Divorce, kids and validation

My husband moved out October 23rd. Since then, I’ve had him over to dinner every other week or so. The kids see him throughout the week at basketball games, or sleep over his house a few nights. We’ve been getting along extremely amicably around them. It’s been so important to me for us to be as much of a “family unit” as we can, while living in two separate homes. I held our annual Thanksgiving sleepover here with my in-laws, as well as our Christmas Eve party with them. Today, my husband came over in the morning and we exchanged gifts together, as we always have done. After, we all drove together to my mother in law’s home for our annual Christmas dinner. People are so surprised when they see us doing these things together, especially with my in-laws, and I’ve  felt kind of proud for being able to pull this off. My kids have been happy and adjusting well to the new routines…it seemed.

After our dinner at their grandmother’s, they went over to their dad’s for a bit. After an hour or so, I receive a text from my husband, saying our 13-year-old son has been crying for the past hour, “because we’re not a family anymore. I feel really bad for him”. My heart lurched into my throat. I hadn’t pulled it off, after all. I called my husband to get more details. He said my son was alone in his room downstairs, while my other son and husband were upstairs. “So, he’s all by himself down there, crying?”, I asked. He said he had offered him to stay down there with him, and my son said he didn’t have to, so my husband went upstairs to watch TV.  What the hell?

I immediately drove over there. My husband and older son were watching TV upstairs. I go down to my youngest and he’s lying on his bed, in the dark, sobbing. I lie down next to him and just hold him. He keeps crying, and I keep holding. I try to imagine what I can say to make him feel better, but I know nothing can. Through his tears, he tells me he’s sad thinking about the “old days” and how he misses us being in the same house together, doing things together…simple things like eating dinner as a family. I tell him he’s right, it is sad. I tell him how bad I feel that he has to go through this…how divorce is one of the most stressful things a child can go through. I wanted to validate his feelings, not make them go away.  I suggested we invite Dad over for dinner tomorrow, and he thought that would be a good idea. I was amazed at this 13-year-old boy’s ability to put words to his emotions. He described occasionally having tears well up over the past few months, but was able to make them go away. He described an overwhelming sadness today after spending the holidays together, then coming home to his dad’s new house. “It doesn’t feel like home here. Even Dad says it doesn’t feel like home”. He couldn’t make the tears go away this time. During the conversation, he tried to stop crying by using slow breathing techniques. God, he is so precious. I kept telling him that crying is the best way to release this pain he’s been stifling, and that it’s unfair he has to deal with this situation.  I agreed that the house was not like our home. The room has a bed and a dresser in it. That’s all. I suggested we buy some things to make it more “homey”. He didn’t think that would work, because they are just “things”. This kid is smart. So, I suggested we come up with ways to create new memories there. When they visit their dad, other than watching TV together, they don’t do anything. This is how it was when my husband lived here, but wasn’t as noticeable to the boys because they had me doing things with them. Now that I’m not there, it’s pretty noticeable that all dad does at night is watch TV and stare at his laptop while drinking wine.

His tears finally slowed down and we went upstairs. I told my husband of our talk, and about our plan to create memories in the home. He said “there’s nothing homey about this place at all” and starts rattling off what he doesn’t like about it. Luckily, my son was in the bathroom when he said that. I cut him off, “stop saying that in front of him”. No wonder he’s sad going there….he hears his dad complain about it not feeling like home, then spends the night alone in his room. Jeez.  My husband did not look excited about the plans to “make memories”, but I did not give a shit, at this point. My oldest suggested they buy a chess set for over there, as they had played it today. We came up with a few other ideas, and it seems as though we have a plan. My heart softens, as the crisis subsides. I ask my husband if he would come over to have dinner with us tomorrow….and he says “no”. He has plans. I can tell by his face, along with his vague “plans” description, that it must be a date. I look at him, with the “look” and look at my son. The son who was just crying for 2 hours and wanted his dad to come to dinner tomorrow night. My son says, “It’s fine” and stares at the TV, with tears welling in his eyes again. He stifles them down, and I let him. All I can think of is me as a child, always responding, “It’s fine”…when it definitely was not fine. I look at my husband again. He says, “It’s fine. I’m taking them skiing on Thursday, that will be plenty”, like it’s his call to decide how much time together is enough for our distraught son. I pretend I’m not furious with him, and gather the boys to leave. I let them head to the car first, and I shut the door. “Do you have plans specifically for dinner tomorrow?” and he says “yes”.   “Can you switch it to Tuesday, or even later tomorrow night?” and he says “no”. No elaboration. I can tell he’s feeling defensive, as he says, “What’s the big deal if I come over the next day?” In my head, I’m thinking “the big deal is that your son has been crying for 2 hours about us not being a family anymore. The big deal is that your text said you ‘felt so bad for him’.  The big deal is that you are not coming to dinner with your hurting son because you have a fucking date”. But I don’t say any of those things. I just leave. Because if I say those things, we end up in a fight. And if we end up in a fight, we don’t parent well together. So, I hold it in…I stuff it in the box inside my soul and save it for this blog.

Once we get home, the tears are gone. We actually had a great conversation for almost an hour, talking about different medical careers (my son is FINALLY interested in talking about his future), colleges….all kinds of things. It was a great conversation that we probably wouldn’t have had if this crisis hadn’t occurred. He commented on what a great talk it was… we made a good memory tonight, after all.  He went up to his room to play Xbox online with his friends. I think he feels better after letting those emotions out, and hopefully better for not having to stifle them or make excuses for them.  I know that makes me feel better when I’m feeling like he was.

I know this will get better. I know he has to have his ups and downs processing the death of his family unit. I know my husband will continue to disappoint me. I know I will cry probably more times than my kids will. But I have a tool box now. One that my husband doesn’t have. I keep adding to it, every chance I get. Eventually, it will hold enough tools for the both of us, so we won’t notice how empty his is. And I’m filling my kid’s tool boxes, too. Mine was completely empty at their age, and we can all see how that worked out. Teaching my children how to deal with pain, instead of hiding pain…and validating their emotions are two of the biggest gifts I can give them. They are gifts they won’t even realize they are receiving, but that’s OK. I don’t want them to have to realize it. I want validation to be normal for them, not something they unknowingly crave their entire lives. Fingers crossed….

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4 thoughts on “Divorce, kids and validation”

  1. You totally rocked it!! I don’t know about your guy, but my guy doesn’t “hear me” when I talk to him at certain times. He shuts his ears off. When he’s like that, I write him an email. He seems to hear me in an email (usually the next day or later on). Sounds like your husband never learned how to create a “home”. My husband has a bit of that too. They just plunk themselves down, eat, sleep, work, some interaction with the kids (but nowhere near what you do), repeat. No real living. It’s like they are zombies in a way. Sad. (Although this past year, my husband has been taking a day every now and then to go do things with my son: “manly time”).

    I love that you are using your new tools. Beautiful. In time, you won’t have to swallow those words because of not wanting to start a fight. You’ll get to the place that if your husband gets upset at something you say, you won’t even flinch. And you’ll say your peace.

  2. You are such a loving and caring mother!! I feel it in your words. You have felt many sad/bad times in your past and instead of perpetuating the bad times and feeling you have decided to do just the opposite to create happiness! You have to be exceptionally strong to make that choice!!!! You should be proud of yourself because I surely am!!!

    1. Thank you so much! It’s a struggle, sometimes…and I’m not always the best mother I can be (I just haven’t shared all those moments here)…but I’m always trying my best. I think that’s all we can do…try our best, and the rest falls into place.

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