Shifting sands

Right now I am pretty numb with despair. Despair that my life seems to be dictated by the vindictive whims of one man. Despair that my children have to witness me breaking down in tears so often. Despair that they must be subjected to emotional abuse.

Things reached a critical mass a few weeks ago during a hand over at lunchtime one Saturday afternoon. He hadn’t had the children overnight for a month. I needed a break. Our five year old refused to go, screaming and crying whilst I told him he must go. If he didn’t go it would be setting a precedent that he never had to go to his dad if he didn’t want to. I would be accused of ‘poisoning’ him against his father.

His father started being unkind. In the street outside our jointly owned home (where he still lives) he began telling our child “Mummy doesn’t want to take you with her because she’d rather have her social life”. He approached me with bitterness and anger in his eyes and demanded to know where I was going, who I was going with, what I was doing. He demanded to know if I had a boyfriend, mentioned the name of my ex and kept repeating to the children the notion that I didn’t want them because I wanted to go out without them.

Maybe this doesn’t sound too bad to read it written down like this but I was desperate to get away. I was upset, frustrated, worried about the effects on the children, I felt harassed, provoked.

He leant in to my car where our five year old was still sitting and began saying something derogatory about me. I gave him a tap on the bum to ask him to move away from my car and our child.

Little did I know that 24 hours later he would have reported me to the police for assault.

I had to wait three weeks to be interviewed (voluntarily) and I won’t know the outcome for a few days yet but I get the impression that the matter will be dropped. It has been an enormous waste of police time and resources and left me reeling.

In the meantime I have had to chase my solicitor relentlessly to try and figure out just what on earth to do going forwards. I simply cannot be around my ex – I have started to show physical symptoms of stress and anxiety and when he is nearby I feel tearful and shaky.

I need to change the way we handle hand overs of the children. I need to find a way to force him to provide me with contact dates in advance and stick to them for the sake of us all.

However I have now discovered that pursuing a ‘Child Arrangements Order’ could cost up to £7500 in solicitors fees and I cannot pay that sort of money.

I have begun to feel as though I am trapped in my own life – at least until the children come of age, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen years from now.

These are supposed to be the precious days of our lives aren’t they? Not some kind of ordeal to live through.

I have so much sadness right now.

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Closure and new beginnings

It feels kind of right that this should all be happening in springtime – just as the blossoms fall like confetti to the ground.

I mentioned that the (ex) boyfriend and I were back in touch. It was a bit more than that. He responded to an innocuous message I sent via text a couple of weeks ago. He suggested we meet up again in person. We did. It was good but weird in that I felt we were just shadow puppets of our former selves, playing out a familiar scene from the past rather than two people re-connecting on a meaningful level.

I had told myself that it was fine – a “friends with benefits” arrangement; a stop gap; an occasional companion who I felt I knew and could trust. He told me he would do a few little jobs around my house when he got the chance. I began to feel like I could send him a few idle chit-chat type messages during the week to stay in touch without the fear of invoking a ‘subtext’.

We met up twice in two weeks – trying to fit these meet ups in at my child-free times but also taking into account his busy work schedule. I could tell that it was all on his terms.

Last Sunday night he came over – we talked about the next time. I suggested the following weekend and he agreed. I made arrangements for my parents to have the children as I was still in the dark with the husband about child contact going forwards.

Come Wednesday, I received a message from him at midday telling me he’d “fucked up” by double booking himself. He was going to be at a mate’s barbeque so he wouldn’t be coming to see me.

I’ll be honest, rightly or wrongly I was a little upset. I had carved out some free time specifically for him which is not always easy in my situation. Understandably people double book themselves for stuff all the time and under those circumstances someone always loses out and it’s most likely to be a case of last in first out.

Under other circumstances I would have been irritated but philosophical. Under these circumstances I couldn’t help feel like it was a really clear sign that he had placed me and ‘us’ in a category of friendship which could be labelled – ‘potential fun when convenient’. That didn’t make me feel too good. I guess naively, I’d hoped for more. I’d hoped that seeing me again would trigger those feelings of love and affection and happiness which we lived out for four months and put me higher up his list of priorities.

I mulled over any number of responses – all of which would have been bridge burning. I held back from responding at all until 7 hours later when I decided to go with “we all make mistakes x”.

I thought that was vaguely poetic. I didn’t realise at the time that it would trigger him into another, ultimately much more final, ‘goodbye and good luck’ response. He used my poetry against me. He told me all the nice stuff – I’m a ‘very special lady’ who deserves more commitment than he can offer etc. etc.

I cried. I felt like I’d been dumped all over again. I felt bitter. I felt lonely. I felt like I was ‘not good enough’. I’m a walking cliché.

That was two days ago and in that time I seem to have recovered. I did the passive/aggressive Facebook ‘unfriending’; I archived our WhatsApp thread – the one place I could go to find out whether he was still thinking about me due to the scrolling time-stamp; I found a Meetup.com social event which I could join up with on Saturday night and RSVP’d; I briefly discussed the situation with two friends at work and they both told me the same thing – it’s been a learning experience; it’s closure.

