We made it ten years married before our world crumbled apart in divorce. I think that my bitter feelings and resentment have largely washed away with time; however, at the time of our split I could barely stomach his presence. He represented everything that was bad about my life. He had told terrible lies about me to people I cared deeply for and alienated me from several important relationships. I couldn’t stand the sight of him, and I counted the days until we could live under separate roofs.
Hold the phone! Not so fast…if only it was so simple that just because he and I decided to sever our ties that our relationship could be complete, once and for all. However, we shared two children. The bond of our son and daughter meant that no matter how we felt for one another, we would have to continue to share our life for their sake. How tempting it would be to find a way to never have to speak to him again or see him again. I could, for a brief moment, understand why my own mother structured her post-divorce life as she did. She never wanted to interact with him again after their day in court, and she fairly well succeeded!
The problem with the way my mother conducted herself is that she made a conscious choice to eliminate her ex-husband, my father, because she wanted to move on with her life and essentially forget that the chapter containing their marriage never existed. Who among us divorced people don’t share that desire? For her, it was so convenient to forego visitation schedules, explaining to friends why her daughter had a different last name and the shame of being a divorcee’. Decades later, as I faced my own divorce with children, I understood the appeal of erasing my marriage, but I also knew I could not follow in her footsteps.
As much as I detested my ex in these early moments of the divorce, I adored my children. My kids loved their dad very much, and he also loved them. The first few times he and I implemented our visitation schedule, my heart ached whenever they were away because it felt so wrong for them to lay down to go to sleep under a different roof. I felt a hint of what my father felt when he was prevented from seeing his oldest child for the majority of forty years. My ex made me so angry, but I could never be the reason why another dad couldn’t have a full and loving relationship with his children.
I remembered all the times when I was growing up when a birthday or other special occasion would pass and he wasn’t there. He wasn’t at my high school graduation, my wedding, or a single band concert. I always wondered why he didn’t love me enough to come to my important events. I eventually determined that I was not good enough and that something was wrong with me if my own father didn’t care enough to spend time with me. I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy and fear that those I love will eventually abandon me. I couldn’t subject my own children to this torture.
So, as a mom and as an adult who is responsible for providing for the physical and emotional needs of her children, I have to suck up whatever issues I have with their father because it would be inhumane for me to stand in the way of my children feeling the love of their father and of him being there while his kids grow. I wish more parents understood that the commitment to have a child extends far beyond the success or failure of their marital relationship. Kids don’t care about all of the issues that drove their mom and dad apart and why they no longer love each other. A child only knows that he needs the presence of both his mom and dad in his life to thrive. She needs to know that she’s loved, and she doesn’t want to hear about all of the reasons mom doesn’t like dad!
I was led to believe, all of my life, that my father wasn’t interested in a relationship with me, that he had access to see me and chose not to. The truth was that he made regular attempts all through my childhood to send me packages and letters, to call, and to visit, and his efforts were ignored or refused. I was allowed to think that I was forgettable, inconsequential, and not worth his time. I was told all kinds of nasty things about him and encouraged to distrust him and to be grateful to my mother for shielding me from his influence. Meanwhile, he suffered the loss of his daughter who was coached to hate him. I couldn’t be that monster who would raise my children with low self-esteem and the belief they were abandoned while robbing their father of his flesh and blood!
If there is a legitimate reason why a child should not be with his or her parents, such as substantiated abuse, then the police, children’s services, and the courts should be left with the responsibility of sorting out those details. Otherwise, when a man and woman lay down together and make a child, it’s a commitment of “for better or for worse” to that child, if not for a marriage. Even if the adult relationship doesn’t last forever, the mother and the father are bound by blood and by eternity to the child. Perhaps we should be more careful of who we lay down with if we can’t bear to parent with that person!
Not liking the other parent, embarrassment about the past relationship, or avoidance of the complications of visitation are simply not good enough reasons to erase a loved one from a child’s life. I wish that I could go back in time and make different decisions for my life, but what’s done is done. Whether or not my marriage to my ex was a mistake, I can say that he gave me the greatest gift anyone could ever give me: my children. We don’t agree on everything, but we can harmonize in our shared love and admiration for our children and our mutual desire to see them grow up healthy and well-adjusted.