When I divorced my daughters were three-and-a-half and seven. I still have a picture of my younger daughter at age three on my bulletin board: she looks unutterably sad. I'm not sure why I keep the picture. My older daughter acted out daily, but she didn't look as sad. She was angry. It certainly didn't help matters that initially their father only took them to his house for three hours each weekend. Years later he told me he had been afraid to spend time with them. He wasn't used to being with them, and didn't know how to behave or what to do. The first time he called to say that the baby had made a mess in her diaper and asked what to do, I replied, "Change her," hung up and burst out laughing. At least now he'd have to help! Thankfully my kids didn't see my reaction.
I have said this before, but holding back on the anger, or sharing it with adult friends so you can be there for the children during the initial stages of a divorce, is very important. Obviously I could have done better. Having my daughters all the time when I was both terrified about my survival and grieving the demise of the marriage was awful, though not a good excuse. I believed I couldn't hire sitters, because it was so apparent how much my daughters needed me. In time my ex-husband's mother saw how exhausted I was and read him the riot act. I found, and hired, someone to live in with the girls and me shortly thereafter. She had two kids too, and moved into my cottage/shack with her son, who was about two at the time. Her daughter still lived in Honduras. She didn't drive, so all of the errands, food shopping and after school activities were still mine to do. Having someone who took over the housework more than made up for that. Several years later the ex and I hired an attorney to help the housekeeper bring her older daughter to the United States. That daughter is now a military wife, living on the East Coast. We became a very odd extended family.
Unfortunately, he and I were not as flexible working out a good visitation schedule. Eventually he took the girls every other weekend for one night, and often used sitters. I did all the school visits, doctor visits, sleepover dates, and clothes shopping; in short, all the business of taking care of kids. He didn't know how to talk to me or anyone else about his problems taking care of our daughters. Maybe he was too embarrassed at seeming inept. It would have been better for the kids if we could have talked about that, my anger, and the other glaring issues between us, but neither of us knew how. When the girls were older, they told me what they wanted of me, and I rarely said "no." My younger daughter still berates me for refusing to let her join a club soccer team. One practice and game a week, plus another for my older daughter were quite enough. Now that she has children, she doesn't joke about it as much. I don't know if either daughter made suggestions to their father. None of these difficulties seem unusual to me. Figuring out how to apportion even the mundane aspects of life with children after a divorce often takes years.
What I realized as I sat down to write this blog was something I had not thought about or realized before. I was glad the girls were "mine" and not "his," even though I had the lion's share of the responsibility for them. I felt exhausted most of the time, and lost the Hollywood career I had painstakingly built for myself, but our daughters belonged to me! No one could break the bond between us, especially not my ex-husband. This was certainly not generous, and probably not terrific for the kids, even if neither they nor I realized that was how I felt. It was certainly human. I end with this realization because I think it might be helpful to those of you in the midst of these struggles. You may feel that way too, but a more equal sharing is probably better for your children, if you and your ex are both willing to do the actual jobs. Whatever bonds you forge during these early years will be there forever, whether you are mom or dad, responsible for the divorce or not, over burdened or under, or behaved badly or not. Forge them as best you can. Years from now they will give you and your offspring sustenance. Those bonds will be what remain of a marriage that did not.