So it’s been seven years since I left. My oldest is a teenager, my second is almost there, and my third is about to hit double digits.
And today, Monday, they are with me. They are with me (ironically) because my ex took me back to court for full custody. He wants the boys full time with no visitation for me, and he left our daughter out of his proposed “deal” entirely. He plans to continue equal time for her.
So before he filed for custody last March, he would come sit in my driveway during my parenting time and call the boys repeatedly until they left with him. So they would eventually leave with him. Even on holidays. If I tried to stop him, he would tell the boys that I was trying to keep their father out of their lives—that I am an alienator. (Getting people to feel sorry for him is one of his number one gigs.) He’s so charming and talks so much for so long that everything he says makes sense at some point. Or at the very least, it blocks everything else out.
Anyway, my point is that the court told him this past fall to stay out of my driveway during my time. This good news came after the bad news that they went ahead and took away some of my time with the boys for no reason other than their dad asked (and keeps on asking), but at least he can’t be here when they are. Sitting in my driveway, calling them on the phone.
So life is good and bad. I get less time and more time. I’m hoping that this court process ends some day and that I’ll get to have some consistent place in my children’s lives.
But that’s not the point of this post.
This post is about fun—and how much pressure you feel (I feel) to make my parenting time with my estranged children really count. Really be memorable.
I didn’t feel this kind of pressure before the alienation started. Which means that when they were little and I was home with them full-time, I was ok if they got bored and were bored all day. I think it’s healthy for kids to be bored, actually, because after a while, they usually come up with something amazing to do. They get creative, and I think creative is good.
But now everything is different. Their dad is watching. And criticizing. My house is too small, my dogs are too stupid. My yard isn’t as big as his yard. There’s nothing to do at your mom’s house. I can’t train them to throw the discus like he can. I can’t work out with them because women don’t do it right. I don’t cook like he does. I’m not as good at baking cookies, either. My cat is gay. And that means something to him. My neighborhood is the one where all the weird kids live. No normal kids live anywhere close. My hat looks ridiculous and my clothes are not like any other mom’s clothes and when I walk into a room, everyone
Those are the kinds of things they hear every day. And that’s no exaggeration. My children hear those kinds of things repeated over and over and over, every single day. After half their lives, they start to believe that it must be real.
What makes it confusing to them is that once they’re with me for a few days and have some time to experience what I’m like outside of their dad’s perspective, they actually love being around me. Their time with me counters everything they hear every day. And when we’re together and all pressure’s off, we spend some time working through whatever issue their dad fired them up about before they arrived (they usually arrive ready to attack), and then they eventually come to a place of peace with me and with all of it. After we’ve sorted things out and moved on to just being together, they start to hug me and smile a whole lot and wrestle around and go out back to lay on the hammock with our puppy.
This time of year, they throw snowballs at me when I’m not ready for it, and I chase them around the yard trying to get them back.
We fall over backwards, laughing.
And then sometimes, we’re bored.
And it makes me nervous. It’s not like before. Because my time is very, very limited now… and every moment is a chance. So my parenting has become more pressured than ever.
I want them to leave feeling good about things.
I don’t want them to be bored.
If they’re bored, I’m afraid that some of what their dad says will seem right.
And when I think about that fear, I realize that maybe now I understand the divorced parents I knew growing up—usually dads—who would take my friends out shopping and to amusement parks and festivals every weekend they had a chance. They would spend lots of money and eat out and play.
Because one day a week and two weekends a month isn’t much when it comes to raising a child. On that schedule, it’s hard to make your house feel like it’s their home. Another home. Because they’re stopping in more than living there, and most of what they see, think, and do comes from their other parent.
Just by the sheer volume of time.
So there’s this pressure to make your little time big.
I fight against it, like today, when I really had to go to work even though their school was called off for a snow day and they were still here after our weekend. And I want nothing more than to stay home and be with them and play, so there’s one thing. And then there’s this whole other thing that feels like I’m failing because I couldn’t stay home. I know their dad will make it worse, too, by talking to them a lot about how I can’t complain about not getting them if all I’m going to do is work, anyway, and that’s just the way I am, a whiner who really only thinks of herself—but the bottom line is that I couldn’t call off work. Sometimes I can, and sometimes I can’t. So they stayed at my house today without me—yes, they were supervised—and I’m sure that at times they were bored.
And that makes me worry like never before.
And it’s real.
Just tonight, I’ve received multiple angry texts from my ex about the whole situation. How I’m keeping them from him. How I don’t care about them like he does. How rude I am to make them stay here.
And all I’m trying to do is live a normal life.
Love my kids.
Be a home for them.
And now, do my best to be fun, fun, fun.
Which is impossible. And fear-based.
And something I’ve come to understand.