In divorce, although it’s the adults who are doing the divorcing and they like to think they are the most effected by the divorce, it is actually the children who have the suckiest time with the ordeal. First of all… they are children and it is in no way their fault that their parents aren’t able to hold their act together. These innocent bystanders, no matter their age, but especially if they are tiny, get thrown into this game of “Mine! Mine! Mine!” in the courtroom of “That’s Yours and This is MINE MINE MINE!” They are fought over, fought about, and sometimes, even, fought at simply because they happen to be the person who is “staying.”
Secondly, it sucks for the kids because they frequently become a very valuable pawn in the game of gaining ground over the “jerk who _____ (fill in the blank with whatever horrible “crime” they committed that resulted in the break up).” Couples who once thought the sun and moon rose and set on the other person are suddenly hateful, spiteful, and out to “get” the other person simply because they can now because they’re are getting D-I-V-O-R-C-E-D. It is as if that “D Word” gives people momentary insanity and a “Get Out of the Mental Ward Free” card. It is as if they can do whatever the hell they want because they are hurting. It brings out the nastiest behaviors in many people. Suddenly there is no respect, no rationality, no accountability, and no forgiveness.
And in the middle of all that are the children who are lost and used and confused. They are watching their parents – who taught them to be kind to others, love one another, and that home is where safety is (hopefully they have learned that) – be mean and hateful and spiteful. So confusing for the little ones.
A few days ago, I was talking with a friend who is going through a bitter divorce with a man who has “turned on” her and has “suddenly” become terrifyingly violent and aggressive…
[editorial side note: Having worked with many women – starting with myself first – in helping them find safety within themselves and to leave violent situations, to find their voices, to stand up for themselves and to end the cycle of abuse, I feel somewhat skeptical about the “sudden” change in this man. I understand that things may be exacerbating the situation and intensifying the negative behaviors, but the condition of having no sign or hint of violence one day and then complete violence the next is extremely rare. My experience, over the years, has shown that more often than not, the violence is there in the man (or woman), simmering beneath the surface and can be felt if the woman (or man) is aware of their own feelings and intuition. And experience has also shown that if I question my client and get her to look at herself, she can tell me the exact moment – very early in the relationship – when she picked up on the possible problem and then ignored herself.]
…In the process of their divorce, there has been the seemingly inevitable fight over visitation. Her children are tiny – five years old and younger. She is scared for their safety – although he has never exhibited any sign of aggression toward them. She is scared, though, because he has been aggressive, controlling, and domineering to her and she assumes he’ll use the same tactics on their children. She originally said that his gorilla-tactic behaviors “just started happening,” but then, as time has gone on and she has revealed more about their marriage, she has felt controlled and frightened for the entire time she has known him, but she “thought it would change over time.”
[editorial side note: First and foremost… choosing to act out with violence is not something that will simply change “over time” – at least not for the better. Aggression tends to build and get worse over time. Secondly, to change an Alpha Male aggressor’s tendencies, the Alpha Male has to recognize that his behaviors are unhealthy and inhumane. He has to be willing to acknowledge that he has emotions and he is responding in detrimental ways to those emotions. That, in and of itself, is incredibly difficult to do. If that step happens and this man becomes accountable and is able to understand that he needs to change his reactionary response mechanism then the third part of the transformation is his willingness to change. He is going nowhere – other than further into the violence – if he is unwilling to be accountable and is unwilling to change. If he is willing to be accountable and willing to change, then the fourth step is an unyielding commitment to reprogram himself with healthy responses to his own emotions. It takes a lot of patience, a lot of work, and continual recommitment to get through this process.
Which is why so many abusers don’t choose this road. It is just really hard to do and, at times, it’s too hard to change and they become willing to stay trapped in their own hell… a caged animal who is a prisoner behind bars of their blocked emotional responses.]
He, apparently, did change over time. He got worse.
