Hard to explain some of this without going into a lot of details about the break up of my marriage, I just want to say that we were married a little over 17 years, and over the course of that 17 years (before we met, actually), my ex had a serious dependency problem. We met when I was 20 and, at the time, it wasn't a thing for me. I wasn't the most naive thing in the world, but I suppose I'd never really had any experience with someone who could not control their demons to that extent. And while things were pretty good in the beginning, there's only so many times that someone can lie to you, or actively deceive you, before the relationship starts taking hit points. Add on that significant problems with the extended family kept impacting our family and...well...that's a lot for anyone to overlook. I lost alot of respect for him because of the way he refused to minimize the damage to our own family. Despite me telling him that this was a big problem and that if he continued to treat it as nothing it was going to continue to deteriorate our relationship, he seemed to believe that I'd overlook it, just as I had so many other things for years before. It was a roll of the dice, I suppose.
Things had changed, though. I had been working on taking control of my life. Trying to regain some long lost self-respect. And tiring, quickly, of having him spew hateful hurtful things at me on a regular basis. And so, I opted to leave.
We actually had been seeing a marriage counselor. But we weren't making much progress. When he lied to me, yet again, that was it. I was done. We'd actually discussed the possibility long beforehand, and I'd told him that if he did it again, I expected him to move out. To leave the girls and I in the house and not uproot us. He didn't respond. And when the inevitable happened, he refused to leave. Saying that it was 'my fault' that the marriage was ending and I could be the one to leave. That there was "no way he'd ever let me keep that house." Hateful, spiteful vitriol because he could no longer control me. But it was always only directed at me. I never thought he'd turn it on the girls.
He had just stopped smoking pot and was suffering badly with our situation. When his repeated begging for me to stay and give him yet another One More Chance wasn't changing my mind, he suggested to me, because he genuinely loves his kids, that we share custody. Knowing his youngest brother and the whole "child support" thing, I figured that I made enough to support myself and do okay by the kids part time, but that he needed them through this time. And they needed him. And so, when he suggested it, I didn't fight it. I wasn't doing this to hurt anyone. I simply couldn't take another hit to my self-respect. I just couldn't. It wasn't about money or things.
From the beginning, the two-week on, two-week off custody schedule was difficult. Prior to his first time with the kids, I had gone over first aid training with him. I'd written out several recipes that the kids liked (he'd done little or no cooking in the previous 17 years, so we weren't sure how this would go, but he was making an effort to cook for the kids, I was glad to help). I gave him lessons on how to do hair. In 17 years, he'd never been to a parent/teacher conference. Never signed a report card. Picked up kids from the daycare or taken them to the doctor only a handful of times. And despite me asking REPEATEDLY, had never gotten up with them in the mornings to get them off to school. All of this would have to change. They were not to have a noticeable change with him taking the lead for two weeks a month. And, given his lack of experience with most of this, I wasn't sure how it would work.
My oldest daughter resisted from the get go. She'd been exposed to more. Seen how he treated me. Seen how little he'd done around the house and with them. And had little or no respect for him. But I'd gently nudge her towards giving him a shot. Telling her that he was making the effort because he loved them. Explaining that he was new at these things and needed a little time. She'd cry and beg me not to go. Time and time again. And it was so difficult to send her anyway. I'd tell my ex about it. Beg him to work on his relationship with his daughters. And he'd tell me I didn't know what I was talking about. He was hurt and didn't want to give me any credit for anything. But I kept trying. Hoping, at some point, he'd put his own pain aside to better his relationship with the children he loved.
Over the last 14 months, I've gotten so many calls from my girls about problems with their dad, I can't count them. I have a two paged list, because I've been keeping track. Just in case. And in each case, I've tried to talk to them (and to him) about finding a way to work things out together. I've suggested counseling to him, to help deal with his anger management issues, but he insists that I'm the one in need of anger management counseling because of his mother. He believes I have a problem with his mother. See, my anger management would be to control my outbursts and inappropriate behavior towards his mother. Whom I've seen once in the last 14 months, and didn't say anything remotely angry to her at that time. He, on the other hand, has upset ALL of my girls numerous times. Gee, clearly I'm the one with the problem. I suppose telling his girlfriends that I have mental problems because I didn't like his mother calling our house at all hours and cussing us out for helping her. Yep, I'm a loon.
A month ago, he called my house and asked to speak to my oldest daughter. He was calm and friendly and I never suspected that he was getting ready to blow. But I was wrong. He was demanding and threatening to her over the phone and when they were done arguing, she insisted that she was not going back. He called back and talked to me. Also demanding and threatening that if I didn't help him better control her and put her right back up under his thumb, it wouldn't be pleasant for me either. I told him he couldn't talk to me that way and ended the conversation. He then tried again, got daughter #2 and next thing I knew, I heard her raising her voice to him in response to the same.
