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.
We have a family friend who I’ve dubbed “The Marrying Kind”. He’s that guy that pulls the trigger very quickly on life changing decisions and I always felt he was a bit delusional about how relationships work. When he married his ex-wife it was because she was cool and they didn’t argue. This, of course, was because they were dating, not living together and having great sex…of course they weren’t arguing…they hadn’t gone through any real life situations! He wanted a mother figure and she wanted a child and that is exactly what they both got so in the beginning, everything was perfect.
Despite his friends voicing their concerns about his reasons for asking his wife to marry him, he went ahead and asked her. They had a large wedding and went on to live happily ever…I’m not even going to bother finishing that statement! As happens with many young couples, they quickly got pregnant and as anyone who has been married and had a child knows, things changed.
Her priorities shifted and he lost his position at the top and instead of focusing as a family on the baby, he did what many men do when they lose top billing, he started becoming less involved in the relationship and as a consequence it suffered. Having experienced similar issues in my first marriage, I tried to convince my significant other to talk to him and let him know that the problems they were having were normal for first time parents and that what they were going through was not truly “divorce worthy” and could be worked out.
I wasn’t privy to the exact cause of the demise of his marriage but I do know that the root of the problem really wasn’t a problem. His new wife had just had their first child and she was going through the natural changes a woman goes through after having given birth. In time, things would have settled down and they would have been able to reconnect on a husband and wife level…he just needed to be patient.
He didn’t want to listen and ultimately the marriage ended in divorce and not long after that, he began perimid-life crisis (Yeah…I made that up!) and began exclusively dating women in the 20-25 year old demographic. Now I don’t have an issue with him dating younger women but his rationale behind why he was now only dating them sent up all kind of red flags and suddenly instead of just saying he was dating a younger woman because he liked her, he blamed it on something else…in this case it was age.
He convinced himself that the reason his marriage failed was because his wife was older (same age as him) and therefore needy. She was needy because she wanted him to be around and she expected him to be involved in the home and their newly expanded family and he wanted to continue to be free without any responsibilities which of course wasn’t possible with a new wife, a mortgage and a baby.
He began making comments like–“Young girls have a cool attitude and young girls don’t trip and need you to be there for them all the time.” These were, of course, the thoughts of a simple minded person and honestly, I refuse to try and compare a 22 year old woman to a 35+ year old woman. They are very different and for good reason, one has seen more than the other and already lived what the other is soon to live so there is no sense in even attempting to try.
So now we hear that after having dated less than a year, he has gotten engaged to his new “Perfect woman” and moved in with her. All of the qualities and qualifications that made his first wife marriage material are possessed by this new young lady and though I know it is wrong, I am mentally betting on how long this relationship will last because what he fails to realize is his first marriage and his potential new marriage will both end in the same disastrous way because they both have the same common denominator…him!
He is the baby of his family and his actions are that of the baby so until he acts his mature age of 37 and leaves his 19 year old thought process behind, he will continue to end up with the same result and forever be on the hunt for the “Perfect Wife”. He is a walking PSA for women everywhere to beware of the guy who is the marrying kind because the marrying kind do just that…they marry but they don’t stay married!
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“.
We’ve all heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I do believe in that statement however, sometimes it just takes you. For the past 15 months, I have been unemployed and re-learning how to be a “Stay at Home Mom“. I say re-learning because staying at home with your children full-time takes a completely different mindset and I had to learn how to do simple things like, pick your kid up after school (I forgot the early pick-up day more than once…don’t judge me) and making sure the youngest one had a lunch, you know easy stuff. It’s funny I seemed to be more organized when I was working than when I was at home with nothing but time to think about but them!
When I was working, I had a great village to help me raise my kid(s). When my ex-husband and I first split, I hadn’t worked since my daughter was born 18 months prior so when I had to make the switch from SAHM to Working Mom, I was fortunate enough to have her great-grandparents takeover for me during the day and my mother pick her up for me after she finished her workday. This set up went on for a year and a half and then she went on to pre-school and then school and my mother continued to facilitate the pick-up.
When my son was born, my mother had just retired (she was not expecting to become the SAHGranny) and she took over for me when I had to go back to work. She handled certain Doctor appointments and she kept my daughter when she was sick and unable to go to school. She worked full-time and I worked full-time and then came home and continued to work my parenting job. I always felt bad about the amount of time that I spent away from them and at times, they looked to my mother more than they did me but there was nothing that could be done…we had to eat!
When I found myself unemployed for the first time in 10 years, the adjustment period was interesting. They had to get used to me and I had to get used to them and there were times when we all wanted to run away from each other. As we all became adjusted to being around each other… all the time, I realized how wonderful it had been for them to have the time they had with their grandparents, but me losing my job came right on time because what they really needed was me.
As we learned how to interact with each other on a full-time basis, I learned how important it is to just have your parents be there for you and just be parents. Growing up, my mother was a teacher so summers were free and we had her for two months straight. While it probably drove her crazy, we benefited from having her be there and do simple things like make our lunches or just spend time going to the Library together. Until you’ve missed out on something as simple as making dinner for your kids, you don’t know how inadequate one can feel as a parent and since I hadn’t had the opportunity to just be a parent since 2001, in some respects, my kids suffered.
This time off has given my family the opportunity to really be a family. My son now knows what it is like to have your mother be your primary caregiver and my daughter can be involved in extra-curricular activities and have me be her chauffer/cheerleader. None of this would have happened if I was giving my everything to a company rather than my children and I now have the ability to say I have raised my children instead of relying completely on the village.
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.