A Fatal Flaw

I had a dream about my kids last night and I cherish every moment of it that I can remember now. In this dream my two sons fell asleep cuddled up next to their mother the way they used to when they were little though I imagine that now at eleven and twelve they would be too old and it would be uncool for them to need mom so much. Oh well, such are the ways of growing pains.
To understand what’s going on right now and why I’m writing this one must first understand what happened to bring this about. I’m thirty years old and like many couples today though the exact percentages vary widely I’m a divorcee. This isn’t so horrible in and of itself, sometimes the best recourse for a couple is to just go their separate ways because there’s realistically speaking no logical way for them to get along and make each other happy in which case everyone around them including the children suffer which isn’t fair any way you look at it. The trouble comes when one or both people in the now irreparably shattered relationship refuse to move on and let the past be in the past and that original seed of anger begins to fester and grow and becomes something closely resembling hemlock after a few years; bitter, foul and deadly.
I was eighteen when I married for the first time which many people with the wisdom of their own years under their belts know was my first mistake of which I’ve made more than my fair share. My marriage was turbulent at best though out of it came the shining light of the only part of the doomed relationship that I don’t regret in any capacity; two beautiful children. I was twenty when we separated for the last time and my divorce was final when I was twenty one. By the time I was twenty three I had matured enough to have moved on and forgiven misdeeds though my ex-husband treated me consistently to disrespect in many ways though the foremost of which was his insistence that his young children call his then girlfriend “mom”. I was devastated when I learned of this and I confronted him about it though the space of years went by with his firmly denying to my face that he encouraged what was in my opinion a distinguishing title of love and respect of which my children were too young to understand the import and impact. The children became confused and felt torn between their father and I, continuously correcting themselves around me which hurt more than the blatant disrespect my ex was dealing via two small children.
It was when I was twenty four that I learned my ex’s girlfriend was spanking my children for calling me “mom” in her presence instead of her. I was truly and completely heartbroken and I knew it was up to me to take care of them the only way I knew how. I told my children that when they went to visit their daddy, they were to protect themselves and call his girlfriend “mom” and call me “their Rachel”. My oldest son who was six at the time looked me in the eyes with tears filling his and said, “Mama, we don’t want to.”
My heart screamed at me that this wasn’t fair, that I had to be able to do something though I had already called Child Protective Services and they had stated that it wasn’t considered child abuse and if I had issue I needed to get an attorney and pursue the matter in court. I didn’t have the money for that for I was a single mother with a cashiering job which barely paid the bills. I made my choice. I did the only thing I could, I told my son, “I know baby, but I can’t be there to protect you so you need to protect yourself. Call her “mom” and call me your “Rachel”.” My son cried in my arms, as did I.
My parents were furious about it. They kept insisting that the truth would set a person free until I finally asked them, “What would you have me do? Send my children to their father’s for the weekend armed with and speaking a truth that will get them punished or knowing the truth and keeping it close to their hearts? They know who their mother is, let her have her way. I won’t let my children be hurt for it.” I knew when silence greeted this that my words had found their mark and the truth was irrefutable.
Life moved on and another year passed and my children were markedly less confused when they returned from their visitations with their father which was easier on my battered heart. My pride wasn’t worth getting them hurt because I loved them way too much for that. Better I hurt than them.
I met someone when I was twenty five though the relationship was short-lived and the guy was annoying and clingy and I felt much better about myself when he was gone permanently from my life, having moved back to his home area in the South. Imagine my surprise when more than a month later I discovered I was pregnant with his child.
My family was thrilled as only the news of an impending birth could warrant. I was less so and after months of careful and heart wrenching consideration I finally decided to give the child up for adoption. Five months of hell at the behest of my family promptly ensued when they learned of my intentions though I stuck with my decision no matter how angry and accusatory they were and I gave that baby what he would’ve never found with me given my feelings about his father, I gave him to a family who could love him unconditionally. Though I’ve hurt deeply because of it, I’ve never regretted that choice. I’ve never heard him cry or seen him and that’s for the best. It was a closed adoption which was also my choice and I believe with every fiber of my being that he’s happy and safe and that is all I need.
It was during the months that I was pregnant and vulnerable that I met my second ex-husband. While he was a support system that my family wasn’t while I was expecting, he was also in rehab for methamphetamine addiction when he and I met and that by itself wasn’t necessarily a bad thing though it wasn’t the greatest either. To say that I fell in love in the depths of my pain and fear is an understatement which should’ve set off warning bells in my head though he was not upset about the fact that I was pregnant with another man’s child when he and I got together and this was a foreign concept to me. I didn’t know or understand at the time that he was hopelessly attracted to pregnant women and that was likely all he saw in me. I needed the friendship and the support and I gravitated toward him in my need.
That relationship was more turbulent and painful than any other I had been in before. I kept trying and he kept running away though it was only after the birth of the child that things between he and I got truly serious. I don’t really know exactly why I was so willing to put up with everything he threw at me just for love. Perhaps it was because my self-image and self-respect were abysmally low and I had no love for myself whatsoever and that was reflected in my choice of partner. He was abusive and lashed out at me and treated me no better than I felt I deserved and I took it. I was punishing myself after all and I hadn’t yet learned what it was to forgive myself and let go of my self-loathing.
