We all know that break ups are hard. Marriage breakdowns are not just hard. Terminating a marriage is something that has to be endured and survived while you mourn the loss of your past, present and future with the person you thought you were going to spend the rest of your days with. It is the end of special occassions together. No more couple traditions to celebrate. Saying goodbye to your plans and dreams for the future. When there are children involved it becomes so much more complicated! Not just because you have to prioritise their emotional health and wellbeing, but because you have to do all that whilst your marriage is decaying inside you. You have to wipe their tears, manage their emotions and field their questions with age appropriate answers whilst neglecting yourself until they are ok enough that you can focus on your needs. If you are the parent that has the kids full time or the majority of the time it becomes a delicate balancing act between keeping your shit together enought to adult and parent affectively, whilst also allowing yourself the essential act of falling apart so you can begin to put yourself and your life back together again.
We have all heard stories about couples breaking up. We all know that it can be contentious. We all know that sometimes people aren’t very nice to each other because they are hurting. We all know that it is really difficult for the people in the relationship, and their children, to move on and recover from a separation. But, what we don’t know is who was at “fault”. I have a friend, we will call her “Carol”. I met Carol and her partner “Portly” many years ago and we became instant friends. Carol, Portly and I spent a lot of time together, as a result so did our children. Portly was a lovely man who doted not only on Carol, but on all our children. Years later my marriage ended and I began the very difficult task of full time solo parenting whilst Carol and Portly’s relationship seemed picture perfect. Until, it wasn’t anymore.
Carol called and told me she had ended her marriage to Portly. I was so stunned you could have knocked me over with a feather! I had no idea that their marriage was in trouble, let alone this much trouble! Carol confided in me that the marriage had been over for her for a really long time, but that she had stuck it out in the hopes that they could keep trying to make it work. Carol confided in me that she felt that Portly had emotionally abandoned her and that he wasn’t willing to work on the marriage the way she needed him to. The more unhappy Carol was the more time Portly spent avoiding her. It is a vicious cycle that occurs all too often in relationships. Having been so caught up in my own marital post mortem, I forgave myself for being self involved and missing the signs that Carol was so unhappy. I grieved for my friends, Carol & Portly, as well as their children who I love like my own. I knew all too well how difficult the next couple of years were going to be for them and I would have given so much to spare them a ride on that particular rollercoaster of emotion. When my marriage ended an Aunt told me that the next couple of years would be a rollercoaster. That just when I thought everything was going ok that bastard would take me crashing down again. That was the truest and most valuable advice I have ever received. I of course shared it with Carol to prepare her.
Not only was I shocked by the end of my friends marriage, but over the coming months I was angered and outraged by the reactions of their mutual friends. It seemed that because Carol was the one who officially ended the marriage she was blamed for her choice as well as for Portly’s pain. All their mutual friends made it clear that they were on Team Portly and weren’t discreet about letting Carol know it. They rallied around Portly to clean his house, cook his food and help with child care if he needed it.
Not only had Carol endured the slow, painful death of her marriage alone, but she was also punished by Portly and their assorted friends and family for the relationship collapse. Carol felt so isolated and alone abiding the annihilation of her life without the support of her friends – but she was not as lonely as she had been during her marriage and she took solace in that fact. Her new life was made so much better, and worse, when by a fortunate twist of fate Carol quickly became involved with a lovely man named “Scott”. Scott was the perfect balm for Carol’s emotional scars sustained throughout the final year of her torturously lonely marriage. Scott brought Carol back to life and showed her how to live her life again. He encouraged her and became one of her staunchest allies, even after the relationship ended several months later. Scott stood by Carol when no one else would. He reassured her, despite Portly lashing out at her with accusations that she was everything from an uncaring mother to a pathologically selfish person, that she was a good person worthy of love, time, compassion, consideration and kindness. Scott helped Carol find the strength to stand on her own feet to support herself and her children.
During the early days of the post-CarolPortly era, Portly relied very heavily on a close friend, “Lindsay”, who Carol knew. Within a short period of time Lindsay and Portly became an item. They spent time with the children together, they attended social events, BBQ’s, pool parties etc hosted by Portly and Carol’s mutual friends, and, according to the unsolicited tales from the children, Lindsay had regular sleepovers at Daddy’s while the children were there. Portly and Lindasy were embraced into the social fold. Before a year had passed Portly & Lindsay were happily living together.
Whilst Lindsay was accepted, Scott was not. Carol was judged for “moving on so fast”. Carol and Scott were condemned for the demise of Carol and Portly’s marriage. Carol was chastised for allowing Scott to spend time with Portly’s children. Carol wasn’t allowed to express any kind of dissatisfaction about the end of her relationship with Portly, or any of the legal/emotional/social drama’s that go with it, because as she was unceremoniously reminded “it had been her choice” to leave Portly. The implication that she had made her bed and would be made to lie in it was cruel to say the least.
On top of being alienated by her social circle, Carol also had to withstand Portly’s wrath. He seemed hell bent on punishing Carol for not only leaving him, but also for being unhappy in their marriage to begin with. It may seem like I had taken sides from the get go, but that wasn’t the case. I was concious that I was only getting Carol’s side of the story and I attempted to remain impartial. But after reading the vile, abusive, over-the-top text responses that Portly had directed at Carol since their separation I admit my failure at neutrality. I knew Portly was hurting and I really felt for him. But after so much time had passed and his happy life with Lindsay, I found it next to impossible to see his side when he was still spewing so much venom at Carol.
