Last February, after months and months of painful divorce proceedings, Eli’s kids were allowed to move to Southern California with their mother. It was a devastating blow, but given the information the Judge had (a lot of it false and incomplete), it was just how things panned out. Looking back at everything that happened, it was a total blessing in disguise, aside from the kids being moved so far away. The great part is, is that even though they live almost 400 miles away, the time that they spend with us is court ordered; that means it’s required, which is more than Eli ever would have gotten by trying to negotiate outside of court.
*If you or someone you know is thinking about divorce or going through a divorce with someone who will NOT compromise or seems unwilling to act in the best interests of the children, please read my post titled, “For those of you who aren’t so lucky.” There is a huge difference between a bitter divorce, and divorce with someone who clearly displays the patterns of a personality disorder. And trust me, there will be patterns. These people are textbook and extremely predictable after you know what to look for. Please, please educate yourself on Narcissistic, Borderline and Antisocial Personality Disorders. (This will help you in all relationships, not just with spouses/ex-spouses.) Knowing what you are dealing with, and using legal counsel who is experienced with this type of person, could be the difference between you saving your children, and you losing everything. I should note, that even if you are prepared and things “look” obvious to you, the Courts are often fooled by these types of people, so be ready to present cold hard facts and to take some losses either way.
The interesting thing that I’ve learned in being close to Eli’s case is that if the Judge has to rule, there will be no “winners.” You lose, your disordered Ex loses, and unfortunately, the kids lose. The injustice in family court is real. But, at least there will be court orders. And any type of “order” is a huge loss for a narcissist or other cluster-b parent. Personality disordered individuals have an incredibly hard time following orders because they feel as if they are above the rules. They will self-destruct, likely more quickly than you think, on the simplest, most basic requirements of the court. Keep your head up, keep on being a great parent, track everything and the scales will eventually tip.
And remember, when the kids are with you, they are yours. Teach them empathy, kindness, and fairness, set healthy boundaries; they will turn out ok with your guidance. As soon as the kids start becoming even a tiny bit independent, the personality disordered parent will likely turn on them too, and your kids will see things clearly. Don’t give up on them, ever. I truly wish that I could get to every victim of a narcissist, sociopath, and borderline, and help them personally. So many families could be saved if people simply knew the kind of damage that these disordered individuals are capable of inflicting on even their own children.*
Ok, back to it… So, with Eli’s kids on a set schedule to spend long weekends and school breaks in the Bay Area, and Eli traveling down to SoCal once a month, we really had to get into a rhythm of planning our time and making it count. Even with that rhythm, our family dynamic had me feeling a few different types of guilty.
The first guilty feeling that I had, is that because I have my kids for multiple weekdays and every other weekend, I get to drop them off and pick them up from school, take them with me on errands, and stick them in front of the TV when I need to clean the house; in other words, our time is pretty normal. Why would I feel guilty that my time with my kids is “normal?” Well, when Eli’s kids come to town we plan trips, go to new places, and are constantly doing fun activities. When P and Z are here we have packed days of quality family time. It makes me wonder if my kids think we only do special things for his kids… Technically that is not the case, but it sort of seems that way. Three weeks out of the month its business as usual and then BAM! Eli’s kids are here and everyone is having the time of their lives. No one is bored, not even for a second. And then, his kids go back to their mother’s house and things get “normal” again. Is this bad? Should I be feeling bad about this?
After months of deliberation, I have realized that my answer has to be “no.” I should not feel bad that my kids get to have multiple days each month of jam-packed fun. My kids are happy and have absolutely everything they need. W and L are with me a lot, so we do normal, mundane things along with the fun stuff, and if we only do a few special things each month, that is plenty. I’m sure they get a few extra-ordinary activities with their dad too, so I had to drop this guilt. This is just part of our reality having two kids that come to “visit” and two kids that are with us multiple days each week. And I have to remind myself that we have quality family time no matter what we are doing. My kids are lucky. The memories that they are creating are priceless, so saving up special activities and experiences for when we can be together as a complete family, is amazing.
My second overwhelming sense of guilt comes from something that I haven’t quite worked through yet. I get to see my kids almost every day. I get to see my kids almost every day. So why did I have to type that twice, and why does that make me feel guilty? It’s simple really – the love of my life, the most dedicated and incredible father I have ever met, does NOT get to see his kids every day. He doesn’t even get to see them every week. This destroys me. Here I am, scrolling through Instagram when my kids are right in front of me, while he looks forward to his 10-minute facetime (during which he barely gets to see his kids) each evening like it’s the final playoff game of Warriors basketball. Shame on me for looking away from my kids when they are playing at the park, even for a second. Shame on me for getting frustrated when my son comes in for his 100th hug of the hour. Some people don’t get their kids. Some people pour their heart and soul, and all of their love into a baby, only to have it ripped away because they trusted the wrong human being.
So for that reason, I feel guilty. I feel guilty that I get to drop my kids off at school every week, and that I get to go to gymnastics and soccer, and that I get to hear them complain about the amount of broccoli on their plates. I feel guilty that their dad and I can call each other at any moment of the day to get a little bit of kid time. I feel guilty that if I miss them, I can join them for dinner. I feel guilty that I can be their mom, 100% of the time and that they are never withheld from me. I don’t know if this guilt will go away until things start looking up in Eli’s situation (which based on this last year, will likely be sooner than any of us initially thought!). All I can do until then is fully appreciate the time that I have with my kids and the time that we have with his kids.
I ask Eli frequently if being with my kids and having them more often than his, makes him feel sad. He always says it doesn’t. Of course he is sad that he doesn’t get to see his kids every day, and of course, he misses them, but he says that being around my kids helps him. He brought up a really good point about a year ago when he first started hanging out with my kids. It helped put things in perspective. He said, “Even when I’m not with my kids, I am still a dad. I can’t turn it off.” At that point, my kids were not even close to being “his kids” but I understood what he meant. Having children turned him into a dad. Even now, as I watch him walk around the room blowing out candles, he has “dad” written all over him. He will forever be a dad, so getting to feel useful and needed almost every day with my kids, helps him feel like himself. I know that the time he spends with my kids will NEVER replace the time he misses with his, but at least it’s something.
The fact remains, that my kids are not his and his kids are not mine, but we are a family. We are a modern, blended family. Our time is a mix between having his, mine, and ours; and then there is us. On days where I drop my kids off with their dad, and he drops his kids off with their mother, our house gets strangely quiet. Sometimes we just sit there and say, “what should we do?” over and over until we end up doing nothing. It is a very weird transition, but something that I am thankful that I get to share with him. He gets how it feels to be spread incredibly thin one second, and then to feel completely calm and a little empty the next.
After coming to terms with the fact that even though we both want our kids with us every day, it simply isn’t possible, I settled into our us time. It’s actually kind of amazing. We get to date, we get to spend nights in and eat dinner over candlelight, we get to take weekend trips to Monterey, we get to SLEEP IN, PEOPLE. Get this – I haven’t paid for a babysitter in over a year! What parents of four kids under 7-years-old, do you know who get time to bond and truly connect? Kids make relationships hard, and we feel that hardship, even multiplied sometimes because of the number of kids that we have, their close ages, and the complexity that dealing with the kids’ other parents can bring. But we also get time to reflect on those hardships, time to plan for possible pitfalls, and time to appreciate even the frustrating parts of parenthood. Getting to unwind alone together at the end of a busy weekend with the littles is something that few parents get the opportunity to do. Sometimes I wonder how our relationship would change if we had a baby of our own…