My kids are both teenagers so they are clearly on the path of separation from their mother and me. The experience, however, could not be more different and some of it is my fault.
Several months ago, as a relationship ended, so did my ability to house and feed my kids on the alternating weekends that had become my primary opportunity to connect with them. Truth was, I was a little ashamed and disconnected from them even when they were with me. Something about not being a success, not being as close to them as I was when they were kids, and something about putting my priority on my primary romantic relationship at the expense of some of my conscious parenting. I was punting the major duties of guardianship and discipline to their mom. I was imaging that I was staying close, but I can see how I was responsible for the drift.
As we were sliding into the end of their 14th and 16th year I was content to keep mainly to myself. I no longer had a place for them to stay on the weekends, but the alternating housing routine had become a tedious exercise that no one appreciated. And as teenagers, one with a car, they wanted to be elsewhere every weekend anyway. And I was okay with that. Kind of. I was also sad about it, but didn’t know what remedies were available. Certainly some of it was my own sadness at the loss of my younger kids, the kids who needed and depended on me for everything, including entertainment. Now, they needed nothing from me. Of course, I knew they needed love and my continued expression of desire to be connected to them and their activities. But needless to say, we were drifting apart as we muddled through the summer and began what would be their Freshman and Junior year in high school.
My relationship to both of them has been reduced to “dates” and “dinners” scheduled with semi-regularity. And the requests and ideas for these meetings was up to me. We were all happy to coast along in our disconnected relationship. Me as a parent, clueless how to rebuild. Them as teenagers with very different priorities and goals. Still, we needed each other. But the value of the relationship was much less obvious to all of us.
And much of this disconnection I have to place at the foot of the divorce and my loss of time with them from 5 and 7 until now. Those years when bonds and confidences and closeness are welded together, I was a 1/3 presence in their lives. I was also struggling with my own demons of depression and looking for high-level marketing work so I could both support them (child support) and afford a place to live.
As the years wore on, the gap became more obvious. Weekly decisions, weekly chores, and weekly activities were exclusively the domain of the mom-kid relationship. Their bonds grew closer while I learned to function as a bit of an outsider. Weekends with dad were different from the core of their lives. We all worked it out as best as we could, but there was a huge gap in our communication and bonding. As they grew closer and more connected to their mother, my relationship with my kids took on a more dutiful role. They were obliged to come to my house every other weekend, but there were no significant advantages to this arrangement for them. We were always having to “stop by mom’s” to pick up clothes, retainers, sports equipment, and books. They were saying with me, but more like a hotel with a good driver and less like a home. And I get it. Packing every other weekend for four nights (Thur-Sun) at dad’s was a pain in the ass. More so as they grew older.
I don’t blame their mom for this disconnection. In fact, I think she has done a fantastic job or stepping up to the plate to become their best friend, confidant, counselor, and caregiver. I have nothing but respect for her.
But this past weekend, as a major event unfolded in our lives, with my son ending up in the hospital, I was again struck at just how far out from their orbit I had become. So many items came up in the process of getting a grip on my son’s situation, items/issues that I had never been told or asked about. Huge parenting issues that had been overlooked and not shared with me. It was not the time to confront the secrecy, but it pointed out a huge gap in my parenting intelligence: the relationship between the mom and dad (especially after divorce) about core parenting issues, like drugs, school, relationships, sleep habits, discipline… I had been left out of the loop on some significant data points and in this moment of family crisis, I learned just how out of the loop I was. I was purposefully discarded as a resource and counsel on major matters concerning my son and his wellbeing.
I’m sad. I’m scared for my son and his future growth through this experience. And I’m not looking forward to the eventual conversation/confrontation with my ex-wife about these gaps in our parenting narrative. She’s got reasons for leaving me in the dark. I have to be ready to step up to the plate for the requests that may come out of my readmission into the family structure.
I admit I’ve been a bit self-absorbed trying to get my own shit together. I had no idea how far the breakdown had been progressing on their side of the orbit. And today, I am left wondering when and how to both support and renegotiate my relationship with my ex-wife. Parenting is a journey best shared by both partners. I am strong enough to engage with love and caring and the knowledge, that somehow she believed leaving me out of the loop was the best option for my son.
The Off Parent
image: hospital image, creative commons usage