two years I rented a small villa in Port Macquarie, and basically lived out of a suitcase. I worked in Sydney one week staying at different people’s houses, even sleeping in a backpacker one or twice. On the other week, I lived in Port Macquarie working from home, and taking care of my children.
Sometimes when I look back, I don’t know how I survived through it. I was so determined to bring my kids back to my family in Sydney. As an Aboriginal woman, culturally I have been raised that I play the role of first educator, and that it takes a community to raise a child, and that being surrounded by my family is important for kinship and instilling our family values.
The process was devastating, with an unsatisfying resolution in October 2014 – 50/50 shared care, in Port Macquarie. How would you feel if you’re basically told where you have to live because of your kids? For a long time there I hated Port Macquarie, the place made me sick, because I was being forced to live there.
My kids suffered throughout the entire two years of this time . They saw me at my lowest. They were constantly caught in the middle of every argument between their Dad and I. Even after I had resolved to stay in Port Macquarie and start my own business, I still felt uneasy about everything. I constantly felt like I didn’t own the decision because it wasn’t what I would have chosen. I was depressed on and off.
Some days I prayed that my kids would just wake up and choose me, and say they wanted to only live with me. But neither child would or could ever choose between us, they love both their parents equally.
Somewhere in the middle 2015 I started to thinking about a change. I didn’t want to give in, I wanted to take control back of my life and my decisions. I was convinced that 50/50 shared care doesn't work when there a continuous levels of conflict that impacts the children. Add to that, kids pleading that they really want to live in just one home, but they wanted to see both parents. Something has to give. I actually thought about moving to Perth, and kidnapping my kids with me.
I started to imagine what it would be like if I just moved away. My kids would have peace, they would live in one home, still go to their school with their friends, and live in a community they have always known without their parents fighting weekly. I also considered that I needed to be back with my family, and professionally, there would be far more opportunities for my business to grow and be successful in Sydney. I further considered that hadn't yet realised my potential and I've always tried to be a role model to my children in showing that you can come from nothing and make something of yourself.
I weighed up these thoughts for three months before I said anything to my ex-husband. And he surprised me in that he was happy for me to make that decision. I sat my kids down and talked to them about it, and then another month later I packed up and moved back to Sydney, leaving my children in the full time care of their Dad and his new wife.
Every day I wake up, I question my decision. I question myself with thoughts like ‘should I have stayed in Port Macquarie with any job; even stacking shelves at Coles, and been there in my children's lives 50/50.’ ‘Could I have just got on with my career when they grew up later?’ But I also consider that ultimately I know it was doing more damage to the kids to have stayed in the conflict. And my unhappiness with Port Macquarie, and not being able to build my business would have left me unfulfilled and it would have impacted the way I cared for my children. I think I would have ended up resenting my situation.
I miss my kids every single day, and I want them to understand that I haven't chosen my career over them. I didn't leave them, I left Port Macquarie. I would do anything to have them with me, but to be honest the family law system isn't on my side.
My kids are well looked after, they attend a private school, they have a two parent family to go home to everyday, and they live in the family home they have always known. Port Macquarie is a safe community, and has a lot to offer families away from the city. Their Dad is good to them. There are lots of things I don't agree with in how my children are being raised, but I have to accept that, this is the best situation for everyone. I can just hope and pray for the kids to grow up and decide to come and live with me one day. I see them every second weekend, and we talk/text weekly. We have all adjusted well to the circumstances, and my ex-husband and I are probably communicating the best we ever have in the last three years. The fighting has stopped. And there is finally peace.
I often feel overwhelmed when I talk about my journey, it hurts. When I introduce myself and I say I'm a mother, and then I have to say my kids are not living with me, it makes me upset. I can see people’s reactions; I can tell they are judging me. I guess that’s part of the reason I wanted to go on Insight, I wanted to build awareness on this topic, reach out to other women who are in situations like this, but also help myself cope and come to terms with my decision.
I love my kids more than anything in this world. I want them to understand I made this decision for them. And in this process, I’m trying to do something positive with my life. I want to be their role model, I want to make positive social change in Aboriginal communities and make this world a better place for them.
Kristal is a guest on tonight’s episode of Insight at 8.30pm on SBS, which asks why some mothers choose to leave her children and what effect does that have. #InsightSBS