I had a nightmare or bad dream last night – another dream where I was watching a character in a movie being chased by a someone or something who meant them harm but seeing the situation through my own eyes at the same time. I woke up with a headache – no doubt I’d had my jaws clenched tight all night long.

However, today I have felt happier than I have in a long time. It’s a bit like a weight has been lifted off my mind – I no longer feel the need to look backwards in mourning. I can finally accept that my brief relationship with the ex was just a stepping stone on my journey and not the destination.

I spent a couple of hours with one of my good friends and her mum this morning having coffee and a good chat. I am in the process of joining a local tennis club where the kids can also get lessons. I am beginning to get my blog mojo back.

I finally heard from the husband who is going to have the children Saturday afternoon and evening which is great because it means my parents are let off the hook and I don’t have to do a 1.5 hour round trip to drop them off.

I am feeling more organised and using some of my child-free down time to get ahead with meal plans and shopping. It actually feels like a lot of headspace has been opened up by the demise of my relationship.

I’ve realised that I could look at my situation one of two ways: 1) I am screwed by my lack of routine, my lack of control and inability to attend regular events or commit to anything or anyone. It will be impossible to find love because no one is that flexible; 2) I am single and free to become a part of many groups and get involved (albeit sporadically) in any number of activities. I am embarking upon a spontaneous journey in the pursuit of happiness – one which doesn’t include a map or any road signs. Romantic love may not be a part of my story for a while but that doesn’t mean I am lost, lonely, unhappy or done with all the opportunities that might become available to me at any given time.

On the school pick up this afternoon I was walking along behind a couple who were having a minor domestic dispute and for the first time I felt lucky. Relationships are fraught with power struggles, little resentments and compromise. I am willing to accept the work that is involved at the right time with the right person but for now, it’s good to have a breather. There is a power in being a strong, single, independent woman who can fend for herself, tap into her ingenuity and recruit others for everything else.

I intend to expand my networks, keep up with my interests and keep working on my relationship with my children because they can only benefit from my undivided attention.

I don’t promise that this super positive mood is unbreakable. I know I will still have low moments when I pine for love and affection and miss my ex but I also know that those feelings will pass – quicker than they did before because I know now that there is no going back.

Why is it so difficult to take my own advice?

It’s Saturday evening. I’ve been solo parenting for two days now (yesterday was the last day of school holidays). I’ve taken them to a posh “play barn” and today an expensive “leisure pool” with lots of water slides which was actually better fun than I’d anticipated.

We had all been getting on great but then I had another difficult afternoon with my eldest who became really stroppy when I told him that we were going to the park so his little brother could play with his new ball (I got them both £3 plastic balls at the supermarket this morning).

He was out playing with the neighbourhood boys and actually getting into a bit of aggro along with his trouble-making friend. He threw a complete wobbly at the suggestion of going to the park until I stretched the truth and told him it would only be for five minutes.

All the time we were at the park he was moody and whingey and kept threatening to throw his brothers ball in the fishing pond. When we got home I let him go back out on the proviso that he would come in with no fuss when I said it was time. Of course that didn’t happen and another immense wobbler took place which involved all sorts of bad behaviour including planting grass cuttings in my bed and chucking one of my boots across the bedroom, narrowly avoiding smashing a mirror (not his intention but still). At that point I lost my cool completely and raged at him which at least got him to back down.

Anyway to cut a long story short he calmed and mellowed over the following couple of hours and has accepted that he is grounded after school on Monday.

I have been struggling with my feelings around the (ex) boyfriend again. We’re back on friendly terms and I know he was off today for a weekend of camping, fishing and general merriment with all three of his 20-something children, his best mate and his adult kids too.

Even though I never met his kids, don’t like the idea of fishing (ok, can’t think of anything more dull!) and am more of a fair weather camper (it’s April in the U.K. and 3 degrees Celsius later on tonight) the thought of him out there surrounded by friends and family, able to do all the things he loves with the people he loves best makes me feel a huge sense of sadness and loneliness.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge him that happiness but I feel excluded from this happy picture and I wonder if he was thinking about times like this when he chose to break up with me. Did he struggle to see me fitting in? Think I’d cramp his style or just fail to imagine it being my cup of tea or something that could be planned around my parenting schedule?

I’ve sneaky peaked his Facebook updates and pics of the event. That didn’t help. I texted him to ask if they were having fun. He asked me how my evening was going and I very nearly mentioned the struggle with my son but checked myself. I didn’t want to give him a reason to pat himself on the back for having the correct instinct to dump me and leave me to my parenting woes! He was probably right, who would actively invite that kind of a headache into their life?

I decided to just give a one word answer to his question “Great. X”. Obviously I’m not a very good liar because he then asked “is that a sarcastic ‘great’?” To which after some thought I responded “I’ve got strawberry lime cider and Line of Duty on the iPlayer later. Bit lonely but life could be worse – I’m not facing down a Japanese death squad #everycloud 😂”. He agreed, life could be a lot worse. I thanked him and wrapped it up telling him to enjoy his evening with his family.

