When you're happily married with kids, you and your spouse usually share a vision for how you want to raise them. You know in your heart that you both want what's in their best interest. You take turns picking them up from day care or school, and reading them a story and putting them to bed.
But start looking at the prospect of divorce and all bets are off. You each go into your own corner and it becomes me versus him (or her). You no longer recognize your spouse as the person you loved for so long, as this same person, who once professed their love for you, you now discover feels nothing but contempt.
These new feelings unleash in you a distrust, causing you to become possessive of your children, convinced that if your ex gets a hold of them, they'll be mistreated or worse, brainwashed against you. Even though this is the very same spouse that just a short time ago you thought was an amazing parent. Now you are completely skeptical of their parenting skills. Said spouse has become the enemy or, as I call it, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome.
I married Dr. Jekyll, but I divorced Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll was loving, and enjoyed laughing with me and sharing intimate moments. Dr. Jekyll was thrilled when our first child was born and shared willingly in late night diaper duty. But shortly after my second, Dr. Jekyll became the nefarious and cynical, Mr. Hyde. Cold and distant and all the love I still felt for him, did nothing to turn him back. So how could I trust him with my children? Yes, in my opinion, they were now my children, not ours.
Only, here's the funny thing that was hard to wrap my head around when I was in the middle of my divorce. While Mr. Hyde was now my enemy, to my children, he was still their dad. Someone they loved -- and still love -- very much. Which, if you ask me, is incredibly hard to reconcile. I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to say to my two year old, who would jump up and down when her father arrived to pick her up, "That's Mr. Hyde, you know. Can't you see he's a creep?"
Nope, to my kids, he was the same man they loved before. They didn't see Mr. Hyde's flaws, the cold heart he'd show me. They had no idea about the other woman in his life, the one that helped chase away Dr. Jekyll and brought in Mr. Hyde.
My children had no idea how painful it was to watch them go to Mr. Hyde's place every other weekend. Nor did they know how I dreaded when they returned and I learned of some new experience they had, of which I did not approve. Such as when my daughter was five and they dyed her hair purple. Or when she was six, and they took her to see her first R-rated film.
And though some wild things happened to my children on Mr. Hyde's watch, things that drove me crazy and sent me on countless crying jags, they were never bad enough to call CPS. Nor were they harmful enough to change the custody agreement.
But the despicable Mr. Hyde did give me many a sleepless night, and I was determined to protect my children from him. Yet how could I? The answer is simple. I couldn't. In the end, he was still their father. A father who had joint custody.
But here's what I could do: I could give my kids the best of me when they were on my watch. Which wasn't easy, for they did see me cry now and then, and my son, who was older, undoubtedly heard me on the phone bemoaning the horrors of my situation to my family and friends. Yet, despite the pain I was going through, I made it a point to be there for them. To love them, and to give them my undivided attention, nurturing them in the best way I could. I must admit, I struggled -- sometimes unsuccessfully--to control my impulse to belittle their father in their eyes. As much as I wanted to tell them about the real Mr. Hyde, it wasn't my place to do so.
As they got older, they would have to see -- or not see -- for themselves, what his true colors were. It would be up to them to figure out their relationship with their father once they knew, and, actually, they do know now. But luckily for Mr. Hyde, they don't see him that way at all. He is, and will always be, just their dad.