When I divorced my husband, I didn’t ask for a lot. Actually, I gave him plenty by reducing the amount of child support he technically owed, taking on all of our former debt (yes, I got the house, but I also got the house payment), and doing everything I could to make the transition “easier” for him.
My family still thinks I’m an idiot for doing all of that. Call it guilt or maybe I simply wanted the process done and over without a fight, but in the end, I got nearly everything I wanted.
In the divorce, I asked for one thing from my ex-husband. Just one.
“Be a good father to your two boys.”
It was the one thing I didn’t get.
A year after the divorce was finalized, myex took off, moving six hours away. He had no income, no working vehicle, and no safe, clean place for the boys to stay during a visit – assuming I was willing to make a six-hour trip to bring them to him. He’d never paid a dime in child support.
Just like that, he was out of their lives. Part of me said, “Good riddance” but the majority of me ached for my boys. I still do. His departure and that of any parent who disappears has a big impact on children’s lives, even if they don’t always see it.
Ways My Children Were Impacted When My Ex Disappeared After Our Divorce:
1. Their Mother Lies to Them
Bad mouthing their father is unhealthy for children. I promised myself I’d never do it. Instead, I lie to my children.
“I don’t know when you’ll see your father.”
“One day he’ll be able to come see you.
I’m sure he thinks about you every day.
Lying leaves a bad taste in my mouth so I avoid it at all costs, but sometimes my kids need comfort more than they need the honest truth.
2. They Go Without the Small Things
With no child support and no support from their biological father, they go without small things more than they realize. How long can I make those shoes last? Can we turn last year’s jeans into this year’s shorts? Will the little one be able to wear his brother’s hand-me-downs? Since we became part of a blended family, these issues have evaporated, but those few years in between were scary.
3. They Go Without the Big Things
Both of my boys cling to the one picture they have of them with their father. My oldest was six and the youngest was two when it was taken. They’re 10 and 6 now, and the only reason they remember his face is because of that picture. They have no memories of family holidays, school events, Tooth Fairy visits, tied shoes, playing catch, or anything real and concrete.
4. Kids Will Fill the Gap
Give a child access to a loving, nurturing adult outside of their biological family, and they will fill the gap left behind by the missing parent. We call John their step dad (although we’re not married – yet) because he fills that role for them. He disciplines them, loves them, helps them, teases them, and knows all of the Dad jokes. They may never call him “Dad”, but he fills a need they have.
5. Kids Will Still Have a Hole Inside of Them
If your kids are like mine and have memories of their missing dad, they know exactly what they’re missing (at least, they think they do). I have spent more nights cradling my oldest as he sobbed on my shoulder than I care to think about. It was all for one reason – he desperately missed his father and can’t understand why he never sees him.
6. They Learn Not to Depend on Their Dad
My ex-husband calls a few times a year. Birthdays and holidays mostly. For a few weeks, he called every week until he dropped off the planet again. My boys don’t wake up asking if their dad will call. They don’t plan their day around the possibility of it. Whether they realize it or not, they know they can’t depend on him – so they don’t.
7. They Still Use Their Dad as a Weapon
When my oldest was eight, he looked at me with venom is his eyes, and yelled, “I hate you. I want to live with my dad!” As someone who hadn’t had a real parenting break for two years at that point, I was tempted to say, “Go ahead!” I would never say it, but the words sat on my tongue. Just when you think they might be ready to give up on their missing father, they can and will pull their dad out as a weapon to be used against you. In the end, I said, “I know, but you can’t. You’re stuck with your dumb old Mom.” He giggled, we hugged, and it was over, but I’ve never forgotten.
8. They Seem to Forget About Their Dad
My kids can go weeks, sometimes months without mentioning their father. God forgive me, sometimes I wish they’d forget about him completely since he seems to have no interest in being part of their lives. I don’t know if that’s better for them or not, but as they have an amazing stepparent more than willing and able to be a father figure, I wonder if they’d be better off. But make no mistake, he’ll come to their mind at the most random times. Tears and sadness often follow.
9. They Don’t Understand Why You’re Not Happy With Their Dad
I was taught, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Since I refuse to bad mouth their father to them, and I hate lying (although clearly I’ve done it), it’s better not to say anything. My kids are perceptive, though. They know if Mom isn’t saying anything, it’s probably not good.
“Do you like Dad, Mom?”
I mumbled something about us not being good as husband and wife and it was better that we didn’t live together. It was the best non-answer I could give. But they definitely notice I’m not pleased with him, even if they don’t know why.
10. Their Dad Becomes a Fantasy
My six-year-old no longer calls me “Mommy” but he still refers to his dad as “Daddy.” Makes sense to me – he hasn’t seen him since he was two. He finds it easier to talk about his “Daddy” than to him (on those random phone calls). The reality is a stranger with a deep voice, and my youngest really doesn’t like talking to strangers. On the other hand, my oldest dredges up memories that I’m not sure are real. When dad disappears, all they have left is the fantasy.
The disappearing father act is enough to make me see red. I’m tired of hearing about how he misses them, but it just “hurts too much.” Lamest, dumbest excuse in the book. Parenting hurts (and it heals). It sucks (and it’s great). Divorce is hard, but we’re parents for life. If I’d known this is how it would turn out, I’d still do it again, but I’d never have asked for even this one thing.