I’m going to get a bit more personal today than I usually do.
I’ve been divorced for over a decade, and in that time, my ex has chosen to not see my kids, and to not pay the child support the court has ordered him to pay. As a result of this, we end up in court fairly often so he can be held in contempt for his failure to pay.
I got my most recent notification that we had to go to court, and realized that I would not have anyone to watch the kids while I went. This meant they’d have to go with me – and until now, I’d managed to keep all the details about my divorce and child support and all that ugliness away from them. It meant I had to, in as factual a manner as possible, introduce them to some of the details I’d been keeping from them.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent those years feeling somewhat guilty. It’s my ex’s choice to not pay child support, and it’s his choice to not see them, but I still felt like it was partially my fault that they didn’t have a father. It was my decision to divorce, after all, so that must mean it’s at least a little bit my fault, right?
But in having the discussions I needed to have with the kids about all this, I was given a major wake up call: my children are not nearly as bothered by the lack of a father as I am. They honestly do not care. They don’t want to speak to him, to see him, nor do they feel bothered by the fact that they literally would not recognize each other.
My parents have been married for nearly 40 years. I grew up with both my mother and my father, both of whom cared very much about me and were involved and active in my life. I was also an only child, so I was a bit spoiled. I think this may have contributed to my guilt. I think, because I know what it’s like to have an active, involved, caring father, I knew what my kids were theoretically missing out on. I knew what could have been, and that’s what made me feel guilty.
The thing is, he was never that great a father even when we were married. He was uninvolved, apathetic, and neglectful – and that’s being generous. So really, my kids aren’t missing out on anything from him. They’re missing out on a good father by the fact that I didn’t choose wisely when I chose to procreate with my ex, but in him specifically, they’re not missing out.
But that knowledge has never made me feel better. But once I had these discussions with my kids, and realized that it was truly only my own knowledge that made me think that my kids were missing out, I felt like a weight was lifted.
My kids have never known any different, and they honestly don’t feel like anything is missing in their lives. And that’s what I want you to remember.
Even if your kids do remember a time when their other parent was around, and now that parent is gone, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t feel guilty, don’t try to make up for something you think they should have but don’t. And if they tell you they’re fine – believe them. If you aren’t seeing indications that their claims of “I’m fine” are lies, then believe them. Don’t let your own memories of having an involved set of parents and the dreams that you had for how their family would be trump their true feelings about the situation.
Talk to them, and ask them how they feel. Even if you think it might be awkward to bring it up, do it anyway. Find out how they feel, rather than imagining how they feel based on how you think they probably feel based on your own feelings.
If your kids are at the other end of the spectrum, and struggling with the fact that their other parent is not around (or not around as much as they could/should/used to be), consider having them speak with a therapist, if you don’t feel you’re equipped to help them. A therapist can help them sort out their feelings, deal with them, and while they may not stop feeling that way, they’ll at least come out of it feeling better about it.
If you feel like you can’t let go of that guilt, therapy might not hurt you, either. If you’ve reached a point where you can clearly see that you have no reason for guilt but you just can’t shake it, a therapist can help you figure out why you feel that way and give you the tools you need to learn to let go of it.
Kids are much more resilient than we sometimes give them credit for. And while there are studies that indicate children of divorce struggle with it and have trouble, that’s not always the case. Don’t let those studies, or people who want to ride you about your decision to divorce, convince you that your kids are “broken”, if your kids tell you they’re fine.
Above all, remember this: you decided to divorce because you felt it was best. No matter what has happened since, you made the right decision and for that reason alone, you should not feel guilty.