Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Long Hard Summer Of Acceptance (aka if only I had shares in Kleenex)

The main reason for the lack of blogging activity over the summer was due to sheer exhaustion.  Not physical, but mental and emotional.  I had lists of posts to write, but when it came to having the time to write after the boys were in bed, more often than not you could have mistaken me for a mannequin lying prone on my sofa - that's the state of stillness I have been perfecting night after night, watching trash TV.

Ex and New Girlfriend are still going strong (I guess 'New' is fairly inaccurate at this point in time, as they have now been together for 10+ months...let's just call her American Girlfriend instead...I am tempted to call her Girlfriend With A Mouthful of Big, Shiny Teeth, but that seems a little facetious verging on bitchy, so I won't).  Due to the fact that our long-term babysitter still works for us both, it was impossible to avoid being aware that AG is a constant fixture at Ex's house and was developing a close relationship with our sons.

And this I have really struggled with.

By all accounts she is lovely with the boys and, in the grander scheme of things, I knew I should be really grateful.  But understanding you should be grateful and actually being grateful are two very different states of being - the latter being a state of mind I was finding very difficult to achieve.

I want my boys to be happy.  I want them to be loved by a myriad of people in their lives.  Just not by her.  The thought of them sharing 'family' time with their new mum substitute - with her beginning to love them and them beginning to love her - absolutely crushed me.  Knowing that it shouldn't...  knowing I should just be grateful that the boys were happy and loved...knowing that it didn't take anything away from their love for me as their mother, didn't help a great deal, I have to be honest.

I was wracked with jealousy.  I never had any fault with her personally - it was just the situation that felt totally agonising.  I felt an overwhelming anger at no longer being the sole mother figure in my sons lives.  It was not something that I had ever anticipated when conceiving, carrying and giving birth to them...and in all the sleepless nights that subsequently followed.  All that hard, turn-my-life-upside work...all that selfless devotion and self-sacrifice...for my role to be ultimately shared?  It didn't seem fair.  It wasn't fair.  It was hard to look at it from the boys' point of view and acknowledge the benefits it was bringing to their lives, and so much easier to look at it from my point of view and feel so incensed that I just wanted to kill someone.  Not her necessarily.  Probably him, in all honesty.

How could he?  How could he do this to me? I would fume and fester over the injustice of it day after day, night after night. It seemed like such a betrayal.  I felt like such a fool.  And their togetherness (and happiness) highlighted and exacerbated my own loneliness to a degree that felt intolerable.  I was wretched and I was miserable and I was beyond any form of consolation - all because others were happy and moving on with their lives.

It didn't help matters that Ex and AG took the boys on holiday together to visit some of our old friends in Seattle.  Yet again the green-eyed monster reared its ugly head.  I tried to maintain a note of cheeriness and excitement in my voice when I spoke to the boys on the phone - but my envy towards their 'family' getaway, with our friends, was palpable.  And of course, there were the accompanying insecurities.  Do our friends like her more than they liked me?  Do they see Ex and AG together and think, 'Oh yes, they are so good together...much more suited than Ex and Nicola ever were.  And AG is so nice.  And pretty.  And young.  Not old or jaded or cynical at all.  It's so obvious why Ex is with her, rather than his unstable, drama-driven, aging wife...'

Friends would sympathise - but would also acknowledge that yes, AG is nice.  And she is great with the boys.  And the boys seem to have a great relationship with her.  And that's a good thing, it really is.  But all I could think was, well, that's easy for you to say - and I emphatically agree with you on a theoretical level - yet, I think you might have a completely different point of view if this was happening with YOUR children.

My thoughts and feelings on the matter ultimately reached a tipping point when the boys returned home. We were having a fairy innocuous conversation about girlfriends while I was driving them home after an afternoon at the park.  Johnny Drama was having a hard time deciding which girl in his class he should choose to be his girlfriend.  In the midst of discussing their various merits, Captain Underpants piped up, "I think I'd like AG to be my girlfriend.  She's kind, she's pretty, she plays with me, she's fun.  Yeah, I think AG will be my girlfriend, mum.  I love her."

How I managed to keep the car on the road while the knife was being driven so swiftly and cleanly through my heart is a true reflection of my superior driving abilities.

On the tip of my tongue was the instant rebuttal:  oh yeah?  well, I think your father would have something to say about that!

Instead I kept quiet for a minute, listening to JD enthusiastically concur with his brother, before saying, "that's nice sweetheart, I'm sure AG would be very happy to hear you say that".  The conversation continued with CU saying, "you know, AG is always there at Daddy's now Mum.  It's kinda like I have two mummies now, isn't it?  She's like my new mummy now, isn't she?  So I have two mums.  That's lucky, isn't it?  So, you're my mum - and she's also my mum.  Right Mum?"

