“In all my years of practice I have never heard of a parent saying that they didn’t want custody of their kids. Parents spend thousands of dollars fighting for custody.” My lawyer shook his head in shocked disbelief. My husband had declined my offer of joint custody and refused to sign the divorce papers until the wording was changed, giving me sole custody of our 6 children.
I had such mixed emotions about this. On the one hand, I thought it was a good thing considering he had already dropped out of our kids’ lives and hadn’t seen or talked to them for several months. Yet this latest move by him seemed like such a permanent severing of those parental bonds. I knew this rejection would be like a knife to the hearts of my children. Of course I didn’t tell them, but I recognized that the action of declining custody was more than just words on a legal document, and even if they didn’t know what their father had done in court, they’d know by his accompanying actions.
For years I had a hard time seeing beyond my feelings of disgust and disappointment in my ex. I thought he was weak and selfish for ducking out of his parental obligations and privileges. I didn’t badmouth him in front of my kids, but I didn’t fully separate my feelings toward him from theirs. I had such loathing and disgust for his behavior throughout the divorce that I didn’t really explore the idea that my kids had different feelings. Sure, they experienced disappointment and sadness, abandonment, feelings of being unwanted and betrayed, but they still felt love for their dad and a yearning for his love and acceptance in return that I couldn’t fully understand.
I have a loving father who is still married to my mother. I have always been certain that I am loved by my parents. I can’t fully wrap my brain around the feelings that come from a broken relationship with a parent. It wasn’t until I met someone whose relationship with his own father was less-than-ideal that I began to grasp the far-reaching consequences of an unstable relationship with a parent. This person, as a grown adult, still carries the scars and profound effects of that damaged relationship.
This got me thinking about my own kids. For so long I believed that if I loved my kids enough, if I was involved enough, if I cared and provided enough, if I nurtured enough, it wouldn’t matter if their dad was no longer an integral part of their lives. I was certain that I could “make up the difference,” so to speak. I’m realizing, however, that it doesn’t matter how much I love my kids. It doesn’t matter how much I bend over backwards to bridge that gap. It doesn’t matter if I get remarried some day and give my kids a wonderful, loving step-father. I will never ever be able to take the place of their dad. No one will.
It was a sobering thought.
I still feel the sting from that cold, hard slap of reality. My older kids have never forgiven their father for walking out of their lives. I don’t know if they ever will. But there’s a part of them, deep down that still asks themselves, “What did I do to make him leave? Why doesn’t he love me?” And I know there’s a part of them that still craves their dad’s love and affection even if they don’t necessarily show it, or admit it — and I can’t fix that.
I know that I’m a decent mom and I love my kids more than anything. I believe they’re secure in that fact. And I know that it does go a long way in ensuring they won’t develop the telltale behavioral and emotional scarring of a child of divorce whose parent is estranged. But I often wonder – is it enough? Is my consistent love and attention enough to guarantee they won’t grow to be insecure adults who feel they aren’t worthy of love, have low self-esteem, or have a difficult time relating to a spouse? It’s a hopeless feeling knowing that there is nothing, nothing I can do to fix the situation and guarantee that my kids won’t grow up with scars. I can only assure them daily that they are very much loved, wanted, and cherished.
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