I'm still feeling pretty numb today, I slept way too long this morning and just don't feel productive at all...such a strange turn from how I was last week; I have to keep reminding myself though that I have been through a huge trauma ASIDE from the mess with my husband: my father's tumor. Maybe that is the source of the numbness. I just can't feel all of this all at once.
A couple of people have emailed me and asked about how the kids are doing through this. Dreading how my children would react was the reason I stayed with my husband as long as I did and put up with the crap I did. I could not imagine looking them in their sweet little eyes and saying something that would tear their world apart, regardless if it was my fault or not. I imagined them as grownups and starting the first sentence to their therapists as "Everything was fine until my parents broke up". I already guilt trip myself to death as a mother, but add this in and I didn't think I would make it through.
When my husband first left he was still coming over so much that the kids really didn't even notice he was gone. He would come straight from work and then leave after they went to bed. It does seem crazy now but it made the transition much easier for us all. Finally they noticed that he was leaving and we had to come up with an explanation.
I got very, very detailed advice on what to say to them from my therapist, specific to each child's age. I asked every question I thought they would ask and prepared myself for the worst. Her best advice to me: "They're going to be sad when you tell them. You can't avoid that. This is sad. But just reassure them that they will be ok and they are safe and that you both still love them, that is what they need to hear."
Our oldest, who was a few weeks short of ten, was the first we told. We took him out to eat then sat him down alone. I made my husband be the one to actually say it. He told him that Mommy and Daddy had been having some problems, and that we had actually separated. I'll never forget the look on my son's face. He looked shocked, then he turned to me with his big brown eyes and lunged for me, and cradled himself in my arms like a baby. He wailed and wailed while I held him and cried on his shoulder. I whispered in his ear all the things that my counselor had advised me to say. "It's ok to be sad. We just have grown up problems that we're trying to work on. We both still love you. You're not going to have to move or change schools. You're still going to see Daddy all the time and can call him anytime you miss him. " As advised, we did not place blame on either party, when he asked why, we just said that we had gotten married so young that we never had a chance to be grownups on our own. The more I told him, the less he cried. Finally he rolled over and asked a few questions "Is this why you go to counseling every week? Is this why you leave every night?" His mood changed...he had been reassured that he was going to be ok, and it was like he was RELIEVED. I think if I've learned anything from my own parent's divorce when I was 29 to my own separation, it's that kids want to know the TRUTH...even if it's ugly. They don't want some pretty fairy tale that doesn't feel real, because they are more sensitive than we are and can feel when something is off. And honestly, he has been doing better than ever since that night. He seems more open to sharing his feelings than before, and happier in general.
My middle child, who was five, did exactly what my therapist said. In one ear and out the other. We sat her down, explained it to her the same way we did my oldest, and she said, "Ummm, ok." I think she asked one question, and then she said "Can we go eat lunch now?" She's been fine ever since as well. One night she did start crying and wanting her Daddy, and I told her she could call him anytime she missed him...she did and then was fine.
To my surprise, the two year old was the one to take it the hardest. She noticed immediately something was off. She went from laying down happily in her crib every night and going to sleep by herself, to screaming her head off when I put her down and eventually climbing out of her crib if I wouldn't come and get her. This change occurred the week he left. It was amazing. She cried all the time, she stopped napping, she'd stay up until midnight screaming. My therapist's advice: she needs you right now, don't worry about breaking routines and creating bad sleep habits right now, just hold her when she wants to be held and reassure her that you are not leaving her. Some nights she would start screaming for Daddy and would wander the house looking for him. Those nights were the most heartbreaking of my life. She'd go in every dark room wailing "Daaaaady! Daaaaady!" for hours and just fall asleep in my arms, or sometimes she'd fall asleep leaning on a door. She would also wake up multiple times a night like a newborn again. This lasted for about a month before she finally started to improve, and just this last week she started going to sleep at her bedtime again...but only in my bed(I move her to her own after she falls asleep). It has been six months.
A couple of weeks ago, I was upset about something having to do with my husband and could not stop crying. My two older kids both walked in and saw me crying. I did not try and put on a happy face...again my therapist assured me that letting them see me sad about this every now and then would be a good example to them that they could allow themselves to be sad and cry if they felt bad about the situation. They asked me, "What's wrong, Mommy?" and I said "Mommy is just feeling sad about me and Daddy today." They both hugged me and I thought it was over. Then a few minutes later, my oldest said "I know a way to fix things, Mommy. I can make a plan to make you and Daddy get back together." I was alarmed, remembering how I had tried so hard to make my own parents get back together, even as an adult, and knew it was an unhealthy role my son was trying to take on. I immediately said "Oh honey, that is so sweet of you, but you DO NOT have to take care of Mommy. I can take care of myself. I'm just sad today, and it's ok to be sad sometimes. You don't ever have to worry about fixing things for me." Instant relief washed over his face, and he said "OK, I'm gonna go pogo".
I am starting my oldest in play therapy next week. I think he's doing really well, and I think that thanks to my own counselor's advice I'm saying and doing all the right things. But I just don't think you can be too safe in this situation (especially since I cannot control what my husband says and does to him). He'll only be going every other week to start. I want to do everything I can to make sure he is ok through this.
Despite my anger and resentment, and the awkwardness between my husband and I, we are making a point to put on a united front for the kids. Showing them that they can't use one of us against the other. Sitting together at soccer games. Being nice to each other. Spending holidays together so things don't have to change for the kids. I think obviously this has to be tailored to each individual's situation, but for us it seems to be working.