The day finally arrived, the day I have dreaded with anxiety and apprehension on behalf of my two younger boys mainly, the day they finally meet my ex’s live-in girlfriend (or as I prefer to call her, his whore) The divorce agreement stated pretty clearly that we (my ex and/or I) would wait at least six months, from the day our divorce was final. before introducing a new significant other to our children.
That day would be near the end of June.
As it turns out, my ex (so many names I could substitute here…) had already had her waiting in the wings during our divorce proceedings – or sooner for all we know. By the time we were finally divorced, within one year, he had already been with her for at least six months that he was willing to admit to. He took this newly released, or accidentally found piece of information, to mean that he could now instantly parade her in front of our kids to “move on with our lives” and “turn the page”.
They would love her and it would be wonderful!
This wasn’t a new relationship for him he told me, this was what he saw as a longterm meaningful relationship, so the kids should just accept it and “accept us as a couple”.
Nicely done, he hides major life information about himself for months from his family, but once it’s revealed he pushes full force to make it “normal”. He practically insists that everyone be happy for him, or at least accepting of whatever he chooses to do and with who, regardless of how it affects anyone else.
Once again, trying to control how everyone is supposed to react and feel, for his benefit.
After a turbulent road of pushing back on this idea, even involving my attorney to make him abide by our legal agreement, he finally stopped pushing for this meeting and waited. He often claimed to want what was best for our boys, and that he would wait until they were ready like any good parent should, but during these last few months he let them know in subtle (and not so subtle) ways that they were disappointing him – and hurting his feelings.
Guilt was the flavor of the day during their visits when she was not around, the only time that he would spend time with the boys. And his availability became even more limited during this time, sometimes only allowing time for him to have a restaurant meal with them for an hour or two because he couldn’t bring her along. No, he needed to rush back to her, to attend to their new lives together, and to keep his dream life going with or without his children.
He doled out his love in slivers until they would play along. He eventually played the “Father’s Day card”, it would be only right to meet her over that weekend to make him happy, because, you know, it is Father’s Day. (Insert pouty, sad look here. Cue the violins.)
That day was a day filled with anxiety, fear, worry. For me.
It was the day before Father’s Day, and also the day before our middle son, the most emotionally charged of the three, left for the next seven weeks to work at a summer camp. There were so many ways this could be ugly and go wrong, go skidding off into a horrible nightmare, damaging our kids in ways that may take years of therapy to undo. Yes, that’s a bit dramatic, but nothing about this “journey” has been easy or surprisingly wonderful. Nothing.
So why expect that now?
But that’s my job, isn’t it? To worry for my children when they don’t have the sense, or the experience, to worry for themselves. I am the last guard on watch to protect them, to shelter them as long as need be, to wrap them up in my love like bubble wrap so that they never really have to hurt.
I have been hyper-vigilant these last few months, trying to contain our world and protect it from the ugliness that is right outside of our door – or actually just on the other side of town. I thought I was doing the right thing, truly I did. I thought I was giving them the space and time they needed to have the tools to work through all of it, to hopefully come out happy and well adjusted in the end. I wanted them to be ready, even if “ready” meant needing more time than my ex demanded. I wanted them to feel safe and secure, to know that they did have choices when it came to their feelings and their own lives, they could set boundaries and it would be okay.
And no matter what, I would always be there to protect them.
Turns out I may have been more right than I expected. I gave them the time, and even when I didn’t think it was enough time, they realized that it was for them. Or at least, they were willing to try.
It was only for one afternoon, for a barbecue and pool day, no real schedule given or agreed upon. I made certain that my middle son knew that he could leave at any time, if he felt uncomfortable or angry or any other deep emotion, and that it would be okay. And I instructed him to watch over his younger brother, and be ready to do the same for him, if he was feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable. His dad should be a grown-up and accept the baby steps that they may need to adjust to all of this, I explained.
And while they went to their “meet and greet” I went to my parents’ house, over an hour away from home, to see my dad for Father’s Day. I enjoyed the day with my family, but I felt a bit lost without my boys. It felt odd to be there without them and to know that I was so far away.
I worried. The entire time I was there, talking and eating with my family, I worried about what was happening back home in his house. I imagined ugly outbursts, sickeningly sweet attempts by her to woo them, tears or worse. I checked my phone almost every thirty minutes, expecting to see an angry text from one of them telling me they were going home and never going back.
But there was nothing.
I eventually went home, texting them to say I would be home soon, and surprisingly to me, they were still at his house. I expected them to stay a couple of hours, put in the face time and get out. But they stayed for over four hours. I was amazed.
And I will admit, a little disappointed.
Once we were all home together I heard a few comments about their day. Nothing negative. They swam, they ate, they had a good day. My youngest even went into some detail about how she was better than he expected, she didn’t talk too much, and she asked them questions about themselves, and made a funny joke about the wrapping paper, and she even attempted to play a video game with him…
Can you hear my heart breaking? Can you feel my brain freeze up, and notice the numbness that is spreading over my entire body? Yeah, he didn’t either.
He used her name, twice, as if she was just another family friend. It stung, like a hard slap to my face. She was moving into our lives, normalizing her part in this ugly drama, and there was nothing I could do to change it. It was as if she could slowly erase the ugly memories of the months of lies, disconnection and deception she played a part in with their dad. Gently pushing it all to the outskirts of their memory by creating new memories, making it all less clear and seemingly less important to the rest of the story. The new story would be happier with her involved now, creating a new-style nuclear family unit in his house, and for that to happen she was going to be the best version of the new character that she could be to win them over.
I should be glad. I should be relieved that my boys feel comfortable, and are working towards acceptance of this new normal, right?
But, I’m not completely glad, and I don’t feel bad about that, even if I should feel bad about not being glad. Even if it makes me sound bitter, resentful, or mean spirited. I accept those judgements and in response I say ‘you try accepting this idea after a twenty five year relationship, try handing off your family to the new-improved model taking your place with happy thoughts, a wave and a smile, then get back to me.’
I dare you.
Where is the outrage? Where is the hurt, confused, angry denial of this cliche debacle that I expected from my children, in defense of their mother? The same children that I worked almost half of my life to diligently protect and love, against anyone or anything that may hurt them? Why aren’t they circling the wagons to protect me, or calling out their father for his disgusting dismissal of a life that we built together?
Why aren’t they holding him accountable?
So many answers have been thrown my way by well-meaning friends and family, and I know that many of those suggested answers have some truth to them, and are most likely exactly the reason. They’re trying to protect themselves, they’re doing whatever it takes to keep their father in their lives, they trust your love so much that they can risk making you angry, or hurt, or even push back from you more than they can from him. They feel safe with you.
But that doesn’t make it hurt less. It doesn’t make it right.
And it surely doesn’t make me want to play nice and be happy like a TV movie, or weekly drama. Why is it always so easy for TV families to just roll with the dismantling of their family, and within the next episode they’re all having brunch together and planning a blended family vacation? Who writes this stuff?? Does that really happen somewhere in this universe? Is that reality and I’m the delusional one?
It must be a reality somewhere if my kids are any example, or represent any other “normal” divorced family. Not just made for TV, but for real life.
But I still don’t have to like it. And I don’t.