Day 95: The Cycle of Punishment

Last night, I received a private message on FB from a reader. She wrote:

Hey. I know this is none of my business but why aren’t you blogging lately? I gave your name and blog to a friend of mine going through an a narcissistic awful divorce a couple weeks ago. I told her you were writing some pretty great columns on divorce and life afterwards with kids.. I hope you know how important what you write is to people like me and her. I know you’ve got you’re own sh*t going on too, but I want to say thanks. For just being a voice and a resource for us all. Hope everything is going okay for you and kiddos.

Hmmm…why haven’t I been blogging lately? It’s not like there isn’t tons to say.

It’s because the kids, primarily Sydney, needed a break.

When I blog, things seem to get harder for them. Because my ex-spouse and I rarely speak in person anymore, there’s not as much of an opportunity for him to “hurt” me personally. We don’t trade insults. I haven’t seen any signs of the private investigator in a while. I’m slowly rebounding from the financial hardships he’s imposed. My lifestyle hasn’t changed in well over a year, so there isn’t anything blatant to fuss about. As the months and years pass, I’m developing a certain degree of resilience to this big black hole in our lives.

But the kids? They’re defenseless. They have no idea how to protect themselves emotionally. Therefore, making the kids’ lives harder is a super effective method of hurting me. Subjecting them to negative commentary about me, shaming them for their clothing choices, dragging them into adult decisions, probing them for details about my life…it all seems to get worse when I do something to displease him. From my perspective, he’s really struggling as a parent lately.

I call it the “cycle of punishment.” If Tara behaves, the lion sleeps. If she doesn’t, the claws come out.

Sydney calls it being “in trouble.” His reaction to the most recent blog post resulted in her saying to me, “Just don’t write anything that will get me in trouble, Mommy.” Or she’ll say, “But if you don’t _____, you’ll be in trouble with Dad.” Lately, there has been an aura of exhaustion in her that I hadn’t seen before. One I recognized from my reflection in the mirror.

So, we’re increasing the sessions with their support system, maintaining communication with the GAL, and Jack and I are doing our best to give them the most stable, accepting, attentive environment we can. No big changes. Lots of hugs, kitten snuggles, dance parties, and a much-welcomed therapeutic visit from Aunt Mer.

They’ll be okay. I can’t protect them from this dynamic. Not really.

But I can give them a break.

And so I did.

Day 68: The Every-Other-Sunday-Night Woes

Sydney: Mommy?

Me: Yes?

Sydney: Daddy told me why you guys got a divorce.

Me: Really? That seems like a topic that is really meant for grown-ups.

Sydney: He says you write embarrassing things on your blog about him and me and Dylan.

Me: Yes, I know Daddy thinks most of what I write on my blog is embarrassing to him and you and Dylan.

Sydney: You do? Why do you write it then?

Me: Well, I write my feelings. And I write information about topics that I think will help people. But, honey, if I really thought Daddy and I would have been able to stay married if I didn’t write my blog, then I would have stopped writing it.

Sydney: Really?

Me: Yes. No one wants to get divorced and cause everyone pain over a dumb blog. But the thing is, there were many reasons why we divorced. The blog was only one of them. For a long time after Dad moved out of our house, I still wanted to stay married to him. I wanted us to work it out and be able to stay married. But then there became a point when I realized that it was better for me and for you and Dylan if I didn’t stay married to him. We weren’t a good team and I felt bad about myself when I was married to him. I felt like I couldn’t make my own decisions.

Sydney: He says you told him, “Leave this house right now if you want to ever see these kids!”

Me: Wow. Well, that’s just untrue. That didn’t happen and I don’t know why he felt it would be helpful for you to think that, even if it was true. That seems like a lot of information for a little girl. I’ve never wanted Daddy to see less of you. I may not like all the decisions he makes, but I know he’s your Daddy and he’s super important and you deserve to have a relationship with him.

Sydney: So he lied to me?

Me: I don’t know, honey. I just know that I never said that. I’ve never threatened to have daddy spend less time with you. Have you ever felt like I didn’t want to you to see Daddy?

Sydney: No. (pause) What were the other reasons why you got divorced?

