I was thinking the other day about how different and how very much harder my children’s experience of E leaving has been to mine.
In the almost three years since E left, I have spent so much time reassuring the kids that he’ll always be their Dad, that’s it’s me he’s left, not them, and that he loves them, they are weary of me saying it. In fact I’ve trotted those phrases out so many times that I can practically HEAR Oldest Daughter rolling her eyes every time I say them. The problem is that no matter how much I try to reassure him, his actions constantly and consistently make a lie of what I’m telling them.
On top of that, the fact is that their emotions are so much more complex and so much more difficult to deal with than mine. I can feel dislike, loathing and disgust for E with no feelings of guilt (in fact I can quite enjoy feeling them if I so choose). I can move on from him and our relationship. I can replace him with another partner (frankly anything with a pulse would be a better option than E). I can be happy without him in my life. But the kids can’t do this or feel this way. He’ll always be their Dad, he’ll always be in their lives, they’ll always love him and that’s something that complicates things and tears at their emotions.
If I found it hard to come to terms with the fact that the man I loved was in fact nothing like the man I thought he was, I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must have been for the kids to even begin to comprehend that the man that they thought their Dad was, was in fact so fundamentally different. It’s a shame, because this needn’t have been the case. He could have been honest and left after the first affair and we could both have made new lives for ourselves. When we decided to split up, he could have stayed and faced up to his kids and explained why he was leaving. He could have ensured that he saw them regularly. He could have told them he was getting married. He could have introduced them to P at some point (admittedly, I don’t think they want to meet her yet, but he could have offered). He could have continued to financially support them. Of course, he did none of those things and whilst I find it easy to designate his behaviour repugnant, his kids still love him, and they have to face up to it, and him, in a completely different way.
Like me, they have had to re-learn who E is. Unlike me, however, they have a complicated balancing act to do to reconcile their confusion at his behaviour, with the fact that they absolutely and unconditionally love him.
They have reacted to this in very different ways. Oldest Daughter initially cut off all contact with her Dad. At 18 she was old enough to understand exactly what he’s done, and to remember the devastating emotional impact of his first affair when she was just 9. As the years have moved on, she’s gradually made contact with him, but he’s never been able to make time to see her, and their texts are sporadic. Oldest Daughter seems to be the one with the clearest perception of her Dad. As I’ve mentioned before, she came to terms with the fact that (in her words) her Dad was ‘just not a good person’ long before I did. But this doesn’t mean that his actions (past and present) don’t tear her apart. She’s the one who has suffered most acutely as a result of E withdrawing his financial support – she is over £1,000 in rent arrears, she is applying for a second job in order to buy food because I can’t send her the extra money I was sending her to support her. This is her final year at University, she needs to focus and study, not be working two jobs just to eat. I know she’ll be fine. I know she’s not the only student who has to do this, but the fact that she’s been deliberately put in this position by her Dad (who never addresses the issue directly with her) must really hurt.
Youngest Daughter has probably been the most profoundly affected by what’s happened. She’s always been the most emotional of my children and she was always the child who needed E’s approval most. She loves him so much that when he left she hated him. As time has passed, she’s softened a little and has started to let him back into her life (by text, of course, he doesn’t communicate with the kids in any other way). She’s finally coming to terms with the fact that she loves him despite the fact that she hates what he’s done, what he’s doing. She tends to see things in black and white, so to hold these two images of her Dad, to reconcile them, has been really hard for her.
Oldest Son, my most laid back child, is the only one who seems to be able to accept what has happened, and yet still retain a trouble free relationship with his Dad. I think he’s struggled to remain impartial though. Like all of my children, he has a very well developed sense of fairness and he’s acutely conscious of how unfair his Dad’s actions have been. He used to try to find excuses for him, or defend him, but increasingly he just doesn’t talk about him anymore. For months, he maintained that he was sure his Dad had bought them all Christmas presents, but just hadn’t been able to bring them down. However, as the year has gone on, and birthdays have passed without so much as a card, I think he’s accepted that there are no presents, that there is no excuse. It’s hard to watch him struggle to retain his concept of his Dad.
Amusingly, Youngest Son, whilst probably the most upset by his Dad (he still hopes to see him every weekend, and is freshly hurt every time his Dad cancels or says he can’t come), is the one that seems to be able to most easily hold the concepts of what he thought his Dad was and what he’s actually proving to be in his head. His sense of humour helps – he laughs about his Dad and jokes about him, and I think this helps him deal with his sense of betrayal. But, like Oldest Daughter, he’s very clear eyed about who his Dad is, and accepts that he loves someone who just isn’t very nice.
The thing is E is lucky. His kids will always be there for him. They are good people and their sense of decency means they would never turn their backs on him no matter how much he’s hurt them. But they have all been scarred by what’s happened and, compared to their innocence of three years ago, they’re all a little battle scarred and worn out by events. Three years ago they all thought they were part of a stable, secure family, that they had a Mum and a Dad who were together and who loved them and that that was what their future would be. Life is very different now. E leaving would have been hard for them, no matter what, but the way he left and the way he’s behaved since he left has made things so much harder for his children.
In lots of ways my experience of the break up is far easier than my children’s. I’ve been hurt and betrayed but I can move on from E and forget about him. My life is better without him. But my kids will have to spend the rest of their lives loving someone that has hurt them profoundly and forever conscious of the void his leaving left in their lives. I think that’s the hardest thing of all.