How I managed to keep the tears from flowing at this point, due to the knife being twisted cruelly in my heart, is a testament to the rapid blinking technique I have perfected over the past 2 years.  It was on the tip of my tongue to shout, "NO, SHE IS NOT YOUR MUM!  I'M YOUR MUM!  I'M YOUR MUM!! YOU ONLY HAVE ONE MUM AND SHE IS CURRENTLY USING EVERY OUNCE OF CONCENTRATION NECESSARY NOT TO DRIVE OFF THE FUCKING ROAD...AND DON'T YOU EVER FORGET THAT!"  Of course I didn't say that, although my brain was screaming it relentlessly, and I couldn't bring myself to agree with him at that point either.  But what I did manage to say was, "well, of course it's great that you have all these people in your life who love you so much, CU - you are very lucky boys."

And once they were in bed, tucked up sound asleep, I sobbed and sobbed, feeling a mix of rage and self-pity.  They already think they have 2 mummies?  I felt robbed and achingly sad, as if I was on the rocky road to losing them forever to their new, happier, family.

I can see how easy it is for mothers in my position to wish to reek havoc and vengeance on their Ex's and their new partners.  Having to share the emotional devotion of your children in these circumstances goes against every primal, lioness instinct.  I had always aimed to be magnanimous, gracious and generous as our family shifted shape, but it felt beyond my capabilities to be this way.  Holding my dying first born son had been hard.  Having a second premature baby had been hard.  Going through the breakdown of a marriage away from my family and friends had been hard.  And hearing my son profess his love of AG and his acknowledgement of her playing a mothering role in his life was also hard.  Just as hard.  I felt sideswiped by emotion and struggled not to fall into a pit of depression and self-loathing over my inability to handle the situation with grace and acceptance.

As I said.  Not a fun summer.  Not a lot that I had the strength to blog about at the time.  My energy was directed towards a) not crying constantly and b) not following through with the urge to kill somebody (many days myself).

So it would have been easy, and incredibly satisfying, to hit back.  And believe me, I really wanted to.  It seemed the quickest and most efficient means of reducing my pain was to pass it on to my Ex and AG.  I just wanted the satisfaction of them appreciating what I was going through - and to impact their world to the degree that I felt my world was being impacted by theirs.

But I didn't.

Instead I invited AG to the boy's upcoming birthday parties and decided to face this situation head on - and to muster every ounce of artistic ability I possessed to maintain a veneer of grace, acceptance and generosity.  And to put my sons - who I love unconditionally with every single fiber of my being - 100% first.

I also decided to stop participating in the competition I had created between myself and AG.  Realising that I was not in competition with her - in age, looks, personality, even over the boys' feelings towards us - fundamentally shifted my perception on our situation.  I came to realise that the only person stopping me from being lonely and sad and stuck was me.  And until I moved on and faced my biggest fear head on - that AG is potentially the second mother in this family - that I would remain forever stuck and bitter and lonely.

Not that the parties were easy, mind.  I faced them both with the requisite smile, talked to AG briefly, introduced her to all the other parents...laughed and smiled in all the right places while I quietly died inside.  Then I got into my car - as the boys departed with Ex and AG - and cried my bloody eyes out.  For hours.  But I did it and I lived.  And it really did make the boys happy.  And - dare I say it - I quite like AG.  She's nothing like me at all.  She's really very nice.  She appears to be very respectful of me and for that I am truly grateful.  It could be worse.  She could be worse.  I need to count my blessings and make a continued effort to knock my competitive, jealous tendencies into touch where she is concerned - and try to focus my attention on being the best mum that I can be right now.

Luckily for me, the boys and I are the closest we have ever been.  While I do still struggle with being a single mum, on many levels, being able to single-handedly parent the boys on a daily basis is becoming easier.  I take comfort in the fact that I must be doing something right, because otherwise I am sure Captain Underpants would not have stated so emphatically the other day, "But I don't want to have to leave home to go to college Mum!  Do I have to go?  I just want to be able to live with you FOREVER!"

Oh my sweet, sweet boys.  Oh how I love you.  (But you're still leaving home at 18, if I have anything to do with will be for your own good, honest.)


