How do I heal?
Some days, I feel strong, confident, patting myself on the back, proud that I managed to “get out” of a terrible situation. Other days, absolutely not. Instead, I’m wracked with guilt, anxiety, fear and worry.
How do you manage these feelings? Yes, I’m in therapy. On a logical level, I know I have to transform my thinking that everything will be okay, that I don’t need to worry like I did before.
And yet, I do worry, because there are worrisome things that come up. The trigger, the person who hurt me and my children for so long, is still around, still present, doing what he can to needle me and to influence our children (not all in good ways), and in the face of that, sometimes my positive outlook and love and hope—any bit of strength, is sapped down to zero. I become anxious, numb, afraid. I tell myself, he is no longer in my house, he no longer can come to my house, actually, he is gone, he cannot hurt us like he used to, but…he still hurts us. Little by little.
He sends emotional blackmail messages to our children, interfering (especially with DD1) with their bonding with our blended family. Turning them into his emotional caretakers (daddy is sad, daddy is so poor). Sending nitpicky, accusatory, messages about how I may have jeopardized my children’s safety by allowing them to ride horseback on my brother’s farm, or that I absconded with the children’s belonging. I know I shouldn’t let it bother me, and I get angry at myself for letting it send me into a whirlwind of fear. His words do not have merit—he crafts them mildly on the surface, the undertones exist, and I need to learn to disengage, to not let the undertones get to me, but they do.
My mantra since divorcing and ‘winning’ custody: I cannot control what he says or thinks, I can only control what I say or do. Some days I’m strong and those words are my wonder woman invisible force field, other days, all the mantras in the world can’t stop my worries.
The latest situation is that he is now formally requesting a meeting with my husband. This gave me pause. It gave my attorney pause. It gave my attorney friends pause. Yes, any parent has a moral right to meet the person who lives with their children. Legally, there’s no negative ramification if we refuse. My attorney and therapist both agree that there needs to be a third party, neutral witness present, if it were to happen. I also agree that at some point, they need to meet, but not under the guise of my ex-husband’s to “talk about the children.” Anything that has to do with the children must come through me. But otherwise, a sighting at a school event, or perhaps present at a non-school pick up might be okay. (I would want something similar, merely to lay eyes on a would be step-mom, but no need for a 30 minute meeting. As long as the person didn’t have a criminal background, I’d be fine, because I respect the boundaries, am actually grateful for the boundaries.) Under normal circumstances, I can see how this would be necessary and warranted.
Except for all of the things the ex has done since our engagement was announced last year and our marriage that followed. DD1 used to be my husband’s little “buddy” during our courtship, for lack of a better word—wanting to hold his hand, helping him cook, demanding attention, i.e. her turn to read the book with him etc. Then slowly, little by little, daddy being “sad” about the marriage, and being “uncomfortable” with her having a stepfather, has bled into our family home, has given DD1 inner turmoil and conflict. We sit by, supporting her with neutrality, with positive messages like, “it’s okay to love all of your family,” or “our hearts are big enough for all of our family,” or “just because you have fun with us, doesn’t mean you love your daddy any less.”
I note the many times post-divorce the Ex has put himself before our children—the children, even with fevers, were going to spend a late night with him to celebrate his birthday, because by golly, it’s his time (rather than agree with a day time visit). Or his “strategic” request for summer vacation, he started it in the middle of the week, and at the end of its duration, there was so much back and forth due to holidays and ex’s birthday, that the children weren’t allow to settle back home before more transitions. The play therapist agreed that was very stressful for the girls.
My girls have told me on random occasions that “daddy fights with grandma” and “uncle isn’t allowed to talk to them, because of daddy.” My ex brother-in-law, the one person in his family who stood up for the children and corroborated the ex’s anger problem, lives with the ex and his mom, and I’ve learned has been told not to talk to my daughters at all.
So what do I do with this information? And when I see my Ex acting like the victim, the poor me, but I’m such a great dad because I want to show up at the school and meet the teacher, or I want to sign up DD1 for swim lessons without working together to find a time that can work with both of our week end schedules, it makes me want to barf at the same time also be thankful that he IS on good behavior and not doing other stupid stuff. Except, I know he’s doing stupid stuff, too.
I don’t know what to do. I sometimes feel powerless to protect my girls, and to sit by and see his influence on the girls enacted in my home, it makes me sad. Another example, my ex has often demanded that my daughters talk to him “long on the phone” because they “don’t see daddy all the time,” and to “not talk to mommy as much because they are with mommy all the time.” I’ve worked on this with the play therapist, who seems to understand the dynamics of divorced dads and daughters similar to what is playing out now, and we have encouraged DD1 to use her voice, and say that when it’s time to go, it’s okay to say it’s time to go. What I’ve found is that she is using this choice on me, rather than her dad. It’s not helping her set limits with her dad, it’s helping her please him by cutting off the phone calls with me. Not that I have ever pushed for long phone calls, but still. I don’t know what to do. Is there anything I can do?
Some days I’m a pro at disengagement. Other days, like today, not. I get upset at myself for not being stronger, for failing to be “water off a duck’s back.” I think part of it is because we spend so much time being so careful to support the girls, to be neutral and positive about the girls’ dad in our home, but all we see is that DD1 especially is more affected and conflicted by her dad than ever. Our play therapist says DD1 will understand in time. My attorney friends and therapist friends also think the girls will be okay, to keep doing what we’re doing, that we have to be patient. I’ve learned to be patient over the years, but it’s hard.
And I know at the same time I am truly thankful to have this new life. I wish it were free from everything that I’m writing about, but I also know it’s 100 times better than what it was before. So I guess I will write a letter to DD1 in my heart, since I can’t think of anything else to do right now to make it better.
I hope you know how much you are loved, by both parents, and by your stepdad, too. Mommy and A want you to be happy and to know that you are loved, that it’s okay to have your feelings, that by loving A, it doesn’t mean you love your daddy less. We know you love your daddy as every child loves their parents, that’s just how it is and we understand. We are sorry that your dad says things that make you feel worried about him. It’s the adults’ jobs to take care of you, not your job to take care of them. You are smart and funny and loving and caring and there is room in your heart to love everyone in your family. I love you.