I think there’s only one thing more brutal than a young child’s honesty and that is his lack of empathy with his parents’ reaction to it.
Tonight, I found myself, yet again, caught right inside the thorny tree which is ‘do right by all’, and lost, big time – evidently to all parties:
Most of you who know me on Twitter, or have read some of my earlier blogs, will know that, yes, L’s father and I split up almost three years ago, but that we have blundered through the storminess of our own misdemeanours to emerge with the mutually undisputed mantra: whatever went on back then, what comes now has to be about our son. Over time we have created a wavelength upon which we can function as parents and both agree that however hard it is for us as individuals and at whatever level, the responsibility of bringing L up is not just a job, it is our vocation. As such, we have never sought mediation, we have never been through the courts to endorse (or have endorsed) access rights, we just worked it out and, give or take, M has seen his child every two days. That was, until mid September.
To backtrack a little: This year has seen the transition of our son from a naive (albeit extremely ‘with it’) toddler to a very astute and savvy little boy. Very little gets past him and he has worked out very clearly in his mind what he wants and when he wants it. Since around Easter this year, he has displayed an increasing aversion to going to his Papa’s house, be it for tea or for the weekend. The pre-visit drama has transgressed from mild objection at the beginning of the year, to, as with tonight, full-on hysteria to the point where he is almost physically sick.
At first we were able to reason with him and, like a switch being flicked, he would go from ‘no I don’t want to go’ to: ‘OK I’ll get my jacket …’ and off he’d pop without so much as a look back. Later this became much more of an event and M and I often found ourselves reaching the compromise of “Alright then, Papa will make you tea here at our house and then put you to bed” … and that too worked well, for a while. As the weeks passed, he would allow Papa to make him tea and help him into his pyjamas, but then also started to refuse to allow M to read him his story and tuck him in. It became all about me.
M has never been one to hide his feelings and my heart does go out to him when the little one turns to him from my arms and says blatantly, Papa, you’re not my friend. I don’t want you to put me to bed. Mama has to do it. It cripples me how little effect M’s pain has on his son, who is unwavering and resolute in what he wants for himself.
For my part, I actually feel myself withering in guilt in M’s presence as if I myself had brought it on in some way, as well as being racked by a sense of ‘unworthiness’ – my conscience screaming at the unfairness of the whole thing. I spend hours pondering over it, but cannot work out why it’s happening. Logic defies me, as, let’s face it, I have been a complete witch over the last few months – the stress, induced by a combination of lack of income and a dire lack of sleep, has rendered me voiceless from shouting some days .. if I were L, I’d be beating the door down to get away! and yet, despite playing me up all the more on the days when things are at rock bottom, he has become rigidly attached to my company. When he does go to his Papa’s – particularly for the weekend, he returns smiling, happy and arm-loaded with things they have made together … a vision of contentedness and yet, no sooner he steps in the door, than he says ‘Mama YOU are bringing me to bed, NOT Papa!’ and these days, there is nothing I can do to change his mind.
I blogged back in August about M losing his job, floundering very quickly and then eventually being offered a new post, well, cause and effect: on the one hand he now has a stable income – one which, at last, will cover his outgoings and allow him just a little freedom, but on the other, he works in Munich and is returning later and later into the evenings. We have had to drop the Wednesday evening ‘tea at Papa’s ‘ so L now doesn’t see M at all from Monday to Friday.
I realise it is nothing new for some fathers to have to endure a lack of involvement with their families during the week, but this really has had a catastrophic effect on our little unit, namely, where L was reluctant to spend time at M’s place before, he is now refusing point blank to go with him at all.
Up to around Easter-time, L would orientate himself through the week by asking ‘Is it Papa-day?’ … now I dread the moment when I have to remind him he is even due to go for tea. It destroys whatever we are doing at the time (believe me I am having to be so strategic about the moment I pick these days) and it puts a bad atmosphere on the rest of the day, however ‘fabulous’ an image I paint of the time they will have together.
Friday night is the one consistent overnight stay with M per week and we have never missed one. Tonight, however, L screamed. And screamed. And screamed. My heart broke. I was teaching at home and I’m sure my student will never, ever return.
He clung to me as if he were about to be ripped out of my arms forever. He told his Papa to Go Away. He told his Papa he didn’t like him. He told his Papa he was NOT going with him.
However hard, M and I stand by what we have always said .. it IS about L now. Who knows what is actually ‘best for him’ in the situation we have inflicted on him, but, within reason, it now has to be about what he wants. With that in mind and with absolutely no dispute at all between the two of us, M made him his tea here at home and then left.
L was, if not completely jubilant, certainly visibly satisfied with what he considered ‘the way things had to be’ and appeared totally unscathed by the devastation his willfulness had left behind:
M was … is gutted. He has so little time with L now anyway. I can see in his eyes, that despite my reassurances of ‘don’t take it personally’, he really does. Of course he does. It would kill me.
I feel evil. As if I had provoked this somehow.
I am also left in a complete quandary … Ultimately, I guess, I have the last word on whether or not L stays or goes, but my God this is getting tough. Up to now, M & I have managed to reason with him, or at least compromise and L has always admitted, at the end of an evening / weekend with his Papa that he has had a good time. We have played on that and have pushed him gently but firmly into honouring the routine we set. But I am no longer sure whether I should continue with this. It cannot be a good thing to continue to force him into doing something which evokes the level of protest and emotional negativity as we experienced tonight … can it? This evening we did give in and he stayed here with me, but if this becomes the norm, it could prove fatal for the future. The fact that the two of them have had such regular contact, has, undoubtedly served to maintain the excellent relationship they have always enjoyed with each other thus far, one which I have wholeheartedly encouraged from the beginning. But a waiver in contact can only be detrimental to that relationship and surely they will both suffer greatly from that as time goes on.
Once he had got his way, L played me up insanely by refusing to stay in his bed. At my wits end emotionally anyway by this stage, I went from screaming like a banshee one minute, to gasping, doubled up, from monstrous fits of guilt, followed by indulging us both in huge cuddling sessions, which were followed by him gallivanting around the house again like a loon, followed by me screaming like a banshee …. and so the next two hours went on.
Finally at 9:30pm, my one childless “me” evening a week started, with me collapsing in a chair and thinking, if I don’t get this out I’m gonna end up off my head by 10:30 just to stop my brain from exploding …
So this is me on a Friday night, sober as a judge, drinking German tea and wondering where on Earth we go from here …