Saturday, June 4, 2011

What about the kids?

Last night there was a conversation on Twitter between some people I love and respect about how well boys versus girls cope when parents divorce.  This conversation started off the back of a tweet by @yvettevignando regarding this article .

I agreed with the article based on the fact that I believe most girls seem to have a better understanding of other people's emotions whereas boys can be a bit clueless.   Most boys don't seem to notice or sense things going on around them and an announcement of a separation can hit them like a tonne of bricks.  Girls tend to feel things going on in their environment, and whilst the actual act of the separation is no less traumatic for them, they may have had a sense of it coming, lessening the initial impact.   I am not a qualified pyschologist, however I have seen many of my friends and my children's friends go through separations and have watched this very situation unfold on many occasions.  I also know I am generalising and in both sexes there are those who do not fit the stereotype I am describing here.

Another tweeter who I love (Zoey) @goodgoogs said "personally, I always intellectually understood my parents divorce but emotionally I was still abandoned"  ... really powerful words.   Made me think hard about kids and divorce.  My kids and divorce.  Everyone's kids and divorce.

We've all said, "don't worry kids are resilient, they bounce back, it will be ok".  We say it to others, we say it to ourselves, but do we really mean it and are our kids really that resilient?  Or do we just say it to make ourselves feel better?   I know I said it for the last reason.  I suspect most of us do at some point.  We need something to hang on to.  Something to justify that what we are doing won't destroy our kids.

Divorce is one of those things that often has to happen, but there is a lot of heartache for everyone involved for a long time.  Once kids are part of the equation, ending a marriage does have far reaching consequences for all.  So does staying in a bad marriage.

Zoey's tweet will not leave my mind.  I know I abandoned my children at different times during those first few years.  Emotionally I wasn't there for them.  I went through the physical duties I needed to - they were always clean, fed, had a bed to sleep in and clothes to wear and they made it to school on time.  They may or may not have done their homework every night - that may or may not have depended on how much time I had for them.  I was living in a fog.  I had walked out of my marriage.  I had no money.  I had no family support.  I was alone and scared out of my mind.  I was also free and I was also excited to be starting my own life.  I had a 5 year old and a 7 year old.  What was I thinking?

The day we told the boys I was leaving will never ever leave my mind.  We told the 7 year old that we were getting a divorce and he literally ran out the front door and kept running down the street crying.  My heart still breaks for that little boy whose life shattered into a million tiny pieces that day in October 1999.  I told the 5 year old alone when we were at the shopping centre, sitting on a seat having an ice cream.  Little tears rolled down his little cheeks and my heart broke again.  He asked me if I would still lie with him every night when he went to bed.  I know I could hardly breathe at that moment.  I can hardly breathe now writing these words.  The reality of what was happening hit me hard.  For 50% of the nights I would not be lying with him on his bed holding his little hand while he went to sleep.  For 50% of the nights I would be alone, and so would he.

Despite this, we pushed on.  I packed up and left.  The kids came with me for my first few nights.   My 7 year old really struggled.  He was difficult to deal with and I didn't have any patience for him.  I know I wasn't there for him when he needed me.  I know there were times I was glad when they went to their dad's house and I would count down the days until he picked them up.  Then within the hour I wanted them back.  I hated the separation.  For the first year it ate my heart up.  I was caught between feeling guilty that I wasn't able to give them as much as they needed emotionally and wishing they weren't there to wanting nothing more than lying in bed cuddling my boys when they were gone.  It was a roller coaster for all of us.

If I have any regrets, it would be that I was too selfish.  I spent a lot of time thinking about myself and wallowing in self pity and not enough time worrying about the emotional well being of my children.  I look back at some of those times and I can see clearly what I should have done.  I'm a smart, emotionally intelligent woman, I know this stuff and hindsight is such a marvelous thing.

