Whether he is mentally ill or just a jerk, I am still forced up close and personal to my ill/abusive/maladaptive ex-partner on a weekly, if not daily basis. Even now that I have spoken up for myself to the degree that was deemed a good idea and a sound strategy in court, I have to hear his voice on video calls to/from my children. I can’t say anything negative about him to the children, even to answer their questions about why we don’t perform more activities together. Which makes sense if I was a being a bitter, unfounded, spouting lunatic, but when they ask questions that I can’t honestly answer because the truthful answer might be slightly negative to my abuser, it’s very problematic. I can’t tell them, even when they are old enough to understand, that he got drunk and purposefully locked me out of the house while taunting me that the baby was inside crying for me. I can’t tell them that he is ill. I can’t tell them that their friends’ parents will meet him, sense the vast unbalance, and no longer desire playdates with them.
I have to watch him give himself a reputation in their eyes as “the god cop” who doesn’t dole out the consequences, stability, or the boundaries that they’ll need to be better functioning adults themselves. I have to wait for him to turn his neglect/insensitivity/strange world views/self-focus/instability on them. I have to stomach that they might (at some point, as mostly capable-of-self-defence teenagers) wish to live with this poorly functioning good cop. I have to let them have not just video calls, but two weekends a month in his dysfunctional care, awash in his greedy, lavish, unrealistic sentiments, ideas, mis-perceptions, and actions about the world.
I have to let the children’s teachers invite him to not just to social events where he might turn his misguiding charm and weird social norms on the kids’ friends and their parents, but to official school functions where I have to try and cope not only with his awful presence, but his assertions and attempts to get the teachers and therapists to listen to him. I have to try to nicely communicate his dangers zones with the educators, instructors, doctors, camp counselors, and everyone — without flagging drama or negativity or unfounded bitterness — that there are very real and serious reasons why he has zero custody.
Today is an IEP meeting. Will he rush inside with all of his charm and sparkle turned way up? Will he rush in late? Will he dress up and try to influence them with faux respectability? Will he show up wearing dirty, ill-fitting clothes, with an un-showered smell, crazy hair, and picked-at acne? Will he be on his best behavior, just listening and making brief comments, so that I seem paranoid for even suggesting he might do otherwise? Will he try to make assertions that I’ll have to put in their place, because, “Really, you guys — he gets no input. For really important reasons.” Will he snark at me? Will he successfully provoke my inner mama bear? Will he find a way to seem balanced and reasonable so that they seriously consider his thoughts, which, even if officially stricken remain in their minds? Will he try again to assert that our child isn’t on the autism spectrum? Will he overemphasize how well the child is doing cognitively and play way up the “trauma” he believes the children to be experiencing by the little separation and stability away from him that I have managed? Will he bring up a recent scheduling miss-step that was his but he perceives as mine, which led to him arriving at a children’s event with families and teachers but not us?
Today is my daughter’s third birthday. Will he show up late to dinner and then decline to eat a slice of her cake when she requests it? Will he imply that we’re fat for eating it? Will he imply that it is disgusting junkfood so that she won’t want the cake that she requested either? Is he going to bring up the ten harsh emails he sent yesterday, trying to control and belittle me and the children, despite my sole custody?
He will certainly be a manic, awkward, overbearing clown of spazzy entertainment that the kids will love. They will form a memory that he was the main attraction at the family party with the perfect pink cake and balloons and singing and candles and presents. They will not notice the rest of us planning, providing, and giving examples of how to be socially appropriate adults who make eye contact, correctly read the situation, and don’t roughhouse, wrestle, tickle, and laugh too loudly at every single opportunity. How long will it take my babies to recognize that, not just today, but always, he is an unbalanced, inappropriate heartbreaker full of glitter who will let them down and fail them over and over again, because he’s not capable of doing otherwise. He really can’t read the situation and interact appropriately. Will they ever notice that he does not open all of the life doors for them that need opening? Will they ever notice that he did not demonstrate or teach them to use empathy over arrogance? Will they ever think back and remember me cowering from him while I was trying to make sure that they have everything that they need to learn about being nicely human?
When even just his voice sends my fight or flight “what will happen next???” mode into overdrive, how on earth am I supposed to cope with how he may or may not behave and how our others might perceive him to the detriment of our children? How many of the children’s friends, friends’ parents, and teachers will be subject to his wild rollercoaster ride of charm followed by serious dysfunction? Wouldn’t it be much better for children if — when there is a solid, stable, healthy alternative — we prioritized a much greater separation from unhealthy, conception-related baggage, clearly and empathetically explained at an appropriate level of detail per their age and without stigma? Would they someday grieve for a reduced connection to their genetic father, who is, by virtue of greater protection only a far-off, painful, and tense connection? Or would they enjoy the freedom to someday if ever decide on their own, understanding terms, that he is worth all of the heartbreak, anxiety, and interference to forge their own safely distant relationship?
Will they instead have to ask me why I didn’t tell them more sooner? “Why dind’t you just tell us?” Will they have to ask why I didn’t protect them from the real and certain trauma that he will have caused via my silence and lack of ability to meter out their access to his crazy influence? I hope they don’t come to me with tears in their eyes surprised by how awful he has been, as so many of us have already experienced when he turns on us. I think we’re, as a society and judicial system, over-prioritizing the benefits of the shithead being present in this kind of situation of keeping a mentally ill, unstable, and abusive-parent in the picture at the expense of the stable, healthy alternative who would provide contact as age-appropriate.
It would be so much better if I could give him one weekend a month, a weekly video call, and a few holidays, with much greater peace of mind, when he’s not interfering with the rest of the kids’ lives and bearing his immense pressure and weight on top of us all. I would so prefer that he didn’t get the children twice each summer for two weeks at a time without even a guarantee that his mother will arrive in town to assist him. I wish that a judge could look at him and then at me and then the children, or the pictures and tallies of how many bruises the children receive where, and without a doubt listen and notice and declare who is the healthy child care professional with a stable support network in a good position to care completely for young, vulnerable children … and who has dangerously trashed every family, friend, professional, or other relationship he’s ever encountered, who is using the children and myself for narcissistic attention that he can no longer maintain and receive elsewhere, and should not be left alone with impressionable youth for more than a few hours.
Would it be painful for the kids to get used to seeing the zany good cop who garners their love with mania a little bit less often?
Would it ultimately be less painful than all of his negative impacts that he will otherwise push onto them all along the way?
I wish that I would later be in the position of explaining my over-protection to the children (from someone who thusly hasn’t hurt them very much), rather than be apologizing to them later for not enough protection, shielding, and explanations over the years. I’ll be even more devastated if he has enough influence to create more grown humans that share his distorted world- and self-views. I will weep if I must apologize to anyone whom they hurt that I couldn’t prevent an ill, abusive, unstable adult from teaching them some horrifying ways of being in the world. If they never come to resent, and instead they absorb, his lack of focus on empathy, generosity, kindness, humbleness, socially appropriate boundaries, and perspective-taking of any variety, I will be heartbroken, not just over a my continued trauma, nor just the children’s continued trauma, but the worlds’ as well. Knowing their father figure so, so intimately is not worth this continued negative influence. I wish that we could make some changes.