Relinquishing the family dream

January 16, 2024

“But he’s a great dad,” is the phrase that Domestic Violence Caseworker, Fernanda hears all the time. “The kids don’t see him when he’s violent,” the woman will say, yet she will tiptoe around the house in a constant state of distress and vigilance. “Kids can sense that,” Fernanda says. For Tegan, she put up with extreme physical violence and gaslighting because she wanted to believe that her abuser was a good dad. She yearned for the tightknit family unit, the camping holidays and that father daughter bond, and it took a lot for Tegan to relinquish that dream.

Tegan describes her relationship with Daniel as “wonderful” when they first got together. They had big plans for their future, and over time they bought a home and became parents to a healthy little girl.

Tegan first realised that something was odd on the night they moved into their family home. After dreaming of this moment for years, Daniel decided to go out and get drunk with his mates.

When Tegan became pregnant, Daniel started to become violent, and the physical violence peaked when their daughter, Sophia was one. “Daniel drank a lot and smoked marijuana,” Fernanda says. “He had a way of convincing Tegan that everything was her fault.”

When Tegan began receiving support from CatholicCare in September 2022, she knew that there were problems in her relationship, but she found it very difficult to identify the violence.

“Tegan needed a lot of reassurance because she felt guilty for going behind his back,” Fernanda says. Initially Tegan didn’t feel ready to leave.

Fernanda explains the importance of respecting the woman’s wishes, where appropriate, and honouring her timing. “In those first three months of working with Tegan it was important that we listened to what she thought was safest to do. The moment when a woman chooses to leave is very risky because the perpetrator suddenly experiences a loss of control, and they can become erratic and unpredictable.”

Fernanda spent three months safely planning with Tegan until she was ready to leave. Tegan and Sophia moved into safe accommodation and ended up staying for three months until they could secure a private rental. “The positive impact of moving out on that little girl was instant,” Fernanda says. “Sophia was suddenly so calm, so peaceful and so settled. Tegan could see how much better her little one was for leaving, so that motivated her.”

Fernanda says that it was beautiful watching Tegan become confident in her own decision making. “She didn’t hesitate at all in taking up the lease, which was a huge change from when I met her. She was so much more empowered. The counselling that CatholicCare assisted her to access helped a lot with this, and she came a long way in understanding domestic violence and not taking responsibility for her ex-partner’s acts.”

Daniel also received extensive support from CatholicCare and is currently engaged with our Men’s Behaviour Change Program.

It was a beautiful journey, and I was very lucky to work alongside Tegan.” She spent so long trying to ‘fix’ the problems because she wanted that dream person.” Fernanda says.

Tegan hasn’t given up on her big dreams for the future, but those dreams now come from a place of knowledge, awareness and deep confidence in herself.

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