It’s the same lie, day after day — that my divorce was friendly and that my ex and I still love and respect one another. We put our differences aside so that we could truly put our children first, and though things are not perfect between myself and my ex, they are as good as could possibly be given the circumstances. My ex and I are still friends, we get along, we’re nice to each other.
I can barely tolerate my ex-husband. Our divorce was not pleasant. It wasn’t pleasant three years ago and it isn’t today. My ex is a classic example of latent toxic masculinity — the guy who is perfectly nice until his power or ego is threatened, and then he becomes the guy who thinks stay-at-home moms are only taking advantage of their hard-working husbands.
During the divorce, he was cruel, hateful, and used my love for my children against me every chance he got. By that I mean, he threatened constantly to make the process more difficult — to drag out the divorce, to demand full custody of the kids, to be purposefully unreasonable in any way possible — in order to keep as much money as possible. He knew I would do anything to avoid putting our kids through a lengthy court battle, and he took full advantage of that. He told me I’d never make it without him, that I’d better learn to live the life of a pauper. You won’t get one penny. I own everything in this house. Your free ride is over.
And now, three years after our divorce has been finalized, he continues to make cutting, passive aggressive comments when he’s sure no one is listening. He withholds money at every possible opportunity. Per our divorce agreement, we are supposed to share expenses for extracurricular activities for the kids, but first we have to agree about what those activities are. No matter the activity, he says he doesn’t agree the boys should do it. Usually, when confronted with our sons’ disappointment about not being able to do an activity they were excited to sign up for, he finally gets on board. But, to me, at the outset, the answer is always, always, always the same: I don’t agree to this so, according to our agreement, I don’t have to pay for it. Every single time, without fail, no matter what it is, his first answer is no. Every single time, there must be an argument first. I must beg and plead.
Did I mention he works in a career that places him in the top 10% of earners? Or that I am still the parent who does all the organizing and managing and driving around for the kids?
Fueled by anger that I would dare part ways with a catch like him (I was the initiator of the divorce), his goal to punish me was and is to leave me as destitute as possible. To make sure I cannot do fun things that cost money. I gave up a lot financially in our divorce because I desperately wanted to avoid a court battle. I couldn’t put my kids through it, and my ex knew that and leveraged it every step of the way. Fine, I guess we’ll have to go to court, he would say if he wasn’t getting his way. And he would have. I attempted to call his bluff in small ways, and every time, he proved he would follow through.
I couldn’t put my children through that. I don’t judge anyone who feels they must go to trial, but I just couldn’t make myself take it there. And yes, my attorney did think I was bonkers. I took far less than what I was legally allowed to, and my wealthy ex walked away with the bulk of the money and possessions we had accumulated over the years.
And my sons, my extended family, our shared friends, have no idea.
I never took the bait when my ex threw out hateful words and threats. I never raised my voice, never gossiped about him, never said one negative thing about him to anyone who knows our sons because I don’t want it to get back to my kids. The thought of them having to spend almost half their time in a house with a parent who they know tried to financially destroy their other parent … I just can’t do it.
So I kept my mouth shut then, and I keep it shut now. My sons adore their father and would be confused and heartbroken if their vision of their father was crushed. They have no idea he behaves this way when they’re not watching. The wild thing is, despite his animosity towards me, my ex truly loves his children, and though he doesn’t do everything the way I would, he is overall a good and attentive parent. The boys worship the ground he walks on. His anger is directed only at me.
But, I admit, it makes me sick to watch my ex-husband turn on his charm and act like a good guy for others. He keeps in touch with my extended family, smiles and laughs and says all the right things to maintain that image of the nice guy. Same with mutual friends. They look at us and wonder, sometimes even out loud, how in the world we managed to remain so civil through our divorce. We’re a model divorced couple. More people should put the children first the way you two have, they tell me, and I want to vomit.
I can’t be the only mother taking the high road and watching my ex garner sympathy and goodwill from people who have no idea what a fragile-egoed shithead he is all because I would literally do anything to protect my kids from the hurt of discovering the parent they thought was good and kind is neither of those things, at least not to their mother. I can’t be the only mother who has precious few people with whom I can be honest. I can’t be the only mother sick on the inside from hearing people compliment my “amicable,” “mature” divorce.
So, to the other mothers out there putting on a brave face and lying every day to protect their kids, I want to say: I can’t see you, but I know you’re there. I know the lengths you’ve gone to protect the image of someone who doesn’t deserve it, and that sometimes it makes you feel like you’ve gone insane, and like you’re so, so alone. But you are not alone. I’m here, if only anonymously, and I know what you’re going through. I know you did what you felt you had to in order to protect your kids, and I support you, even if I — we — have to go through this together, in secret.