This is Q’s mom. Now that you have all read her version of her first six months or so in our new home, I want to share my version. Okay, honestly, I don’t, because as she told you, I’m a very private person. But she keeps pushing me. And I feel the need to put things in context.
I never intended to be a divorced single mother. Q’s dad was a cheater and a big spender, and believe me, any illusions I had about him were long gone. I wasn’t sticking around because I thought he’d change. The thing is, I hadn’t worked since before Q was born. I couldn’t see how I could take care of all the children and also earn money. Given that her dad couldn’t be trusted to give me enough money for groceries while we were married, I could only imagine what it might be like depending on him for child support. So I resolved to stay with him until the youngest finished high school. Yes, that was still 12 years away, but I was going to make it work.
What I didn’t anticipate was that he’d fall in love with one of his girlfriends. None of the others ever seemed to last very long. But with this one, he decided that he had finally discovered his soulmate. They had to be together. I guess she felt the same; she left her husband and two kids, and he left us. He bought her a big expensive ring, and I borrowed money from my parents for the mortgage and food. Exactly as I had imagined.
Within a few months of his departure, we moved out of the family home and into a rental. My soon-to-be-ex had the nerve to tell me that the rental wasn’t good enough for his kids. Ha. I could barely even afford that on the alimony and child support he was paying (late, every month). I got a part-time job to help cover expenses. It helped, but not that much because it meant I had to pay for daycare for the younger ones before school.
My friends told me Q would be a big help to me. “She’s in junior high; she’s old enough to really pitch in.” Some help. I needed her to step up and do extra to help, but I always had to nag her to do it. Didn’t she see that it was a lot for me? She knew hot to vacuum and mop and dust and wash dishes and do laundry. But she didn’t seem to think about anyone but herself.
No, I don’t think her bad attitude had anything to do with her parents getting a divorce. Of course the children were all upset at first, but after a few months, they didn’t really talk about it anymore. Kids get over things faster than adults do, especially if you don’t make too big a deal of it.
I had been separated less than a year when I got a phone call from our old family friend, Leo. He didn’t know my ex were in the middle of getting a divorce. He invited me out to dinner, and we found we had a lot of interests in common. I really liked him. One thing I liked was his strong sense of right and wrong, something Q’s dad never seemed to have. He was also very careful about money. These qualities appealed to me. And he was attracted to me. I needed that, after years of feeling I took second, third, or tenth place to other women.
After his visit, Leo and I talked on the phone every night for an hour or two. I know the kids didn’t like it, but I needed it. It gave me energy, and it gave me hope. I could imagine a better future, not just for myself, but for the kids too. Q’s dad often drove by the rental house and wanted to check on me. It’s like he thought he could leave us but he still owned us and could just show up whenever he wanted to. He also took them out with his girlfriend, who was charming them all. It made me sick, but I didn’t say so to them. I didn’t want to make them hate their dad. No matter what he’s done to me, he’s still their dad.
Leo wanted to buy a business in New England. He wanted me to come help him run it. Clear across the country, a new life. It also meant my parents wouldn’t be in my business so much. They’ve been helpful, but they have an opinion about everything I do. Starting a new life held so much promise.
We got married in February. The kids stayed with my parents for a week while Leo and I went back east and got things ready. He’d already bought the house before I got there. It was a lovely house, but old, with unreliable heating in a climate much colder than any of us were used to. He said we’d gradually update it, over time, as the business took off.
I bought the kids down jackets and boots before they arrived. It’s expensive to buy all that for all of them at the same time, but I found a bargain at the sporting goods store. I knew Q wouldn’t like it because she likes feminine clothes, but she needs to adapt to what we can afford. And clothes are not something that matter in the larger scheme of things. She needs to get her values straight.
I was happy when the kids arrived. Here we all were, ready to start our new lives. So I was surprised and disappointed when Leo blew up at them that first weekend. I had seen a little flash of his temper at Christmas, but I put it down to nerves before the wedding, and how tired he was. I found out pretty quickly that the temper was always there, right below the surface, ready to come out at any time. I was also surprised at how sharp tongued and critical he was, both of me and the kids.
It made me think that maybe all those hours on the phone before getting married weren’t enough. We probably should have spent more time together and with the kids. I think if I’d known how he’d talk to me and the children, I probably wouldn’t have married him.
But too late for that. Now that we were married, I had to make it work. Imagine if I were to leave him now. To be divorced twice. What would that say about me? Maybe I’m the problem. Maybe I’m not understanding enough. People might be right about that too. I felt I should try harder to understand Leo’s point of view.
It must have been hard for him–so many of us, and just him. I didn’t want him to feel out there on his own, so I tried to back him up. Also I don’t think it is good for the kids to see parents disagreeing about the rules. It’s true Leo makes up rules I wouldn’t impose. But most are not so unreasonable. He was strict, but I believed in being strict, in not giving children room to get into trouble. That’s responsible parenting.
The thing I still didn’t like was the fuss he made when they made noise. Kids make noise. I mean, there was a limit, of course, but adults also have to accommodate children, and it was natural for children to talk and laugh and sing and be silly. But he found this very annoying. I tried to talk to him about it, and he blew up. First he was screaming, and then he didn’t talk to me for a week, which was embarrassing in front of the children. He even did it in front of employees at the shop. I couldn’t let that happen again. I had to manage him, cajole him, so he wouldn’t get that angry again. When I did that, he still lost his temper sometimes, of course, but not as much as he might have. If I didn’t protest about things he said but just let them slide by, he seemed to calm down faster. I got better and better at doing this over the following months. It was a way to protect the children and me from some of his temper.
It was nice when the children went to California in the summer. In a quieter house, my new husband and I had some time together, a chance to get to know each other better. I missed the children. I had never been apart from them for nearly so long. But in another way, I didn’t miss them. Leo and I got along better when they weren’t there. I didn’t let the children know that, of course. I try not to talk to them about Leo much. I really want them to just accept him as part of the family.
But oh, when they came back at the end of the summer, I could sure see the impact of their dad’s lax parenting. They were all wound up and overly emotional. We had to crack down on them right away to get them back into the household routine. I really didn’t want to lose all the progress I’d made with Leo over the summer just because the kids were out of control. And Q, she was grumpier than ever. She walked around with a scowl on her face a lot of the time. She didn’t like anything we did for her. That’s teenagers for you. Leo tried to tell her how ridiculous she was being, but she wouldn’t listen.
It was demanding, taking care of this old house, working part-time at the shop, doing the laundry, making all the meals, and keeping him as stable as possible. I admit I probably wasn’t interacting with the kids as much as I used to. But they were getting older; so I knew they would be okay. It would make them more independent, actually. And being yelled at a few times won’t do them any damage. It’s not like I am keeping them in a dangerous situation. At least I was making sure they lived in a decent home, with rules and a stable couple parenting them. They had food. They had clothes. If I’d remained in California as a single mom, I couldn’t be sure they would have that. I did what I thought was best for them, and I don’t want to have to apologize for that.