Sunday, April 11, 2010

A bitter pill for children of divorce...

Today I want to address a topic that I don't intend to address often on this blog.  It has to do with my husband's children from his first marriage.  In seven years of marriage, I have only met my husband's kids once.  Their mother was apparently too selfish or too intimidated to allow her kids to continue their relationship with their father.  My husband has had his reasons for not pursuing the matter...  While I don't necessarily agree with the way my husband has handled this, it's not my place to tell him how to relate to his kids.  I know he loves them very much and what's happened has hurt him tremendously.

Anyway... this subject has been on my mind a lot recently, because my husband's kids are now pretty much grown up.  And now that they're grown up, they're about to run into some very cruel truths.  I think children of divorce often end up swallowing a bitter pill when they grow up the pawns of parents in battle.  When one parent works so hard to "win over" the kids and covets their affections so jealously... or when that same parent uses the child's affections and favor to control the way other adults behave... it puts the child in a powerful position that they are not prepared to handle.  In other words, it's very cruel to make a child's opinions about an adult so very important.  Because eventually, the child grows up and becomes an adult and other people will expect him or her to act like an adult.  

Take my husband's former stepson, for example.  When the lad was very young, his mother cut her first husband (the boy's biological father) out of his life.  She had the boy's name changed to my husband's last name.  She encouraged my husband and this boy to bond as father and son.  Then, when my husband and his ex wife split up, she encouraged the boy to bond with husband #3 and cut my husband out of his daughters' lives.  Now, my husband still loved this young man as a son, and even paid child support for him until he was over 21 and gave him a car...  Then last year, we discovered that the young man had decided to take back his original surname.  That was all well and good, but the man never told my husband about his plans.  He hashed out his plans in "secret", not realizing that a name change is a procedure that becomes public information. 

We found out about the name change on a government run Web site... didn't have to pay a dime for the information and didn't have to do anything illegal to access it.  Meanwhile, as this young man is changing his name, he's collecting child support from my husband... not his "real dad", not even his stepdad... just someone who loved and cared about him as if he were his son and someone whose "son" didn't think enough about him to tell him about an event as major as changing his last name. 

When my husband confronted his former stepson about this turn of events, former stepson was pissed off.  The first words out of his mouth did not consist of a shame-filled apology, but an indignant "How did you find out about that?!"

And then, when the young man realized what he'd said, his tone quickly changed to one of extremely fake remorse.  "Ohh... I felt so guilty about what I was doing and I knew it would make you angry, so I kept it to myself... I didn't want you to be mad at me..."  And a silently but clearly expressed... please don't cut me off yet... I very much depend on that money you send me every month, even though I'm 21 years old...

But my husband did decide to cut him off.  He was even kind enough to give him a deadline so that the young man would have a chance to get his ducks in a row.  All he asked was that the young man have enough consideration for him to tell him when the name change was final.  Young man didn't do that, so my husband cut him off sooner than expected.

When that occurred, young man wrote an angry email, chastising my husband for cutting him off because he depended on his "timely" payments.  He even made a thinly veiled accusation that I was the one behind the money getting turned off.  Once he realized that the money wasn't coming back, he angrily cut off his communications with my husband and we haven't heard from his since.  However, we did find out that the lad had been pulled over for a stop sign violation and the cop found marijuana in his car... probably the very same car that my husband gifted to him three years ago. 

Now... if that boy were still talking to my dear husband, he no doubt would have felt free to call him up after the arrest and ask him for help paying the fines or hiring a lawyer.  And if my husband still bought into the bullshit that he'd been buying into for most of that kid's life, he no doubt would have "helped" that kid with extra money, afraid that not helping him would mean the boy wouldn't speak to him again or would even--gasp--hate him

The young man has obviously been taught that his favor really matters a lot and that certain people will do whatever they can to make him happy so that he won't hate them.  But the reality is that at some point in every person's life, people start expecting them to take responsibility for themselves.  Sooner or later, everybody grows up and junior's opinion starts mattering a lot less, because junior is not a kid anymore and it's time for him to face reality.

What I've seen time and again, not just in our situation, but also in other divorce situations, is that these kids whose parents use them as weapons and force others to walk on eggshells around them never learn to take responsibility for themselves.  As children, they never learn that compromise is important, and that relationships and respect are both two way avenues.  When they are children, everybody is working very hard not to piss them off or disappoint them because there's this pervasive guilt that comes from getting a divorce, especially when you're a non-custodial parent.  The parent who isn't there on a daily basis feels like shit for not being there and the parent who is there every day, feels free to exploit the guilt.  And she drags anyone and everyone who will jump on the guilt bandwagon along for the ride.  Meanwhile, the child of divorce is not learning the important life lessons that he or she will need when adulthood finally strikes.  He or she is not learning how to handle disappointment or how to be resilient.  All the kid knows is that people used to jump at his beck and call and bend over backwards to make her happy and assuage their own guilt.

And so, these kids go on to their own relationships completely unprepared.  They're not ready for careers, for meaningful friendships, or good marriages, because they've not fully matured.  They have to swallow that bitter pill until they learn the lessons--as adults-- that they really should have learned as adolescents.  It's unfair to them and everyone who has to deal with them.

Anyway... my husband's kids are likely just now starting to figure all of this out, or they have at least started to run into the after effects of being used as pawns.  I know my husband's former stepson is discovering it, though he's probably not insightful enough to understand it.  And yeah, he does have his real dad's last name, which he should have had all along, and perhaps he's developing a relationship with the man who walked away from him and never so much as paid child support beyond his son's sixth year.  But the young man may very well have forever lost the man who cared enough about him to help him out even though he wasn't the boy's father.  And because of the young man's actions, my husband's daughters and their potential motives for reconnecting with their real dad will now be viewed with suspicion.  

Indeed... it's a very bitter pill they will eventually have to swallow, no matter what.

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