I Had to Divorce My Husband to Give Him What He Really Needed — A Mommy
What I wouldn’t give for my ex-husband to enter into a relationship with a stable, caring, mature, grown-up woman who would love my children like her own during his every other weekend visitation. It sounds like a dream.
I would worry less, during my daughters’ visits, about their emotional and physical wellbeing. A quality girlfriend or wife might make their weekends with their dad more enjoyable. Perhaps the girls would even have less anxiety when it came time to leave my home at 6 pm every other Friday. For me personally (and this is the really dreamy part) it would give him a woman to focus his requests for mommy-attention on, other than me.
Dare to dream, indeed.
Unfortunately, the cold hard truth is that my ex will not attract a stable, loving, grown-up woman because he is still an emotional child and grown-up women aren’t attracted to children.
It took me a long 16 years to realize that he was seeking mothering from me. (This is a common complaint about husbands these days, to varying degrees. Mine was an extreme case.) He is now pseudo-searching for a new mommy when what he needs to do is start growing up.
The problem for him is that no quality woman will accept his invitations (at least not for very long) to explore the bottomless chasm of his dependence, which means our kids will subsequently be exposed to an endless parade of temporary caretakers of their Dad’s emotional needs.
The good women will bail and leave my girls grieving, and the shitty ones will give my girls grief.
And, in between, their Dad will rely on his daughters to heal his wounds.
“Dad brought one of his ‘friends’ to Thanksgiving,” my 13-year-old said with a tone of voice that matched her accompanying eye roll.
It was Sunday — the end of his visitation and 10 minutes into the 50-minute drive from his rural house to our urban loft.
Last year, he brought a 26-year-old girl with a Pokemon tattoo on her forearm to Thanksgiving as his surrogate mom. He’s 43.
To our meeting with the state Department of Developmental Disabilities about the progress of our autistic daughter, he brought a woman from his Facebook Divorce Support Group (who, mind you, had never met our daughter — or me.)
The girls aren’t certain where he met the woman he brought to Thanksgiving this year.
“Why can’t he just tell us when he’s dating someone? Why does he call them ‘friends’? It’s really irritating. Like he thinks we are babies or stupid.”
There are few things more offensive to 13, 10, and 8-year-old kids than feeling like they are being treated like babies…or stupid.
“You know that its okay for your dad to bring friends or girlfriends to holidays, right?”
“…and you know that it doesn’t hurt me and that I believe that the more people there are in your world that love you, the better, right?”
“So, what’s the real problem?”
“I just know that soon she’ll be gone and he’ll be spending the weekends dragging us around with someone else. He can never just be alone with us.”
“I understand your frustration, babe, but you don’t know that”, I reply.
But she kind of does — and so do I.
How do I know that? Because I know that healthy people attract healthy relationships and that my ex is not an emotionally healthy person. He wants a woman to mother him and as soon as any healthy woman figures that out, being untethered by having children with him, she’ll peace out his ass.
So I decided that that car moment was a good time to share with my daughter the story of my own step-mom entering my life.
She and my father started dating when I was about 7 years old. Going to dad’s house went from obligatory to enjoyable. My step-mom was funny and engaging. She paid attention to my sister and I and wanted to do fun things with us. Most of all, she made my dad happy at a time when it didn’t seem like anything could. My dad said on more than one occasion that she made him want to be a better man. And he was, because of her. I was, and still am, so grateful that she found her way into our lives.
“My best advice is to try not to have expectations, love. Your dad is bringing them around for a reason. He’s working on something.”
Although my mom and my dad had a vastly different relationship than my ex and I, the point stands that adding a loving, grown-up partner can be healthy for both the kids and the co-parents. I shared my story with my daughter because I don’t want her to become jaded by her dad’s serial dating or start believing that nothing good can come of it.
I want what I had in a step-mom for both my children and myself.
However, if that’s the case, I have to put a pin in that fantasy, roll up my sleeves, and get to work — because my ex is still a child and that is 100% my fault.
By the time our marriage took its last breath, I had come to realize the roles that my ex-husband and I had played for each other. We had an attraction of deprivation, not aspiration. He was the same kind of narcissist that I had been raised by for 21 years, and I was the mommy that he never had. We both tried to get the other one to heal our childhood wounds. We failed each other miserably.
