How Divorce Affected My Child
At nine years old my daughter Claire was a happy-go-lucky child. We were having so much fun together and I loved being her mom and even though I didn’t want our lives to change…change was imminent. I tried desperately to hang on to my marriage as long as I could, for her. I thought my staying with her father would benefit her in the long run, but I simply couldn’t bear it any longer. My happy-go-lucky nine-year-old was about to see the world through very different eyes.
In August 2009, my husband and I decided to get a divorce. He moved out of the house in March of 2010 and our divorce was final that November. Claire and I moved in with my mom a few towns over while I finished my bachelor’s degree.
Parents divorcing, moving to a different town, and attending a different school was difficult for Claire. She wasn’t happy about all of the changes that were happening and I truly regretted having to put her through that. I tried as hard as I could to make the transition as seamless as possible. I tried to remain consistent in my ability to be available for her during this difficult transition by planning my classes and social outings around her schedule.
The decision to keep our lives as normal as possible was important because the changes happening in her father's life were impacting Claire in very negative ways. I feel the only way to convey the effects the divorce had on my child, is to tell the story of what she told me, and then tell you what happened to her as a result. It may appear I’m playing the blame game but this is what happened and it illustrates the reality of divorce. It is critical to understand how our behavior impacts our children after we decide to embark on this life-altering journey – a journey they did not choose.
Claire, up until this point, was a very calm, sensible, and emotionally stable young girl, and the things she was telling me about her father, although disturbing, were very true-to-form so I believed her. However, she was also entering the hormonal years (puberty) so I also tried to take into consideration any possible exaggerations.
Emails to Claire’s Father
I repeatedly emailed her father to let him know what she was telling me and how I felt about the way her mental health and well-being could be effected now and in the future. This would give him an opportunity to try and repair the damage or at the very least, apologize to her for his poor judgment. Unfortunately, and not surprising to me, he didn’t get it. An excerpt from one of the many emails;
Email after email for four years I translated all of the disturbing things Claire had told me. In my emails to her father, I tried to be all about “the behavior” and I was proud of myself that 95% of the time I kept my cool. Admittedly, I probably let my emotions get the better of me and sank below the line a time or two out of sheer frustration. Remember that Mamma Bear I spoke about in “My Mom-ission Statement” post? Someone was hurting my baby so my claws were out!
It’s important to mention that the love my ex-husband and I once shared, in the beginning, was long-gone mid-way through our marriage. It was an amicable divorce (kind of) and both of us were very happy to be free. So when I share the following stories, my intention is to highlight the flaws with how Claire’s father handled himself before, during and after our divorce and how it impacted our child. I’m hoping that people can learn from these sometimes devastating mistakes. I know I made mistakes as well and I own that, but from my daughter’s perspective, his actions were causing most of her pain.
In our divorce agreement, her father George had parenting time every other weekend and one night during the week. Basically, 20% of George’s life is parenting his daughter. His disposable time is illustrated by the orange piece of the pie. The visual is used to put this time into perspective. When you are the non-custodial parent, it's important to make the most of the time you have with your child. I was very flexible, and if he needed to switch weekends, I usually accommodated him because I felt it was important for her to spend time with her father.
George’s Dating Life
The week after he moved out, George began bringing Claire with him to spend the weekends with his new girlfriend Laura. He then began asking me to switch weekends so he could hang out with his friends when he would normally have his daughter, and then the weekend he had Claire, he “needed” to work and would leave her in the care of his girlfriend.
George’s relationship with Laura ended so he then devoted all of his parenting time to Claire only; until he started dating the next person. Three weeks later, Claire met her father’s next new girlfriend as Claire joined them on their second date to a Wolves game. George’s relationship with Laura ended abruptly and George met a new person.
George was so excited about this new girl he just couldn’t wait to show a picture of her to Claire. George had just started dating Nancy and proudly showed his daughter a Christian Mingle profile picture of Nancy holding a drink and standing in an awkward (possibly drunken) pose. This photo is permanently embedded in Claire’s mind as she often compares it to a picture of Sasquatch.
George’s family has a cabin up north (Wisconsin) that has been in the family for fifty years. From when Claire was a baby, George has been bringing her up north to go fishing, snowmobiling, have campfires, and bond. The first time Claire met her father’s new girlfriend (and kids) was a weekend trip up north. An entire weekend with complete strangers in her favorite place she had shared with her father for 11 years. Claire told me Nancy was obnoxious, the kids were brats and she was banished to the basement so the “guests” could sleep in her room. The place that had been so special to Claire, for so many years, was now shrouded with animosity.
Within a month George, Nancy, and Nancy’s two children David, and Haddy were living together as a family. Claire would try to “fit in” every other weekend and one day during the week but always felt like a fifth wheel. To add to the unpleasantness, Claire didn’t have a room in their small condo and was forced to sleep in the middle of the living room for over two years, while George’s new house was being renovated.
Early on in George and Nancy’s relationship, many things happened that would affect Claire in several impactful ways. While on the phone with her father, Claire listened to him laughing with Nancy’s daughter Haddy who was apparently hugging and kissing him. Claire’s confused heart sank at that moment and things just got worse from there.
