Breakups, especially when kids are involved, are really hard.
We hear this sentiment all the time.
It’s so ubiquitous that the meaning of what we are saying goes almost unnoticed by the reader, much in the same way the expression “war is hell” spares the listener from knowing the pitiful emptiness and horror of the soldier picking up his friend from the battlefield grounds and cradling him in his arms.
“War is hell” does not explain what it is like for the soldier to hear his friend’s final choking gasps of breath as he promises to tell his mom that he didn’t suffer much. It doesn’t come anywhere near the real experience of the numbness that he carries away from that abyss.
So when we say that breakups, especially when kids are involved, are really hard, I think we gloss over what it feels like when another man has artfully found his way into our ex’s heart, into the lives of our children, and takes our place, at least in the physical sense—practically by default.
In certain cases, yes, a person gets what they pay for.
If you did not even try to work things out, if you went chasing after something that looked like it’d be more fun, less hassle, or more adventurous without even considering what it would do to your children, then you really don’t have a leg to stand on. You just gotta take your lumps.
But in situations where you tried to work it out for years and nothing changed—where you are left with no other choice but to leave—the pain is unrelenting at times.
I can say with honesty that I am extraordinarily qualified to speak on this subject because not only am I going through it presently with a three-year-old and a five-year-old, but I also have a 17-year-old daughter that I am practically estranged from—so I’ve lived all of this before.
When I say estranged, I mean we are amiable to each other, we are Facebook friends and Instagram followers; I send money every week, but her mom moved hours away when she was three years old and we are, for the most part, strangers.
I will take responsibility for a lot of this.
I didn’t totally understand it then but now that I am going through the same things all over again, I see where my shortcomings are.
I call my little ones every single evening at a quarter to six to see how their day was. It’s not always easy or comfortable because of their young ages.
Oftentimes, it’s five or six words followed by an “I love you, bye.”
Last week, I called them and they both told me how they were playing with their mother’s new boyfriend. Within seconds, I was saturated in uncomfortable emotions. The next day, 5:45 p.m. came and went and I did not call them.
I know exactly what you’re thinking, too.
Man up! Don’t punish your kids for something that has nothing to do with them! Come on, they are three and five years old.
I wholly agree—but I feel like it is important to shed light on the parts of us that don’t sound perfect. I believe that if we can open ourselves up in this way, we might help others who are also not perfect to feel a little more normal about their imperfections.
I’ve always understood that enduring uncomfortable emotions is a lot like working out in a gym. If you’re like me, someone who has actively avoided uncomfortable emotions at every turn, you will go on avoiding them until the very end. Conversely, if you force yourself to endure them, you can slowly add a little more weight as time goes on and get stronger and stronger.
The next day, my phone reminded me once again that it was 5:45 p.m. I could hear my gut starting to gurgle with the same sickening anticipation that we usually reserve for getting pulled over by the police or waiting with our mouths gaping open in a dentist’s chair.
I took a deep breath and looked up to the sky to ask the universe for help.
Then I picked up the phone.