It isn’t the most family-friendly advice you would have expected, is it? But the truth is, things go wrong. And if they do, is it better to be prepared for it? And there is more to being a family than the traditional ‘two parents plus child(ren)’ set-up.
As you may know, Mike and I first got together when we were teenagers. We were together for two years before things went wrong, breaking up and going our separate ways.
My separate way consisted of a new relationship.
A relationship which turned out to be abusive.
At the time we lived in a halfway house. ‘Temporary accommodation’ it was called. We had two rooms to live in and a shared toilet and bathroom. He controlled everything; the money, the shopping, me.
I eventually realised that if I didn’t leave one of us would probably end up dead. One day, while he went to the toilet, I grabbed the baby, threw some bottles and nappies in a bag, grabbed the child benefit book that was meant to be kept hidden from me and scooped out a handful of coppers from the penny jar he had.
And I ran.
He followed and grabbed the baby’s changing bag that held the two bottles and handful of nappies I’d stuffed into it, running back with it. His thinking was that I would go back for them.
I kept running.
Within the space of a year I had gone from studying business and law to being a gymslip mum with nothing. No money, no home, no future, and a baby to support. Within the next week I found out I would soon have two babies to support.
I was 17.
My parents had tried to warn me, of course. But I didn’t listen.
Now, getting out of the cab that my mum ran out to pay for, I walked into the house.
I emptied the pocket of my jeans and counted up the coppers.
The next few years were not easy but, needless to say, did turn around. It is not a story I tell as it is not a time of my life I like to revisit. It was frightening, it was horrendous and, 22 years later, it still makes me cry.
I promised myself that I would never again be dependent on another man. A marriage or relationship was not what I wanted. And I would never let anyone control me again.
And I promised myself I would always ensure I had an escape fund should I ever need it, because I never wanted to be back in that position again.
After a few years as a single mum, Mike and I got back together and we married. We always kept our finances separate; separate bank accounts always and bills would be shared and split. An escape fund was never in place… until recently.
Our relationship has always been fairly strong but a few years ago things happened which shook us to the core. We worked through it and are still here but it made me realise that, should I ever be in the position to need to, I wanted to be able to financially support myself and the children. Having been at rock bottom once – alone, lost, emotionally drained and physically exhausted from fighting something I didn’t think I would ever win – I never wanted to be in that position again. A fund which solely held money for me, should I need it in an emergency. Money which was not earmarked for bills or holidays or Christmas. Just a fund to be… there.
Having the fund hasn’t made me any less committed to our relationship than I had been in the couple of decades before it. It just provided me with the reassurance that, should anything shake us to the point we couldn’t recover, the children and I would be okay.
I wanted to be in a relationship because I wanted to be, not because I had to be.
But am I wrong?
My older daughters are now 21 and almost 16. What should I tell them?
I would say this:
Go for it. Give it your all, work hard at it and try your best to get through the problems you will face (because you will), but keep something for the maybe. Because life doesn’t always go the way we plan or the way we hope. Hopefully, the maybe will never happen. Hopefully, you can use the money set aside to celebrate your 50th anniversary with a great big family party surrounded by children and grandchildren but, just in case the maybe does happen, you’ll be glad you had a fund to fall back on.
But is this the wrong way to go about things? After all, does anybody go into a marriage or long-term relationship making provisions for its failure? Is that tempting the wrong kind of fate? Does it mean you are not giving it your all? Will it make you less likely to work at your relationship? Should you be completely, loyally devoted and hope that this complete, loyal devotion will endure the test of time? Or should you hope for the best but have measures in place for the worst? Sceptical or realistic?
I’d love to hear your views.