We have four children. We also have an extremely high conflict divorce. It has been final for four years, we were legally separated 3 years or so before it was finalized so it has been a long time since we lived together. Yet, last night when I went to pick up the kids from his apartment he refused to buzz me in the gate and I had to ask the person waiting in line behind me to get out of their vehicle and put in their code. So, yes the conflict continues. Our children asking me to divorce their dad means they understood some of the issues I dealt with, it also makes explaining his choices a lot simpler. Our kids understand he has a mental illness and recognize his mood swings.
Years before I ever considered filing for divorce, our daughter asked for a special day together. At lunch that day she said, “Mom, I know you don’t want to hear this but you need to leave dad.” I’ll be honest, I was speechless; divorce hadn’t ever been a word spoken aloud in our home in regards to our marriage. I felt like this was coming out of nowhere so I asked her to explain. She went on to tell me that, in her opinon, her dad was disrespectful and abusive.. My heart sank as I listened to my child explain all the reasons she thought I should divorce her dad. Then she said, “I’m not your only kid that thinks this mom. I was just the one nominated to tell you.”
Honestly, I felt about half an inch tall. It seemed like my children were rebuking me. Our talk heightened my awareness to the issues she had brought up. Instead of filing for divorce, I thought I could fix things. I made a list (a short list), asked their dad if he was willing to make some changes – he laughed at me.
Our children were 10, 9, 6 and our fourth child hadn’t been conceived yet. Imagine your nine year old talking to you the way my daughter talked to me. She was respectful and innocent but she was right. So I continued to ask for changes. I told their dad that changes had to happen or I would divorce him. It took almost two more years before I finally was forced into filing for divorce. By that time we had 4 children, one a newborn.
Our children did not push me to divorce their dad; however their innocent eyes were able to see things I could not see. Thankfully they were and are respectful enough to talk to me, suggest that I seek a divorce and then allowed me to figure things out.
Because our children asked me to divorce their father, it made telling them about the divorce less traumatic, which was a good thing. Once I told their dad I had filed and that I was moving out (something I shouldn’t have ever done) he called our children into our bedroom and literally told them, “Your mother has chosen to destroy our family, she is a wh*re and doesn’t love me anymore and most importantly she doesn’t love you at all. She never has.” I was sobbing, he was screaming and yelling, our children were crying. Then when we finally went into separate rooms, our children came in and said (while sobbing), “Mom you are doing the right thing. Be Strong.”
That is one of the sad things about abuse, it has serious consequences. My ex’s abusive behavior had affected our children in ways I hadn’t even noticed. When I talk to people about the abuse in my marriage I describe this way: When you want to cook a frog you don’t toss it into a pot of boiling water, no you put it in a pot of cold water and then slowly heat up the water to boiling point. That is how the abuse in our marriage went, small teeny tiny things in the beginning, slowly the abuse increased in intensity.
By the time I actually filed for divorce my ex hadn’t worked in 10 years, we were living in our dream home that I was paying for; I was not allowed to have a key to our home or park in our driveway or garage. He required that I access our home through the garage, park on the street and walk up our one acre front yard to our home. He would take our children and leave for the entire summer and I had no key to our home, if the power went out I had to wait for it to come back on so I could enter or exit our home. Looking back I realize he was using the alarm system to track my comings and goings. Our kids though could see his behavior wasn’t normal or healthy. This is just one example of many many things that were wrong in our marriage and home.
So in conclusion, I have mixed emotions about how our kids were aware of our bad marriage. On the one hand I am extremely ashamed that I ever put them in a position to witness the years of abuse, I am ashamed that I wasn’t strong enough to handle things 100 percent on my own. On the other hand I am proud of our children, so thankful that they had the maturity to recognize the abusive behavior and call me out on putting up with it. Thankful because they are able to see and in turn more effectively handle their dad’s irrational choices and behavior and so very grateful that they are each one learning to stand up for themselves and refuse to let anyone (including their dad) treat them the way he treated and continues to try and treat me.