The truth is though, when we are caught up in an emotional roller coaster such as separation, it is very hard to step aside and give emotionally to others, even our children.  It takes every bit of emotional energy to get through each day.  I know I didn't totally abandon my boys because in the end, despite lots of rocky roads, the three of us have ended up in a pretty good place.   We are close, they are loving and we talk to each other a lot.  Sometimes when we fight they will both remind me of times when I did let them down, when I wasn't the mother I should have been and each time I feel a knife slicing straight through my heart.

Kids are resilient in some ways, they get through the tough times just like adults do, because there is no other choice.  But the stuff that really stays with them are the hurts caused by their parents - the times we weren't there to give the love they so desperately wanted.  From the perspective of a child a parent is their world. The person who made them.  The person who should be there unconditionally for them.  The person they love the most in this world.  To a parent our child is someone we love more than anyone ... but despite this love, and the pedestal our child has put us on, we can't be that wonderful being they think we are.  We all have our own stuff going on and we can't always be their everything, despite our very best of intentions.

Being a parent is truly the hardest job in the world which you don't need a degree for.  Sometimes I think a psychology degree should almost be mandatory.  But then again ... maybe not.



Robert Gotts said...

Very moving Annieb25. Having been through the process with my own kids I'd have to say that I think it's like pneumonia,they go down with it and suffer, then seem to recover, but you never know how much lung function has been lost.

Dr Bron said...

I have a few psych degrees, so from that perspective I can tell you that it doesn't actually help much for your own situation because you can't emotionally detach. You know, parents can guilt trip themselves about how they parent quite easily. My husband and I are still very much together. That doesn't mean I'm a better mother. Nor does it mean that I parent without guilt. I can beat myself up quite easily about how I "coulda, shoulda, woulda" done something better than I did. We all can. Chances are, your boys will be law-abiding, hard-working, valuable members of society. Bet you've done a great job. Try not to dwell on what you "coulda, shoulda, woulda" done. xxx

Sass said...

You know, I can remember my the day my parents split up like it was yesterday. I could even tell you that I was drinking juice from one of those double layer cups with the glitter water with stars.
It will be with me forever.

I've learnt from my parents divorce, I had to really, the man my mum married is possibly the scum of the earth and I was determined never to get involved with a man like him.
I have a stable loving relationship with my husband. He's gentle and kind and is the water to my fire. I've learnt that relationships don't have to be about yelling and screaming and violence.

I could blame every shortfall i've had in my life because I come from a broken home (and then an abusive home) but we all have a choice. We can chose to lay down and take what happens or we can learn from it and change.

In the long run, children will be healthier with two happy parents than two parents still together hating and fighting each other.

You are an amazing mum Annie.

Linda said...

I am incredibly lucky in that my parents had a solid loving relationship and were not apart until my dad died, and now I am in one of these relationships. It's not all hearts and rainbows of course, but solid and happy enough that I know my kids will (touch wood) not have to go through this particular heartache in their lives.

But I am sad to be watching this happen to several friends and their gorgeous children right now. Your words help me to understand them better, and just maybe, I hope, be a better friend.

Annie - you always write so eloquently. xo

Zoey @ Good Goog said...

Me and my big mouth hey?

I agree with Sass that children are a whole lot happier with two separate parents rather than two parents who are together, who don't want to be. And I don't resent my parents divorce by any means. My mother found herself and her independence in that divorce and became the persons she was meant to be.

There were a lot of things I had to work through to get to the other side of that divorce. And while I agree at a certain point you have to become an adult and put it behind you and live your life, I also think that during childhood a whole lot of things can go unnoticed. I was not a squeaky wheel by any stretch of the imagination. And no matter which way you spin it, my father's emotional distance and apparent disinterest in me hurt. And it was really only my having children and seeing him with them that healed it. Along with me stopping to expect him to be something other than what he is.

Even now, I notice with my toddler that she asks 'what are you doing?' most of the time all she wants is someone's undivided attention and someone to play with her. And I wonder how many efforts like that my brother made (he was 5) that was dismissed as an annoyance. I know he went from a chubby child to a skinny one really quickly and it was hard with us being separated from one another (he with my father, me with my mother) but possibly we became very close because of it or in spite of it.