Me: That’s between Dad and me. It’s not appropriate to talk about grown-up things to a kid, especially OUR kid. Our job is to protect you from hurt and worry, not make it worse by talking about all the ugly details from the time when we were married. Honey, the reasons why we got divorced? They’re in the past. It’s time for us to move on. We’re divorced. We both have new relationships. We should be focused on our new lives, not bringing up stuff from years ago. Whether I wanted the divorce or he wanted the divorce isn’t going to make you feel any less sad about having divorced parents, will it?

Sydney: No. Daddy talks about it, though. He says that you write things in the blog that are untrue.

Me: Well, he’s entitled to his opinion. But it’s actually illegal to write things about someone that are untrue. And, although I talk about divorce a lot on my blog, much of it isn’t about Dad and me specifically. It’s about divorce and parenting in a general sense too. It’s possible that Dad might think I’m referring to him even when I’m not. I don’t know, though. I don’t want to speak for him.

Sydney: Do you talk about me on your blog? He said that you wrote about how I cry when I come home after being with him for the weekend.

Me: I did write something about that, sweetie. You do cry most days when you come back from seeing Daddy. And a lot of other kids do that same thing when they’ve been with one parent and come home to another. But I don’t write about you crying to embarrass you or Dad. I write about it so I can talk about how we work it out together. I mean, maybe some other mom who’s divorced and has a crying daughter will read what I write and she’ll be able to help her daughter become less sad.

Sydney: Yeah. You do help me be less sad.

Me: Sydney, I bet someday you’re going to read my blog and there will be things on there that you won’t like. There is no way that you’re going to like everything I do and say. But we’ll talk it out, and I’ll keep your opinion in mind when I decide what to write. And I will have to deal with the consequences of what I write and there will probably be times when I wish I could take something back. And–you never know–maybe someday you’ll want to write something. But Dad and I aren’t married anymore. He’s not going to decide what’s posted on my blog, and I wish he wouldn’t talk about it with you.  I mean, it’s not like you can decide what goes on my blog, right? My guess is that it makes you feel pulled in two directions—a little toward me and a little toward him (she nods). Someday, you’ll read my blog and I want you to decide what you like and don’t like. I want you to decide how you feel. I don’t want your reaction to be based on whether or not it upset Dad. I don’t want anyone else to ever tell you what to feel.

Sydney: I wish he wouldn’t talk about it. The blog or you.

Me: Me too. Did you tell him that?

Sydney:  I don’t want to be harsh. I don’t know how to say it. He talks to me in my room and I just ask him if I can go downstairs and he says “no.”

Me: Well, let’s think of something you can say. Something you feel comfortable saying. Should we practice?

Sydney: Yes.

Me: Okay, you be Dad and I’ll be you. I don’t want to pretend to be Dad because I might not get it right.

Sydney: “Mommy is writing on her blog about you and Dylan and she’s writing embarrassing things.”

Me: “Well, that sounds like a grown-up topic, Daddy. Maybe you could talk to Mom about it or another grown-up.”

Sydney: That might work. That’s still kind of hard.

Me: We might need to practice a little more. And if you want to talk to Dad about something, you should. But if you don’t, I want you to find a way to tell him. You shouldn’t have to listen to Dad talk about me, and you shouldn’t have to listen to me talk about Dad. Especially about topics that are meant to be just for grown-ups. Please tell me if you think I’m ever saying something about Dad that makes you feel uncomfortable or sounds like it might be for grown ups. Okay?

Sydney: Okay.

Me: You need to go to bed.

Sydney: I want you to stay here forever.

Me: Okay, I’ll sleep here (I flop on top of her and snore loudly in her ear).

Sydney: Mom! That’s so loud!

Me: I know. I have to sleep in my own bed and keep my snoring to myself.

Sydney (sigh): It’s hard growing up.

Me: I know, sweetheart. Growing up can really suck, but one day, I hope you’re happy and strong and confident. You know, like me.

Sydney: I don’t feel that way now.

Me: Well, then I will teach you. I didn’t learn how to be happy and strong and confident until I was done being married. But now that I know how, I can show you. We’ll figure it out together.

Sydney: Okay.

Me: I love you. Sleep well.

Sydney: I love you too.