Children. I love writing that word. It evokes warmth and love and a deep sense of joy when I see that word.
I have written many articles on my experiences with my divorce and being a single mother for the past two decades. I became a single mother when my two children were just 4 weeks and 4 years old.
I have interviewed my children who are now 21 and 25 years old for previous articles, to get their perspectives and to speak to me as the adults they are today, to bring voices to the children they once were. It takes me to the question of…
How can we make divorce easier on our children?
This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.
I have always believed that parents who have decided that divorce is the only option, hold a responsibility to their children to seek co-parenting counseling.
There is so much anger at the threshold of divorce. Someone is the Petitioner who seeks the divorce for a variety of reasons, and someone is the Respondent who doesn’t want the divorce and who is being forced into a decision, that will forever change their life, and change the lives of their children.
It is about as polar opposite as two people can be on an issue. So how can these two opposing ideals ever bridge when it comes to parenting?
The courts should not allow the well-being of children to be thrown to the wind.
The Petitioner and Respondent need help to navigate these very emotional waters. And you can be sure that in this fight for control, children will always be the collateral damage. So why not give these people a chance to start healing while also helping the children avoid the harshness of a broken family?
The anger I felt at the beginning of my divorce was due to infidelity and the fact that I had just given birth to our second child. I had rage in me that I had never met before. So much of it was because I was so sleep deprived too. Leaving me with a 4-week old infant who required night feedings and a 4-year-old little boy who was waking up in the middle of the night screaming for his Dad, put me in a place emotionally that had no room for anything other than rage at what he did to “me”.
But as I look back now, it wasn’t “me” it only happened to. It was my 4-year-old little boy who suffered the most. When his dad left, he promised him that he could call him at any time. He would always be there for him.
Well of course the first night of this little boy waking up and screaming for his dad was the worst experience to date. He was hysterical. He was confused and, most of all he was frightened. It was the middle of the night. I called his dad’s cell phone and got no answer. I called his mother’s house which was where he was supposedly staying. She answered and had no idea where he was other than he was with “that woman” as she was referred to.
After a few minutes of listening to his mother lament about what happened to her son and why he was doing this, I shut down the dialog and continued on my quest to find this boy’s father while he waited crying next to me.
He was worried. He didn’t know if his dad was okay and he only needed to hear his voice. I needed him to hear his voice too so that I could get him to settle down and not wake the baby. I called his cell again and this time he answered in a drowsy mumble.
As I could hear the woman’s voice speaking next to him, I abruptly told him that his son needs to hear his voice! It was surreal. It still is when I recount that horrible night. Four weeks earlier I had given birth to this man’s child and here he was sleeping with some strange woman that had no face, no name and clearly no conscience; only a voice.
I was used to him lying to me but telling my son he was at his disposal and then lying to him and not being at his disposal, further fueled my rage at him.
Mothers- especially Single Mothers- are heroic in their efforts to raise our nation’s children, but men must also take responsibility for their children and recognize the impact they have on their families’ wellbeing.
Former United States Senator
This brings me back to the question; how can we make divorce easier on our children?
That is a memory my son will have forever. It may not be as an overt memory because he was so young, but that feeling of fear, feeling vulnerable and unsafe really never left him. It manifested in so many different ways as he grew up.
Hurt me; I will recover because I know who I am. Hurt my child who is discovering who he is, and you will never be redeemed in my eyes. It changed the trajectory of our divorce forever. It changed us all forever. I knew in that moment that this man was not capable of putting his children in front of himself.
But what if we had help?
What if he had help?
What if we were taught a new way to manage this?
We did take our son to a child psychologist to help us initially make it easier for him. But at the end of the day, his father was unable to commit. I was called in on a private meeting with the Psychologist who told me that she needed to know that “I” was committed to this child? I was astounded at what I perceived to be the stupidity of her question. I said, “Of course, why do you think I’m here?” She said, “Because this boy is putting all of his hopes and trust in you. He has no trust for his Father, and I want to know you fully understand your responsibility from this day forward.”
I thought I knew it all along, but to hear her put it like that, I felt immediately overwhelmed. How was I going to be both Mother and Father to a boy? A boy who needed his Dad. He didn’t just need him to pick him up and cart him back and forth between his mother’s house, his girlfriend’s house, and mine. He needed a father to listen to him. Not just require he listen to his father only.
One day when my son was about 14, he said he looked at his dad like he was just an Uncle. Over the years, it has been a struggle to control my feelings of anger at this man who was there when the order was placed for these children, but when the going got tough, he just departed to the refuge of a woman I have still never met to this day, over 20 years later.
My son is now 25 and works in Congress. He is far more interesting to his Dad now more than ever. His Dad is proud of him. And at the end of the day isn’t that what we all strive to get from our parents. I think he has strived to receive that validation from him all of his life. But the prevailing question remains, how could we have started this journey of a fractured family and take it to a far better place?
If you are at this threshold on your divorce and custody journey, stop and pause.
Close your eyes and put yourself in the children’s minds and bodies and make the right assumption at the start. That is, that you don’t know how to do this new model alone and you need help. In my case, the anger for the affair subsided and I am a better person for this man to be out of my life.
My bar is where it should have been all along, at a much higher place than when I was his wife. He too has come out of it a kinder man now that the kids are older, and he sees how exceptional they are. He enjoys them now. He looks lonely to me on the brief occasions I do see him, so maybe life wasn’t what he thought it would be. Or maybe it was.
All I know is that it was a long hard, rocky road co-parenting with him and if I can help anyone to lay down their anger for the Petitioner and think only of the children, it would have reached healing much faster and easier. Period.
Don’t do something permanently stupid because you are temporarily upset.
Time softens the heartbreaks, but you never get a do-over in raising your children. Make the right choices when you have the chance. Reach out for help and be the champions for your children.