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“.
In this mornings daily round-up with my friend where we discuss everything under the sun, I told her that after my father had his heart attack this past January, I thought about his father who is now well into his 80’s. My paternal grandfather hasn’t been a factor in my father’s life since he was about 8 years old and although he has seen him sporadically, I’ve only met him twice in my life. He got married, went and had his “real family” and that was the end of that story.
I actually did some light stalking online and found his address. My intent at the time was to write and let him know that despite his neglect, my father and his children had gone on to have successful lives and careers. I started writing the letter and was very serious about letting him know how I felt about him and then it hit me…who cares? He has shown that he isn’t worthy of knowing who and how we are and honestly, I know that he does know…I just wanted him to hear it from me.
When I told my friend what I’d planned, she really put things in perspective for me. Her parents had divorced when she was about 6 years old and her relationship with her father was strained for sometime until she became an adult. She told me she had written her feelings down and put it out into the universe and then burned the letter because she wanted those feelings to be taken away.
However, what she said next really stuck with me. She said, “The neglect they bestowed on their children goes beyond a simple sorry. Its like slavery, you can’t apologize enough…I want a check! Give me my 40 acres and a mule…we deserve reparations not apologies!” After I finished laughing at the thought of reparations from dead beat daddy’s, I realized, jokes aside, she is right.
You can never say enough “I’m sorry’s” to your child for neglecting them. They’ve been robbed of one of the most important relationships in their life and even if a relationship is developed later in life, the most important years are gone…and there isn’t anything anyone can do to change that.
I’m glad I can say the cycle of neglect didn’t continue in my family. My father has and continues to be a father who has always taken care of his children and grandchildren. So while we won’t be seeking reparations from my grandfather for his neglect, we can rejoice in knowing that we are accomplished adults who have discontinued the cycle of neglect and are raising our children in the way our father taught us…and that is priceless.