I continued feeling weepy, lonely and royally shafted by my current situation – I love my kids and I love having a balance between time with them and time at work and time to myself but sometimes everything falls out of balance, everyone else in the world seems busy and unavailable and feelings of being hurt, rejected and excluded come surging forth.

I’m very much one for positive thinking, ( I love the wisdom in the quote “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”) and I want to be happy, I crave happiness. I also know that happiness is integrally linked to our expectations. There’s no actual “secret formula” to it, it’s a matter of adjusting your reality. I’m still an optimist but there’s something in the expression “expect the worst but hope for the best”. Also, if you write yourself into a story where only one possible outcome can make you feel happy or successful or fulfilled then you’ve just chucked all your eggs into one basket in a rather heavy handed way…

So maybe it’s time I start taking my own advice.

Somewhere over the rainbow, childcare works…

Another day, another stressful phone call with the husband. I’ve been asking him for a list of dates for child contact for the last 2 weeks since the old list ran out. In that time he’s seen them once – for one afternoon before depositing them with his parents for the night and not returning til the following morning.

The only date we had talked about and agreed upon a couple of weeks in advance was this coming Thursday – a school holiday day when I’m at work and out 9-5.

His attitude to me (which is never exactly good) appears to be on the down swing. He has no respect for me or understanding of what it’s like to be responsible for keeping the children fed, clothed, entertained, healthy, morally sound and well behaved, supported in their education, looked after when I’m not around, and just generally alive and safe and content.

I asked to confirm that he was still having them on Thursday and he just casually mentioned that he can’t any more because he’s got to work now. There was no apology, no sense of dismay for having forgotten to tell me as soon as he’d found out himself. Then to add insult to injury he implied that the there was something unfair about me asking him for a list of dates and told me that I am trying to use him for childcare. I tried to point out that as their parent, the childcare analogy is moot but he talked over me repeating the phrase “because you’re a little bit of a bitch” a few times before hanging up on me.

He had spoken of getting his mum and dad to have the kids on Thursday (his dad is 80) but I would be happy if I never had to see his father ever again after his rude and aggressive behaviour towards me each time (even after over a year of separation). I sent him a message telling him not to bother asking his parents, that I would make other arrangements.

I have sent a message to his ex wife asking if she would be able to have them for a half day as she lives in the town where I work, doesn’t work herself and has mentioned in the past that she could cover for me if I ever needed someone and she has willingly agreed which is a big relief as it is too late to book a holiday club now and I really couldn’t have afforded it anyway.

I’m trying to let it wash over me and take it in my stride. Having coped alone with this same kind of “help” (or lack of) and bad attitude from him for the past year at least I know I can juggle through, just about have enough leave from work and can just about afford to pay for childcare.

One thing is certain – I need more help from him financially, particularly if he is unable or just unwilling to care for the children himself when I can’t. If I can’t rely on him to make firm dates to have the children and stick to them then I need to make childcare decisions which leave him out of the loop for my own peace of mind and sanity.

I know from experience that he will get angry and belligerent if, closer to the time, he finds himself free and asks to have the kids last minute when I’ve already made prior arrangements, then of course I’m the bad mum who refuses to play the co-parenting game in the “best interests” of the children. Essentially I can’t win.

Also, I’m not sure if it’s simply a case that he hasn’t heard the children speaking about the (ex) boyfriend recently but he appears to have been pumping them for information.

He knew that the boyfriend was a smoker (although he’s given up now) and he’s been asking our eldest if the boyfriend has died. Today as my son was shutting the door of my car when I picked them up (they spent four hours with husband’s family) he actually shouted “find out about [boyfriend’s] funeral “. My son tells me “Daddy doesn’t like [boyfriend]” to which I reply “how does he know, he’s never even met him”. There’s bitter and resentful and then there’s selfish and hateful.

The people he calls friends don’t know this about him. They think of me as “Cruella” – as though I’ve not only wronged him by daring to walk away whatever the personal cost to me, but continue to wrong him by trying to control his relationship with his own children. I see myself more as Dorothy, caught up in the raging whirlwind, doing the best I can and trying to hold onto the belief that there’s a mystical portal of peace and tranquillity from all this insanity, somewhere over the rainbow.

Support and the single mum

I read back over my last two posts this morning and sighed. Both of my readers must be beginning to wonder if I’m succumbing to schizophrenia. The thing is, it is just too easy to feel that things are on track during your happier, calmer, more organised, more harmonious moments, only to realise that, yes indeed, sh*t happens and it’s not going to just stop happening because you had the afternoon off and read a good book.

Since last Wednesday (the evening of my last documented crash and burn parenting moment) things have calmed back down considerably. I have had the kids with me for the last six nights (and the whole weekend) and they haven’t seen their dad at all in that time. Notably my seven year old’s bad behaviour was at it’s height those first two nights.

