‘Over it’ is a funny term. It’s kind of an expectation. A thing that you need to do in order to be able to move on. It’s supposed to be a liberation. It can also be a pressure – a mountain to climb, or at least to prove that you’ve climbed
When E and I first split up, in January 2016, I naively assumed that within a few months, I’d be happily getting on with my own life, with no regrets, no pain and no looking back – I’d be ‘over it’. It wasn’t like that of course. Whilst I never doubted that asking E to leave was absolutely the right thing to do, what followed were months, even years, of pain, of struggling to get over it. Like a wasp sting, this pain came in waves. I’d think it had receded, then it would throb back through my body and brain with renewed venom.
Of course, much of this pain was caused not so much by the fact of splitting up, but by the pitiless onslaught of E’s actions after we split up. It would have been tough getting over any break up, even an amicable one, but dealing with the maliciousness of his withdrawing financial support, the emotional assault of his marriage just months after he’d left , the coldness of his complete ghosting of me, and the heartless way he gradually withdrew his emotional support from his children, has caused years of pain and hurt for me and my children. Whilst today I have come to terms with the pain he caused me personally, he is still causing my children deep hurt and this is still stopping me, stopping us all, from reaching that magical zenith of being ‘over it’. The thing is, with E, is that every time we are close to being over it he does something else, which gives us a new thing to get over, another stumbling block that prevents us from moving on.
From the minute E left, I was conscious of the damage the split was creating in my kids’ lives of how long it would take them to get over it. It would have been better if he’d acted like a grown-up – sat with me whilst I told the kids what was happening, came to my front door and exchanged polite words with me when he picked the kids up on the days he saw them, or even kept in touch with me about parents’ evenings and school events and made some effort to attend them. All of this would have been hard for me, but it would have made life so much better for the kids. It would have reassured them that it was me he’d left not them. He did none of those things, and whilst at the time I was glad – it marked my new independence, my new Single Mum-hood, I didn’t need him and this proved it – I was missing the point. I didn’t need him, but they did.
As the years have gone on, and E has continually lowered the bar of their parental expectations, the kids have adjusted and readjusted again and again to their Dad’s withdrawal of himself from their lives. From a purely selfish point of view, this has been amazing for me – we’re very close, we’re a team, we have a bond that it probably much stronger than it would have been if they’d been torn between loyalties, or forced by seeing their Dad’s new relationship, to re-evaluate their parents’ old one. My children love me, and support me and are very protective of me In a lot of ways this is because they have a one-sided view of the whole thing, not, I hasten to add, caused by me saying anything negative about their Dad (on the contrary, I have lost count of the times I’ve gritted my teeth and tried to convince them of his worth), but by the bleak truth of his complete lack of involvement in their lives. They’ve adjusted, but that doesn’t mean they’re ok. The hole left in their lives by their Dad’s leaving is still raw, it still hurts, and they still feel the same desertion that they felt the day I told them he was leaving. The problem is, that like the pain I experience their continuing struggle has more to do with his actions since the break-up than the break up itself. The brutal fact is that his increasing lack of interest in his children in the years since he’s left means that they’re probably more hurt now than they were back then.
As a result, as a family, we’re still not ‘over it’. The kids struggled after E left, and despite my efforts, they continue to struggle. Three of my children have suffered from mental health problems. I have documented the devastating effects on Youngest Daughter and Oldest Son here, but Oldest Daughter is also suffering from depression and anxiety. Being older, and a little more experienced, perhaps means she deals with it a little better than her younger siblings – she knows not to isolate herself, she calls me, texts me, lets me know when she’s down. I can’t do much to help (oh for the days when I could make everything better with a hug, a plaster and a piece of chocolate), but I can listen.
