One of the most common concerns about ending your marriage, is the effect of divorce on children and usually those concerns are shared by both partners. Lisa has already shared how challenging her mean, vindictive ex made their divorce. Although she was able to shield her children from much of his behavior – they still do not know the reason for the divorce – it was impossible to hide it completely and that has taken its toll. At the time of the divorce, Lisa’s children were aged twenty-one, eighteen and sixteen. Here’s Lisa:
It’s been really, really hard. I didn’t say much about any of it. They don’t know ninety percent of it. A couple of times, they were there.
My daughter and I went to Starbucks one day, just to meet, and I walked in a little early because it was raining so I called her and said,
“I’m inside, I’m not in the parking lot, just come on in.”
I got my coffee and I turned around and lo and behold, there he was sitting on the chair with his laptop in his lap and three minutes later my daughter walked in, she was just pulling in when I called her. He just lit into me and started hollering and “you adulterous slut” because I was dating. He was using the religious card,
“You’re still married, technically that’s an adulteress, you’re going to go to hell, look what you’re teaching your children.”
People were looking and then he started crying “Lisa” and tears are running down his face, his nose is running, through his goatee. He was like a sick child and my daughter’s crying and then she runs out to her car. It’s those little things, he doesn’t get it.
He has kept nothing from the children, he told them I was having an affair, which wasn’t true.
I would come home and I would be just dying. Underwear, all sorts of things. Personal things he would destroy or he would take, just icky, icky, gross, icky. I would come home and see where someone had been laying in my bed and I had had my door locked.
I talked to my youngest and he’s crying,
“I didn’t do it, what do you think I am, a perv?”
Then I asked him if dad was here and he says yes, that he made a hole in the wall and he had called my ex to help fix it. I said,
“Why would you let dad in the house? There’s a restraining order.”
“I don’t care, he’s my dad, I hate this.”
So how far do you go with your kids?
He just had no boundaries, he handled the divorce horribly.
My younger son is very angry at both of us now and he’s very withdrawn. He dropped out of school, we’re having to deal with that now. He’s very depressed, I think he’s gained about fifty pounds. It has really, really affected my youngest. He quit his job, walked out, didn’t like it anymore. The whole deal.
Two thoughts on this segment. First, I really appreciate Lisa sharing the scene in Starbucks. I know I would have been mortified. I’d probably never go in there again. I am making a promise to myself, that if I ever witness a scene like this, I am going to walk up to the person being tormented, give him/her a big hug and offer to walk out with them or let them walk out while I pay for their coffee or whatever. I will not stand by observing, staring.
Next, there are any number of studies about the effects of divorce on children and I think it really comes down to how the parents behave and react. In this case, it’s not surprising that Lisa’s son would feel conflicted about letting his dad into the home, despite the restraining order and it’s not surprising that he’s now angry at both parents. He really has been caught in the middle.
I know that Lisa said had she known what she would go through, she would have thought more about staying in the marriage, but that’s hindsight and she couldn’t possibly have known at the time. And even when a couple stays together until the children have left home, the effects of divorce on children can still be negative – it all depends on how the parents choose to behave.
Lisa and I didn’t discuss this but I see this as a situation for getting professional help. A therapist could help Lisa’s son understand that his father’s behavior was not the fault of his or Lisa’s but a choice his father was making. A therapist would also be able to give Lisa’s son strategies for handling his father. The biggest benefit I see to getting a therapist involved is that as a neutral third party, Lisa’s son would hopefully find him/her credible and wouldn’t be trapped trying to decide was mom or dad telling the truth.
Photo credit: Marjorie Lipan