This is a post that's been rattling around in my head for a while, I've been tooling around with how to phrase it, how to frame it, how to put it together. In fact, I started it a long time ago, have come back to it twice, fiddled around with it, and then put it back down and walked away from it. It's deeply personal and terribly painful, but something I think some of you may relate to, so I feel like I should put it out there, no matter how vulnerable it makes me.
My oldest son is the child of divorce. I was married to his father for a whopping 16 months, only 4 of them after he was born. I was married to him for 4 months when I realized I'd made a mistake. To be honest, we both made a mistake. Under different circumstances I think he and I may have had a good shot together, but the circumstances weren't different and we weren't compatible. I intended to tell my ex that I was leaving on New Year's Eve - you know, make a clean break and a new start at the same time - and found out I was pregnant on Dec. 30th. Of course, you can't leave someone while you're pregnant, right? Right. So I stayed, and nothing improved but our living arrangements. He was unemployed at the time we found out I was pregnant and I was working full time in a retail job. We were living in an apartment with a roommate. By the time I was seven months pregnant, we had bought a house, he was working at a good, solid job, and I had a part-time, temporary job that was scheduled to end on my due date. Everything should have been coming up roses, but it wasn't. Our marriage was broken, it was a Thing That Should Not Have Been, and both of us knew it -- even though we wouldn't admit it. I think we loved each other, but we couldn't fix it.
Our son was born and things deteriorated. It seems cheap and somehow hollow to try to encapsulate everything that happened in that four months in those seven words, but I don't know if I can write about all of those things and expose them to the public at large. Things were said that should not have been. Things were done that should not have been. And frankly, I don't want to relive all of that right now. So I will just say "Our son was born and things deteriorated." One year to the day after I found out I was pregnant, I told my ex I wanted a divorce. I will never forget that. He was repainting the bathroom...the bathroom I had painted for him as a Christmas gift. I had done it wrong, and he was fixing it. I went in, sat on the bed, and told him that I wanted a divorce. He wasn't angry. A little shocked, but not angry.
The divorce itself was very amicable. The custody battle was not. It was actually rather epic in it's nastiness. It took four years of nasty, hateful, seemingly endless court wrangling before it was all hammered out and the judge cut our son into portions. Again, this is something that I can't write about. First, because it took four years. Nobody wants to read about a saga that went on that long. But also because it was so ...nasty. It's just something that doesn't need to be relived. We'll just say that very ugly things happened, my son was jerked around, back and forth, from one house to another... and despite the fact that my ex and I tried very, very hard not to fight in front of him (and I can honestly say that we both did try), he saw and heard things that he should not have seen and heard. My son's custody schedule changed three times, only once by our mutual agreement (with some crazy schedule we came up with - I regret that schedule)*. In the end, we ended up with a court order of sole legal and primary physical custody to me. But it was hell getting here.
I said all of that to say this - all of that drama, all of that gnashing of teeth, all of that jerking back and forth, all of that tension...all of it effected my son deeply. I never knew. I mean, I knew. I knew kids of divorce growing up. But I never really knew.
Nobody told me just how deeply and powerfully my divorce from his father would affect my son, even though he was incredibly young while it was happening.
My son has an incredibly deep and abiding fear of abandonment. If he's upstairs in his room and I'm downstairs, he will sometimes come barreling down the steps wailing, screaming that he thought I had left him. I was too quiet and he thought I had gone. At no point during this child's life have I ever left him anywhere without letting him know. But he's petrified I'm going to abandon him.
My son won't talk to me about his stepmother. At all. He won't mention her name. The only time I ever hear him mention her name is either in conjunction with his Daddy's name or if he slips up and calls me by her name when he first comes back from their house - and that rarely happens. She has been a part of his life since he was 5 months old. I don't understand this, unless he was so affected by the acrimony between us that he is afraid of mentioning her. I don't know whether he talks about me there.
