It took me a long time to realise that my ex wasn’t interested in parenting. It’s understandable – why would I assume that the man I once loved, a man who was so keen to have children, would not want to parent? It wasn’t in my realms of possibility. After separating, I redirected the energy I had been ploughing into my marriage, into the relationship between my ex and our son. Only recently have I realised this is not a battle I can win alone, no matter how much I want to.
The expectation is that I will put all my feelings to one side for my son; that I will ignore the hurt, the anger and the fear and invite him round for tea. And, here’s the thing – I will do that, I have done that. The problem is in the maths though; I’m only 50% of this co-parenting relationship, but I’m 100% of my son’s parenting.
I see many women women putting all their emotions on hold to allow the relationship between their child(ren) and their ex to grow. They try to reason with them, discuss ways forward, only to have it thrown back in their face. They plan regular visits to have their ex not show up with
little no warning. They continue to allow their ex to visit even when they pay no, or very little child maintenance. They continue for one reason, and one reason only. Their child.
I know this, because it’s what I have done and I’m not alone. I have done this not because my ex has the right to see his child – he gave up that a long time ago – but so that my child may know his heritage and understand his father – warts and all. I worry that having no connection with his father may create a yearning that can never be filled, I’m, trying to avoid that at all costs.
The advice seems to be somewhat contradictory for women like me. As a modern, independent woman, we should get out of these crappy (borderline) emotionally abusive relationships sooner. Yet, once we do, in the age of equality we should allow the modern man to be active fathers, we (note, not he) should ensure a positive co-parenting relationship with that very same man. This irony is not lost on me. If my ex could not prioritise our son when we were in a relationship, why would he do it now? All my feelings of being let down have been transferred; now I feel the disappointment on behalf of my son instead of me. It has taken me years, literally, to see this.
I have tried so hard to encourage the relationship that I now worry I am trying too hard; does the fear of my son growing up with no father mean I accept anything, much like I did towards the end of my marriage? My ex threatens to cut contact if I apply for child maintenance; he threatens to tell my son I’m the one who stopped them having a relationship. I fear my son will blame me; I fear it will be my fault. This fear gives him control over me. Control that no-one else can see. Yet how can it be my fault that someone else doesn’t fulfil his duty; a duty which to me is the core of my life? I am starting to break away from this control. As I slowly piece myself back together I am taking the right decision, no matter how difficult. I recently put in a claim for child maintenance in the knowledge that if my ex choses not to see his son and suggests it’s because of this, there will, in reality be only one person to blame, and it won’t be me.
I am not sharing my experiences to level criticism at those who have chosen to end contact between their children and the father, rather the exact opposite. I want people to realise that sometimes those ‘ten-tips to great co-parenting’ articles are more than we can stomach. Those judgments that we mums are denying father’s their natural born rights, are – nine times out of ten – wrong. Like many women, I have busted a gut to enable my ex to have a relationship with his son, giving him chance and chance again. But the reality is, that’s not my job. It’s a hard and thankless task that would be near impossible even with a man you had no history with. When you add in the emotions of a divorce or separation, the expectations levied on us call for a super-human approach. Which, I hasten to add, many of us have, but it doesn’t mean that it will work.
For now, my ex has some (irregular) minimal contact with his son – in my home, with a family member present. I don’t know one week to the next if he will come or not – his interest is beyond erratic. I continue to live in the hope that by keeping the path open, one day his father will find his way back to him. Until then, I will no longer allow my ex the opportunity to destroy the atmosphere in my home, or to use his visits as a method of control.