You never hear how divorce effects children from the second family. There is a lot of information on how divorce effects the children of the divorced family but what about the new family? Does anyone realize that the effects of the first divorce are far-reaching and continue to affect families affiliated with the children whose parents are divorced? I learned first hand how my divorce from my daughter‘s father was still effecting my family and it wasn’t my daughter who was struggling but my son who was from a new relationship.
When my ex-husband and I divorced, my daughter was 20 months old. While initially, she was affected by our divorce, as she got older, her memories of us being a family faded and her memories of her father and I have always been as divorced parents. When she was six, I got pregnant with my son and while his father and I chose not to marry, we’ve lived together since he was born so all he has ever known was a two parent home. As he got older and became more aware of our family dynamic, I noticed early how he was effected by his sister leaving for her weekend and summer visits to her fathers home.
The first time he noticeably reacted to her absence was when he was a year old and she’d been gone for her summer visit. He was very mobile so we kept her bedroom door shut but what no one realized is that by keeping her room closed, he thought she was locked in the room and one night he walked by her room and knocked on the door. We laughed and told him she wasn’t there but of course he didn’t understand . As he learned to talk and understand that “Sissy” was leaving for the weekend, he would question where she was and try and understand this every other weekend phenomena of his sister leaving him but it was a struggle.
By age three, he reacted to her leaving by crying and constantly asking–“Where’s Sissy?” or confirming what we told him about her whereabouts by saying– “Sissy’s at Renzo’s?” (his name for her father). There was constant discussion of where his sister was because he just didn’t understand. He didn’t understand that I used to be married to another man and he was confused that he and his sister had different fathers. It was at this point that I really started to understand how my actions were affecting not only the child of divorce but the child who loved the child of divorce.
When he turned four it was obvious that he had abandonment issues. He had anxiety about her leaving and he would leave the room so that we couldn’t see the tears in his eyes. Talking to her on the phone made him sad and when she left for her six week visit with her father, he acquired an eating disorder. Yes I said a four year old had an eating disorder and the disorder was he wouldn’t eat! Everyone told me that it was a phase he was going through and that it would blow over but no matter how they tried to convince me that everything would be alright, the stress of trying to make him eat anything other than cereal was wearing on the entire family.
I even had a breakdown when he was crying about his sister being gone and I flashed and told him to basically “suck it up!” I got so upset I started to cry and it was at that moment that I saw how the fallout from my divorce had reached all the way to my new family. It hadn’t crossed my mind to worry about how he might feel because honestly, my focus was on my daughter. She was the one whose family had been broken up and she had never complained so him having such visible reactions to my daughter’s situation was alarming.
I began to recognize that his “eating disorder”was his way of maintaining some semblance of control in his life. I had watched my 20 month old daughter have a similar reaction when she and I moved and she had to start staying with her great-grandparents while I worked but she transitioned easier than he did. He was and still is very adverse to change and it wasn’t until he went to pre-school and began to have his own life outside of the home that he finally calmed down.
Being around other children helped him and slowly he let go of his “eating disorder”. By the time his sister went away for her summer visit, he was so engulfed in his pre-school “social life” and his impending year as a Kindergartner that he was able to let go and have fun. One year later, he has made great strides in overcoming his abandonment issues and he has taken control of his own social calendar by setting up outings with his grandparents by and for himself.
Raising my son has taught me that the effects of divorce are continuous no matter the affiliation the child has with the divorcing parents. I have learned that a broken family is a broken family and it is paramount that people realize that decisions made today will most certainly effect the generations of tomorrow.
Every family makes excuses for bad behavior and mine is no exception. My paternal grandfather, whom I’ve met twice in my life, was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and my initial reaction was one of indifference. As I wrote in the post Demanding Reparations From Our Deadbeat Fathers, I have struggled with how I feel about this man whose last name I carry but have never had a relationship with and once I became a wife, parent and then divorcee, I had even more contempt for this man who willingly ended his relationship with his eight year old son, my father, because he was starting fresh with his new wife.
This is where the family excuses began. I was always told that after my grandfather got married, he visited my father for a while and then his wife started to have issues and in order to keep his home life calm, he wrote off my father. Now…let me breath before I continue…as a kid, I fell for this story and I blamed his wife for his actions but as I said, once I became an adult who had to make adult decisions, I began to realize how stupid this sounded and what really amazed me was how willing EVERYONE was to accept his actions. To me, this man was a sorry excuse for a human being!
When my divorce was finalized, my priorities were that my child was o.k. and that she continued to have a relationship with her father. When he started dating, he made sure that his serious girlfriends had a relationship with his child and that they understood they were a package deal. When he remarried, his new wife treated her like her own and for that, I was grateful, so when I heard family members try to invoke the “Excuse clause” for my grandfather, I reminded them that my child’s father managed to remarry and still remain in her life so why are we acting like it wasn’t possible for my father to have had a relationship with his father?
When my grandfather made the decision to discontinue his relationship with his son, it was made by him. No one else had any power. My grandfather had an opportunity to man up and take care of his responsibilities and he didn’t. What he did was go on and create a faux family that didn’t include my father, his child that everyone knew existed and chose to ignore. As I sit here, I wonder how his two sons by his wife view him? Do they think he was a real man or deep down do they think, like I do, that he fell short?