Andy has a very compartmentalized life, a very compartmentalized way of thinking about things sometimes. He has Mommy's house rules and ways of doing things, and then there's Daddy's house. Things that are OK at Mommy's are not OK at Daddy's. Things that he can get by with at Daddy's are not going to fly at Mommy's. He can make a huge mess at Mommy's and that's fine, but he'd better have his clothes on, they'd better match, and he'd better have read his books. At Daddy's he keeps his room spic and span, his toys are neat and organized with all of the parts put back in the box neatly; but he can wear whatever he wants even if it doesn't match, and if he's missing his socks that's no big deal. And my son has to jump from one life to another every other weekend. He has to remember what's okay where. He has to remember where it's okay to say what, where it's okay to leave your socks in the middle of the floor, where it's okay to say "fart" and where you'll get put in time-out for it.
Andy needs love. He absolutely has to have it, all the time. He begs me every night to cuddle him in his bed. He's constantly walking up to me rubbing his face on me like a cat (That drives me batty, but it's because this is the season of runny noses, and he's essentially wiping snot all over me. Which is not loving, it's gross.) If I'm sitting in a chair, he's on top of me. He craves my love and attention all of the time. And it's impossible to give him all of the love and attention he needs. I have two other children who need love and attention as well. Andy craves and needs more than they do, but I'm constantly sending one child or another away disappointed - sometimes all three. It hurts to send any of them away, but somehow it hurts most to send Andy away because I know how much he wants and needs the extra love.
It must be nearly impossible to be him. My husband and I spend between $90 and $130 every month in copays for counseling for him. He's not a bad child, he's not even really a difficult child. He's just in a bad, difficult situation. I never dreamed when I was going through the heartbreak of my divorce (and don't get me wrong, it was heartbreaking, even if I was the one who initiated it), that I would still be feeling the heartbreak of that divorce years and years later when I look at my son's face every day. I never thought for a moment that I would still be having repercussions of the decisions I made 8 years ago now. It's one of those things that either nobody told me, or they told me and I was too dense to realize or take in. It's like having your heart broken a little bit at a time constantly. And it sucks. It sucks hard.
And then there's the question every child of divorce asks his parents -- "Do you still love my mom/dad?" In movies, I had always seen the parent who was asked look distressed, then smile a wan little smile at their child and say, "I will always love your father/mother because he/she gave me you." I always thought that was a crock. Why would parents lie to their kids? Santa Claus is one thing, but about something as big as this? During my divorce and custody I worried constantly what I would say when that day came, and I thought I would have to lie to protect my son's feelings. But I couldn't lie. What would I do?
Then the day came, my son asked me that very question. I had to examine myself, my heart, and my emotions. I had to think about everything I had been through with his father. I had to think about our ill-fated marriage and the fighting therein. I relived the bitter misery of our custody fight for just a moment. And I realized in that moment that sometimes Hollywood gets it right. I smiled at my son, kissed his forehead, and told him the truth - that I would always love his Daddy because his Daddy gave me him. Then I went in the other room and bawled my eyes out.
This is the fourth time I've written and re-written this post. It's taken two months. I've walked away from it because it was too painful, and come back to it when I felt strong enough to face it. I'm still not sure how to end it, how to wrap it up. I think that's appropriate, though. There's no way to wrap up divorce, custody and all that goes with it in a neat little bow. It just isn't possible. There's nothing neat and tidy about dividing your child, Solomon-style. All I can tell you, the only way I can think of to end this post is to say this: As much as it hurts the spouses to end a marriage, it hurts the children hundreds, thousands of times more. And the pain that the parents feel never really ends...it morphs and changes and gets revisited every single time the subject is brought up with your child.
*If you ever are in a situation where you have to come up with a schedule for visitation, do it in blocks of time. Don't do it in "one night here, two nights here, then an afternoon here." Just don't. That's too hard on the kids and confusing for everyone.