I got my first letter from a reader asking for advice. And it only took 2 years of blogging!
Anyway, I got a letter from a reader who (unbeknownst to me) has been reading my blog from the very beginning. I wasn’t even aware I had any of those! She gave me permission to share. Here is what she wrote:
Love your blog! The only thing I don’t like about it is how long I have to wait for the next one to come out. I imagine you’re a pretty busy single mom so not a slam, just love your way with words and how you make me laugh at things that aren’t normally funny.
I wish I had your way with words because I want to slam my ex so bad for what he’s about to do to our son who is 4 and adores his daddy. He (the ex) left us out of the blue when our son was not yet 2 (which is how I found your blog when I went online looking for advice about abandonment). Mine didn’t move away like Honey did but it was still out of the blue and yes there was an affair. He was like Jekyl and Hyde and this was so devastating me to because I thought we were happy. I can’t believe I didn’t know who I was married to. I was supposed to immediately just be okay with everything and when I put up a fuss he would remind me that he ‘keeps record of all of the crazy things I say for court.’ I was never crazy or threatening just angry and I had a right to be.
He never tried to take me to court for custody he was fine being a weekend dad. The woman he left me for broke up with him and kicked him out recently. Now he says he’s moving to Texas for a job but I know he has a side chick he’s going to move in with there and that’s the real reason. He doesn’t know I know about her but we have mutual friends who told me they’re already engaged. He needs someone to mooch off of and getting a job and his own place here so he could stay in his kid’s life is just too hard apparently.
I guess my question to you is how do you deal with the unfairness of this every day without losing it? How can men just move away and leave their kids like that? I’ve had a few weeks to process it and I’ve already had some heartbreaking questions from my son I don’t know how to answer but you’ve had years. I’m so scared about what this is going to do to him. I know his dad will rarely visit. Are we going to be better off in the long run?
Thanks – Amelia
Thank you for your kind words. I’m honored that you’d ask me, but so deeply sorry you’re in a position to need to.
Yes, your son will struggle with this. Not gonna lie to you. It’s going to be hard on him. And, based on how much you clearly love your son, this is going to be hard on you in ways you may not have yet considered.
But there is some good news for both of you, if you can stomach reading through to the end. Please do stick with me here.
I want to first prepare you for the reality of the kind of things you might hear from your son, and what to do when these breath-takingly painful moments are upon you, usually with little to no warning. You may already have had a glimpse of what you’re in for, since you said he’s already asking some heartbreaking questions about the departure.
These are some of the things my children have said about Honey leaving that have brought me to my knees…
Looking at the empty 4th chair around our kitchen table, my daughter said “Why do we have 4 chairs at the table? Dad’s never gonna come here. He’s too busy with his new kids.’
My 6 year-old son, at bedtime one night, said ‘My heart has been broken since my dad left. I’ve never not had a broken heart, mama.’
When he was around 5, he asked ‘Why did Dad move so far away? So he could be with his new family? Aren’t we his family too?’
From the backseat of the car, with innocent astonishment in her voice, my tiny 4 year-old daughter said ‘You know what, Mom? I don’t think Dad’s ever coming back here to be my dad.’
My daughter and I once sat on the couch crying and holding each other tight for ten straight minutes when a show she was watching depicted what a ‘daddy-daughter date’ was, and she realized she couldn’t have one.
Sadly, there are many more to list, but you get the picture. And let me tell you, each one of them hurt as deeply as the next. But in the end, you’ll get through these kinds of conversations, because you’re the mom…and there’s simply no other choice. You’re it. Fair or not, you’re it.
When you were given that job title, it meant that you would be subjected to intense worry about the physical and emotional wellbeing of another person for the duration of your life. It was in the fine print on the mom contract, right next to ‘you will need to perfect the lilting of one eyebrow to convey displeasure at being asked for a snack right after dinner’ and ‘no matter how old they get, they will always walk up and just hand you their trash.’
But our job as parents is to protect our children from this kind of deep emotional harm, right? Well, I knew Honey had utterly failed them in this area, but what was worse was that I was sure I’d fail them for not being able say the right things in the aftermath. I felt helpless that my words of comfort weren’t penetrating their wounded little minds. And I was absolutely panicked that my efforts to make it better were not only futile, but that I might inadvertently make it worse.
On that upbeat note, here’s the good news I promised…
You can help mitigate the loss.
Our job as parents is not just to do what we can to protect our children from this kind of deep emotional harm, it is to have the wisdom to realize that we will not always succeed at that. And if they do come to harm, we absolutely CAN mitigate the damage by simply being the stable, solid parent that they deserve.
Your son will mourn, and you need to just let that happen. That’s the mind’s natural mechanism to deal with loss, and to circumvent it or try to hurry it along or put a bandaid over it will only compound your son’s grief. The stages of grief are identifiable, though they rarely arrive in a logical sequential order. Kids are raw emotion with no filter and little sense of perspective. Just sit with him in his anger or his sadness and reassure him that he’s safe, it’s okay to feel his feelings, and that you’re not going anywhere. This is where your value is. This is where you will find strength you never knew you had: smiling while wanting to string up your ex for hurting your baby. Your blood may be boiling beneath the surface, but your voice is calm and full of reassurances for your child.