We spent the weekend with my parents and it was Mother’s Day (UK) on Sunday so my Mum helped my eldest choose and buy me a lovely present (a new handbag – something which he’d heard me say I needed as my old one is falling apart).

They brought me a cup of tea in bed and later on my mum and I took them out for a little visit to a local attraction and in the afternoon we had a roast dinner and I went down to the recreation ground with them and we played football together as it was a sunny day.

I went along to their school this morning to see my eldest perform in his little ‘school of rock’ style concert and he was so happy to see me and came over and gave me a hug on his way back to class.

Their dad is picking them up this afternoon and giving them tea before bringing them back at 5.30 in time to wind the day up before bed. Hopefully that won’t be long enough for the poison to seep back in.

I’ve also got my appointment with the headmistress tomorrow afternoon and it’s going to feel strange opening up to her when things feel like they are back on track but I definitely think it can’t hurt to just sound her out about the problems I’ve had with behaviour lately and particularly because it does seem to be tied in with extended periods of contact with their father. (Worryingly he has them next overnight Thursday and overnight Friday after school too but fortunately my mum will be over on Saturday afternoon so I won’t be alone).

Having the support of my parents makes me realise how lucky I am. It’s nice to know that they will always be there for me unconditionally, no matter what (as long as they are fit and able to do so obviously). And I have been reflecting on the nature of ‘support’ – what I need and who from.

It would be nice to be able to support and in turn be supported by the husband when it comes to parenting but clearly that isn’t going to happen. When I talk about my ex-boyfriend/another boyfriend/potential partner I use the term ‘support’ only in terms of emotional support for me – to boost my confidence when it comes to handling my own FML moments. Because that’s what partners do isn’t it? Regardless of what your FML moments may be, it’s nice to know that your ‘significant other’ has got your back and has some empathy; that they are there to give you a hug when you feel like you might break.

Thinking about this subject in these terms makes me realise that I’m just not ready to be in another relationship right now. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have a partner – someone with whom to give and take that amazing gift of love and laughter and company and fun, share physical intimacy, touch, kiss, plan together for an even better future.

But I need for this divorce to be over. I need to feel more in control at home with the support of family and the school. And I need to give myself time to recover from loss and heartbreak and time to revel in the little pleasures of single life – everything from suiting myself when it comes to choosing and planning social activities, to living in my own home, decorating as I please and entertaining who I like, when I like.

I am slowly coming to complete acceptance of and peace with the recent break up (just three weeks ago). Time moves so fast that soon I will be looking back and four months will be a drop in the ocean. Plus with time comes some more sense to see that relationship for what it was – just a lovely chapter in my life, full of all those little things I talk about above, but ultimately with someone who wasn’t right for me – if he had been right for me then he would still be here.

Which of course doesn’t mean that I don’t still have pangs and find myself scrolling his FB page, or looking back at our shared photos or checking to see whether he’s still checking out our WhatsApp thread (he is, several times a day). And it doesn’t stop me from having weak moments where I wonder whether to offer myself to him completely no strings as a friend ‘with benefits’ (which I’m not going to do – how messy would that get?). However much you tell yourself you could switch it off emotionally and disengage should he suddenly get into a relationship with someone new, I know that would feel like an absolute kick in the heart and I’m not going to do that. Plus I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t agree whatever I said – he wouldn’t trust me to keep it light-hearted and casual. And anyway I deserve better than that.

At the end of the day a relationship – be it friendship, romance or family – is all about give and take – love, support, patience, care and attention. A hand to hold, a heart to trust. Someone to reassure you that you are doing your best and give you the confidence to trust in your own strength – not someone to do your job for you or give you some kind of a free ride.

Right now my family and friends are the best a girl could get and their support is genuine and cannot be stolen away in the night.

Recognising your limits and asking for help

Last night I think I reached my tipping point. The children recently spent a couple of nights with their dad and then he collected them from school and brought them home to me two nights ago. That night my seven year old started off fine (although he seemed to have lost his appetite completely and seemed somewhat subdued). He went off to the evening club he attends and I had no fuss putting his brother to bed. He returned home at 7.40pm and very soon after that something minor happened which triggered off a bout of bad behaviour, defiance and general unwillingness to comply with anything I said.

I felt like this situation was relatively short lived and I managed to remain calm and used one of the strategies that I’ve been reading about during all of my recent free time. In the end he suddenly burst into tears and couldn’t explain why he was feeling so upset but he then became very loving and wanted hugs and reassurance and was willing to have some quiet time in bed.

Last night it was parents ‘evening’ at school (at infants level take that to mean a ten minute chat with the teacher at 4.30pm). I had failed to mention this to the husband and he later found out when my son mentioned it during a phone conversation. He asked to speak to me and shrieked at me, calling me a complete cow before continuing his conversation with our son.

Early in the evening it was the same kind of thing as the night before – my son started off very calm and cooperative – he even asked me to tell him specifically if there was anything I wanted which he could get me as a present for mother’s day. I couldn’t think of anything so I looked around and spotted a framed piece of art that I’d made for him a couple of year’s ago and suggested that he produce a piece of art which he could get framed for me as a gift as that would be home-made and personal and something that I could always keep and treasure.

