I alluded to the fact I took my court ordered parenting class the other day. As my son asked me, “Why do YOU have to take a parenting class?” I explained that it was because his father and I were divorcing and so we had to take this class to learn how to parent as divorced parents. “Again, why do YOU have to take this class? You’re the one who is here taking care of us.” OK, now that I’m done tooting my own horn let me tell you what I learned.
What I Learned In My Parenting Class
OK, I kid. But honestly a lot of it did not apply to me and my situation. They gave us story after story of kids who feel like they are being pulled into two different directions. They talked about kids who feel disloyal if they want to have a relationship with both parents, knowing the parents don’t like one another. My kids aren’t feeling any tug of emotions. They are both pretty disgusted with their dad and what he has done. Their dad has sabotaged his relationship with them all on his own. I had nothing to do with it. I remember practically begging him to take our daughter when she was just a toddler: Take her out and do something fun with her- just the two of you. Take her to McDonald’s and get her a sundae and let her play on the indoor playground. She needs to be used to you doing things with her, too. I would tell him: Our son would love to go hunting or fishing. Why don’t you take him? It would be something fun you both could do and as a bonus, you don’t have to be around a lot of people! I encouraged him to coach one of his son’s teams. He was big into sports when he was growing up and he would talk longingly about it so I figured that would be a great fit. But no…. there was always an excuse as to why that wouldn’t work. Now, to his credit he did take our son to a movie that he really wanted to see on opening night. I have a strict “No Opening Night Movies” policy and told him to see if his dad would take him and much to my surprise he did! He had even just got home from work. So again, I will give him credit. But that was one event in thirteen years of the kid’s life.
They have frequently confided in me what they feel are their father’s faults in being a dad. They did this even when we were married so it’s not just a divorce thing. I did what I could to point him in the right direction but as the old saying goes: You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink. I have also asked them point blank: OK, so what is it that I’ve done that makes you say I’m a good mom? I don’t ask this to get pats on the back. I ask to see if they can articulate what they believe a good parent should do versus what a bad parent does. They said things like:
- You feed us (obviously), do our laundry, and take care of us
- You take us places (like school, after school activities, and to friends’ houses)
- You do things with us
- You take us to the water park, to the amusement park, to the movies, on hiking trails, to museums… You actually like and want to spend time with us
- You talk to us
- You come to our events
- You are interested in us
These are not earth shattering things that I’ve done. I find it sad that their dad can’t manage to do any of these. Alright, once again I will be completely fair to him. He would occasionally join us on some hikes and at the movies. There was the yearly company picnic that took place at an amusement park and naturally he would join us for that. And he did take on maybe 2% of the drop offs and pickups associated with having two children that attend school and are busy in extracurriculars. I could go as high as 5% but that’s it.
Here’s the really sad part. These kids wanted their father to be a part of their lives. Every Christmas Eve we would go bowling, sometimes go to a movie as well, and eat lunch or dinner out before coming home and opening presents. We had a ball and the kids always looked forward to this day because it was one of the few days, if not the only day, that their dad was around and involved all day long. We would have such a good time. The two times I left the kids alone with him my daughter said she really enjoyed hanging out with her dad and that they had a really good time together. Of course, he took them out for breakfast and then let them play for hours at one of the many fun centers in our town, shelling out the money for the all inclusive passes. She told me later, “If this is what it’s like to hang out with Dad when you’re away I want you to go away more often!”
Unfortunately, what they got was a dad who chose to shut himself away in the bedroom, watching television. My son said to me, “Why do I need to be the one that comes into his room and asks him how things are going? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I’m the kid.” My daughter said, “I got tired of the first thing he would say to me when I was hanging out in your room being, ‘Get up out of my chair. Time for me to sit there.’ How about saying hello or how was your day?” They got a dad who was wallowing in pity so deep he couldn’t go to the movies or out to dinner or anything else with us. They got a dad who couldn’t go on vacation with them but could hang out without a care in the world with another woman and her kids. They got a dad who wasn’t interested in going to meets or games, who didn’t want to drop them off or pick them up, and didn’t generally take the time to go see them and ask how they were doing.
So no, I can’t relate when I hear of these kids who are pulled in two different directions, who love their mom and dad equally. My kids aren’t pulled into different directions. They don’t worry about feeling disloyal to either parent because the reality is their dad shipped out a long time ago.