  1. Hello, so very chuffed (blightly speak) that you are back. I lay prostrate at your feet at your total, unadulterated courage and general amazingness. The worst thing my ex-husbands girlfriend ever said was that 'I'm going to be a part of your son's life whether you like it or not'. She's still living only because she's Canadian and they live there. Your boys like her and I'm sure everyone has a lovely time together (honeymoon period anyone...?)but their feelings for her will not even scratch the surface of their feelings for you, whatever the words coming out of their mouths. Please also remember that there is no doubt that she will have huge issues of her own and is probably tying herself up in knots inside whenever she has to see her boyfriend's amazing (ex)wife who has produced these incredible children...who shares all this history with her boyfriend..and who will always be his children's mother. Believe me, being a stepmother can be really I'm sure she'll find out.Not that I wish her anything but happy,happy,joy,joy - I just know that if I met you both, I'd like you better...
    sorry for the ramble, have a jolly good day..

  2. Awww, I'm just want to give you a great big hug after reading that.

    I have some idea of this sort of thing since my Ex is now engaged and living with her. The Teenager really likes her, but my 10yo daughter isn't very keen on her and that gives me some perverse satisfaction. By all accounts the Fiancee is very nice to my girls, which is good, but knowing that she can't win them both over is better. I know, I'm evil.

    By doing what you've done (inviting AG to the party, etc) you have risen above it all and come out a stronger person, I'm so in awe of you. I don't think I could do that. Your boys know that you love them, and you are showing them what a fantastically caring mum you are.

    Big hugs to you my lovely, take care xxx

  3. Hugs to you girl, you've done well - really well. I think this kind of radical acceptance is THE hardest thing to do - but you've come, or are coming through, the other side and you'll be stronger for it. It is what you have to do to be able to move on.

    When I realised my ex no longer loved me, this is the kind of pain I went through and I know that jealous feeling from when I found out by accident that he was in a relationship with someone else. Hot lava coursing through my veins is not an understatement.

    You are awesome for being able to keep your emotions inside and say the right things to yours sons. I can't imagine how hard that must have been. But you did it and know you're boys are better off for it. You did what seemed impossible and, even though I've known you for just a little while, I'm so proud of you. I hope that I can be as strong when my turn comes - and I'm sure it will some day.

    You're doing well, even though it feels like shit, focus on the future now.

    lots more hugs

  4. oh what sweet, searing honesty. beautifully written. when your boys are 18 they will love you harder and they will be bigger than you. there is something deeply satisifying and hugely comforting in having a son who towers above you and can sweep you clean off your feet in an embrace that makes you want to laugh and to weep. brave lady. your sons will know that one day if they do not already.

  5. It must be so difficult but you are doing so well to be brave and magnanimous about it. Remember, you will always be their mother - and they know that. It's a confusing time for you and them, but hopefully your move back to the UK will help to put everything into perspective and give some clarity to the situation. Thinking of you x

  6. Oh yes it feels like crap doesn't it...them going off to the other happy family after a birthday party. Once I got my daughter ready to be a bridesmaid and I put on a nice dress to deliver her to a wedding where I wasn't invited and ex was there all suited up etc. I had to stop the car on the way home, unsafe to drive. Shit, it hurts so bad inside but I am so proud that on the outside you are standing tall. Being a bitter twisted ex and making things hard for the children can serve no good, you already know that and in the long run they will see what you have done and love you all the more for it. Your ex knows you, he will know how hard it is for you and he will have is private moments of guilt (perverse good feelings come from that knowledge)- you are a wonderful woman, well done xx

  7. Awwwwww, I just want to climb through the computer and give you a great big hug. God I know what it's like, I still know what it's like. At least AG isn't too bad, she's no Wicked Witch who I would gladly kill on a daily basis and thank god I'm not in the same country as them anymore otherwise I would have killed one of them before long.

    I hope the move comes off for you. If anyone knows how crap this whole situation is then I do. Tons of love to you xx

  8. Darling Nicola:

    I need to write you a frickin' letter, I swear. And if I can get my head straight enough to do so, I will. For now, all I can say is I feel so strongly for you and am sending all the virtual hugs I can your way.


  9. I have never thought about it like that. Having to share the love of your children with someone else. I'm not sure I could be as kind a person as you have been. Once again, an amazing post so full of emotion. Hang in there.

  10. Helen - This is exactly what I wanted to hear!!! Thank you! It's reassuring to be understood - and also to think that AG has her own angst (because, dammit, she never seems to show it...far too confident for her own good if you ask me!)

    Notsupermum - I know. I'm a saint. Bring on the blue peter badge already! It's strange, but when I am with Ex and AG (and the boys) it actually seems ok. Fairly normal. I can see how in the future we can all share time together and get on without any emotional backlash. But in the immediate aftermath of our get togethers I am a mess.

    Jo Blue - It's so nice when people really 'get it' - and you're in the same boat as me (almost) so I know that you do. I have found the fear of us all being together and accepting this new woman is far more petrifying and uncomfortable than the actual event - which is something I guess.

