There are times I want to yell at my ex-husband in front of my kids. Especially when he drops them off at my house and has a smug look on his face while he, ever so slightly, makes a snide comment that undercuts me.
He thinks he’s the only one who is aware of his limp-dicked passive-aggressiveness, but it’s something he’s done for a really long time. He told me while we were married I read too deeply into his words and overreacted.
While I disagree with him now more than ever, I refuse to push back. I don’t want my children seeing their parents argue (we can do that in private), and I refuse to capture them in the middle of our differences. Divorce is really hard for kids, and they’ve been so resilient, so I don’t want to stress them out any further.
My ex isn’t perfect, neither am I. We’ve decided the most important thing we can do, now that we aren’t a couple any longer, is to be happy parents for our children. That means not arguing about petty stuff in their presence. That also means not using them as a bargaining chip to hurt each other.
That’s really damn hard to pull off all the time, and I have to admit, I have not always done a spotless job. Like when he decided to take off to Key West with the kids and his girlfriend and made all the arrangements without even asking me if it was okay to take our kids to a different state.
I sobbed after my son told me they’d booked an awesome hotel. “It’s going to be so fun!” he exclaimed, as I couldn’t hide the shock on my face. I demanded he tell me more because I had no idea this lavish vacation was even happening.
I marched up to my room with my phone, fuming with rage. I was so angry he had the nerve to book a trip and take my kids away for a week at the expense of me losing precious time with them.
He apologized and since then has consulted me with things like this, but in that moment, I couldn’t calm down. I screamed, “I’ll get them the entire following week then! I don’t care what your plans are!” Then I hung up the phone.
I wasn’t proud of myself, and the relief I got from screaming at my ex quickly faded. My kids heard me and it tainted their trip. I could tell because they were constantly checking up on me, making sure I was okay. And it wasn’t their job to do so. Their job was to go away with their father who loves them very much and wanted to have this experience with them.
My anger was pushed off the cliff that day because it was just so typical of my ex-husband to undermine me and think he had the right to make all the decisions. I needed him to know it wasn’t okay, and I wanted him to pay. (Admittedly, I was also angry that I no longer had the means to plan a trip like this with our kids.)
I felt it was my right to make things equal by not letting him see our kids the following week, and the only way I knew how to do that was to use our children as a bargaining chip. And it was wrong. I won’t punish them to get back at him ever again.
It’s impossible to go through a divorce, especially when children are involved, and not have moments of weakness or anger. Even if you part as friends, you will still be tested. Your feelings will be stretched with each new situation: when they find a new partner; when they make a parenting decision you wouldn’t make; when they are acting out in front of your kids and you feel like your hands are tied; when they forget something really important.
You will still hurt them and they will still hurt you. It’s hard to have a healthy reaction to that hurt all the time, but your kids know when you are using them as a weapon. They will feel it, they will remember it, and yes, they will blame you for it. If not now, later in life.
I refuse to have my kids remember their parents’ divorce as a constant push and pull between two different teams. I won’t let them have memories of being thrown in the middle and pulled in different directions. I never want them to feel like catalysts in a toxic mess they have no control over. Our divorce was not their fault.
I want them to have enriching experiences that will improve their quality of life. If that means a little less time with me sometimes, so be it. I want them to have a say in how they spend their holidays and their birthdays. I will no longer play tit-for-tat with their father.
Because if I do, if I let my ego and my hurt win and use my children as weapons to hurt my ex, the only damage it will do is to our relationship — which is the most precious thing in my life. I will not let my anger towards their father come between us.
So as hard as it is, I’ll bite my tongue and take up issues with my ex in private. And most importantly, I will never use them to as a weapon to hurt him ever again. Lesson learned.