Then, to compound the synchronistic trend of my recent reading material as I was flipping through the latest edition of O magazine I read the following sentence: “The thing I got rid of and never missed… an ex-boyfriend.” Here, too, full understanding and empathy.
I did not marry young. I did not marry in haste (although there are moments when I’d like to pretend I did as an excuse for the aftermath). When I married I truly hoped that it would last forever. I will admit, I had a few nagging doubts but, as I’ve said recently, “To err is human, to worry is a 21st century pastime,” and as such, having doubts was part of the natural order of making such a decision and commitment in one’s life. My son too was completely wanted and planned. There was no decision that we made that was not discussed and mutually agreed upon (or so I thought). The level of our communication would lead one to believe that we were on a solid path to marital harmony, if not bliss.
As most know though, it is possible to speak and say very little or nothing at all. By the time the end finally came we’d given up any pretense of communication and were existing in a silent, heavy truce. At the time, my son was almost two and I spent many a day trying to reconcile the situation I found myself in with the hopes and plans I’d had for my life and the reality, which was nigh unbearable. I can still recall actually taking out a calendar and doing the calculation to determine how long I’d have to stay married until my son turned 18 in an attempt to “stay together for the sake of the child(ren).” The hardest decision was to acknowledge that the situation, no matter how I looked at it, was, in its current state a lose/lose equation. The only means of somehow reversing the existing trend was to end it and attempt to build a new foundation that could lead to harmony if not outright happiness.
In the years since, my ex-husband has waged his own personal war against me and, by extension, our son. I have read all of the well-meaning advice on how divorced parents should deal with each other “for the sake of the children.” I’ve heard how important it is for the children of divorce to maintain contact with the absent parent as a means of ensuring their own sense of well-being and self-esteem. I have been told how important it is for my son to respect his absent father because respecting his father plays an integral role in the self-respect he will develop and hold for himself.
Sadly, his absent parent has not received that memo or perhaps he has decided not to read it because he’s determined that “father knows best.” I say that tongue-in-cheek but, after sharing information that I hoped would improve our situation he actually said, “I don’t need to read any of that stuff. I know all I need to know.” And so the untenable became sustainable.
It is pretty common knowledge that it is usually the single/divorced mother who bears the financial fall-out when marriages end both in terms of the oft compromised standard of living and the additional financial responsibilities that come from raising children alone. When the now absent parent sees it as their life mission to make that financial burden as hard is it is humanly possible for them to do, it leads to nothing but resentment and animosity. Usually at this point, all manner of logic is used to explain the mother’s behavior which may be completely and totally divorced from the reality of the situation.
I acknowledge that I am no saint, but I have tried. I have made sacrifices and decisions which can only be described as downright insane as I chased the elusive phantoms Peace and Harmony. I have accepted injustices because I thought, in the long run, it would be in the best interest of my son’s future development and his relationship with his absent parent.
I cannot, however, escape the thought that children growing up watching one parent consistently and methodically take advantage of another parent does not lead to: 1) a strong relationship with the other parent, nor 2) a better sense of self. Granted this is my couch psychology but, I cannot believe that a child growing up watching another parent being bullied is healthy either for their own individual development or for the relationships they will later have either with their own partners or their children.
The sweet twisted irony is that they don’t realize that every retributive action they take actually confirms the reasons why their relationship ended. As in the article I cited earlier, the support paying parent seems to be of the opinion that by using their support as a leverage they will somehow show the offending parent how powerful and needed they are when, in reality, the opposite is true. I know for a fact that my son’s absent parent tells people that he believes I haven’t gotten over him. He honestly seems to believe that after all that has transpired he could still be found attractive. Pardon?
What is not considered is that there comes a point when the money being paid to care for the child loses all tangible value and, conversely, you would rather forgo the monies to end the basis for the ongoing conflict. And therein lies yet another conundrum; what are we teaching our children when we effectively say, not all responsibility is created equal and you don’t have to be held accountable for your actions because, if you kick, scream and essentially make enough of a nuisance of yourself, you can be released from your obligations?
Prevailing theories on post-divorce child rearing seems to hew on the side of shielding the child from the truth and reality of the situation that caused the relationship to collapse and keeps the acrimony going. I fully agree that telling a child the intricate details on the collapse of a relationship is wrong; however, I am hard pressed to plausibly communicate that my child should respect a parent who is doing their level best to make his life as difficult and uncomfortable as he possible can… because he can. Children are not stupid; they know when they are being lied to.
A friend once admitted that he too had played the child support game with the mother of his children. Nickel and diming her for every cent simply because he could. He said it wasn’t until he finally asked himself what would he want for his children if they were living in his house full-time that he realized the futility of his actions and changed his behavior towards their mother. The irony, however, is by the time he had his epiphany he had so destroyed his relationship with her that it was already irreparable and his relationship to his children suffered correspondingly.
I myself am at the point that I would willingly PAY to legally end the child support payments as a means of ending the destructive dynamic at play. That willingness goes hand in hand with a desire to have nothing to do with my son’s absent parent. It is truly sad and unfortunate that a mechanism that is intended to keep the other parent involved in the lives of their children and maintain the relationship and bond that they had is what so often leads to the continuing acrimony that the couple was trying to end (at least that’s what I’d like to believe) when they ended their marriage in the first place.
I have a fair number of friends who have managed to eke out a functional relationship with their child’s absent parent. In each case though, the foundation of that relationship appears to be predicated on them turning a blind eye to the fact that the other parent is not supporting their children, on whatever level, as they should or as agreed. Meaning, the absent parent is getting a free pass, on some level, in exchange for a peaceful life.
I know there is no magic bullet to solving the dilemma of what happens to families when the core relationship ends, be it through divorce or an unmarried couple choosing to separate. What I have experienced is that the mechanisms that society has put in place to support families have been more destructive and can exacerbate an already difficult situation.
When the parent with whom the child lives gets to the point that they are willing to forego support for their child, the absent parent has not won, as I’m sure they would like to view it but rather they have lost and profoundly since, the hallmark of reaching that milestone is when there is a significant rupture in how the relationship as parents is viewed. To my mind, it is at this point that the emotional thread that connected them as parents snaps and, isn’t that precisely what was being preserved, the concept of these two people as a “parental unit” for the child(ren)?
In the throes of divorce and rebuilding our lives, it is all too possible to forget that our children will only be children for a limited time. Hopefully the years they have after they become 18 will be many and it is those years that we should be focusing on. What will happen to them after they leave our homes? Have we provided them, within the context of a difficult situation, a foundation on which they can build happy, loving and productive lives and families of their own? I do fear that when the situation reaches a point of such exasperation that it leads to indifference and disengagement from one parent towards the other, it’s not a good place.
Mini battles and outright war are definitely not good, but is resignation or indifference really any better? On some level, I fear it may be worse.