    Reluctant Memsahib - Oh I nearly cried when I read this. In a way I hope the boys never have to appreciate what a struggle this all is - but maybe one day it will serve as a lesson in how they deal with their own difficult situations and they will try to follow my example.

    NVG - yes - I am hoping to get a little space from it all when I move back, as Ex isn't moving back until a few months later. Will be nice not to have this as an almost daily issue for a little while.

    Kellogsville - Thank you! I know - sometimes I feel like I am about to pass out with the anxiety of it all....not a very safe state of mind to be in when behind the wheel f the car. And it would be comforting to think that Ex gets it a little bit. I am sure it will really come home to him when he is in the same situation and I have someone else in my life (who is in the boys' lives too). God knows how he is going to cope with that.

    Yummy Mammy - hello lovely! Thank you for your hugs. I know, I can't believe this journey is almost at an end for me (and a beginning). Thank you so much for your support xx

    Teacher Mommy - I feel those HUGS....thank you, thank you, thank you xxx

    HOM - I know - I certainly didn't expect these feelings to be so overwhelming...and it's an ongoing struggle to try to remain as objective as possible and just look at it in the best interests of the children, believe me!

  11. I think it's perfectly OK for you to (somehow) point out or imply that you are their mother and they don't have two. It's true. She's at best at the moment, your husband's girlfriend. Are they engaged? I can't remember. It may not last, so she shouldn't be classed as anything like their mother at the moment; think of how traumatising it would be for the boys if she suddenyl wasn't around?
    And for the record, I thought you did very well at boy's birthday party, although I couldn't help feeling she was shitting bricks herself and felt a little sorry for her.

  12. Sorry - should be "ex-husband's girlfriend" obviously.

  13. Oh, I totally hear you.

    The second most knife twisting moment for me so far was when my ten year old son said, totally innocently and honestly (as is his way):

    "I hope this doesn't offend you Mummy, but I really do think P is a better cook than you..."

    And the prize goes to the Sunday morning when my six year old daughter climbed into my bed to give me a cuddle, and then chatted brightly about how she climbs into Daddy and P's bed when she stays with them, and gives P a cuddle too.

    I do my crying away from the children too - it is so important that they don't sense the knife going in - they don't do it on purpose after all and I so want them to feel happy and settled with their new situation.

    But oh my goodness it bloody hurts, doesn't it? I feel for you, and with you.


  14. Dear Nicola,

    My heart broke reading your post...

    My parents divorced when I was 4 and my father re-partnered seriously when I was 9 and then remarried when I was 14.

    I love my stepmother very much. I lived with her for 10 years and she stepped up to play the "mother role" when my own mother was absent.

    But she is not my mother. We've both always known that.

    My mother is my mother.

    The American Girlfriend is not. She may be close to them, she might share good times with them, but she can't take your place. Ever.

    Now, dry your tears and make yourself a big fuck off cocktail with a bendy straw and a little umbrella.


    The NDM

  15. PS. Where I wrote "The American Girlfriend is not", I meant "not your boys' mother". But you knew that, didn't you? As you were...

  16. expat mum - actually you were right first time. He is still technically my husband, which I feel makes me a bit more of a laughing stock...but I guess after being separated for 2 years I really am picking at hairs here!

    Helenprev - Oh God. I am sure they do snuggle with both Ex and AG but luckily they haven't mentioned it, because even though it shouldn't, even the thought of it hurts like mad. A friend of mine said that they are just trying to make sense of the situation and get my guidance/approval of it. And I know they know full well I am their mum and can't truly be replace. Still. It smarts. Thanks for your kind, kind words.

    NDM - glass of wine in hand, being chugged as I type. I guess in part I am a little jealous because my stepmum was not that kind to me or my sister and drove a real wedge in our relationship with our dad for many years. Tho saying that, we get on like a house on fire now and she is kindness personified. I also have a friend who has 2 step daughters who she loves dearly. On the one hand I truly want my boys to have that sort of relationship too with whoever their father is with - but wanting that relationship and it actually materializing is hard. Objectively I know it's for the best...but, ouch.

    NDM - actually I hoped what you were saying was 'the AG is not...a patch on your amazing, intelligent, miles way better than her, self..." ;-))

  17. Wow, this is powerful stuff, Nicola and I feel on an emotional rollercoaster with you. I actually gasped when you said you were inviting AG to the boys parties. I take my hat off to you there. Brave woman.
    I am dreading having to meet my ex's wife when the boys eventually marry. Will be hard to be civil, even now, years on.

  18. What a post! What a whole lot of emotions for you to go through! Like Marianne in the last comment, I was breathless reading all this. I think you are just about a saint for not ranting and raving. Believe you me, most people wouldn't have the strength. (I don't think I would.)
    Big hug to you. xxx