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.