It was 7.50pm and he was due to go to bed for his ‘quiet time’ at 8. Earlier in the evening I’d specifically spoken to him and offered him time on my computer playing games if he was willing to follow the routine nicely later. He had agreed and we’d shaken hands on it.

He looked over at the picture I’d made him and said “I want to do one like that…now”. I kind of laughed, told him we didn’t have the materials or the time and that he could do his picture at the weekend when my parents would be able to help him. That was the start of about 45 minutes of hell being unleashed. During that time he pushed me closer and closer to snapping, threatening to wake his little brother (with whom he shares a room), taking my drink to chuck away down the kitchen sink and spilling it, trying to pull my trousers down, becoming more and more gleeful the more wound up and upset I got, pretty much laughing at all of my threats and suggested consequences.

I found myself standing like a statue, feeling that I was facing a crisis and I couldn’t cope – I just literally had no idea how to turn things around despite having felt so strong and determined just two days before with the help of a manual full of advice and suggestions, none of which I had at my fingertips and some of which would only work as a long term strategy anyway.

In the end I just burst into tears and berated him for throwing all of my good nature and everything nice I ever did for him back in my face. I then set about a couple of household tasks – put a load of washing on and washed up some dishes while he stood by watching as tears still streamed down my face. Then I went upstairs and lay down on my bed but he followed me in and got up in my face so I changed tack and got onto his bed (the top bunk) and lay down there knowing that he would follow me. He came up and as he lay down next to me I asked him if he would like to read his chapter book with me which he responded to very well, running downstairs to get it and bring it straight back. We read the last chapter and he was then back to his normal self and I was able to leave him to his last 15 minutes of quiet time in bed before lights out.

After that I sat downstairs feeling completely wretched and hopeless and cried a bit more. Matters were only made worse by the fact that my boyfriend only very recently broke up with me specifically because this situation with my son was just too stressful for him to contemplate any longer. He left me to it and walked away taking any support I had imagined with him.

I spoke to my sister who works in schools and she told me to get the school involved, ask to speak to his teacher or the Head or anybody specific who deals with emotional problems and issues and potentially look to be referred to more specialist services.

All of that kind of freaked me out because I was having (still am) confused thoughts regarding the demarcation between ‘normal’ behaviour for a boy his age and behaviour that is affected and altered by the emotive nature of our family break up which is clearly exacerbated by his father’s inability to treat me with any kind of friendly respect (if he was capable of that I probably would have told him about the parents evenings).

We all want to make excuses, tell ourselves that we can cope alone and fear that asking outside agencies for help is a sign of weakness and failure and shame but maybe it’s true that it does take a village to raise a child, and whilst I do try my hardest and sometimes feel like I’m winning, it doesn’t hurt to ask for the opinion of someone in their professional capacity outside of the emotional circle of family alone. If nothing else, maybe my son would benefit from sharing his feelings about the break up with someone who isn’t me.

This morning after dropping the children off I went into the office and made an appointment to speak to the Head of their school. She has been kind to me in the past and I think it would be a start to at least get her opinion as an outsider but also as someone who has my child’s pastoral care in her hands.

For the time being I am just bracing myself for another bedtime battle and wishing and praying for calm to once again descend.

Love, life and the challenges of single motherhood

It’s been almost exactly two weeks since my boyfriend ended our relationship. It’s four and half days since we had our last communication. He instigated a ‘sexting’ session last Monday night which lead to him asking permission to come and see me two days later. I agreed – I thought it would at least be a way of getting to talk to him again in person and find out a bit more about the feelings of hurt and confusion that he expressed to me two days before.

Of course come Wednesday morning I received an email (we never communicated by email so that seemed very formal) telling me he wouldn’t be coming because he didn’t want me to get the idea that things between us could “slowly develop back into some kind of relationship”. He told me he respected me and wouldn’t want to “just come over on a casual arrangement”. He said casual sex would leave us both feeling pretty shit about the whole thing. He said he didn’t want to cause himself additional stress.

He told me he would like to keep in contact with me as friends but right now he needed to get his head straight and adjust to getting on with his life “as a singleton”. He said he would come and do the jobs he’d promised to help with “but not right now”.

He signed off saying “Keep safe and I’ll be in touch soon. Love you XXX”.

I broke down in tears in the bathroom then. It didn’t seem right to tell someone you love them but then completely withhold that love. However the school run was on and there was no time to curl up in a ball and cry the morning away.

I noticed the car revving hard and losing power on the way up to the school and it just seemed to be a metaphor for my internal state. Then, on the 60mph dual carriageway on my way to work something went pop and I swerved to a stop completely blocking one of the two lanes and sat shakily dialling the emergency motor rescue service breaking down in tears as I tried to give my details over the phone.

As I stood on the side of the road looking out across Surrey and all the way to London in the far distance I felt myself welling up with bitterness and dashed off a text to the (ex) boyfriend telling him that I was angry with him for instigating the conversation on Monday, that he’d hurt and rejected me enough now and telling him to delete the last photo I sent.