It wasn’t really any surprise that I began to seek escape from the hurt, primarily in the methamphetamine of which he was an addict. My addiction quickly took hold and began to spiral out of control because when I was high, I didn’t hurt and in my state of mind at the time that was all that mattered.
It was at this low point when I was trying to hold a marriage together and trying to escape a reality that was so searing and painful I didn’t want to face it that my first ex-husband swooped in and dealt me a stunning blow. He had been housing the children while I tried to get my life back together and when he took me to court for primary care of the children and assured me that I would still have a solid relationship with them, I believed him which was a mistake second only to my involvement with a meth addict.
I was scared. I couldn’t afford an attorney and I didn’t know what to expect and I did the only thing I could at the time when I allowed myself to be in default in the court case. I obeyed the command of my Heavenly Father and I let go. I knew deep down I couldn’t care for the children in the state I was in and now that I look back on it, I can consider all that I went through to be a learning experience. I’ve learned that no matter how friendly and understanding my ex-husband seemed at that particular moment in time, he had few things on his mind; he wanted the children to himself and he wanted to hurt me. He has what he wants right now.
The wording of the modification on my divorce decree states that I should have “reasonable visitation so long as it doesn’t interfere with the children’s health, welfare and education as agreeable between the parties” and that I “shall be entitled to reasonable telephonic communication with the children such as will not unduly disrupt his exercise of physical custody” which I believe he has interpreted to mean that I’m not allowed to see them at all and only allowed to talk to them on the phone perhaps twice a year if he’s feeling generous. He’s got all the control over everything right now and he wields it like a hammer and just like a hammer, the blow to the heart of a mother is nothing less than excruciating.
Though I have been clean and sober for more than three years now for which I thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and have learned to forgive myself for past mistakes and I stand blameless before Him, I am still punished. I haven’t seen my children for more than three years and though I try to call them every Saturday, I’m more often than not met with his voicemail. The last time I spoke to my children was the Saturday before Mother’s Day on May 8 and the time before that had been over six months since I was allowed to simply talk to them on the phone. I don’t believe my children know I call once a week and I have a fairly solid idea that when my ex-husband does answer his phone though rarely I will be met with disrespect and hostility. I’ll be denied the right to talk to my sons and he’ll hang up on me quickly and rudely. I’ve come to expect this, it’s happened too many times to accurately count. I miss my children so much and so often that I fight tears while I write this because I have to think about it while I write and the reality is so poignantly painful that I try not to dwell on it more often than not lest I lose interest in life completely.
The children ask me when they’re going to get to see me every time I talk to them on the phone. The only thing I can ever think to say is, “I’m trying,” And though I know it’s not nearly enough, I have to tell them something so I tell them what I can. The truth is I won’t be able to see my children so long as my ex has this legal power over me but I can’t tell the children this because it’s my problem and the last time I tried telling my children even a modicum of truth over the phone I wasn’t allowed to talk to them for over six months. I won’t repeat that mistake because I’d rather have the chance to talk to my children than lose them completely because I told them the truth and they asked their father about it. Both choices are distasteful but what else am I to do? I’ll take the lesser of two evils and trust that the children will know the truth someday.
My foremost point in this is simple; children are NOT weapons or pawns. My ex-husband’s actions speak loudly of his lack of maturity as well as in my opinion his complete disregard for the rights of his children. It is after all the children who suffer most keenly and most deeply in all this mess for they love their mother deeply and unconditionally as children are wont to do and it’s hurtful to them that they are happy on the rare occasions that they get to hear their mother’s voice over the phone and their father is angry because of it. This is not fair and it’s not right. Hurt me, disrespect me, drag me over hot coals and whip me for my mistakes but for the love of God, stop punishing the children. They are innocent in this and don’t deserve the punishment that you heap on them with casual cruelty. They’re just children and no matter how much you may wish it, you can’t carve from them the memory of their mother and you can’t take from them their heritage. They are my flesh and blood and there is no amount of wishing or wanting or usurping or cutting me out of their lives that is going to change that. Grow up and be a man and a father and ask yourself if your own feelings of contempt and anger toward me are really all that important next to the well-being of your children. If you answered yes to that inwardly directed question, then you don’t really love your children or rather, you love them as much as you are able next to your twisted self-love. You are being selfish and spiteful and you need to get help before you destroy something in the children irreparably.
These words can be applied to any parent be they mother or father that seeks to use the children to further their own ends and hurt the other parent. You know who you are whether or not you’ll openly acknowledge it and you need to step back and love your children more than yourself and put their needs ahead of your selfish desires. Be an adult, be a parent and most of all love your children enough to be the kind of role model that would make you proud to be their parent should history prove repetitive and they find themselves in the same position in the course of adulthood and parenthood. Set your anger and hate aside because it’s not the children’s fault that their parentage is what it is. They deserve and have the right to love both of their parents without feeling like they may anger or hurt one of them which is effectively placing the children directly in the middle of your issues with your ex and that’s unfair and more damaging than you might ever know. It is your responsibility as a parent to foster a loving, healthy and respectful relationship for the other parent in your children and to do anything less is unacceptable and childish. Love your children more than you love yourself and take off the blinders for in the end, the children are the ones that suffer and that’s never okay.

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