With their divorce a matter of weeks away, Carol was home alone and contacted her children to check in on them as they were on an interstate holiday with Portly and Lindsay to visit a relative and would be away from her for 2 weeks, which was unusual. As it turns out, the relative had flown interstate and Portly had taken the children to meet them which was actually 4,000 km from the relatives home where Carol believed her children to be. Instead of a sincere apology for failing to provide accurate information on the location of their children, Portly blamed Carol. She should have “asked” him where they were going and insinuated that her failure to do so was proof that she didn’t care about the children. He went on to accuse her of malicious interference because she had spoiled a “surprise” by telling them that they were going on holidays with him (Note: Carol only told them they were going away to prepare them for their extended absence from each other, and to answer their questions.). Once again, Carol is the bad guy.
Yes, I am angry at Portly for the way he has treated Carol, because if my ex did that to me (he never would and nor would I if the tables were turned) I would be beside myself. But more importantly, I am angry that children that I adore are caught in the middle of a fued that doesn’t need to be fought. Children are used as weapons in wars like this all over the world every day, and for what? Can anyone tell me? Because I sure as hell have no idea! It isn’t because it is what is best for the kids, no damn way! What is best for the kids is for the parents to pull their heads in, put their shit aside and get along with their ex so that the children don’t feel a great gaping chasm in their lives separating their parents. A chasm that they are constantly having to jump back and forth over. It is unfair on the children as well as the other parent. I implore all my fellow parents to look at what they are doing to their children and ask “How am I helping them by behaving like this?”.
Recently my kids had an event at school to which GG and BB, naturally, invited their dad to attend. He drove 90 minutes to our home and all four of us walked to school together. The kids were super excited as their dad hadn’t been to their new school before and they couldn’t wait to show him their classrooms and all the work they had been doing at school. They chatted with us both the whole way to the school hall where he and I sat side by side with a child on our laps. The kids pointed out their new friends to their dad and were so happy to have both their parents there with them. As a family we sat and listened to the choir, band and speeches before exploring first BB’s Prep classroom then GG’s Grade 1 classroom before heading to the library. GG and BB showed off their lovely new school to their dad and I provided commentary along the way too. We headed home where there were teary goodbyes as their dad got into his car for the long drive home. After the kids were all tucked up in bed I thought about Carol, Portly and their children and it made me so sad that their kids wouldn’t get to have a night like we had just had. It brought it home even more when GG told Carol’s kids about that night with both her parents there and the only response GG got was a sad, low “Oh” as the realisation hit the poor child that they would never have that experience either.
It was BB’s birthday on the weekend and all he wanted was a big family party. BB and GG were so excited that their dad and his girlfriend would be coming to their grandparent’s (my parent’s) home to celebrate. GG was especially pleased that dad’s GF and I got along so well. She asked us if we were friends to which we replied “yes” – she was delighted! She talked for the next few days about how “mum, dad and dad’s GF” are all friends! Once again I thought of Carol & Portly’s children and how they don’t get to have both parents amicably present for such special occassions as birthday’s, and it makes me dread the conversation I will no doubt witness between our children when GG & BB regale them with the story of BB’s big birthday.
These occassions in the lives of children are so significant. They are so important and they leave a lasting impression on their little minds and hearts. I am so relieved that after almost 3 years apart my ex and I are friends and that we are modelling healthy post-break up behaviours for our children by keeping their happiness a priority between us. It has been a lot of hard work, compromise and forgiveness on behalf of both parties, but I am so glad that we did that because now our children get to have both their parents, and their dad’s significant other, side by side at the same events without tension or bad blood spoiling the day. To all the parents like us out there who have been successful in becoming friends with their ex and keeping your family units as intact as you can whilst no longer being a couple, I applaud you for your hard work and dedication to your children’s happiness.
To all those parents out there, like Carol, who are unsuccessful in their attempts to create a cohesive parenting team for their children I implore you not to give up trying. Keep encouraging your children to invite their other parent to events even if they fall on one of their days with you. This is THEIR childhood, so continue to support your children in their relationship with their other parent because they will remember that you did that for them even if it was hard for you.
To all the Portly’s (male and female) of the world. It’s time to stop blaming your Carol (male or female) for your marriage ending. I know you were hurt when they left you – but they were hurting when they were with you. Stop blaming your Carol for wanting that hurt to end and stop using your kids as a weapon. This is THEIR childhood, they only get one, so why on earth would you want to ruin that for them? Start prioritising your children, their happiness, their emotional security and their sense of family – because you are writing on the slate of their life and what you do to them now will stay with them for many, many years to come. Forgive Carol for hurting you. Ask her (or him) to forgive YOU for the hurt you have caused them. Work hard to become an example of kindness, compassion and integrity for your children and put their needs first. Give them their family back. It might not look exactly the same as it once did, it might not feel much like a family to you. But you and your Carol are their whole world and you are tearing it in two. So give them their world back. Come on Portly, you can do it!