I’m beside myself with anger, frustration and fear. My ex was an abusive man – emotionally, verbally, physically, and financially ruined both our one son and myself. The courts deemed him unfit to see his child without supervision. Eventually, he gave it up, never paid a nickel in support and signed as not wanting visitation with our son. This was 6 years ago, my son is now 16, and his father found him on Facebook, contacted him, and 6 weeks later my son is seeing him, working part time with him, happy as ever. He says ‘the past is the past’ and I should be happy for him, that he has his dad is back. My boy was mentally and physically hurt by him and now he’s superdad? I have medical files that I never want my boy to see because it would scar him knowing what his father did to me. But a small part of me feels that even if he knew what his father really is, it still wouldn’t make a difference. I fear for my boy’s welfare and future and I’m more fearful that my anger and feelings of betrayal by my son will drive him away. I’ve been the parent all these years and now I’m the selfish one who won’t understand a boy’s need to be with his biological father. He has a wonderful ’stepdad’ who adores my boy and vice versa but he’s not enough. I see my son going down the wrong road already. It’s like watching your child running towards the edge of a cliff, holding scissors while texting. Why do some need the attention and affirmation that they are wanted even from someone so worthless? I’m overwhelmed with pain and sadness at watching my son turn into his father. I want to throw up all the time. Other than chaining my son to his bed, any advice you could offer would be appreciated. – Desperate mom
Every emotion, the fear, betrayal, anger, and frustration is real and understandable. He abandoned you; forced you to pick up the shards and handed you the burden of raising a child alone. Despite all of this you’ve made it, struggled through, and succeeded in giving your son a great life. Now, the serpent has slithered back into the garden and tempted the boy he deserted. But instead of resisting the fruit, your son eagerly accepted his father, forgetting the pain and ignoring the past. Turning his father away would have been tangible evidence of his love and appreciation, a affirmation that a mother and step dad are sufficient, and the justice you rightly deserved – but instead he has deeply wounded your soul.
This entire situation is made more difficult because of your son’s age. At 16 he has many opinions that likely contradict your own, as evidence by forgiving his father, ‘let the past be the past’. Simply barring him from his dad isn’t a workable solution, and it seems you know this. You’re left walking this tenuous razor’s edge between your son’s well-being and his independence. So how do you protect your son while recognizing his autonomy? If you and I were sitting across a table from each other, my first suggestion would be to have a serious and frank discussion with his biological father. What are his intentions and why now? What happened to change his thinking after six years? I find it interesting that he bypassed you and went directly to your son; this tells me there’s a humiliation he wishes to avoid. Remain open, but skeptical, that he could have changed after six years. This conversation should take place in a public location and include only you, your husband, and your ex. This may prove very difficult, but I think it’s critical as it helps set expectations, establish boundaries, and build mutual understanding. The conversation should stay centered on your son and not as an opportunity to drudge up the past. Your son is right in that regard – it is the past. And the ex should be reminded that this is a grace period, actions speak louder than words, and you will monitor this relationship closely and should things turn questionable you can – and will – sever it regardless of your son’s feelings.
This will be far more difficult – managing your emotions. Betrayal is a powerful feeling that has led to unforgettable atrocities. It is also one of the more problematic to overcome, because it naturally requires another to recognize the betrayal and ask forgiveness. Which in this case appears unlikely, your son is too blinded by the reunion with his father to detect the pain in his mother, or he simply believes having a father is worth a mother’s heartbreak.
Getting over betrayal requires a level of grace that most don’t posses- forgiving someone who hasn’t asked for it. The first step is to seek understanding, why has your son acted this way? So often we dismiss the pull within children, especially boys, to their fathers, even absent ones. This craving must not be viewed as a reflection on you or his stepdad. As an adopted child the Queen has helped me understand this. Reuniting with his father allows him to better grasp who he is, where he came from, and gives him a sense of belonging that’s been missing – no matter how well you and your husband tried to fill the void. In addition please consider that your son doesn’t have your same perspective, he was ten, and time plus the veil of joy at his father’s return shroud his memories. Please remember this when you’re frustrated that he doesn’t share your same sentiment at his father’s return. You are also quite correct; showing evidence of his father’s dark side would only prove to be a selfish and malicious act on your part.
Talk with your son, open up about your emotions, and why you feel as you do, and then explain it’s something you are working through. Declare support for him reconnecting with his father but underscore you have a history with this man he could never understand. Gently advise him it’s because of those experiences you will closely watch their relationship, not for your own selfish motivations or insecurities but the love of a mother for her son. Work to create clear boundaries of behavior with your son and this new relationship, attempt to get his buy-in; it will make their enforcement much easier. Set limits on how often they can be together, where they can go, and what they can do. It sends a clear signal that his father must earn your trust and it may help to assure you of some control in the situation.
And lastly keep the lines of communication open between you, your son, and your ex husband. It’s miscommunication and misunderstanding that lie at the heart of co-parenting conflict. Just know this will only be accomplished by setting aside your justified emotions for the sake of your son.
Possibly the greatest frustration for the average single parent is a false sense of control. There is very little we actually have charge of. It then becomes almost second nature to take that irritation out against the real victims of divorce – the children. The battles of divorce are never theirs to fight. Yet too often we can allow pride, fear, or anger to cloud our judgment as we lash out at whomever is closest. While that may provide a momentary sense of vindication, in the end our venom usually inflicts more damage than intended. That means, as single parents, we must be vigilant to look beyond our emotionally charged reactions to see the larger issues at stake – no matter our immediate perception of the sin- whether it’s an ex wife who lets your kids stay up late or the absent father who has suddenly resurrected from the dead.
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