That was literally the last thing said between us.

My sister says that he just wanted to know that he could still have me if he wanted me. She said as soon as he knew that I still wanted him he felt better about himself because it showed that I had forgiven him.

Anyway. It’s quite weird how quickly I feel I’m recovering. I cried a little bit less each day until I dried up completely. Yes I was in denial to begin with – I couldn’t really accept the reason that he had given me for breaking up – it seemed too harsh for him to have written me off as someone who would never be able to get a handle on parenting my children the way he preferred (i.e. a firm hand, nipping all bad behaviour in the bud immediately, imposing non-negotiable consequences on the spot, etc.).

As someone who has children of his own I thought he would be able to see the bigger picture – that all parenting is a work in progress and he already knew that I was practically crying for help with the challenge. I guess he just wasn’t the man I thought he was – someone who could support and encourage me and point me in the right direction.

As a single – non-residential – father for 14 years of his youngest daughter’s childhood, I think he just forgot, or never really knew, what the struggle was. If he had a bad weekend with the kids it didn’t matter – he could just hand them back on Sunday night and go back to his single life and leave their mum to lay the real foundations of their future.

So there we have it. It’s behind me and I’m starting to see that maybe he did me a favour after all by recognising his own ‘deal-breaker’ and cutting all the strings straight away, after four months, not four years of my life.

I still think he will come to regret his decision because I actually think I’m quite a good catch (ha ha!) for someone like him. But by the time he realises that it will be too late because I will have moved on.

Ironically the whole thing has spurred me on to take action with my parenting. I bought a self help parenting book and even after a short read of a few chapters I can see a plan of action emerging which I’m already putting into practice.

One of the author’s foundations for managing your children’s behaviour is called giving “Descriptive Praise”. As she says, it can be for anything at all your child get’s right or does well. I have praised my four year old for remembering to say thank you. I have praised my seven year old for taking my lead and not blaming his brother when a brand new pair of headphones was broken this morning.

As the author says, children really seek our approval and crave positive attention and even these little changes make me feel like I’m a better parent already and also that they are so receptive and that such small changes in my behaviour make such a difference in theirs.

So anyway, it’s early days and I’m well aware that there is no ‘easy’ answer and that behaviour will fluctuate depending on any number of things – particularly tiredness and hunger.

It’s now Sunday evening and I’m taking stock. In the last two weeks I have signed up for a night hike in the Lakes in June in memory of a good man who died too soon; I’ve had long, real conversations with friends I haven’t properly spoken to in a long time; I’ve read a whole book (page-turning thriller – nothing too heavy!); I’m eating as healthily as I possibly can, cutting out refined sugar and white carbs for the most part; I did a couple of exercise DVD sessions and some sit ups; I joined up with a new meet-up for people who want to play tennis together (badly :-)) and met up with five new people to do just that yesterday afternoon when ‘husband’ had the boys; I’ve completed and returned everything to my solicitor and divorce proceedings have now been lodged with the court (finally) and financial documents finally about to be exchanged.

I had the kids at home on my own all morning – we built train tracks; we danced and played musical statues; I got both boys to sit down with me individually and complete their maths homework; we made a trip to the convenience store to pick out bits and pieces for their picnic lunch in front of Cbeebies; I put a clothes wash on; I hoovered.

At 1.30pm I dropped them off to their dad for the rest of the day and night, came home, cooked myself a poached egg on wholemeal toast and then settled down to finally watch The Revenant – what an amazing film! Now I’m blogging and cooking spicy sweet potato wedges, roast Mediterranean veggies and baked cod in garlic butter while I blog.

I do actually realise how lucky I am. I’m so thankful that I’m an introvert by nature and quite happy in my own company. In fact I often consider reaching out for company when I know I’ll be on my own for a few hours before laughing at myself because I know that an afternoon like the one I’m having (movie, wine, good food, a bit of blogging) is when I’m at my most relaxed and happy. Completely. By. Myself.

Being a single parent is such a mixed bag. And oh yes, it’s not the same for everyone – some women have no partner to take their children off for the day/night/weekend. Some women do not have the family support or the financial support or the life experience behind them to be able to put things in perspective.

Maybe it’s just my personality but I’m not one to wallow for long. I want to forge a path to happiness and I sometimes need to remind myself that I am a speck on an insignificant planet that is part of 170 billion galaxies that make up the known universe.

Maybe it helps that I’m an atheist – I believe that life is short and there’s no conscious afterlife. Make the most of it, eh?

Perspective

For 36 hours, other than a few snatched periods of restless sleep filled with dark dreams and a few pockets of stability, I cried. It’s only natural – the person with whom you have become deeply intimate, shared every thought, hope and dream, someone with whom you never exchanged a cross word for four solid months – the person who, just 18 hours before sent you a message telling you they loved you with a twinkly heart attached, shows up on your doorstep, not for the planned assignation which you were expecting but with the express purpose of breaking things off.

