Case study: preparing children for divorce

26 March 2012


Works full-time as an accountant

Single, one son, Luke, aged 13

Pippa got divorced from Ben when their son was just 2 years old. Their marriage hit problems 3 or 4 years before that, partly due to it taking a year for her to get pregnant. Pippa found the first six months to a year of having Luke, her son, very difficult. She felt trapped at home, with no job, which meant no income. She later discovered that Ben massively resented her not working.  Her main concern now is trying to ensure that Ben and Luke have a good relationship. Recognises that had they looked for help with their problems early on, they could have stayed married for Luke’s sake.

I was 26 when I got married, Ben was 27. For the first few years, everything went pretty OK and then I noticed everyone around me was having babies and realised I wanted one, too.

Unfortunately, it took a year to conceive, which is a long time when you’ve become obsessed with getting pregnant. One night, Ben didn’t come home until 6am and didn’t even try to hide the fact that he’d got drunk and spent the night in a hotel with a woman. He said he just wanted to have some fun for a change and for every single thing not to be about having a baby.

For the next few months, I found it difficult to trust him but when I did finally get pregnant, it felt like a fresh start.

When Luke was one month old, I remember walking around the park and thinking, “is this really it, is this what my life has become.” I didn’t have job so had none of my own money and felt completely dependent, which is really tough when you’re used to working and independence. I had terrible stitches from a difficult birth, found breastfeeding agony and spent a lot of time crying.

At one point Ben said please don’t go into the bathroom because whenever you come out you’re crying.

I realise now I had post-natal depression, but no one really tells you about it or what to do and every other new mother seems so happy and to be coping so well, it’s not something you want to admit to.

I got into that awful cycle of tiredness and resentment that as soon as Ben came home from work, I’d thrust the baby at him, saying something like, “you’ve been on your own all day, it’s your turn”, when of course he was tired from work.

When Luke got to about nine months old, I was desperate to get some of my old life back, to go out with friends again, too wear nice clothes and have some fun, which I did manage to do a bit.

But unfortunately, Ben and I had definitely grown apart. Because of the birth,  I didn’t want to have sex for at least six months and even when we did, it felt different. I reckon by the time Luke was two, we’d had sex twice.

I still wasn’t working and for that last year of our marriage, we argued about anything. I felt tired and resentful but only realised during the two sessions of counselling I did manage to get Ben to that he really resented my not earning or contributing anything financially and harboured a massive grudge about it. I feel bitter because I thought I was bringing up our child.

When we did eventually go to Relate, and talk about how we were going to pull it back together, it was too late. Had we had counselling nine months before when it started to go wrong, we might have been able to save it. We had a lovely child, a lovely home and probably could have ticked along happily, at least until Luke was older.

Ben eventually moved out when Luke was two.The most traumatic experience of my life was those Friday evenings for about three months until he got used to when Luke would be clinging to me, sobbing and Ben would have to pull him off me to take him away for the weekend. It made me hysterical. And then on Sunday night, the same thing would happen in reverse and he’d be clinging to Ben and I’d have to pull him off.

Although Luke was talking, he was too young to completely understand what was going on. I did constantly try to gently explain that Daddy didn’t live with us anymore, but that he still loved him and that he would see him soon – time means nothing to a child so it was no good saying next weekend! Luke didn’t understand, all he saw was upset and change every week or so. He’d relax back into his home and routine, and then the same thing would happen the following weekend and he’d be taken off somewhere strange again.

A counsellor told me that actually divorce is easier on younger children because once they get to around age seven , if a parent leaves, they think it’s their fault, that if they hadn’t been naughty and knocked over that glass or vase or whatever, he wouldn’t have gone.

What is painful now is that Luke has no memory of us ever being together. He stayed with my mother once and they were looking at our wedding pictures and he asked, “what’s my Daddy doing there?”

At school, when he was about five, the class were talking about families and he said, “I don’t have a family” because he thought family meant a mother, father, brothers and sisters.

The problem we have now is that Ben has remarried and had a daughter and Luke always feels second best. I wish someone would tell Ben that he has a son who loves him so much but that he’s mucking it up. Luke doesn’t need to spend a weekend with Ben’s new family, he wants to spend time on his own with his Dad. But I can’t keep telling Ben that. We have a precarious relationship now and I don’t feel I can rock the boat.

On Luke’s birthday recently, Ben didn’t call him all day and he went to bed crying. Ben’s attitude was that they were celebrating Luke’s birthday the following weekend but that isn’t the same for a child.

I heard Luke asking a friend whose parents are also divorced if his father rang him to wish him luck for his exams, because his Dad hadn’t.  That puts me in a terrible position, when he asks why his Dad hasn’t called. I can’t say, because he’s selfish.  I think Ben is destroying what could be an amazing relationship with his son.

I wish they had a closer relationship because I know Luke is looking to download from someone how to be a man now he’s 13.  You can’t make someone do anything but I wish Ben had asked for help about how to bring up a son he doesn’t live with. Maybe then he’d realise he should call Luke every other night, not every other week, and work out the little things that make a kid’s life great.

Ten years on, Ben and I are still fighting the same battles. The worse thing now for Luke is when he has to make a choice – things like who to spend Christmas with –  because he knows his decision will hurt one of us.

And yes, sometimes on a Friday morning with the weekend coming, he does say, “do I really have to go and see my Dad?”