I'm not lying, or exaggerating in the least, when I say that these things never happen in reverse. My girls never complain to their dad about problems with me. Never cry when they have to come back to me. Never beg him to do something to change things. To help them. So, he has no idea how this feels. But I do. I've felt it far too many times in 14 months. And so, when both of my older girls said this is enough and we want to make changes, I called him again. And I told him that I'd offered him as many suggestions and chances to make it work as I could have reasonably been expected to, but that I could not stand by and watch my girls suffer at his expense any more. And that I hoped he understood, would get the professional help he needed, and that I was going to help them the best way that I could.
He was, as you'd expect, furious. And, in fact, has accused me of 'not having his back' because I refuse to continue to ignore the pleas of my children. Better, he says that I have an attitude. Me? Attitude? Okay, I probably do. But I've gone above and beyond what 99% of ex-spouses do in this situation. I did it for all of them. For my kids and for him. And he doesn't believe that I could have had a better deal in the beginning if I'd fought harder for it. But he couldn't be more wrong. A newly recovering life-long drug addict with little experience parenting his own children, getting divorced because of a long history of drug abuse and verbal and emotional abuse. Please.
But, see, when you make brand new friends after the divorce and those folks don't know the whole (or real) story, you can tell them anything you want. You can leave out little gems like "I never wanted to get up with my kids on Christmas morning. You know...it was just another day to sleep in for me." or "Whenever my wife asked me to do something around the house, I'd ask her what she was doing and why she couldn't take care of it herself." You know. Gems like that. But judges understand those things. And I have no problem believing that I did him a HUGE favor. And I always will, no matter how he wants to spin it for himself. And, sorry, but my older girls know the truth, too.
And so, I met with an attorney and I was advised that the older girls should have no problem getting the very reasonable changes they are requesting, for no reason other than that they are tired of moving back and forth. Add on the fact that he doesn't trust or respect them and that they are tired of his verbal and emotional abuse and that they don't feel he helps keep up with school things very well, and I'm sure she's right. My six year old would be a different problem. But for the following exchange that still chills me.
When I was talking to my older two about the changes they'd requested, after I'd met with the attorney, I explained to them that I wasn't sure what we would be able to do with their baby sister. Daughter #2 tentatively questioned, "would she be alone with dad part of the time?" And I said, "it's possible." The two girls exchanged a very telling glance, and began to discuss options between them that would put one of them at my ex's with their baby sister at all times. I said "is there a problem I need to know about?" And daughter #1 said "Dad screams at Amy and makes her cry." Daughter #2 confirmed that she had been put in a position to stop her dad from emotionally abusing my six year old more than once in recent history. All of this was news to me. And when they told me tales of him screaming at her for "not coloring right"...a kindergartner...the blood just ran out of my face and I got mad.
Mad at myself. For ever agreeing to this deal in the first place. For getting out myself and leaving my children in harms way. I honestly didn't believe I was, but I should have known better.
So, we're proceeding. Full steam ahead. He says he's fighting it. Insists that he's as good a parent as I am and that all of this is "my fault". My fault for continuing to give the kids an apron to run under for every "little thing". What kind of mother am I??? At the end of the day, this is gonna be a long, costly venture. But there is nothing more important that I can spend my money on than helping my children.
The fact that he doesn't see how badly he is hurting their feelings by insisting on fighting them on this, or the long term damage that he will most assuredly do to his relationship with them, only reinforces what a selfish man he is. I've thought, long and hard, how I would feel in his shoes. And honestly, I'm pretty sure I'd be angry. And more than a little hurt. But, I would not stand in my kids' way. I wouldn't want to make it more stressful on them in the short term, and I'd never want to make a future relationship with them strained in the long term.
He just refuses to acknowledge any of that. To do so would be to acknowledge even the possibility of fault in his marriage and it's much better for him if he can continue to proclaim that he did everything he could to keep the marriage together and I was the one who left. Nice story, when you can get someone to believe it. But I get the real ex, not the pretend face he puts on for others. And my kids get the real one, too. And we're tired of it. And we're not going to take it anymore. It's my job to protect them and to do whatever I can to make their lives better. And that's exactly what I'm going to do.
I just wish we weren't going to have to give thousands of dollars to attorneys to put our kids through the further trauma of testifying in open court about how he has treated them. I've talked to them about whether they're up to it, and they say they are. His own girlfriend has children the same ages as my oldest two and when they don't want to go to spend time with their dad, they aren't forced to go. But it's appropriate for me to force mine to? So many double standards...so little time.
Okay, that feels better. Thanks, once again, guys, for letting me rant. And if you have any to spare, please send a little positive energy to my girls, they're going to need it. Thankfully, we all have the ever supportive Highlander, too. Not sure what we'd do without him sometimes.
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