I had the opportunity recently to spend some time with a friend from my childhood. It had been a difficult year for my friend, and while I was in my hometown I made the time to visit him. His story is not unusual – in fact, it is sadly quite common.
He and his wife had been together for 16 years. They had 3 beautiful children whom they both adored. He worked hard to provide a lovely home, annual holidays, private schooling. His wife recently returned to employment after staying home for 8 years to care for their children until they were all at school. They were planning their first overseas holiday together without the children. He came home from work one day and prepared dinner, as he often did on nights that his children were at swimming or dancing or soccer. He watched some tv and fell asleep. When he woke around 10pm and still no one was home, he began to worry. He called his wife on her mobile and she told him their marriage was over – she had left him and taken the children.
My friend had no idea his wife was so unhappy. They had their problems, but he loved her. He thought he was a good Dad, a supportive husband, a good provider.
My friend still doesn’t understand what happened but he has accepted that his marriage is over. He is dating and has started enjoying his new life. His ex-wife has moved in with her new boyfriend. Fortunately, my friend is able to spend significant time with his children. There are no issues of violence or abuse and very little conflict.
What he cannot get his head around is that his youngest child, who always slept with he and his wife, now sleeps with her mum and a new partner. It drives him absolutely crazy that his child is sleeping in the same bed as another man. He thinks it is WRONG that his child continues to co-sleep. He and his wife both practised attachment parenting and encouraged their children to co-sleep until they wanted to move into their own bed. At one point in time, they shared their bed with all 3 children.
It was hard for me to listen to my friend anguish over this issue. When he asked me for my opinion and advice, I didn’t know how to tell him what I thought. It was really hard for me to say to him – “This is about your feelings, not your child”.
My friend was angry and hurt that I didn’t take his ‘side’. He said that as a divorced Mum I should understand how wrong it was that his child was sleeping with his ex-wife’s new partner. I told my friend that I do understand – I can absolutely feel his jealousy. I would be jealous too. There was silence. If we were in a movie, you would have heard the crickets chirping and then the click of the light bulb moment.
Coming to terms with the loss of your relationship is one thing. Coming to terms with the loss of time with your children is different again. Thinking you have been replaced in the life of your children is a whole other issue to overcome. My friend acknowledged that he was jealous it was not him lying next to his child every night. It was almost a year since he was forced to not be there for his 5yo every night, but to think that someone else was there instead of him was driving him absolutely batty.
I asked my friend why he thinks his child is sleeping in the same bed as his ex-wife. He said – “always has!” That is the key here – think about your child. Co-sleeping is a really hard thing to come to terms with as a divorced parent. But think about how your child would feel if they had always done a thing one way, and now that the new partner is on the scene they need to do it differently – before they are ready. This applies to so many topics. Your child has been through so much change – the one thing you want them to know is that they can count on you to support their needs and that you will be there for them. As long as you trust your child is safe, co-sleeping with a new partner is continuing to allow your child the comfort and support they have been used to receiving.
I reassured my friend that he will ALWAYS be his children’s Daddy. There is nothing anyone else can do to take that away from him. The impact he has on his children is as strong now as it ever was. He can still teach them kindness, love and understanding, empathy and honesty. He can continue to show them by example, how to be a man in this crazy world and how to expect a man and father to behave. My friend IS a wonderful, loving, gentle man and father. Keep guiding them by example and take solace in the fact that you will always be your child’s parent and alongside your spouse, will always be the most important person in their young life.