The Ugliness (part 2)
In an ideal world, spouses who get divorced would never have to see each other again. If a marriage is so awful as to end in an expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally wrenching legal proceeding, who would want to make matters worse by subjecting the former couple to the same interpersonal problems after the divorce is final. Better to just move on and not look back.
While this luxury might be feasible for couples without kids, not so for couples who have kids. Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian General, famously said that “war is the continuation of politics by other means." I think the same is true for divorce, which is really just the continuation of marriage by other means.
How could this be?
Take last weekend, my weekend with the kids. We were at a gym, and the kids were enjoying themselves. It was 4:30, or 30 minutes before my Ex was scheduled to pick them up. Suddenly my son appears frantic, and says he needs to talk with me. Now.
“Dad, I just can’t spend any more weekends at gyms.”
“I’m sorry, Josh. I didn’t realize you didn’t like it here. In less than 30 days, I’ll be moving down the street from you, and we won’t have to come here again.”
I could tell by the puzzled look on his face that I missed something. Then it occurred to me. The man my Ex had left me for a year earlier was named “Jim.” Perhaps my son was saying he couldn’t stand any more weekends at Jim’s house. Oh no, I thought.
“How many weekends have you spent there?”
“Every other weekend for as long as I can remember.”
“Are you serious?”
“We go over there on Friday after work and don’t come home until Sunday. I’ve asked if we could spend the weekend at mom’s house so I could see my friends, and mom says, ‘no, we don’t have room.”
This last point is particularly interesting. I suspect the lack of sufficient room is not the real reason. As noted in yesterday’s post, the neighbors were all shocked by Jennifer’s decision to get divorced without even trying to fix the marriage. She vehemently denied infidelity. Yet if a strange man suddenly started showing up at the house shortly after I moved out, well, I think everyone could figure it out from there.
Josh then added that if I were to try and talk to his mother about any of this, she would tell me that “Josh is lying about everything.” OMG. Imagine a 10-year-old thinking this about his mother. I promised I wouldn’t talk to Jennifer about this without first talking to him, and I encouraged him to tell me anything that concerns him. I would always be there to listen.
“So what do you think I should do?” My son wondered.
“Let me think about it, and let me talk to a couple of people I trust. In the meantime, here is what I want you to do. Next Wednesday, two days before she packs you all up to go over to Jim’s, I want you to say in your sweetest, most respectful voice, ‘Mom, would you mind if we spent this weekend at our house? I kind of miss my friends.’
Because I am in the process of moving closer to the kids, when they come visit me now, he doesn’t see his friends. Then when he is at home the following weekend, his mother removes both kids from the house and takes them to Jim’s, who lives on the other side of town. During the week, he is too busy with homework and sports to play with his friends in the neighborhood.
If Jennifer still takes him over to Jim’s over Josh’s protest, I promised Josh that he and I would talk about it and see if maybe I should talk to Jennifer directly.
War is politics by other means. Divorce is marriage by other means.
For about six of the 19 years, the marriage was pretty good. Then we had our first child, and the lying, deceiving, and manipulation began in earnest. It wasn’t for another three years until I caught on, when I found proof that she had outright lied to my face. After that happened, I started wondering if everything else she had been saying was a lie, too. So I started double-checking, and sure enough, far too often what she had told me was pure fabrication.
Now she was following the same pattern with our children, or at least our ten-year old, since she can order our 4-year-old to do what she wants by more heavy-handed means. It’s only when a child can start to think for herself that the heavy-handedness is replaced by the more subtle means of lying, deception and manipulation.
The bigger problem is that if Josh is unsuccessful in convincing his mom to stay at home for a weekend, then I will need to confront her about it. Technically, who she sees is none of my business. But if Josh is so upset about her parenting decisions, then she should know and be allowed to change them. I’m still a dreamer, because I think any rational person would not want to alienate their child in this fashion.
Of course, the operative word in that last sentence is “rational.”
If we were talking about a rational being, none of us would be in this situation.