So now, they are in the throes of “after divorce” time. They are now battling over who gets the children and when. Even though the law has told them how they will be sharing their children, they are still fighting. There are intricacies about his new marriage and my friend’s bitterness over the fact that there is already a new wife in the picture with her own children. My friend fears her children will be forgotten in the melee of this new life her ex-husband is creating. My friend thinks it isn’t fair that her children are spending time with this new woman. My friend thinks that this woman “doesn’t deserve” to be around my friend’s children. My friend is forgetting that her ex-husband has chosen this new woman which does give her the right to be around my friend’s children.
I listened to her rant about the unfairness of the entire situation. My heart went out to her because I remember that first time my tiny baby girl toddled down the sidewalk, holding onto her daddy’s hand and staring up at him adoringly, as they walked toward the car that was loaded with his new wife and their new baby. It was nine months after our divorce was officially final. My daughter was barely two. And they were going away for an entire week to celebrate Thanksgiving with his friends and family. My baby was going with them. I was devastated and I remember that gut-wrenching ache.
So I listened to her and felt her pain. And then she said, “How do holidays work?”
“Generally,” I said, tentatively, attempting to tread lightly around her fragile heart. “Generally the court sets that up for you. But, if they don’t, then you two get to decide. If you can’t agree, then usually it’s every other holiday. Who had them for Thanksgiving?”
“Well, then you’d get them for Christmas and he’d get them for New Years.”
“But that’s not fair,” she burst out, slamming her backpack on the floor definitively. “New Years is my weekend.”
Her anger was palpable. And I realized how shocked I was by her vehemence. I wasn’t sure how to lovingly say what I was feeling so I lamely responded, “But it’s a holiday. That overrules the ‘weekend visitation’ schedule. Next year, you’ll get them on Thanksgiving and New Years and he’ll have them for Christmas.”
“But!” she was furious. I subtly slid back in my chair. “But, that’s not fair to me.”
There it was. This wasn’t about her children. It was about her and what was fair to her. I felt myself snap in that moment as I tapped into the children’s hearts and felt their confusion. I stared at her, aghast. My sweet, gentle friend had turned into a “spoiled brat” right in front of my eyes. All because she had made choices years ago to ignore herself and now she was scared, angry, and looking for justice in a situation that was far from just.
I heard how cold my voice was as I said, “This isn’t about you. This is about your children.” I paused and took a deep breath, returning to love. “You chose to marry him and have children with him. He is their daddy. And every decision you two need to make from now on has to be based on what is good for them. You are forgetting that. This isn’t about you. None of this is fair to them and all of this is a result of your choices. So you need to get over yourself and think about your children first.”
She stared at me, silenced with my terse response. I stared back, surprised I had spoken so firmly. Usually, in times like that, I would have been more gentle with her, but there was something about the way she had said, “that’s not fair to me” that had snapped a twig within me.
I am not, by any means, a saint or a professional in the art of divorcemanship. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a perfect mother. However, I do know the importance of supporting my child in her relationship with his father. No matter how irresponsible he has been, no matter how shitty he treated me, no matter how many affairs or whatever “sin” I can hold over his head, he is my former husband because *I* made the choice to marry him. *I* chose into marrying him even after I saw the signs of violence early on. *I* chose to stay with him after that first date when he was brutally honest about his childhood and the horrifying details of his life with his mother. *I* chose to become a mother through him. *I* linked my life with his forever through our daughter. Now it is my responsibility to make the best of a situation.
If my friend’s husband is abusing her children, or his new wife or her children, this is an entirely different topic. Please understand that I am NOT saying that domestic violence needs to be tolerated. That is NOT AT ALL what I am saying. What I am saying is, when you choose to get married, choose to have children with that person, and then choose to end that marriage, then it is your responsibility to put your own selfish adult-heart to the side and think about those babies you created with that person you once loved. This will never make sense to them and it will only be worse if you choose to lose your adult-like dignity and succumb to name calling, belittling, and battling with the ex-spouse.
Keep in mind… that person you are calling names and despising is half of what created that baby whose ears are hearing the horrid things you are saying about their daddy/mommy.