But with that kind of emotional turmoil any parent is going to have times when they are not the kind of parent they want to be - all you can do is hope that the years of absolute love you've given them will carry them through the periods of time where you just can't give them what they need in that particular moment.

Dorothy said...

My greatest fear about my separation and divorce was about the children. Now, I can see that we are finally safe, away from that man. I've also taken great care with my boys, by taking them to counseling as they needed it, especially when I've been emotionally unavailable.

I know that my situation is an extreme one, but it doesn't change the effect on the children. At least, I know that I've taken as great care about their emotional wellbeing as I could. And that's something their father is incapable of.

Diminishing Lucy said...

All this frightens me so much Annie. Thank you for writing about it.

My parents were together until my Dad passed away. The lovely husbands parents are still very much together.

The concept of separating is so foreign. I wonder how many women avoid it for fear of the unknown, and is this even worse for children?

There is no easy answer, I suspect.


anecdotalanna said...

Raw honesty like this would be great reading for people before they become parents.
I dare say you did the best anyone would be capable of given the situation. Thank you for sharing and I hope life just keeps getting better for you.

Mrs Woog said...

Excellent Post Annie! My brother is totally still fucked up after my parents divorced when we were small.

River said...

I've divorced twice. The first time the youngest was 13 years old and the divorce had been on the cards for quite a while, so he coped well. We'd married young and grown apart.
The second divorce came about because I could no longer put up with my husband's sudden rages and paranoia. I didn't feel safe, knowing that he'd hit me a few times already and I could see his changes leading to a repeat episode. There are no children from the second marriage.

Ames said...

My parents are divorced. They separated when I was six and divorced when I was ten. I don't remember them separating but I remember them divorcing like it was yesterday. I remember feeling lost at school and walking around crying. My mum made me go to counselling (one used clown puppets, I've always been scared of clowns, bad move) which I don't think helped.

Now? I'm glad they divorced. I remember them fighting and now having a child myself I know how much he feels my pain so parents staying together unhappily causes a hell of a lot of pain.

Great post. Seriously great. As usual.

Mrs M said...

I'm the opposite. I wished my parents had divorced because my parent's relationship was.... well they just didn't have one. Constant fighting and walking on eggshells, it was too much.

My parents are still married. Not happily. I think now they fear being alone so it's a case of better the devil you know.

Love & stuff
Mrs M

kim at allconsuming said...

Man, I just can't comment because it would be a whole post in and of itself. You did what you had to do and for whatever shortcomings or failings there were they would have been tenfold if you had stayed.

Carolyn Hastie said...

Annie, great post, as usual. Tender, strong and truthful. Kids suffer and they are (generally) resilient. They have difficult times and great times. Their hearts break and their hearts love. They feel the full gamut of human emotions. That's very normal. Lots of us do things as parents we regret, whether we stay together or separate. All each of us can do is the best we can with who we are at the time. I'd do just about everything differently if I could, but that time is gone and I've learnt. My children are grown and they are beautiful people, now making their own lives doing the best they can with what they know. So am I. Compassion and kindness are two good qualities to inculcate - for ourselves - and others. Thanks for talking about this hard reality, I've done some deep thinking as a result of your post. I'm glad I had the courage to separate and divorce, hard as it was. Life is better as a result of that action.

Nathalie Brown said...

Degrees give you knowledge but real life experience cannot even touch what you read from books. I've learnt more from being a mother than all my studying for the last 20 years. No need to beat yourself up about what could or should of happened. We learn as we grow, the same as our kids. As long as you are there in principle it doesn't needto mean under the same roof.
Gorgeous post

tiff(threeringcircus) said...