July 2012 (11 years old) Claire couldn’t sleep one night so I was rubbing her forehead as I had done many times when she couldn’t sleep. She told me of a story of when she was having dinner at her father’s house and they were about to sit down at the table. Claire chose a seat next to her father. Nancy quickly told Claire to move and said, “Your father and I always sit next to each other.” George said nothing. Claire felt embarrassed, hurt, and alone.
Too Much Too Soon
The time they once shared alone was gone because Claire was now expected to blend in with her father’s new family. She was forced to “spend time as a family”, babysit Nancy’s kids, wear the clothes her father and Nancy felt was appropriate, and behave in a manner that he and Nancy felt was acceptable. Claire was thrust into a situation that she did not want or choose, so she resisted.
George didn’t like the way Claire was reacting to his new life so it became his goal to force her into liking it. His parenting time was now devoted to cramming his daughter into a “mold” that he viewed as an obedient, respectable, appropriately-dressed, preteen girl. The more he pushed, the angrier she became. The angrier she became, the more he felt justified to push. This would alter her view of her father and herself, and would ultimately be the catalyst for her depression.
This once happy-go-lucky child was now tormented by these painful feelings and completely unaware of how to navigate them. In sixth grade Claire wrote an essay for an assignment. The essay was titled “The Divorce.”
“For as long as I can remember, my parents have argued. They very rarely ever argued in front of me. My parents were never aware that I could hear them arguing.
My parents had been having more than usual arguments when it happened. One day my parents sat me down and gave it to me straight. My mom and father were getting divorced. At first it was no big deal, but as time went on it affected me in more ways than I could have imagined. My parents didn’t talk to each other much after that. Every so often my grandmother would babysit me while my parents went to court or the divorce office or whatever it’s called.
My father told me he was going to be moving out. He would be moving in with my grandparents. About two months after that, my father moved out. He took all of his clothes, his money jar and his old dresser. Only a month later, he got back together with a girl that he had broken up with before he married my mom. He was with her for a while and then I don’t know what happened, but he was with a few more people after that before he met his current girlfriend. I don’t like her. She has 2 kids and they are very annoying but I don’t really want to talk about them. Natalie is my father’s girlfriend. She disrespects me and that’s why I don’t like her.
“My father ignores my complaints and yells at me when I react to her [Nancy’s] disrespectful actions. That’s all I want to say about her. Back to the way the divorce affected me. I got tougher. I haven’t cried since the divorce. I am way more tolerant to pain. Most importantly I’ve become depressed, and I enjoy solitude. Sometimes I want to cry but I don’t. Sometimes I want to lay down and fall into an eternity of sleep, but I won’t because I’m strong.
I write poetry about my feelings and keep them hidden. That might be why writing this comes so naturally. My mom is always there to support me. I’ve made a secret club that only has me in it. It’s called Silent Rage. My mom is thinking about getting me a counselor. I don’t have any feelings about that. I don’t have any feelings about much anymore. I zone out a lot and I don’t know why. Maybe my mind is slipping into a void of darkness. I have been feeling a lot of hate for no reason and it is starting to scare me.
My life is very complicated. I almost cried while writing this, but I didn’t because I am strong. This even in my life makes me act the way I do. Many people know about my situation and have tried to help but that doesn’t make me feel better. So in conclusion, my life is grim but I will make it better. This is a promise I made to myself.”
Claire began wearing dark clothes, and dark nail polish, and started listening to different, rather dark music. She wore black bracelets she made out of duct tape and drew symbols on her arms and legs with a black sharpie. As born-again Christian, George felt that “a young girl shouldn’t look this way” and forced her to change.
On a trip to the grocery store, after an argument about her choice of style, George told Claire “I’ll make you a deal, if we see anyone in the store wearing bracelets like yours, I won’t cut them off your wrist.” When they got back to the car, he cut off her bracelets because apparently no one else was wearing anything like them. He frequently made comments about her choice in clothing and told her “You look like a Carnie” (person that works at a carnival) or “People will think you’re a freak.”
Claire was having a rough time and her relationship with her father was becoming very strained. I continually communicated with him about the damage he was causing. I got the impression he knew exactly what he was doing and felt she would eventually cave to his authority. She didn’t.
Claire’s 13th Birthday
Her father picked her up from school and said “Happy Birthday Claire. Nancy and I are getting married.” The reason I know this is because Claire texted me two minutes after his announcement. “Father just told me he and ‘the witch’ got engaged.”
April 2014 (Spring of 8th grade) Claire decided she wanted to cut her hair very short because it would reflect more of how she felt inside. As a lesbian, this was a symbol of her “coming out.” Her gayness was undeniable now and shortly after this, her father asked her, “So how long have you known you were gay?” Taken by surprise she stammered “I think around fifth grade.” He replied, “Oh, so you were the last to know…?” The awkward discussion set into motion several events that Claire had to struggle with in addition to the already difficult circumstances. I will detail this in a different post “My Angry Lesbian” see below for link.
By the end of eighth grade, Claire had fallen into a deep depression. Her grades plummeted and she was angry at the world. She was tired all the time, never wanted to do anything, and hardly spoke. When she did speak it was to rant about how miserable she was.
My once happy-go-lucky child was gone.
See my post “She's Contemplating Suicide” where I talk about Claire’s depression and our solution
See my post “My Angry Lesbian” where I talk about Claire’s coming out
See my post “My Mom-ission Statement” where I talk about my goals for raising my child
Let me know if you have questions or comments. I will help in any way I can.
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