My son was just about to turn 12, my daughters were 10 and 7 when my ex chose to have an affair and chase after his ‘own happiness’ rather than keep his family together.
Our marriage had been “in theory only” for a couple years already. We lived together in the same household and I had lost 99% hope of him becoming the man I needed him to be as a leader of our family. I bore the burden of everything but earning the money to keep our family going. I maintained everything needed to run a nuclear family life that moved locations multiple times in almost as many years. I fixed things that were broken with the houses, the vehicles, the kids, myself, and sometimes even him – all on my own.
We presented ‘family’ in public when it was required to do so, at church, family functions, work functions, friend gatherings. Only a trained eye or a close inner circle friend would be able to tell the difference. With all the moves, there weren’t enough people who knew us well enough to see through the façade. We fought, but not knock down drag out. They were more me pleading with him to come around, to help reduce some of my responsibilities by taking care of the work needed on the car or being present for the kids. His part was to placate with assurances that he would follow through, but making sure I knew and understood that the problem wasn’t him not doing something but rather me not having realistic expectations. I had a problem, he ran away. I was assertive, he turned it back on me.
We had a decent middle class family life. We had a church community and friends. The kids were well adjusted and good students in school. They were well rounded in sports and extra curriculars and volunteer work through their church. We had friends that were like family. They had a tribe of adults around them that they knew they could count on. Each place we went, I created that cocoon. It didn’t matter that their dad wasn’t around all the time, I made excuses and we still went on with living and experiencing life as a family (sometimes just the four of us) and it was deemed ‘normal’.
When I say ‘we’ above…please know that the only ones who encompass that pronoun are myself and the kids. I know he was a peripheral part of the action, but he was merely a prop that showed up to events I planned or executed or told him about…and even then he didn’t always grace us with his presence.
With the façade of a family unit, I could create a community with no problems. Wives didn’t feel intimidated if I were at an event with their husbands (I had one myself). Being a stay at home mom, I could find plenty of other women who were looking for friendships during the daytime and couples to go out with in the evenings. The kids were involved in sports and extra curriculars and I organized getting them wherever they needed to be because I didn’t work. My schedule was their schedule.
We were only a year in to the new state and 2 months into the new house we just bought when I found out that my ex was involved for the previous 8 months with another woman. The late nights at the office, sleeping there to avoid the ridiculous commute home made more sense now. I didn’t begrudge him the affair…I understood the rationale. It was the lying and the deceit and the disrespect of not telling me. There were so many times we discussed the state of our marriage that he could have easily told me during one of those times. I even remember asking him to do me the decency if he found that he wanted to start another relationship to respect me enough to be honest about it.
Being so new to the area, the cocoon was only in the beginning stages. People didn’t really know us well enough yet. Now the nightmare that came with trying to get my ex to reconcile (which he didn’t), understanding that he wasn’t going to end it with the other woman, and then trying to deal with what having this new relationship in my and the kids’ lives meant became my daily story. Oh, and don’t forget I had just started a full time job after being out of the full time job force for the previous 12 years to raise my kids. Creating that community around my kids became more about surviving than about thriving. We needed people we could count on, my ex was off living his new life with his new family. We needed people we could trust. We needed people who wanted to include us…this new broken family.
Those previous ‘stay at home mom’ friends now had time when I didn’t, so those relationships fell by the wayside as they were too young to hold up to the lack of connection. Those early stage ‘family’ friend connections were now broken as we weren’t a family unit…I was now the divorcee with three kids who all needed rides to and from wherever and often I couldn’t reciprocate. The church didn’t know us well enough to really know how to reach out to us, and so it never really felt like home, even though we tried to stick it out for another three years after (we now don’t attend).
The worst part for me is my kids. My oldest has attachment issues. I’m only just seeing the major fall out now. He’s about to start his senior year and he doesn’t trust anyone. He doesn’t make friendships of any deep or meaningful level. He has no motivation for anything in his life. He follows the rules and complies, he’s intelligent beyond belief, but he doesn’t have passion for anything. Not music, not sports, not academics, not girls, not money, not cars, nothing. I worry about him and his future. I worry that he will miss out on happiness. I wonder if he has ever really felt that he has achieved happiness in any area of his life.
My youngest clings to her relationships. She’s been the least affected by the moves. She has been here since she was in first grade (she’s now in middle school) so she has friends she’s made since the beginning. She remembers the least about what it was like to have her family together. All she can remember is being split, having a semi-absentee father, said father having a girlfriend with kids who created competition for her father’s attention, having her father back, and now girlfriend #2, while mom continues to try and hold everything together. All she wants is the ‘happy go lucky’ nuclear family life that she sees through her friends. Where they don’t have to split their time between two houses, where the house they used to live in for four years with their mom now becomes the house they visit with their dad. She just wants some level of normalcy. She needs the most reassurances. I think she’s afraid the rug will be swept out from underneath her at any moment all over again.
My middle daughter is my 15 going on 40. She had her time to be pissed at her father when it all went down. She learned that she had the right to be pissed at him, but she needed to accept who he was and what happened and not allow the anger to eat her up inside. She’s made her peace with her dad. Now she just throws everything she has into being the best she can at everything she does. She was always a perfectionist to begin with, but now she feels like she needs to be the most mature as well. She never allows herself to fail. She puts more pressure on herself than anyone else ever could. More often than not, I find that I need to talk her down from doing more things and achieving more because she over extends herself and then all the pressure just builds and she blows up. I worry that she doesn’t take the time to just be a kid and be carefree sometimes. To experience failure and to just have fun sometimes.
Their carefree childhood was stolen out from under them. Their ability to not worry about what came next. The understanding that life can change and flow and have highs and lows and still be safe and secure. Family vacations and having connections with other families who are looking out for them and helping add to their childhood fun stories. Having normal relationships with their parents that have strain and joy and separation into proper roles.
It’s all just tragic. We were on the brink of having the family life I had begun creating for them. I would have dealt with loneliness within my empty marriage better than I deal with the loneliness I feel on my own. I know that’s sad, but it’s also truth. My kids deserved the security of family life, not the brokenness of divorce. Because for me, it’s not about me…it’s about them…at least until they have lives of their own.
Hopefully their adult lives can go on without the pain and discomfort of a life interrupted.