My parents divorced when I was a young adult, although they should have done it much sooner. They stayed together 'for the children' and it was the worst decision they ever made because, kids aren't silly. We weren't silly. We knew that things were bad. My mother changed when she left my father. She became the woman she was supposed to be, not the angry, silent, often absent emotionally person she was at home. I grieved their divorce. I did. My brother had just died and my father was a drunken mess and my mother moved as far away from all of us as she could without leaving the state. I missed her. I missed our strange way of living. I felt as though they had divorced me too but ultimately I knew that my mother had escaped something terrible and eventually that it was the best thing for everyone that they were no longer 'together'. I think, what i am ultimately trying to say is I'm almost positive your boys appreciate having you wholly now, love seeing the real you, the you that is free and happy and full of life. I know I appreciate how sad my mum was in her marriage now I have watched her blossom.

Glowless @ Where's My Glow said...

I used to pray for my parents to divorce. I wanted it more than anything - living in such an emotionally abusive situation wasn't good for any of us.

They eventually separated when I was 15, but only after I ran away and refused to come back unless something changed.

They've each gone on to figure out who they are and are now happily back together after 10 years apart.

So divorce can definitely be hard on kids, but to echo what a few others have said, not divorcing can be harder.

We do the best we can with the resources we have. When we know better, we do better. But a lot of the time we only learn by fumbling our way through first. I'm beginning to sound very Dr Phil so I'll shut up.

Yvette Vignando said...

Annie, you lay bare so much of your lovely soul here - and it's great because each of us can usually relate to parts of your thoughts. But I really love what Dr Bron wrote and don't think I want to add to that. I do want to acknowledge that the way you write and express yourself shows so much love and empathy that those boys are luckier than they will ever realise. Hugs.

stink-bomb said...

my best mate seperated from her husband last year. she had been unhappy for years and i believe only stayed put because she didn't want to put her daughter through a seperation. i believe, like a few above have already mentioned, that children are far better off in a situation with two happy seperated parents than two unhappy together ones.

children do pick up on negative feelings from parents that aren't happy and in the long run that can be worse than going through a seperation that they will eventually get past.

great post.


Life In A Pink Fibro said...

Wonderful post Annie. So much to think about. x

therhythmmethod said...

Very thought provoking post.
When I was a teen, I wanted desperately for my mum to leave my dad, who bullied the entire family. Life was peaceful when he was away, but the minute we heard him driving down the road, everyone tensed up. He was (is) a very angry man.
I still wonder what life would have been like if they had divorced back then. They did eventually separate when I was 23. I was so happy for my mum, who was emotionally abused for all 34 years of their marriage. I think she stayed because she was too scared to find out what leaving meant. I know she was scared he would hurt her, or us kids. In the end, we all survived but have been changed forever.
I guess this is the opposite of your story. I wish my mum had been more selfish, and just left the bastard.

nonoodle said...

Oh Annie,I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face!I am lucky enough to not be from divorced parents or be a divorced parent, but I can feel for all those who are. It must be so hard to be there for your kids, when your barely holding on yourself. I feel like I have been neglectful of my kids over the past 9 months, because I've been ill and feel immense guilt for it. I've been too busy thinking of my self that I have not been fully there for them. This blog post has brought that home to me!
Thanks for sharing & god bless xo

Maxabella said...

Very moving and thought provoking post, Annie. I just wanted to say that I have no personal experience of divorce whatsoever, but I don't think you need a divorce to 'abandon' your children. x

veggie mama said...

my mum didn't ever tell me we weren't coming back. I boarded a bus with her and my younger sister and waved goodbye to my dad and I was none the wiser. As much as I would never want my parents to be together, I hated what came after that. and what that did to my dad.

I think life is like the stock market - ups and downs but in the end it all evens out.

Felicity said...

Thank you for sharing this post.
Your honesty has helped me to understand a little about the machinations behind my step-children's parents separation and all that unfolded afterwards.
I was only able to witness one side of this equation and this was quite a time after the actual divorce.
Your writing has given me some insight into what may have been going on for the children's Mum which has always confused me - for this I thank you sincerely.

xx Felicity

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