Ever since everything happened with E, one of the things I have tried to do, some days with more success than others, is balance being honest with the children about what is happening, with protecting them as much as possible from hurt.
I think I’ve got better at it as time has gone on. In the early days, no matter how good my intentions, the fact of the matter is that they saw me upset, and they saw me upset a lot. They heard me crying and they heard me talking to my friends and family about what had happened. If I could go back I would change that. It must have been confusing and hurtful and horrible for them. When I was a kid, on the rare occasions I saw my parents upset, it felt like the bottom was falling out of my world. My children must have felt like that with me far more often than I’d like.
The fact is that when a parent is hurt, their children hurt with them. Obviously it works the other way round too, but that’s the way things are supposed to be, as a parent one of your main roles is to help when your children are in pain. However, it’s not a child’s job to pick up the pieces when a parent’s life falls apart. And this is one of the things I’ve struggled with most since E left.
Whilst the fact that the last couple of years have brought the kids and I closer together has been brilliant – we have found our own way of being together, none of the kids push the boundaries too much, which means I trust them to do their own thing and, whilst we occasionally spark off against each other over things like sharing the household jobs, we actually get on really well and have a very peaceful, accepting, household. Since E has left we’ve learned to respect each other’s feelings about what’s happened. We all know that Oldest Son tends to want to keep the peace and that Youngest Daughter is rather feistier about things, but we’ve learned to step away and respect each other’s very different feelings about E. All of which has meant that their individual relationships with E haven’t become a source of conflict or resentment among them.
I’m so proud of how loving, caring and decent my children are and of the way they’ve looked after each other, and me, over the last two years. However, one side effect of this is the fact that they all want to take responsibility for their dad’s behaviour, they all want to make things better for me. Like any child watching a parent cry, they all want to fix things. And, because they love their dad, and they believe in his love for them, they all think they can influence him and change things.
E’s withholding of the money and his corresponding demand for me to sell the family home has really tested this with all of them. I’ve tried to be as reassuring as I can. I’ve told them all that I’ll look after things, that there’s no reason to worry, that no matter what happens, we’ll be ok. But their reaction to what’s happened has been that of children who are facing losing the home that they love. They’ve all felt insecure and uncertain. They’ve all felt out of control and worried about what will happen next. From Oldest Son’s stricken “but where will we go?” when I first told them that E wanted me to sell the house, to Youngest Daughter’s regular Rightmove searches and attempts to understand the property market and Youngest Son’s concern over where we’ll live and who he’ll walk to school with, they’ve all had their security rocked by what’s happened. E’s withholding the money has further compounded their worry. Again, I’ve tried to reassure them, but they’re too old to be fobbed off, they know that food and bills cost money and they know that I don’t have much.
They’ve all reacted what’s happened by trying to find a way to fix things, by trying to use their influence to make their dad do the decent thing.
Oldest Son, tried to do some good PR for his dad – saying to the others that he bets his dad has ‘just forgotten’ to pay the money, trying to persuade them to see the good in their dad and, against the evidence, believe he has every intention of paying maintenance. He’s also texted E to remind him about paying the money. I think he genuinely hoped that his reminder would prompt a payment. When no payment appeared, he said “I’ll just talk to him about it when I see him.” He’s heard nothing from him since he asked about the money and, whilst I think he’ll stick by his dad to the end, his belief in his dad’s basic decency has been shaken.
As already mentioned, Youngest Son decided on more drastic measures. Having asked his dad to pay us some money, and received no reply, he then texted saying he didn’t want to see him if he didn’t pay. I think he fully expected his dad to pay after his ultimatum, but of course, he didn’t, instead E texted saying he wouldn’t see him then. This was followed by a text last week where E told him that he needed to “resolve the money situation with your mum before I next see you guys.” I read this with a sinking heart, realising that this meant E had no intention of paying anything this month either, but Youngest Son still hoped that it meant that E would pay something before Christmas. He hasn’t said much since, but watching his increasing disillusionment is incredibly sad.
Of course Youngest Daughter’s reaction has been documented in detail here in the form of her confronting him on Facebook and in her Facebook live broadcast. Whilst, obviously, both of these were about more than fixing the situation with E and the money – they were about her pain and the way his behaviour has hurt her – at the heart of them both was, I think, a desire to make everything ok again, to put things back on an even keel, to feel loved and secure again. The fact that he ignored her then and has ignored her since, has hugely painful to her and I think she’s begun to feel that there’s no point in trying with her dad anymore.
Oldest Daughter also wanted to help, although, with her usual clarity of mind, she soon realised that there was probably nothing she could do. She hasn’t seen her dad since the day he left, in January 2017, and, apart from a few texts and one phone call (where he finally confessed to her that he’d got married – but notably not where or when), hasn’t had much contact with him at all. When he stopped paying the money, she got in touch and asked to meet him for a drink. However, as the day got closer, I think she began to realise that what she wanted to do – talk to him and make him accept his responsibilities, make him act like the dad she wanted, make him be the decent person she wants to think he is – just wasn’t going to happen.
She came home from University on Monday and what should have been a happy occasion was tinged with sadness for her because she didn’t know how long she’d be able to call the place she was returning to home. She’d known about everything that had happened, but talking to her siblings and being at home again, brought the situation home to her forcefully.
The next day she agonised for hours over whether or not to see him. I reassured her that he loved her and she loved him and that it would be lovely for them both to see each other. But I also said that there was no point in her going with the aim of fixing things, that fixing things wasn’t her responsibility, that fixing her dad wasn’t possible. In the end she cancelled because she just wasn’t ready to see him yet. She wasn’t ready to see him because she knew she couldn’t change anything, because she realised she couldn’t make anything better, she couldn’t fix anything.
The kids and I are not the only people who’ve tried to fix things – E’s parents have written to him, I’ve written to him, even my solicitor has now written to him. None of us have received any response. Nobody can fix things (without proper legal action, which is still on my list of last resorts).
The thing is, whilst I’ve known for a long time that there are some things you can’t fix, I’ve still hoped against hope that E will eventually act like the decent person I used to think he was. Losing my belief in the person I thought E was has been one of the hardest things that happened to me. However, watching my children gradually lose their faith in their dad, and their ability to influence him, has been the saddest, most hurtful, thing of all.