I was never put in the position of having to choose between my parents. And, there was never any discussion about whether I could visit my dad when he came to see us. My mom kicked my dad out, he moved away after a short time of trying to find work in a tumbling economy, and that was the end of it. He came back to town occasionally to visit us, but there was no such thing as weekends here or there, no going back and forth, and no packing up my belongings.
I missed him, oh my god, I missed him. And, being the dutiful enabler and accommodator that I was, I worried about him being alone. Maybe every child of divorce worries about the parent that resides elsewhere. Guaranteed, they think about that parent. So, that means they either worry for their well-being or wish them ill, depending on the environment and parent where they do live.
I know others who didn’t have a choice either. My own step-siblings were abandoned by their mother, twice. My dear friend, a wonderful stepmother in England, took in her stepson within a year after she married his dad and that was the end of that. There was no custody discussion or every other weekend here or there, it just was the way it was.
I don’t know if it’s good for kids to have 50/50 time. I don’t know if it’s good to have shared custody or weekends here and there. I don’t know if it’s good for one parent to have all the control. And, I don’t know what it’s REALLY like for those kids who have to go through that. I did not. I cried my tears of loss. I grieved the family that was. I worried. And, I lived my life.
What I also didn’t have to go through was to hear and feel the daily tension between my parents. The who was doing what. The putting down of one or the other. The constant-seeming war zone that wasn’t Code Orange, only Code Yellow. As if Code Yellow was a healthy place to live. As if low level violence toward someone you love is ever acceptable. As if having one of your parents painted as an evil, no good, selfish, or neglectful person is a good thing for a kid.
Maybe those types of battles between parents are satisfying to someone in the short run, but in the long run they leave scars. Those scars won’t show up immediately. Nope, they will wait and rear their ugly heads when that young person gets into a relationship and doesn’t have a role model to follow. That young person won’t know that you can solve a problem by sitting down and talking about it. You can take responsibility for your actions and people will still love you if you are not perfect.
My friend in England, well……she’s not with her stepson’s father any more, but she’s still in a relationship with her stepson. My heart bursts for them because I know her and I know him and I am so glad they still have each other. She is not putting his father down to meet her own immediate emotional craving. It’s likely tempting, but she’s not. She’s getting on with life and making sure he knows he has a place in it with her.
What happens in a parent’s heart and head that allows them to put the other parent down? What is it that allows them to feel they don’t have to support the other person? What part of the child’s well-being do they not understand? Another friend of mine here in Portland has lived through years and years of emotional trauma because the mother of her husband’s children never let the kids love anyone but her. They were completely beholden to her. Now, as young adults they are struggling to begin their lives and are ill-equipped to even know where to begin. Ironically, they have fallen back on their father.
Fathers are no saints, but the ones I know (the husbands of all the friends I have who are stepmoms) have good jobs and pay their support payments and support their kids. I wonder if they get tired of being talked about. I wonder where they find the determination and persistence in the face of constant bad-mouthing and fighting with kids who are confused and being taught to not like them. How do they do it? Yet, another friend of mine is dating a guy who travels from one state to another to see his kids every other week. Thank goodness he works for an airline. He’s paying his ex-wife’s bills and his bills and he’s being bashed and fought and pushed away from his kids. While I feel outrage for the dad, mostly I’m focused here on why people are making such poor decisions for their children. No love lost between ex-spouses, but the damage to one’s children when these Code Yellow types of warfare are being waged in their own living room is completely unacceptable.
I’m a peace-monger. I want peace. I love peace. I love that even when people disagree they come and talk and even if they cry and feel big emotion or even have to yell (but no name calling, that’s against my code), they stay in the relationship. I love when people realize that life is precious and we don’t have time for this. I love that sometimes parents DO get it right and LET their child love others. I love that any parent could choose to trust that the child LOVES them and will always love them. I love that they could choose to have MORE peace in their hearts knowing that their child will grow up and be able to love someone else having had unadulterated access to both parents.
Peace is part of an environment where a child can remain a child until it’s time to move on and follow the natural maturation. Peace is hearing that you have freedom and choice to love your parent and you do not feel even the tiniest bit of a tug or pull when you spend time with the other one. Peace is knowing that even when you’ve been out on a dinner date with your dad (my case) that when you get home you do not have to do penance for 3 days while your mom punishes you because you spent time with your dad, a person she can’t stand. Peace is not having to listen to one parent say anything negative about the other.
Power to the peaceful.
I stole that last line from a bumper sticker. I have no idea who said it. And, I really do have all these friends who are stepmothers. Friends I’ve known for 10, 20, 30 years who are now in their own second marriages and who are taking on stepchildren or who are now done raising the stepchildren and are moving on to the next phase. I’ll count them up for you one day. At casual glance, there are at least 8 of them. They deserve their own post.
And, I saw another bumper sticker . . . the peaceful will inherit the earth. I hope so.