To put it in perspective, just two weeks before this we had been enjoying a romantic weekend getaway to the coast, holding hands on the sea wall and fossil hunting the pebbled shores of Charmouth. We had discussed summer barbeques, camping trips abroad and family gatherings.

I’ve already explained the reasons he gave for ending ‘us’, so I won’t re-hash here. What I need to express and explore now is how I am adjusting and what comes next. I’ve been living out the five stages of grief in microcosm – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

I’ve composed a long text message asking him to continue a relationship of sorts only to delete it almost immediately.

I’ve raged about the broken promises, the over-sensitivity, the hypocrisy of telling someone you still love them but then dropping them like a hot potato, the weakness of a person who can’t understand that love should conquer all or alternatively the duplicity of someone who never really loved or let love in whilst claiming otherwise.

I have mourned for the loss of a loving, supportive partner; I have questioned every word and action wondering whether I gave offence unwittingly at some point and re-hashed conversations during our first few dates when we were still offering unguarded information about the nature of our lives and our hearts.

I’ve considered a bleak future in which I live alone with my challenging children in a void punctuated by the bitter attacks of my emotionally abusive ex-husband. I’ve feared that this experience has starkly demonstrated that, in my situation, a middle-aged single mum with two kids in KS1, I am become ‘untouchable’, that a long-term love may be a concept I need to let go of.

But as the hours pass I see things slightly differently. We were two middle aged people who chanced upon one another; we both happened to be single and allowed an attraction to form. We were no star-crossed young lovers. We weren’t the perfect match, we had elements of compatibility.

I re-calibrated my expectations earlier and realised that the pain inflicted upon me two days ago was undeniably centred upon the cruel and unexpected nature of his decision – the fact that he orchestrated a completely one-sided conversation and took any control over the how, why and when of the break-up out of my hands.

If he truly lacks the capacity to man up and offer unconditional love and support to a partner who clearly has her own struggles, or to find a way to control his own stressors and work things through, then he’s not the man I hoped he was and I accept his decision.

However, I still like him, I still think that he is a good man who was generous and open and empathetic and generally fun to be around, so I decided to send him a text asking if he would be willing to continue seeing each other as friends. I sent that message four and a half hours ago. He still hasn’t responded and now I’m not sure what to think…

Tales of a “Take Back Control” Freak

I am so sick of hearing my husband accuse me of being controlling. I realise it’s nothing new – controlling people, or just people with negative traits in general, love to reflect their own flaws onto other people.

I woke up this morning feeling so angry and upset. It was six o’clock in the morning and my children remained fast asleep for once. We returned from a short holiday yesterday and they ended up sleeping til 9am, but I was wide awake and stressed hours before that.

I cried some bitter tears. I was feeling so anxious about the house move later this week – not the move itself you understand, although it is a finely tuned operation which involves picking up a hire van, liaising with my parents, dropping the kids at the in-laws for the husband to collect later after sleeping off his night shift, doing a huge furniture shop at the nearest IKEA (a 45 minute drive away), liaising with a friend at the old house at 3pm with the van to go into the Lion’s Den and pick up my big bits of furniture and then putting together as much flat pack and unpacking as much stuff as possible.

That’s all happening, it’s all arranged and sorted. What hasn’t been arranged and sorted up to this point is me getting any kind of resolution – even getting to the point where I have been ready to re-engage my solicitor – actually file for divorce.

What hasn’t been arranged is any kind of child maintenance payments from the husband. I’ve let him get away with it because I’ve been living inside the protective bubble of my parents’ home and generosity. Now, six and a half months down the line, I’m going back into the real world and it’s an expensive place.

I work 18.5 hours a week which allows me to be there for the children before school every day and after school three days a week, I get working tax credits from the government to top this up a bit and it’s definitely a generous amount, particularly based on my circumstances of having two children of primary school age both under my care. However it is not enough to pay for rent (that payment alone is about £90 short of my entire monthly salary), food, groceries, gas/electricity, water, council tax, phone costs and broadband, clothes and activities for the children, contents insurance, petrol, 2 days a week after school childcare, car maintenance and insurance, and all the other sundries that life entails.

The £450 a month I have asked from the husband for child maintenance is a tiny portion of my outgoings but I have come to realise that I simply cannot be the sole financial (never mind physical, mental and emotional) support for our children without it. However he has only talked to me about it up to now in the vaguest of ways with no mention of a start date, so after my blip this morning I texted him and told him that if he didn’t give me a workable date for mediation today then I would be contacting the Child Maintenance Service and my solicitor tomorrow and forget about mediation.

He then, of course, told me that I was being controlling and imposing ‘arbitrary’ deadlines and ‘threatening’ him which he wouldn’t stand for. He also told me that I ‘need to learn how to talk to people respectfully’. I stood my ground but then realised that even if he gave me a date for mediation it may be weeks away and he has previous for cancelling these dates at the last moment. It is also no guarantee of him agreeing to begin paying me any money.

