Casualties of War
Whoever it was that said you cannot have a war if only one person is fighting was dead wrong. Or had never experienced the nightmare of divorce, with children. I have been divorced for over a decade. My kids were 2 and 9 at the time. It was hell on earth for those first few years and I prayed for the day when I would no longer have to interact with my ex about every little detail of our children’s lives. We argued about everything, as parents often do in these situations. It wasn’t pretty. There are many, many things I wish I had done differently. So many of us know these regrets, and cringe to think of those times of heartache, anger, frustration and emotional warfare.
As the kids have gotten older (my son is now 21, married with a son of his own and my daughter is almost 16), one would expect to hear that things have settled into some kind of civility, a low level of drama tinged with acceptance that things just didn’t work out. I so wish that were true. There was a period of relative peace when I moved away for work, putting both physical and emotional distance between my ex and I after my son had graduated from high school. It was a blessing for me, but it was a sacrifice for my daughter to be separated from her dad who she then saw on alternating weekends. When we were discussing moving back for high school, I had serious concerns that moving back in close geographic proximity to him might mean more drama, more fights, a crumbling of the peaceful existence we had carved out for ourselves. But we decided, for a number of reasons, that going back was what we wanted for ourselves too.
I’ve related, in my post “No longer a family”, the breakdown of our family after we returned to our home town and the fallout between my daughter and her father over her desire to homeschool. It was more than 18 months before they talked again. There was much more to her anger than his reaction to her wishes regarding school, but this isn’t about that. No, this is about the damage that’s been done in those interim months when, instead of focusing on how to regain his daughter’s trust and acceptance, his time was spent making me the center of his damaged universe, the person to blame for why she wouldn’t speak to him, the reason for all things bad in his relationship with his daughter. This is about the ripple effect of those actions, and how they will reverberate through the rest of our daughter’s life, through her celebrations and successes, through the times in her life that should be purely joyful. Instead, these times will be diminished, either a little or a lot, by the stress and anxiety over having both her parents in the same room at the same time, by her knowledge that her parents could not get it together, put the past behind them, and move on, for the sake of their children. She will be reminded of the futility of it all, of the reality that this present and future could so easily have been avoided, had we just been kind, forgiving, understanding. If we had just given each other the benefit of the doubt, believed that each wanted what was best for our children, we would be able to stand together and rejoice in our children with whole hearts, not hearts torn apart by years of anger and hatred.
She is trying to reconcile with her dad and her brother but it is a rocky road. They would rather she did not talk about me, her mother, the person with whom she spends each and every day, with few exceptions. My daughter and I are very close. We have been an island in a sea of chaos over these past 18 months of estrangement, she from her dad and brother, me from my son. I have tried to guide her back to her dad as best I can while harboring my own anger at the situation. But the bottom line has always been this – she loves her dad. I know this to be true. And thus, I know she wants him in her life. So I want that too. I want it to be an open, honest, positive relationship, one that she can count on and one that she can enjoy without holding back and without feeling judged. The same holds true for her brother. They both want a relationship with her that doesn’t include me, and I’m all for it. But here’s the thing. They keep pulling me into it. And I’m at a loss as to why.
I can only assume, and I’m sure that’s dangerous, that centering their concerns around me makes it easier not to think about their own roles in this estrangement. After all, isn’t it much easier to blame the person they don’t actually have to talk to, or see, or confront? But how does that work, exactly, for my daughter? They have made it pretty clear how they feel about me. Fine, I can take it. But I am her mother. She loves me. I may not like my ex, but he is her dad and I respect that. I want her to love him as she sees fit and I will not stand in her way. To do so would be asking her to choose, asking her to pick a favorite, or worse yet, asking her to reject him. I don’t need that in order to love her, to feel loved by her, to enjoy her as my daughter. Asking her not to talk about me, or to at least talk about me LESS, is sending her the message that her love for me, hell, my very existence, is unacceptable, that there is something wrong with her feelings for me, that I am the axis of evil, I am the “she who shall not be named”. And for what? So they can feel less uncomfortable? Is it worth it? Do they think that what they ask isn’t so much to ask for? I am at a loss to understand it.
What I wanted when I moved back, and honestly, I thought it was going to happen, was that we could all be at peace with one another. We could all be together at birthdays and graduations and weddings to come and be happy, proud parents. In fact, this is what I thought we had for the first few months of our return. But in reality, my ex was deeply unhappy about it all, seething inside, and saw our mutual attendance at these events as something akin to a root canal that never ended. I confess I was shocked to hear this from my son at the time. Current events would lead me to believe that nothing has changed. And what saddens me the most is just that. My daughter will not be able to look forward to graduation, high school or college, or her wedding, holidays, the birth of her children, without thinking about how to have her mom and dad around without everyone feeling like they’re crawling out of their skins. She has been robbed of this future altogether. And I am furious about this.
I’m not perfect. I have done and said things I wish I hadn’t. But in these past few years, I have done what I can to bridge this gap, to help my daughter regain a father she can love and respect. I am sickened and disgusted and angry that the blame game goes on, and that I continue to be the convenient and easy target for that blame. I am angry that my daughter is put in this position, made to feel that her perspective of me is being questioned, or worse yet, that she should defend my character. Fuck them. I don’t give a rats ass what they think about me. But I grieve for what is being taken from her. She is an innocent bystander in a war of many against one. And I am not a fighter. I don’t have it in me. I am beaten down and life-tested and I know better. It’s not a worthy battle. I know I can’t win. But I so want it to stop. For her sake. And for mine.
Kids of divorce seem always to have a tightrope to walk. It’s so unfair. I am so sorry to each and every one of them out there who find themselves torn between the two people they love the most in the world. It’s stupid, selfish, ego-driven bullshit between two people who should have put their kids first. And it can’t end unless both parents want it to. I can sit here and do my best to rise above it, but the damage is done nonetheless. And I am powerless to stop it. So let me tell you, it’s lip service to say “put your kids first”. What we should really be saying when people with children get divorced is “park your ego”. Because what we do as divorced parents is, I think, far more important than what we do as married parents. It is a test of who we really are, of our true character, our real priorities. The things we do and say as divorced parents will ripple through our children’s lives for as long as we live. Shouldn’t we use a little more self restraint? Shouldn’t we be a lot more understanding, patient, kind and thoughtful. Shouldn’t we believe that each of us, as a father and a mother, love our children and want the best for them? Hell yes, we should.
When families divorce, we are all casualties here. Why we feel the need to further destroy one another is a mystery. It turns seemingly reasonable, intelligent, caring individuals into demented demons hell bent on destruction. It’s sad and oh how I wish I had the magic pill to make it all end. But what I really wish is that I could make my daughter’s father see that continuing his side of the battle hurts our daughter far more than it hurts me. I am just a mom who loves her children. I’m just a mom who wants her beautiful, kind, joyful daughter to be able to love both her parents without guilt. I’m just a mom who wants her daughter to be able to enjoy her life to the fullest, without worry about the two adults in her world who should have her back. I just want to be her mom and I just want him to be her dad. Why can’t it be that simple? It should be. It really should.