All this philosophical ranting and raving eventually has to give way to the behavioral manifestations in our lives. And so it has.
I had a particularly hard time with my daughter yesterday. Though nearly 21 and soon to be a senior in college, I suspect that I’ve been overly protective. She has become an expert at avoiding conflict, not a trait that I consider a stellar talent, especially when used as an ongoing strategy. Those who continually straddle a fence risk hurting their private parts.
She likes my former lady friend, just as she likes the other loves in my life. All three of my children feel the same way. But breakups put children and friends in a bit of a bind.
The hardest thing I’ve done in these breakups was the day I told my children that their mother and I were divorcing. They were 6, 8, and 16 at the time and only my eldest daughter had been kept appraised of the impending events. The two youngest did not know on a cognitive level what was about to transpire, but their bodies certainly knew. I hadn’t even gotten the entire phrase out about the breakup and my 8-year-old son burst into tears, quickly followed by his 6-year-old sister. I walked them through it as best as I could, I held them, reassured them, answered their questions. I was strong and assured. When I got them to bed, I went out in the back yard and collapsed, doubled over, on the lawn.
Their mother and I didn’t get along, and worst, we didn’t agree on parenting or what constituted responsibility. Raising my children was frequently fraught with pitched battles between their mother and myself. I could not keep all of this in and ranted and raved at times about the injustice of it all.
And I worried. Raising three children is a daunting task.
I counseled them to remember that their view of their mother and my views did not have to coincide. My ranting and raving need not be theirs, we were different people in different positions.
The effect of this position was that I was alone.
When I got involved with a new woman, she brought her own issues into the mix, one of which was trying to stay out of the way. She was sweet to my children and they liked her immediately. But she was not a mother to them, she stayed more in the friend realm. Though she had her own son, parenting was not her strong point.
It took me awhile, even with the previous experience with my children’s mother, to realize the societal notion that men provide the tools of home and women nurture the home, is a big joke. Being a woman does not ensure nurturing the home, any more than being a man ensures providing the tools of home.
The effect of being alone remained, mutual irritation grew, and another breakup followed.
Again, my children were caught in the mix. They liked the woman I was involved with and she liked them liking her. I perceived all of the attempts to be friendly with my children as nothing more than wanting support without having the work.
This was the issue times two for me.
I ranted and I raved and I counseled my children as I had with their mother.
The effect of this position was that I was once again alone.
I’ve noticed that women seem to get a lot of support in situations like this. Much of it seems like so much icing—there isn’t much in the way of reality checks. Support means making sure someone feels good.
On the other hand, men don’t seem to get much support. Men friends may nod their head slightly, grunt something male-like, or in my case, tell me I’m wrong and should stay with the relationship. In any case, I’m told that I’ve got to fight my own battles.
I don’t necessarily have the same outlook in either case. But I noticed that I behaved as though I believed in the male approach. I did not ask for support, it did not occur to me. I believed that my problems should not be shared, only my joys. I guess I felt that sharing problems interfered and sharing joy added. I did not want to cause problems or be part of them, so when I found myself twisted up in trouble, I attempted to separate myself from others in one manner or another.
The effect was that I was not only alone, but relative to my children, I had taught them to take a neutral corner when it came to me. I had perpetuated my own aloneness and lack of support by attempting to distance my children from the depth of my feelings about all that had gone on. When I failed to do so, I counseled them about my idiocy.
The recent breakup that occurred in and around the time of my mother’s death was yet another battle that centered around my supposedly not paying attention to, or supporting, another’s needs. And, as before with all three women, there was this Jekyll and Hyde tenor to all of it. In this particular case, just a couple of weeks before I supposedly was as important as the wheel to her.
This theme, which apparently was about the effect of what was being said and done rather than the love of what was said and done, was something that was now clubbing me to relationship death. As I said before, I’m a fixer, but I’m also a person. And I can often see the contradictions between people’s stories and their behaviors.
Again I was angry. Who the hell was paying attention to me? If I’m not supportive and I’m critical and I’m negative this or negative that, where lies the difference between us? These accusations about my deficiencies are not suggestions for solutions, they are criticisms and they are a lack of support. At the very least, it seemed to me we were the same.
But, this is not listening, I’m told once again. And busted in their own matrix, love is not so endearing anymore. There are many others that will listen and care and respond to their stories.
So, they smile at my children—all of these women really care about them, and my children go to a neutral corner, relative to me. And these women actively seek sweet support, especially in the beginning of the breakup, which I don’t have a problem with, except as it seems to be so one-sided.
At this point I’m 54 and I’ve had enough (just how slow can one person be?). So I finally talked with my now 20-year-old daughter.
She didn’t want to hear it.
So I reversed the situation and asked her how she would feel about my neutrality if she was going through the same thing, and if that would really be considered neutrality? I asked her to make the distinction between making choices about who is good or bad and making distinctions about support. If she can fraternize and support these women, does she have to avoid me? Is it possible that there is a way to be inclusive instead of exclusive?
In an amazing moment, she seemed to get it. The shell of her neutrality, in this case reserved for me, seemed to break. My mother’s death, three women, same story, why was it just me that needed to be avoided? She visibly welled up and, in no uncertain terms, came toward me and gave me the best hug she has ever given to me. Emotions welled up, boundaries broke, at least for the moment, and we held each other.
As is my style, I worried about the effect on her. I assured her that her actions did not mean she was a substitute mother or girlfriend, that she was not being asked to choose sides. She was merely being asked to consider her innocence towards others and her neutrality towards me as not so innocent or neutral. If it was right to be considerate of others, it was right to remember that I am one of those to be considered.
Asking for support has been a long time coming. It’s laughable and ironic just how much I’ve been guilty of aiding and abetting, all in the name of nurture, my own aloneness.
Such is the way of it–we tend to create both the realities we despise as well as the ones we love. And limiting our search for answers to the external world is often a walk in a hall of smoke and mirrors.