In a similar vein they talked about how important it is to co-parent because we’ll be in each other’s lives for years and years to come. There will be sporting events, school achievements, band concerts, graduations, weddings, grandchildren born. Yes, for some people that will be true. I, however, have a feeling that he won’t be around for any of that. He didn’t attend a single gymnastics meet last year and hasn’t this year either. He has bailed on band concerts and high school awards assemblies. He wasn’t present at the fall sports banquet. He’s already removed himself. Of course, a lot of these things take place on the weekend, and weekends are for the whore and her kids. I know we still have a few years to go before graduation but my daughter has already told me she doesn’t want him there. She’s told me she doesn’t want him walking her down the aisle at her wedding. Again, I know there are many years in which they can both change their minds, but for now, this is how they’re feeling.
They liked to remind us that while a marriage has ended a family must continue. Sorry, but I’m going to have to call bullshit on that. We are no longer a family of four. I have a family of three. My kids have two different families of three, one with me and the other with their father, if they are so inclined to claim him. Divorce ends families. It means your family broke up. You now need to create a new family. As I said, mine is a family of three. Their father might consider himself to be a part of a family of six now for all I know, or perhaps he includes his actual children and believes he is a part of a family of eight.
I also learned parenting is a lifelong responsibility. Color me shocked! I would never have known that. Oh wait, I was channeling the STBX. Of course it’s a lifelong responsibility! Some people just skip out on it.
Another thing they told us, which I already knew, was that kids tend to believe the divorce is their fault. I’m pretty sure my kids don’t feel that way. On the pro side he never denied he had a mistress, although he liked to reframe it as a “girlfriend”, so they know there was another woman. He has also been very vocal about how unhappy we were (unbeknownst to me, of course), going so far as to tell one of them that I didn’t take care of him. So that’s some pretty strong evidence that they had nothing to do with the divorce and it was all my fault. But on the con side he did tell them we drifted apart once we had kids which is kind of the epitome of their fault. It could go either way but from the conversations I’ve had with my kids when they’re venting they seem to be eschewing the guilt in favor of placing it squarely on their dad’s shoulders. I’m sure part of that also has to do with the fact that he tore them away from everything they loved and held dear, telling them that this was for our future, only to walk away a year later.
There were two things they covered that I really loved though. The first was the circle of concern versus the circle of influence. I know this in a rational sort of way but it was good to see it in black and white. As they explained it there are things that concern you and things that you can influence. Sometimes these things will overlap and sometimes they will not. It is important to figure out when your concern is something you can influence and when it is not. Figure out where you can exercise your influence and give up on those things you cannot.
I’m going through this now with the kids and their allowances. He was in charge of paying them. Now that he is being court ordered to pay an amount he suddenly no longer has the money. This is very strange to me because as I believe I have pointed out he was able to drop $300 on a dress for a child that is not his own. He is able to pay over $200/month for a cell phone bill for a “woman” who is not his wife and a child who is not his child. He was able to drop at least $800 on Christmas gifts for kids that are not his. He tells me he has to pay off his American Express. Do you want to guess what kind of charges are on his American Express? If you guessed charges for the whore and her kids you would be correct!
He has over $3000/month once he pays me. That money is all his. He pays no rent, no utilities, no portion of the marital debt, and no car insurance. I am given a monthly lump sum for spousal and child support and I pay all of those bills, even while he remains in the home (although that is supposed to change next month). He pays no car payment because the final payment was taken out of our joint account this past fall. That was also paid out of the money he was so graciously giving me. He has no cell phone bill of his own because his phone is provided for by his company. From September through December he had almost $5000/month. Would anyone like to guess where all that money went to because apparently now he doesn’t have a spare $200 for the month! Can’t buy his daughter a yearbook. Can’t buy a fundraiser t-shirt. It’s amazing.
Going back to my handy little circle of influence versus circle of concern I can tell you that I’m vey concerned about his lack of responsibility in regards to his own children. I will even cop to being quite pissed that he is able to throw money around at someone else’s kids and that he’s been living like a child-free bachelor. The reality, however, is that I do not have much influence over this. Sure, I can ride his ass and make things uncomfortable for him. I think I have managed to get him to give them their money once his bonus check comes in. But I’m not fooling myself into believing I can make him do anything. In the end I know the only thing I can do is live within our new budget and be honest with the kids that some things are going to have to change.
And finally my absolute favorite part of the class was when the presenter was talking about new relationships. He said the average time to remarry was around 4 years and warned that 76% of second marriages end in divorce; he said it was especially true when you enter into a new relationship quickly without discovering your part in the failure of your previous relationship. I so badly wanted to raise my hand and ask, “What are the chances of divorcing when you marry your affair partner?”