The sins of my grandfather didn’t just effect my father. His sin, I’m sure, has gone on to effect all of his children and I’m inclined to believe the person most greatly affected was him. For 58 years, he has had to live the fact that he was a failure as a parent and there is nothing that can be done to change that. So while I grapple with how I feel about the revelation that he isn’t doing well, I have decided to release some of my anger (Notice I said some…I am a work in progress!) so that I can move on and support whatever decision my father makes with regards to contacting him.
For 58 years, my family has excused and accepted his neglect and it is time to stop. My grandfather has cemented his legacy and he has had to live with the fact that he failed at the most important job in the world. So when his story is told, he will forever have an asterisk next to his name and “Deadbeat” will most surely precede the title “Father“.
Living through your child has been called a mistake and yesterday, as my friend and I met for a celebratory breakfast to celebrate the return of our children to their educational babysitters (it was the first day of school), we discussed the plans for the school year. We began to talk about the plans we’d had for our children when they were younger and how those plans have had to change as the kids, now between the ages of 13-18, have become people and started to come into their own. They have discovered their likes and dislikes and have no problem voicing those opinions and said opinions don’t always go with the plan we envisioned for them when they were five and six years old.
When my daughter was in the 2nd grade, I found a Performing Arts Middle/High School that I felt would be perfect for the little musician I’d created. She’d been playing the piano for three years by then and knowing how important music had been to me in school (it was the only thing that kept me there) I wanted to make sure that she had every opportunity to not only perfect her skills as a musician, but also have a more positive experience with school than I’d had. We talked about it all the time. I took her on a virtual tour of the campus via their website to generate excitement and she’d even gone to summer camp at the school so by 6th grade, she decided that she would like to go there for high school…I was so happy!
The plan was on track and by the time 7th grade rolled around, we began to look at the admission and audition requirements. She seemed really focused and talked about what she’d like to do when she got there and then something happened…she started to think for herself and her thoughts were no longer in line with the plan I’d (I mean we’d) been working on since she was 8 years old.
Our conversations slowly changed from music to boys and wanting to become a cheerleader and once she got on the kick of wanting to become a cheerleader…it was over. My child is very persistent and once she decides she wants to do something, she stalks you and (insert activity), so all I heard about was cheer, how to get involved and when I balked at the cost, she informed me about the ability to fundraise to bring the final cost down. She was passionate and prepared!
My initial response was “No.” No because cheer isn’t in the plan. No because you need to stay focused on your music and getting in to the performing arts school. Just no! But she wasn’t willing to accept my no and I started to realize that if I didn’t allow her to figure out who she was and wanted to be, I would be guilty of forcing her to live the life I wanted her to live, the life I wished I’d lived and not the life she was living.
Is it wrong that you want to give them the opportunities you wished you’d had? The whole point in parenting is you take the good and the bad from your own experiences so that you can more effectively teach your child but when you don’t allow them to have a say in what they want to do, you are indeed, encroaching on their ability to grow into a well-rounded adult with the ability to make sound decisions.
I gave in and allowed my daughter to cheer for the community youth cheer squad. I’ve begun to reevaluate my approach and I’ve begun to look at other options for high school in case she decides that the performing arts school isn’t the route she wants to take. Allowing her to have input on her life has made her feel more empowered and she is happy which is leading to success in school and in the end, that is all any parent really wants.
But it doesn’t say anything about stepparents. I bring this up because of a recent conversation my significant other had with his father about his wife. They have been married for 5 years and the jury is still out on her where the family is concerned. She is a woman who means well, but is someone who does not think before she speaks or acts and when you are around people who have only known you for a short period of time, loose lips can sink possible relationships with new family members.
The discussion was about the concerns the adult children had with certain encounters they’ve had with her and what got me thinking was their fathers response. He wondered if everyone felt this way, to which the response was, “yes”, and then he said, “Man, so if I’m not here anymore, there won’t be a relationship.” Wait…what? Were we supposed to add her to our list of parents we may have to take care of in their golden years? Now maybe I interpreted his statement incorrectly. He could have simply meant a relationship as in remaining in contact with each other but it got me to thinking and I immediately began to feel a little guilt. You know, the kind of guilt only a parent can make you feel?
Not having even thought about the stepparent dynamic because I don’t come from a divorced family, I looked around on the internet to see what the etiquette for caring for a stepparent was and I came upon an article called, Uncertain Obligations by Jo Cavallo (http://www.curetoday.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/article.PrintArticle/article_id/1311) where “non-traditional” family relationships were looked at with regards to an ailing parent or stepparent. While there wasn’t any one way discussed, what I took from the article was that there was a direct correlation between how blended the family was in respect to the decision to care for the stepparent. So while the obligation was still uncertain, there may be an obligation.
I was raised to respect my elders and I’ve always known that I would assume responsibility for my parents should they need me and I would expect the same from my significant other, however, we lost his mother 6 years ago so his father is the surviving parent. I think the guilt bothered me because my daughter comes from a divorced family that now includes the stepparent dynamic and while the relationships are more established than the relationship between my significant other and his stepmother, taking care or looking after one of her stepparents may be in her future and I have an obligation to give her the tools to make an informed decision.
The relationship between my significant other and his stepmother is still fairly new and it is still uncertain how their relationship will progress, however, the dialogue has been established and one can only hope that it will lead to a more open and blended stepparent/stepchild dynamic.