Even Youngest Son has bad days. They come suddenly and unexpectedly. I can tell something’s up because his hugs linger a little longer than normal (I’m pleased to say that, unlike Oldest Son, Youngest Son is a hugger), he’s quiet and, eventually, he cries. He’s fourteen, and can’t always articulate everything that’s bothering him, so he usually mumbles (in an increasingly gruff voice) ‘it’s just Dad’. This is the kid who usually deals with his feelings about his Dad with flippant jokes and wry humour. He’s the one who I try to tell myself is the ‘most ok’. He was the youngest of the four when his Dad left, and, in a way, he’s the one who, in some ways, had the least adjustment to make. Unlike his siblings, who remember their Dad being there most of the time when they were little, by the time his Dad left, when he was ten, of the previous four years, his Dad had spent one year in Singapore and then most of the three years since he’d come home ‘working late’ (ha!), working weekends and making excuses to not be with us. So, given that, like everyone, he doesn’t remember much of his first few years of life, he can only really remember his Dad being around between the ages of four and six, so really, for most of his life his Dad hasn’t really been much of a presence. But even he feels his Dad’s absence very personally.
I can leave my emotional attachment to E firmly in my past, and as every day passes, his emotional impact on me, on my self-esteem, fades a little bit more. But my kids can’t do this. On the contrary, with every day that passes, the lack of their Dad in their life, or perhaps just the lack of their Dad’s interest in their lives, hurts a little more keenly. The wasp sting isn’t fading for them, it’s coming back stronger and more painful than ever.
Of course, now E has a new baby, their emotions about their Dad are even more complex. They’re a pretty tight-knit group of siblings and having a sister that they haven’t met, or even been offered the chance to meet, is very hard on them. As far as they’re concerned this new little girl is one of them, they’re now a five not a four, but apart from sending a few photos, E has made no effort at all to involve them in his new child’s life. I know there is a pandemic – but when she was born, in July, people were allowed to meet up, but still no contact was made. I know, from personal experience, how overwhelming the first few months with a new baby can be, but when I had my children, I always made sure that the others were involved with the new baby, that they weren’t left out in any way. The fact that they have been thus far excluded from their sister’s life is as incomprehensible to me as it is too my children.
Inevitably (never one to avoid scrabbling to descend to a whole new low), E compounded this hurt on Oldest Son’s birthday in August. By now the kids are used to no cards and no presents, but they’ve always at least get a text from their Dad (even if, in Youngest Son’s case, this was close to midnight on the day of his 14th birthday), on their birthdays. But this year Oldest Son didn’t hear a word from him. I saw him checking his phone throughout the day, and assumed it was the usual social media etc. It wasn’t. He was waiting to hear from his Dad. He didn’t.
At this point, E knew about Oldest Son’s suicide attempt (Oldest son had given me permission to mention it in an email to his Dad and the others involved in the sale of the house. I was reluctant to mention it, but Oldest Son wanted it ‘out there’, so I talked about it as a factor in an email about the problems we were experiencing because of the lack of movement on the sale). Just as when Youngest Daughter had had the same problem a couple of years ago, E did nothing. Unlike with Youngest Daughter, he did at least acknowledge that he had the information – but only in the context of a whinging reply to my email, lecturing me on the ‘appropriateness’ of mentioning something so personal in an email to other people. Even so, as this was Oldest Son’s chosen way of reaching out to his Dad, I think we both hoped that he would eventually respond in some way to Oldest Son. He didn’t. On the contrary, he not only ignored him, but he hasn’t contacted him since.
This is where I still have a lingering resentment towards E, the thing I haven’t ‘got over’. I can’t help but resent him for what he’s doing to my children. My children’s pain is my pain and E’s emotional and physical desertion of them has gauged a wound that is taking a long time to heal for all of us. But – here’s the thing – this isn’t stopping us from moving on.
I suppose, in some ways, I have learned my lesson from January 2016 – these things take time, and, in reality, for my kids this one might take the rest of their lives. Over the years, the wasp sting pain of the break-up has faded for me, but the mark from the sting is still there, and whilst it doesn’t hurt, it is something that will always be part of me. One thing I didn’t realise, back in January 2016, is that sometimes you can’t get over something, sometimes, you just have to learn to live with it.
The kids and I will get there, we will be ok, and as we have done, again and again over the last few years, we will continue to adjust (and readjust) to whatever new normal E’s behaviour creates for them. I just hope, for her sake, that E doesn’t let his new daughter down, the way his let his other children down.
In the meantime – another lesson that the last few years has taught me – my kids and I have each other and I guess that’s pretty good start. Actually, it’s an amazing start. Maybe we don’t need to climb the mountain after all, but just enjoy the lovely air and the beautiful views whilst getting to the top? We may not now be, we might not ever be, ‘over it’, but maybe we don’t need to be?