I received the following letter:
"My husband, Mark, and I are getting divorced. For certain, because I want an emotionally available partner, and I want our children to be free from the venom he pours all over me when they're around. And he's not loving to the kids, either, even though I've told him a million times how he's hurting them with his anger and his emotional withdrawal from them. So if I move ahead with the divorce, I don't have to suffer his attacks, and the kids can be away from him at least half the time.
"But even though I know I want to be divorced from Mark—and I've really liked being away from him—there are still problems to solve. For example, we're going through endless conflicts about who gets the kids when and where and how. It's a mess, and I just HATE it. It seems like we have something to argue about several times a day. I hate the effect this divorce is having on the kids. I hate it that for half the week I don't get to be with my children. My son, Jason, is acting up in school, and we'll probably have to put him on ADHD medications, or they'll end up putting him in a special school because they can't handle him where he is. I hardly know what to do next, from one moment to the other."
Your marriage has been on fire for years, and now it's a pile of hot coals. Your children are experiencing the pain of the burns you and your husband have inflicted on them for a long time. Nobody intended to hurt the kids, but it still happened, and it's continuing. For now, let's talk just about Jason. It sounds like his hair is on fire—emotionally speaking—from all the tension and conflict and drama surrounding him, and he certainly doesn't need more fire from you.
It's not intentional on your part, but your intense dislike of this situation—while understandable—is making things much worse. You hate the separation from your kids. You hate it that he's having trouble at school. You hate the custody arguments. You hate a lot of things about this whole situation, and your hate—fear, confusion, frustration—is shooting out of you like flames, making things much worse for Jason, not to mention the other children.
You're right that this is all a mess, but keep reminding yourself that although you can't control other people, you CAN decide not to add to the fire yourself. As a loving parent, you have to completely change your perspective about this divorce. It's terribly inconvenient and unfair, but rather than hate it, you can choose to see each situation as nothing more than a problem to be solved. If you set your hair on fire first—jumping into the drama of each situation—you cripple yourself, and everyone suffers, including you. When you're calm, everything goes better. You think more clearly, the children feel safer, and everything works better.
More than anything else, your children need to feel your love, and that's not possible while you're hating all this. You're afraid, and the kids DO feel that, which just makes them more afraid and miserable. Put out the fires. Talk to friends who will love you, not sympathize with you. Solve the problems. Assure your children at every opportunity that you love them, and be as kind as possible to the monster (Mark). Your children absolutely must have one unconditionally loving parent, and although it might not be entirely fair, YOU will have to be that parent.
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Eliminate confusion and conflict with your children.