I lost attraction to him long before I became aware of the reason: that he wanted me to mother him. In the meantime sex was a chore which I engaged in dutifully, but not passionately, and would do pretty much anything to get out of.
I was/am an exceptional mother to our children but was an awful mother to him. He acted out, and I gave him zero boundaries. The worse his behavior got, the more I tried to cover for him. I thought my job was to make everything okay for him and that, if I was somehow able to, he would finally be happy and would be able to focus on me and my needs. I indulged him in the same way his mother did…all praise, no limits. I allowed him to believe that nothing was his fault and that all of his problems stemmed from the world being against him.
I relieved him of the burden of participation in the emotional or physical labor of the relationship because I didn’t want him to tantrum.
I didn’t nag or guilt him when he didn’t attend our children’s’ school functions. I searched and found jobs for him when he was unemployed, even writing his resume’. I allowed him to skip out on family functions and turn down social invitations that would’ve been good for our kids. I had sex with him when I didn’t want to. I indulged the entitled, little, boundary-less narcissist inside of him making his persistence as an emotional child, again, my fault.
He once told me, during the divorce, that I had ruined his life. It took me a lot of soul searching to realize that he was right.
I facilitated both his sense of entitlement and his dependence on me — and then I abandoned him.
I was a horrible, horrible mother to him. Mothers teach their children independence. I taught him the opposite.
So here I sit, a year out from our divorce decree, 2+ years since our separation, and I have realized that I still have an obligation to care for my ex. This is the man I chose to be the father of my four children. I failed at mate selection, and I’m not going to leave my four girls to pay for that mistake with their future relationships.
There is nothing I wouldn’t do to make their lives better and having an emotionally grown-up father will have an empirically beneficial effect on their future romantic endeavors.
His job, in this respect, is not something (like his resume’) that I can simply do for him. The empty dad-shaped hole in their life can’t be filled by me, no matter how hard I try. So what I can do is finally be a good mom to him, set some limits, and help him learn some things the hard way instead of enabling his helplessness.
What exactly does this mean? It means that I stop myself from making excuses for his poor decisions. When he tells the girls that he can’t spend any time with them beyond the four days per month he’s ordered to, I don’t cover for him or co-sign his lies to them. I don’t hesitate to enlist the attorney general of our state to collect his child support arrears. When he texts me in unreasonable tones or with an unreasonable request, I tell him to rephrase his request and ignore him until he does. I set boundaries with all communications and do not tolerate abusive behavior.
Tomorrow we go to enforcement court for his refusal comply with an order to reimburse me his share of the girls’ medical expenses. He hasn’t paid as the judge instructed. I fear he will go to jail. I fear he will cry in open court. I fear he will lose his job. These are things that, even now, I am driven, somewhere deep inside, to protect him from.
Yesterday, while rehearsing how the hearing will go and trying to ensure I was prepared, I found myself making excuses for him and minimizing the extent of his debts. This was just yesterday and I am still doing the thing that I now know will impede his emotional growth because it is uncomfortable for me.
I — can’t — do — that — anymore.
I can’t protect him from himself any longer. I have to be a good mom and let him deal with the consequences of his shitty decisions. If he goes to jail or loses his job, so be it. If he doesn’t want to sink, he’s going to have to learn to swim, and I can’t keep throwing him buoys. That’s the only way he will finally grow up.
I have to do it for my girls.
The only hope I have for him to become a good dad and find a partner worthy of being in my girls’ lives is to set boundaries and be a good mom.
The role of any good mother is to raise her children to be independent of her. That’s my goal. That’s when he will be able to start participating more fully in his daughters’ lives and sustaining new relationships. He will be less focused on me, more focused on his children, and more capable of standing on his own two feet and navigating the world without the aid of a stand-in mother at his side.
Hopefully — fingers crossed — I’ll mom myself right out of a job.
- As I’ve mentioned in a few of my other articles, my ex is a narcissist. I’m linking below to one of the best pieces I’ve ever read on narcissism. If you have a narcissist in your life, you’ll be glad you read it.
Narcissists Are Made, Not Born
And what I've learned about myself as the child of a narcissist
- I’ve also recently compiled a list of the most effective strategies I have found to deal with my ex as a co-parent. This isn’t “14 Ways to Control Him”. It’s “14 Things That YOU Can Do” to make the situation better. The effort has been worth it.