“Was your childhood so bad?”
I placed the last of the groceries on the top shelf in the fridge, closed the door, and waited for my teenage son to respond.
“My childhood? No, my childhood was awesome. It was when you asked dad for the divorce: the DEATH DIVORCE that you killed our family.”
Heard my daughter gasp in shock at her twin brother’s stinging accusation and then everyone went silent. Frozen.
Stood there trying not to lose it as my heart began to crackle and my eyes pooled with tears of betrayal.
Sucker punch. Knocked the air out of me. I had been this child’s number one advocate his entire life. He was mama’s.
But right then?
I wanted to slap him; I wanted to lash out in a way I never had before; in our home, hands were not for hitting.
Placed my palms upright behind my back and laced my fingers together like I started doing when they were young.
Mama used to beat us. I would not do that to my children.
Directed my son in a controlled voice, “You need to leave.” He had texted me earlier letting me know he was going to pop in and get something upstairs from his room. His father was waiting at the curb outside. Apparently, stopping into the kitchen on his way out with a verbal dagger for his mom was on the agenda as well. I should have been prepared.
But how can any caring mother be prepared for something as horrific as that? Impossible. Instead, I hurt.
And later on, guilt consumed me. Was he right?
His sister said, “This is too big for us. Let mom and dad handle it.”
But her brother was in a scary place. He had to make his stance known. On a higher level, I understood that. The unforgivable? He didn’t get there by himself. My son was being fed what to say.
From the first night I asked the ex for a divorce, I begged him, “Please, no matter what you and I are going through, we need to do whatever we can to assure our children that their lives will change as little as possible.”
His response: “No way. You fight me for the company, and I will destroy our children. The floor will drop out from their world. It will never be the same again. I’m just telling ya, everything you gave them will go away.”
The company he referred to was a biomedical engineering endeavor we began out of our garage twenty years ago. I worked every day for seventeen of those, without a nanny, raising two children at the office, and managing his narcissistic neurotic high-maintenance ego that would vacillate daily between debilitating insecurity and repugnant arrogance. (Yes, issues, I know). The reason I hired someone to finally take over some of my duties was only because my son became a hot shot tennis player and my daughter a dedicated dancer. Logistically, I could not be in three places at once. A month in, the new hire said to the ex, “Man, how did she do this?” It wasn’t easy. But success rarely is.
His complaints? I wasn’t there enough. Spent too much money. Kids came first. Never cooked. I’ll tell ya what, it was…
exhausting being his mule. Did the best I could. About fifteen years in, I finally hired a woman to help me with the phones and such. The ex walked in handed me something while I was literally on the phone with a client that he refused to deal with, typing an invoice, while my son drove his Hot Wheel up my left arm, and my daughter was passed out in my lap from throwing an exhaustive fit of boredom from being at the office again. My assistant said to him, “Here, let me take care of that.” His response, “Oh, I just usually hand Renee everything.” And so it was. I did it all because I appreciated him as he was, and from the very beginning it was clear he could not do it alone. I made mistakes, but I always knew I had to do more than my share. And I did.
Never in a million years would he admit that.
The truth: we began with one workbench in our garage in our twenties, and grew into eight thousand square feet in south Orange County by our forties. We were two kids who met working behind the counter as teens at McDonald’s and after twenty years of diligently wearing all the hats in order to rigorously and successfully advance our company, we became well known in the USA and internationally as well.
Those two burger flippers became bonafide members of the top 1%.
It was a nice life. Not a life of ease and plenty, but we did have comforts we never had before. Filled him with fear. We weren’t allowed to share with anyone. He didn’t even want to share with me and the kids. And panic sunk in when he realized I was planning to take my lucrative half and go. He had to attack the one thing more precious than anything:
Promised me he would close the doors to our company and our children wouldn’t eat. Grew up in poverty. Starvation. The man I married knew that was a hot button issue for me. The hottest. He was going to win.
All the literature on divorce advises to rise above the chaos, but it’s difficult when all you wanna do is reach out and strangle the other person. My mistake? I cared too much.
Sent me into a nervous breakdown. Knew he meant the threat. As it turned out, I gave him what he wanted to spare our kids, and he destroyed them anyway. It will take years for my son to process his father’s culpability in that. I worry about him. He is a kid, only seventeen, emotionally very young and anxious. He’s chosen to reside with me three of the six months so far this year. When he is here, I enjoy him. I love my son like crazy, but the divorce was mine, not his. His need to be his father’s spokesperson put him in a precarious place. One day he may wake up and acknowledge his behavior and his father’s as well. That will be a hard day for him. If it’s up to me, I’ll be here.
Sometimes, you just have to love people through it, ya know? And my daughter? She is the only one of all four of us that has behaved herself through it all. I work daily to make sure she still gets to be a kid. Her heart is heavy though.
The point? Fight for what is rightfully yours. Don’t let your kids, your family, your lawyer tell you to settle. The marriage is over. Don’t beat it to death. A friend said once, “Its just a divorce.” She was right.
I get calls, texts, instant messages from women I don’t even know–women who have read my stuff, desperately seeking advice. Because you know what? We don’t think about the process of divorce when we’re married. Just this week alone, one woman said she suddenly realized she is one husband away from being homeless. Searching for a place to stay month to month for her and her little girl. Life was normal and then one day, he up and left and took all the money. Fortunately, she found a temporary residence. But I worry about her, and all the others like her.
Another call came a few days ago. This woman’s husband was a civil servant, gets a great pension, and is now a pilot. Found an old girlfriend through Facebook (happens every day) and after decades of marriage he left her a note: you need to sell the house. I’m moving on. It’s been a year of duking it out and now he wants to charge her back rent for the house they raised their children in. Absurd. She’s nearly sixty. Never worked outside the home. He had the affair. But the anger is directed at her. I just don’t get it. Narcissism is beyond me. The past few years has really hit home the fact that:
Divorce is killing families, friendships, childhoods-our souls-every single day. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Men and women alike, we need to reign it in around the kids and fight like hell when in court. Rarely happens though. We get enraged at home, and sit helpless in court.
One lesson I learned that I want to pass along: lawyers are not your friend. They are not like you see on police dramas. You are not their only client, they are not shrewd, nor are they in your corner finding ways to make sure you come out the victor. Mostly, they are overworked, pessimistic. Doubtful.
While I am sure there are those who pass the bar with every noble intention of doing some good in the end, it has been my experience, many (if not most) are out to make a buck and will stick you for every fax, email or deposition taken- at several hundred dollars an hour! And something else, its hard to get their attention; lawyers need to pick up their kids from daycare just like everyone else. Make your point and move forward. They are not your therapist. Big mistake that cost me a lot of cash. Learn from my errors.
Bottom line: You will not have your attorney’s undivided attention. Be your own advocate.
Most women sign on the dotted line out of duress, lack of funds, or flat-out terror. Take the emotion out of it (no matter how yummy the child is who is throwing spears of fear your way). Marriage is personal. Divorce is business.