There’s a quote that regularly does the rounds on social media. It’s usually wrongly attributed to Einstein, but it does have an air of his quirky brilliance to it: “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
By this definition, the last six years have shown that not only am I certifiably insane, but I should probably also have my ‘functioning adult able to learn from experience’ badge removed and carry some of sort of health warning regarding my inability to admit that (to mangle a phrase) if it looks like a wanker, walks like a wanker, and quacks like a wanker, then it probably is a wanker.
In short, I never learn.
When I was younger, this was potentially quite sweet. Pollyanna like, I always saw the best in everyone, forgave everyone, gave second and third, and fourth chances, ignored my gut instincts in favour of giving the benefit of the doubt, and, inevitably, I frequently got let down.
Never has this tendency been so clear, and never have I so demonstrably not learned my lesson as when it comes to E.
After everything that happened from 2017 – 2019, any sane person would have no goodwill left to offer E. Even the briefest of summaries of his actions in these years: serial affairs leading to a break up, marriage just five months after leaving a 25 year relationship, marriage without telling his children or his other family, refusing to reply to or acknowledge a single email, text or communication attempt by me unless he wanted something, and finally withholding child maintenance and defaulting on our mortgage in an (almost successful) attempt to starve the children and I out of the home he wanted to sell, would suggest that E should not be trusted to honestly tell you his eye colour whilst you’re looking directly at him, let alone be given a second chance at anything.
Yet. Back in October 2019, when I finally got him to court and when the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) had finally imposed a deduction from earnings order on him, meaning they were taking my child maintenance directly from his salary, I did just that. When we were at court, E ‘had to go’ (he was far too busy and important, even for a court), my barrister spoke to him and he agreed, in principle, to pay child maintenance at an agreed rate, and that when we sold the house, I should have a larger percentage of it to reflect the fact that I was in sole charge of the children and needed to provide a new home for them. He even signed a piece of paper, agreeing to this, that we presented to the judge in his absence, and that the judge agreed to. E’s ‘condition’ for agreeing to all of this was that I should agree to revert to direct pay from him and ask the CMS to remove the deduction from earnings order.
I was very reluctant to do this (proving, I suppose, that I can sometimes learn from experience), however, my barrister persuaded me that it was ‘showing goodwill’ and that it meant I’d still get my child maintenance paid and enough of the house sale proceeds to make a good new start for the kids and I. So, I agreed. My only condition was that E should setup a standing order and pay the amount he’d agreed on a set date every month.
The results of this second chance were entirely to be expected.
Within days, the CMS began to call me on an almost daily basis. The reason? E had called them to tell them he was going to move to direct pay. They were therefore calling me to confirm this and pressure me to go down the direct pay route. Bear in mind that, during the year that he’d paid no child maintenance, E had also ignored every call they made and letter they’d sent to him, whilst I’d been calling weekly to find out what was happening and how they were going to recover the money owed. All it took was one call from him and I was suddenly treated like the pushy unreasonable partner who was refusing to do the decent thing. I explained that I would confirm the direct pay when, and only when, I’d received a payment from E and seen that a standing order had been set up, and the stony response I received from the CMS made it crystal clear whose side they were on.
In the end I did confirm the direct pay agreement and the CMS cancelled the deduction from earnings order. Inevitably, the very next payment E made was less than he’d agreed to pay at court. He then, of course, went on to renege on everything he’d agreed to, meaning that no provision was made for the kids when we sold the house, I got no extra percentage, and E got exactly what he wanted.
He has continued to pay less than the CMS have asked him to pay ever since. I’ve now referred this back to the CMS (which is proving to be a special nightmare all of its very own – again, experience suggests, I should have expected this). I should have pursued this earlier, but in the years following the original court case, we’ve had a pandemic, my Mum passed away, Oldest Son had a mental health crisis, Youngest Daughter had a baby. Throughout it all E has ignored every communication attempt I’ve made and gradually distanced himself from his children. He’s now not seen any of them for over two years.
In those two years, I have seen how hurt my children are by their dad’s lack of love for them. I’ve seen them struggle to rationalise his desertion of them and fail. They all know that he doesn’t care. I’ve spent the last six years desperately trying to reassure them that their Dad loves them, only to see that the fiction I’ve been parroting to protect them, has fallen on stony ground – they’re all intelligent human beings who (unlike their mother) can learn from experience, they can all see what I’ve been trying to stop them seeing – their Dad is waste of their time, their Dad has deserted them, their Dad doesn’t care.
In the meantime, because I love them so much and because I don’t understand how he doesn’t feel the same, I keep trying to make him care. I know (from experience – ha!) that he’ll ignore any email I send, and I try to avoid contacting him as a result, but every now and then, it gets the better of me and I send an email pointing out how much he’s hurting his kids. I then, of course, don’t get a reply. I then, of course, feel horribly exposed and stupid and am unsettled and upset for the next couple of weeks.
The kids are far more sensible. Youngest daughter updates him by text every now and then (he replies then makes no further effort), but the others just pay him no heed. Youngest Son changed his phone no 18 months ago and just hasn’t let E know his new number. Oldest Daughter would probably reply if he ever texted her, but he doesn’t. Oldest Son received a message from E a couple of months ago (the first in a couple of years) and, after sharing it with his siblings and debating whether to reply, decided to ignore it. It’s still hard for them – they all feel bereaved, but it’s almost worse than a bereavement because their dad is very much alive and yet is choosing to not see them, choosing to not contact them, choosing to make them feel like this.
My children have learned and events of the last couple of weeks (involving dealing with the CMS and realising that E has no intention of ever doing the right thing by his kids) have finally made me realise that I need to learn too. Even nearly six years on, every email I’ve sent, everything I’ve tried to do has been predicated on the hope that E will act like a decent human being. Nothing he has done in the last six years, probably the last sixteen, has shown that he has ever done this.
I don’t know if the Pollyanna in me will ever quite give up hope that E will one day ‘do the decent thing’, or that somehow the kids and I will get treated fairly by him (or even receive an apology from him) in the end, but she’s going to have to pipe down for the time being. I’m aiming to finally earn my ‘functioning adult able to learn from experience’ badge. With my track record, this may take some time…