I've written a lot about the Everlasting Divorce--the situation that occurs when one or both members of a couple can't just "move on" after a breakup. One of the clear losers in particular types of Everlasting Divorces is the parenting relationship.
In some cases, mothers struggle with financial and emotional repercussions that either overtly or covertly affect their parenting relationship with their children. Fathers can suffer, too, if their parenting relationship is used against them as a way to maintain the Everlasting Divorce and control the father's behaviors. The following is a story about a father and child whose relationship was negatively impacted by the parents' divorce.
This man lost his promise of fatherhood a few years ago. It was in the back of his car, boxes and boxes of toys, video games, books, projects he and his child made together, and the growth chart he painstakingly marked on each year. As if there were a death in the family, the car load meant the relationship with his child may never include graduation, a wedding, grand-children's births, or something as simple as a beer together on the back porch.
The load of childhood memories was symbolic in ways the son surely didn't understand when he demanded his belongings from his dad's house and that he may not understand at all until he's a father himself. The boxes weren't just stuff. They were symbols of a commitment of a father to his son: a commitment to love him, to invest time and energy into him, and to provide a good life for him.
You might want to know more about this father.
When I first met him, this man saw his son every other weekend and sometimes for a few hours on the off weeks. He was supposed to have more custody than that. He planned his whole work and social life around his limited time with his son, including isolating himself from his friends, denying himself a love life, leaving the office early every other week, and accommodating his ex-wife's (and, ostensibly, his son's) wishes.
Those wishes included that he NOT attend his son's ball games, concerts, or school functions and that he give in to any schedule change due to a birthday party or sleepover with friends he, as the unwanted father, wasn't allowed to meet. It included rules around where the father could be during weekly phone calls (he had to be at home, alone) and who could be over at the house on his custody weekends.
The explicit consequence for not agreeing? He potentially wouldn't see his son at all. For many years, it was a risk he wasn't willing to take. Despite his attempts to comply, though, little by little his parenting time shrunk until it was, at best, one weekend a month. Then one weekend every couple of months.
In the world of Everlasting Divorces, this man was completely enveloped by the process. The divorce wasn't "over"; instead, it was in the forefront of his mind nearly all the time. There wasn't an emotional separation--there was emotional manipulation that caused enmeshment in an unhealthy dynamic.
Eventually, the father entered a romantic relationship that changed the patterns. You may already know that one of the Realms of Change is the emotional realm. In that realm, little changes in self-confidence and connection can have huge repercussions. In this situation, as the father's romantic situation impacted parts of his life positively, his parenting relationship deteriorated even more.
In other words, the emotional enmeshment was about to be over. The Everlasting Divorce had a termination date, which caused stress to the status quo.
Once it became clear to his ex-wife and son that the father was embarking on a long-term relationship, two things happened. First, on the dad's birthday, while the man sat home alone waiting to be allowed to see his son, the son called and said he didn't want to be forced to come over anymore. Secondly, after several weeks of un-returned phone messages from his dad, the son finally called back and said he wanted all his belongings from their new house. He believed his dad was selfish, disrespectful, demanding, controlling, and thoughtless, and he didn't want to come over any more, ever...unless his dad went back to how he used to be.
But, as those of us who have made tremendous life changes know, going back into a shell of an existence is impossible.
Shortly after that phone call, the father said goodbye to his son for what ended up being a long time. As he drove away from the pile of cardboard boxes that contained most of their life memories together and the son who wouldn't wave, he wondered, not for the first or last time, what he did to deserve such complete rejection. Hadn't he done everything they asked? Hadn't he always given his son what he wanted, including this, even if it meant not seeing him? Like always, he didn't know the answers.
After many, many months of not seeing his son at all and having virtually no communication with him, the father has begun seeing him 3-4 times a year. The relationship remains tentative and its future is uncertain, but both father and son have indicated a desire to become closer at some point. The future isn't lost, but the past opportunities most certainly are.
While the focus of this story is on the father-son relationship, the effects of the Everlasting Divorce are the real issues. Physically, the son and the parenting relationship were always just out of reach. It wasn't a case of too much proximity; it was a case of too little parenting time. Financially, there were a few years when the dad paid extra child support as a way to honor an agreement he made while the family was intact. There were also a few years when he met his child support obligation before paying his own bills.
Emotionally...emotionally, it was nearly impossible for the dad to see his self-worth through anything but the lens of the Everlasting Divorce. It was a view that caused him to feel limited and powerless. Emotionally, the father and son are nearly as estranged as is possible.
The effects of small changes can be life-changing.
This story serves as a lesson to others who are stuck in an Everlasting Divorce that uses children to manage the adult relationship. In this case, the lesson is that making changes in himself brought confidence and connection to the father, which could someday be a bridge to a relationship with his son. In other cases, the positive effect on the parenting relationship is more quick and clear to appear.
I think early intervention in the Everlasting Divorce could have helped this family tremendously. I also think an understanding of the Everlasting Divorce dynamic will help mitigate problems for them in the future.
If you'd like to share your story of how kids and parenting relationships were affected by an Everlasting Divorce, I'd love to hear them. You can comment on this post or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also message me through my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/touchingtrees/.
For more information about Everlasting Divorce, including videos about the causes, effects, Realms of Change, and Inspired Identities, please visit www.touchingtrees.com.
Take good care of yourselves and each other.
#fatherhood #everlastingdivorce #divorce #custody