I clearly remember the first time I heard the phrase, "parental alienation." I was taking the state-mandated co-parenting course, required before my divorce from my ex-husband could be finalized. According to the course, divorced parents aren't supposed to insult or say bad things about the other parent in front of their kids. While this seems really, really unfair when your ex is a terrible person, it's also the right thing to do. Still, it's normal to have things you want to tell your kids about your ex, but won't, even if you want to with every fiber of your being.
While I know every co-parenting situation is different — and marriages end for a number of reasons, many not as "severe" or "intense" as mine — for me, these were things like the real reason we split up. Someday, I may tell my kids about how their bio-dad treated me, how he was abusive, how he lied and stole from our family, how he cheated on me from the start of our relationship, even leaving to see one of his girlfriends while I was in the hospital after our son was born, and about the terrible day when I finally decided to leave for good after so many other times when I went back. For now, they just know that it although I love them and their bio-dad loves them, it wasn't working for us to stay together.
I'd also really love to be able to blame him for things that are totally his fault. As the custodial parent, it feels like I am always the bearer of bad news. For once, it would be nice to say, "Your bio-dad cancelled his visit with you because he wanted to go to a party instead," or, "I can't afford to take you out to eat,because your bio-dad didn't pay child support this month (again)." Of course, I don't, because it would seriously hurt my kids to learn these facts, even though they are true.
I am comforted by the fact that my kids are really smart. One day they will be able to come to their own conclusions about their biological father, and I won't need to have a hand in that process. I am also comforted by the fact that, again, not every divorce scenario looks like mine. There are more than a few divorced parents who get along famously and co-parent in a healthy way, and the thoughts those parents have about one another are probably very different than the thoughts I have about my ex-husband. However, and for now, I can't explain what crosses my mind when I think about my ex. Not to my children, at least. Instead, I'll be over here biting my tongue and not saying a damn word.
How Much You Hate Them
I don't hate many people, but my ex tops the list. I'm so glad I left him. It was one of the hardest, but also one of the best things I could do for myself and for my kids. Even years later, I can't forgive him and hate him for what he did to me and our family.
How They're Failing To Pay Child Support
My ex always has excuses when it's time to pay child support, and he can't. Excuses like, "My rent is too expensive," and,"I lost my job (again)," or "I just can't afford it and pay my bills." When I took him to court, he argued with the judge that he was a good dad, despite not paying the child support that is legally required of him. She replied, "If you don't pay your rent, you will get evicted, if you don't pay your car loan, your car will be repossessed. Sir, these are your kids, pay them first, or I'm holding you in contempt."
She's kind of my hero.
How They Try To Buy Their Kids' Love
Seriously, someday I hope my kids realize that being a good parent is more than just buying them toys (which is especially frustrating when my ex doesn't pay child support) or taking them to their favorite restaurant. "Real" parenting involves way more vomit than "fun parenting."
How They Could Be Dangerous
I went round and round with my therapist, and my attorney, about how to keep my kids safe without telling them their father was abusive. We settled on telling them that they could tell me anything, no matter what, or call me at any time during their visits with their biological father, especially if they felt unsafe or wanted to talk. It's not perfect, but it's something.
How They Cheated
I am saving this particular fact for when my children are older. I don't think they will truly understand what it means to cheat. Plus, it would be super awkward, since my ex-husband now dating someone with whom he cheated on me.
How Your Kids Don't Have To Have A Relationship With Them
My kids are very fortunate to have a stepdad who loves them to the moon and back. However even if they didn't, they don't have to love their dad just because he's their biological dad, especially if he treats them poorly or becomes toxic.
How They're Not A Very Good Parent
He's just not. Before I left, I could count on one hand the times he was alone with both kids. The one time I went to conference out of town, he literally took my kids to my parents' house because he was so overwhelmed. He is impatient, lazy, and doesn't care about them as human beings; only status symbols. Of course, I could never say that to my children, so I won't.
Why They Cancelled Their Visit
About once every month or two, my children's biological dad decides to cancel his visit. I never have much advance notice, and I am always left to pick up the pieces and find something fun for us to do to take their minds off of how disappointed they are. Some day, I think they will probably realize why this happened for real, but for now, I get to continue to fix his mistakes to spare their feelings.
Why You Left
There are so many reasons why I left. My ex was abusive, he lied, and he cheated, but also, I was tired of being coerced into having sex when he was the last person on the planet with whom I wanted to touch. I was tired of working hard to have him spend our money on guns and get rich quick schemes that were never going to make us rich. I am so glad I left, and I hope that someday my kids understand that I did it for all of us.
Until then, however. I am gonna keep biting my tongue. In the end, it's not about me, it's about them.