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A fragile look at child custody, abuse and patterns of survival – Maid

“Before they bite, they bark. Before they hit you, they hit near you.”

Powerful words from a new Netflix series called “Maid”. The thumbnail on the screen depicts a young woman, Alex, sitting at a ferry terminal, with a vacuum cleaner and her three-year old daughter. You might assume it’s a story about getting a job, overcoming adversity, working your way out of a difficult situation. Based on Stephanie Land’s memoir (and true events) called: “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive,” Maid provides an education, in ten hours, on incredibly moving themes such as domestic violence and coercive control, the cycle of abuse, poverty, the welfare system, living with alcoholism, narcissistic parental abuse, social class, social stigma, and on breaking free.

Maid navigates the key issues with sensitivity and at times, Alex’s struggles are deeply moving. In one scene, Alex, unrepresented and facing her suited, supported and legally represented ex, Sean, temporarily loses the custody of their daughter, Maddy. Although this is a glimpse into the American system where everything is depicted as grittier and more extreme, nevertheless it’s a stark reminder of how quickly the status quo can be changed. As a Netflix drama it is designed to compel and trigger.

Against the very frightening backdrop of a young girl living in fear and suddenly finding herself truly in the deep end, there are also subtler hints and softer hues; nuances and the whispered lines. Alex’s low self-worth, reaching out and grasping for glimmers of light and love, finding herself right back at the beginning – out of money, out of petrol, out of a job, out of hope. Just as we see Alex standing on her own two feet and coming up for air, the cycle of abuse swallows her up again, as it very often does. She is also forced to confront and deal with her own childhood memories, as well as being forced to ‘parent’ her narcissistic, wounded and troubled mother.

You may not see yourself in Alex, a twenty-something young woman, who leaves an abusive relationship, plunging herself into homelessness and into a seemingly flawed welfare system. You may not have grown up witnessing parental abuse, or ever fled a drunk, aggressive partner or packed a car to escape. But then again, you might have. You could be Alex right now. Any one of us could be Alex, clinging on to our very own patterns of survival.

Here in the UK, between April and June 2020, there was a 65% increase in calls and contacts logged by the National Domestic Abuse Helpline. The Crime Survey for England and Wales showed that an estimated 2.3 million adults aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year (1.6 million women and 757,000 men). Domestic abuse is real and domestic abuse can affect anyone; even those whose lives seem sparkly and bright, happy and secure.

“They go back more often than not. It took me five tries.”

If Maid sends out one key message it is this: every cycle can be broken. If nothing changes; nothing changes. If you don’t step away, or make the call, or seek advice, you’ll stay and the drama will continue. Coercive control is abuse; a bank account you don’t control anymore, a phone that you don’t pay for yourself, limiting your ability to work or earn a living; gas-lighting and making you feel as though you are the problem, or the cause, and that you deserve less than you are worth.

Maid highlights the importance of seeking out solid legal advice and family law support.

Alex chances upon a family lawyer willing to help her but there are many ways you can reach out for legal help and assistance; calling a helpline, making an appointment at the CAB, asking a parent or a friend to pay for an initial consultation so that you can make a plan and feel empowered.  There are ways to be resourceful and resilient; like Alex.

Maid might be set in a system different to ours in the UK, but the key themes in this series are very much the issues that we see and deal with every day in family law. Abuse often resides in poverty, but it can also be found within the wealthiest homes and deep inside outwardly ‘perfect’ marriages. Abuse isn’t means tested.

Understanding the patterns and the cycles, the characteristics and the control whilst offering true discretion, is something we constantly strive to offer as part of our client care journey at Rayden Solicitors. If the issues discussed in this blog affect you please do contact us to discuss how we might be able to help.

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