Before I could finish or share more...the father I was talking to - backed away from me stunned-shook his head "I don't understand why parents don't think being nice to their children is important"
I was side tracked by how quickly what I said -triggered this man who is actually in the middle of a custody battle himself. I had already listened intently to a lot of his personal story therefore I understand where his trigger came from. He is in the thick of it now. He's the good cop to mom as the bad cop. He's the permissive to her authority. I haven't really put on my Peace Negotiator hat for him because he isn't seeking out my help. He's just sharing.
I left it there. Again. Intentionally.
He doesn't know how much presence I gave her for several months as I was getting to know her. He doesn't know that my work schedule was different than her corporate biological parents, therefore -it was me who she was with often -when she was sick. He doesn't know the level of unconditional love or the investment of time I put in to assure she felt loved, safe and cherished when she was in my presence.
He doesn't know how often I had to speak up-even to her biological family sometimes so that our connection was not violated, minimized or treated as if it didn't matter -so that she did feel safe, valued and cherished when she was with me.
How I needed to trust and respect her too and how I was deeply committed to her ability to remain honest and not do the typical child of divorce thing where she told one house one thing to get what she wanted from the other house.
He does not know how much time, effort and wisdom that one thing required or how I was willing to do the work - repeatedly -so that she would remain honest and therefore, happy and healthy in her own skin as she grew and as her world began to expand beyond her houses.
He does not know its a delicate art/dance -that only works when you have spent a lot of time to know the child deeply and your clear inside of yourself that it really is in her best interest (now and later) in life to be free from being able to manipulate the system.
He doesn't know that my son didn't have that piece where the adults kept communication open between homes in a healthy way where the child knew there was no room to lie or manipulate. He didn't have that.
My son will be the first person to tell you how he lied and manipulated the system for years and how he paid the price for doing so.
We were at a family party. My son and my new boyfriend were both in attendance. My focus was connecting with my son. He was at his fathers that week so this was one of those rare switch weekends for a family event situations.
My son and I were on the dance floor. Dancing is a huge part of my family culture.
We dance with a tremendous amount of joy.
My son and I were having an incredible time on the dance floor. Goofing off, laughing. He said "mom, I'm going to get some water I will be right back"
Once he moved, my boyfriend came right on the dance floor and grabbed me. I said "no-my son will be right back he's only getting a glass of water" instead of listening to me, he grabbed me tighter. I was pretty annoyed and knew in that moment I would be dumping this guy. He was a fatherless man and these are the annoying moments that I experienced with fatherless men that very often led my decision to dump them. I just had zero tolerance for things of this nature.
When I looked over at my son- I could see that this bothered him too. He wasn't a jealous kid when it came to me because my parenting never changed. I was the same married to his dad, divorced and married again. My mom/son boundaries were the same no matter what who when or where....so he was never angry or upset to have people around us when he was with me -but this was different because he and I were having a goofy fun moment together and he was just getting a glass of water.
I tried to convince him to come back on the dance floor but he wouldn't and I couldn't dance with the boyfriend because his grabbing me tighter when I shared 'no" -was a huge turn off for me.
This all happened in about 3 minutes time. I sat down with my son, we moved on and laughter resumed.
My son went home that evening and told his father that I had paid no attention to him because of my boyfriend. His fathers response was to believe his son which meant- another opportunity for his dad to give him sympathy and give his Dad another reason to once again hate me.
Since my sons father and my brother are friends..the rumors circulated through the family like wild fire (as they often did)
If it wasn't for my father - this story would have been just another false story to "add on," to the others.
My Dad's voice can be trusted because if I had done as my son said -he would have actually pulled me aside at the party and told me what's what. He does not lie, bullshit or defend his daughter to get her out of any hot water she may put myself in. He expects me to be accountable where I am accountable and I appreciate that very much. I think I'd be a completely different person otherwise.
He is deeply trustworthy in this way. He's empathetic not sympathetic which is a distinction rigorously honest people have and get.
But it was also a little late in the game. My son was able to emotionally manipulate for years in this way. The stories were already embedded, circulated and there was this habit now.
So there was no ah ha moment for my sons father. There was no "maybe there are other stories I bashed your mom for that aren't actually true" nothing softened. There was no apology. There was never an apology to me from my son's father for anything. God forbid.
While we could always see each other and all was well, fine, light and kosher in social settings...these stories were also happening. It was just the full reality back then. It all existed.
Sometimes my son would come home to me crying. I handled these moments differently. Usually by calling his father and giving him the opportunity to clear or clean it up if he wanted to. And he always wanted to. He loved his son very much and my son loved his father very much. I wanted my son to be and feel free to be in his week and that included his freedom with his Dad. I wanted that for him. I wanted that for them both.
However his father did not have the same reverence for me. Instead he just got angry on my sons behalf even if the stories were not true. That really sucked for me. Almost like hating me was an addition. Someone to blame. And While I did try to create something different-At some point I stopped trying because the truth was.....he got on my very last nerve with all of that nonsense of hating me.
He liked to keep stuff from me too. Something would happen at his house and he would intentionally not tell me. Not because I wouldn't be on it. Not because I was a fa la la -I don't want to deal with it kind of person. But because I was the exact opposite.
Something happens-I am on it and I am on it in a full bodied way, in that moment. Even more so if it was about my son.
He didn't want to deal with me.
People would say "we need to tell his mom" even his wife and he would say No.
Often he didn't like how I handled things so he just hid things from me. Important things. Major things.
Here's where it got really strange:
After going completely out of his way to hide things from me-he would be so mad I wasn't there and that he had to handle something on his own. So mad.
The thing is....
I did things like...when my son was in 1st grade and stole a candy bar from the store-I took him to a police station after school and had the police officers have a conversation with him.
Or when he played with matches and burned up the bathroom towels and turned them over thinking I wouldn't notice (???? ) -as soon as I noticed I took him to the fire station right after school that day. At this point, my son was on to me "Oh no, why are we at the fire station mom?" I asked the fireman if they had any images of burnt stuff.
So you see -to be fair...the way I handled things wasn't exactly "normal."
Still, you can't hide something intentionally and then be mad...that's just weird. But that's what was going on...a lot.
Anyway...after all of the above -there wasn't anything I could do to change what happened in my sons world. What was done-was done.
but I could use those experiences and the wisdom gained toward an innocent loving little girl so she was able to be free from that kind of stuff. There came a point where I began to notice the same protective instinct in my son toward his little stepsister. Which says a lot about the truth of his heart. There are so many step-siblings that get angry when one has it better than they did. And sometimes they can take that out on the younger ones. For all I know he may have had some moments but ultimately he was always on her side, cheering her on and for her.
SO back to that moment...I could have told this father about how I took my stepdaughter aside and asked her to tell me all of things I do for her ever day, every week and every month that is me being nice to her. We pitched that up against the one time every few months that my nephew as around. We talked about how our house is her house too and how my nephew as also there as her cousin and as a guest of hers. In this conversation-we made many distinctions that offered her an expanded world view. After having this conversation, we went back into our lives and I did not change anything about how I treated anyone because I was already doing just fine.
And that's the thing. Sometimes, kids just need to be reminded of the full reality....
So this man...left with this other version of me...I'm going to keep it right there and see if our connection shifts..let it fall if it does...I want to see how this goes
Stay tuned and remember....
What you don't know...you don't know