I then told him that I need him to begin paying me child maintenance this Thursday (1st September – my official moving date – the date when I owe my landlady £2250 for rent and deposit) – and that this would be the date I contacted CMS and got them to pursue him if he refused to co-operate.

He told me ‘not until we’ve spoken to [the mediator]’. I re-iterated my Thursday deadline and he never responded. But here’s the thing – I will contact the CMS on Thursday – I’m no longer afraid to rock the boat because I’ve come to realise that direct action is the only language some people understand and make one too many idle bluffs and you might as well lie down and get the word ‘WELCOME’ tattooed on your back.

This is me taking back control.

Best and worst

When you take the decision to break up with someone – the father or your children in particular – you know its not all going to be plain sailing, but you also know that, in some very important ways, life is going to improve – it has to be that way, otherwise breaking up would be unthinkable.

Lately I have found these things really tough:

– Having to live so far from our own home and driving an average of 400 miles a week to get the kids to school and me to work. I spend an average of four hours a day travelling and the kids spend an average of 2 hours a day in the car. I’m spending around £160 a month on petrol.

– Juggling work and childcare with a co-parent who just isn’t willing to take some of the slack. Yes he’s a shift worker and that is generally the biggest excuse, but he’s also told me in no uncertain terms that he will not do anything to ease my life or make things any more convenient for me. He is blind to the needs and routines of the children, and sometimes makes me question myself – am I using the ‘children’s needs’ as a way to try and score some ‘free childcare’?

– My worries over how I’m going to cope in September when my youngest starts school. I have already taken two weeks off work in the summer holidays when our childminders are away on holiday. Now I realise that my little man will be starting school part time, spending just 2 hours 40 minutes a day at school for the first week. In theory that is great and I wish I was in the position to let him continue part time for as long as necessary (he’s a late July baby so one of the littlest).

Unfortunately my annual leave is finite and it just so happens that my parents are going off for the holiday of a lifetime in Canada two days before school starts for two weeks. I think I will have little choice but to take another week off work and just try and put any spare cash (pah!) aside in preparation for the day when I start having to ask for unpaid dependents leave.

– Feeling a bit down about the lack of a holiday: my six year old has started talking about going away and I just don’t know what to tell him right now.

– Worries about my three year old’s current defiance and general naughty behaviour. I know all three year olds go through this to some extent but under these difficult and confusing circumstances it is easy to question the triggers and how all this might be affecting him.

Lately, these things have made me feel happy about where we are at:

– Every now and then I get a flash realisation along the lines: ooh – now I’m solo parenting, from this point onwards it’s ‘my house, my rules’ – there is no one there to undermine me on decisions about what food we have in the house, how money is allocated, how my home is decorated or what I choose to do in my spare time. No more compromising; no more negotiating.

– Leading on from that thought is the idea that I might be able to tackle some of my children’s picky eating habits through having the ability to maintain a consistent approach (obviously not when they’re with their father but that seems to be ‘very little’ right now – he hasn’t had them overnight for three weeks at the time of writing and won’t have them overnight for at least another week and a half now due to his work).

I’m generally a very healthy eater with a wide-ranging palate compared to their dad who is terribly fussy about food and eats a lot of rubbish. Modelling healthy eating to the boys will hopefully set good habits and choices for life.

– Despite the fact that I have just had to cancel and re-book our Mediation appointment for the second time due to his work which is incredibly frustrating, I’m looking forward to finally getting into that meeting room and laying out the bare facts of the situation for him to defend in front of a professional Mediator.

The first goal is to get back to our home town – preferably our own home, at least until the practicalities of separation and divorce are finalised. If he is unwilling to move out and let that happen then we will have to let the court decide – either way I will know where I stand.

– Slightly off topic, but I recently had a change of line manager at work. My previous manager has made life a bit miserable for the last three years (and not just for me). He is a lazy person himself, constantly away from his desk, long toilet trips, off on last minute flexi-time, etc., whilst also being a massive jobs-worth – going out of his way to block annual leave requests, refusing to respond to emails, taking issue with the most minor of dress code violations, you get the idea.

Now I finally have a lovely young lady taking his place as my supervisor who is like cheese to his chalk and I couldn’t be happier! At least one problem male is out of my life!

– My blog life stalled massively when I first split up with the husband two months ago. It hadn’t been too great in previous months either due to his general dislike and mistrust of the world of blogging in general.

I was struck down with a debilitating case of writer’s block – the only things I wanted to say were unfit for publication (hence starting this anon blog!) but gradually as the week’s have gone by I am finding ideas just naturally coming to me again. My headspace is finally starting to be my own (albeit that I generally only get about two hours to myself in the evenings once both kids are tucked up in bed).

–  Lastly, I’m feeling grateful that I had the courage to leave and managed to do so at the best possible time – we have (literally) had some dark days as winter tapered off but now spring is kicking in, daylight, a bit of warmth (on occasion – this is England after all) and seasonal attractions opening up (including the worlds of Merlin of which the kids and I are now members – eek!) all mean that we have plenty to keep us busy and distracted despite all of this upheaval.