There are days when I learn of behaviors that my ex displayed, or situations that my kids witnessed that I never knew anything about. I am so thankful they feel comfortable enough to tell me openly know, but it tears my heart apart knowing that I was so wrapped up in my own survival that I missed so many things. I could have saved my children from so much pain, and that bothers me and in the past it has overwhelmed me with guilt. The kicker is that, I truly believed I was the problem. For years I was told if I did this, this and that our lives would be better, I was the problem and I caused problems. I strived to always be “perfect” and I would beat myself up when I fell short of this incredibly high standard. My head was not in a clear space, and I missed a lot.
I have encouraged my children to go to counselling as I have done. With a simple explanation of, “sometimes we all need extra tools in our toolbelt to be able to live a healthy happy life.” I have told them that I do believe that their dad loves them, but he is in a very unhealthy, unhappy place and until he is in a better space we need to look after ourselves. We can’t change how he behaves, but we can do things to help us get through it. Two of my children so far have began talking to a counsellor, and these ladies have been lifesavers. I am beyond thankful for them and admire the work they do.
The other day, one of my children had a session. I usually sit in on the first minute or two, long enough for the counsellor to tell me anything she may need to and then I leave. On this day, my child broke down and began to cry. I couldn’t leave her, so I sat in silence holding her while she talked to her counsellor. The things she said broke my heart, the things she witnessed between her father and I, that I thought no one knew about and how she views her father. She is embarrassed and ashamed of him, she believes that he only reaches out when he is drunk. She spoke about her feeling that I was the one that kept him normal, sane and calm(ish). When I wasn’t around, it was always different. This is the third child that has said when I wasn’t around, even when mom and dad were together and “good”, things were different and they didn’t feel safe. I used to attend a few conferences a year and travel a fair amount with my job, hearing this upsets me. I had no idea, and often I used those times to sit in my hotel room and cry, decompress and just get away from his presence. I needed those alone times, but now hearing how it impacted my children is tough. That was not my intent to make them feel alone or unsafe, and I honestly thought I was the only one who felt unsafe in his presence.
A few days later, I grabbed my belt off a chair near the laundry room and one of my dogs ran off to the bedroom as soon as she saw it. It seemed odd to me and it bothered me. She is timid and scared of a lot of things but I never really questioned why, I just assumed it was her personality. Later that day I asked my eldest daughter if she ever thought our dog had been hit by anyone and I told her of the belt story. Her response was, “Yes, I think so.” She told me that she had suspicions of it when we lived with dad, and how since we are here the dog even seems to be more relaxed and at peace. Our dog used to often pee out of a nervous excitement, which hasn’t happened since we moved. My daughter then proceeded to tell me of a story that had happened this past summer while she was spending time with her father. They were boating and had pulled up near a shore, as the dogs love to jump in swim to shore and run around a bit. The one dog jumps off as soon as the boat shuts off and she sees shore, and is a very strong swimmer. The timid one often needs her lifejacket on and you lower her in the water, as she isn’t as strong of a swimmer. This time dad was mad she said, and grabbed the dog by the collar and threw her in the water for no reason. When my daughter asked why he would do that, she said he just yelled at her. Our dog swam to shore but when she got to shore, she was coughing and choking for quite awhile before she was able to walk around, and wouldn’t swim back to the boat. She sat on the shore shaking. This incident really upset my daughter. She said she thought her dog was going to drown and she wouldn’t be able to save her, and she would just have to watch it happen, helpless.
I can’t go into great detail about everything I hear from the kids. I document and save everything incase we ever end up in court. There are days I sit on pins and needles wondering what I will hear next and if my biggest fears will be a reality. This is all part of my children’s healing, and I can’t push them to tell me things if they aren’t ready. I just need to provide a safe, open and loving space for them when they decide to talk.