Just love him through it. And watch for signs that tell you he may need more help than you can give, like threatening to hurt himself or others. If he’s not processing the grief in a healthy way, you will know. Do your best to get him into therapy if that happens, even if he’s still really young. Keeping the lines of communication open is critical. Once they shut down about it, they can internalize things and blame themselves. So keep ‘em talking.
Struggle breeds greatness.
I hesitated to even write that sentence, because it is not meant to be used to trivialize the severity of a child’s pain or their need for a father to be present in their life. If anything, I’ve gone so far to the opposite extreme at times that I’ve mentally doomed my children for being denied this critical parental relationship in their lives.
But I’ve slowly turned a corner, and have widened my perspective on this one a bit. I know the bleak statistics surrounding kids growing up in fatherless households, and since you have read my blog, you know how outraged and indignant I’ve been at Honey’s nonchalance on this issue. I suspect you feel the same outrage in your circumstance.
But adversity, even adversity in children, can set up a life-long pattern of the fighting spirit. It can breed greatness. Unchecked, it can go the other way toward lifelong debilitating emotional issues. Which direction will your child go? Which direction will mine go? I don’t have a crystal ball here, but as for me and the role I play in the lives of these incredible little people, I’m gonna do anything and everything I can to help them propel themselves towards greatness. I’m going to foster that spirit in them as long as I have breath in me. We must choose to fight against the doomsday scenarios, stop being nihilists, and do our homework. There are excellent resources all around us with great ideas about how to do exactly that. Here are a couple. Search for more.
Red flags are your friend.
If I can give you one practical bit of advice above all others, it’s this: avoid the mama-bear rage pitfall of sending a blasting text or email to your ex when you see your child in pain over their dad. The person on the other end isn’t who you believed them to be, remember? You wrote “ I can’t believe I didn’t know who I was married to.” Well, that was by design. You were deceived on purpose by a person whose station in your life was designed to elicit trust. He played on that trust and then silenced your well-deserved outrage with the threat of a custody battle…by using his own son as a weapon to shut you up. What a peach!
He uses information like a weapon. He’s already said so, so don’t give him any. I sent many texts to Honey about the pain I’d just watched pour out of his child, but he had no ‘port’ in which to receive it. That part of him doesn’t exist. So save yourself the disappointment and pain and unfulfilled expectations, and send that blasting text or email out into the ether in some other way. Write it down and burn it in the fire. Use a proxy or stand-in to unleash it all on, like a chair or a voice recorder. But don’t reach out expecting that the person capable of walking away from parenting their own child will suddenly be able to receive your outrage in a meaningful way. Take it from a person who has already suffered the pain of this mistake. Repeatedly.
I’ve tried to involve Honey by phone to get him to help mitigate the harm. He is firmly committed to believing that there is no harm, and blithely dismisses any conversation about their struggles as soon as it begins. So I eventually stopped trying to tap that empty well.
I suspect you might try to tap that well, too, believing that words of comfort or an apology may be forthcoming from your ex to your son ‘if he only knew the pain he’s caused our child!’ I don’t know your ex, but based on the narcissist red flag extravaganza I saw in just a few paragraphs of what you wrote, he seems rather indifferent to the pain he’s caused to other innocent parties thus far, so…I wouldn’t get your hopes up that he will be a resource for you or your son. In fact, he may say or do things that make it worse.
You are armed with the truth about this man now. The red flags are your friend. They help 1) give you the ability to spot these deficiencies/disorders in other people so you can run screaming in the opposite direction, and 2) helps you to know what you’re up against in the long-haul job you now face as a long distance co-parent with the aforementioned peach. I’m a firm believer that the truth – even if it is ugly and awful – is better than being deceived. There is a simple dignity in being given the truth. Cheaters either just don’t get that, or don’t give a crap about your dignity (or anything else, for that matter).
How do you deal with the unfairness of this every day without losing it? You know, unfairness and I have come to a fragile peace. I acknowledge his right to exist but we disagree about the frequency of his visits. Basically, I use just ruminate on the problems in the world to remind myself that as much as I suffer, others do as well – and often by a much greater margin. Perspective doesn’t make my situation less unfair, it just changes its ranking on a global scale…and I guess that’s the best any of us can do to mitigate it I suppose.
How can men just move away and leave their kids like that? Sadly, I will never be able to answer this, because it surpasses my comprehension as a human being and as a parent. It’s inconceivable to me, and yet I witness it happening day after day. It is a shameful and dishonoring endeavor to walk away from parenting one’s own child. And yet, people do.
Are you going to be better off in the long run? Yes, you will be. And maybe even your son. But he’s not going to feel that way now or any time soon. He just wants his daddy, and that’s the real heartbreak here. Find like-minded single moms and form a tribe. Find support for the both of you, remain connected to sites like this and others, and just love one another through it. You can do this.