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.

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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.