My mom called me a few months ago to inform me that she was moving out of the home she shared with my step-dad. This is where I’d like to say I was understanding and gracious, but that isn’t exactly what happened. I went through this as a kid when my mom divorced her first husband, but this time it’s different. This time it feels like I’ve been punched in the chest every time I think about it. This time it’s killing me.
So by now all are you are saying “If your mom divorced her first husband when you were a kid, then this guy isn’t your Dad.” and to that I say you’re right. But you’re also wrong. This man has been everything to me and my siblings, so the fact that they are not together anymore burns like acid sliding down the back of my throat.
Yes, I know I can still have a relationship with him. Yes I know his feelings for us will not change. Yes, I know that they need to do what they have to do to be happy.
Being my mother’s daughter hasn’t always been easy. She has a heart of gold but she is guarded and complicated. I know this only because I am the same way. It gives me a unique insight to her inner workings that I don’t even think she realizes. The same way she can guess how I’m feeling and pull that weird mom-voodoo thing that all moms know how to do and describe how I’m feeling when I can’t seem to put it into words. We are that to each other.
But when this happened it’s almost like she felt my resistance on the other end of the phone line. She could hear the strain in my voice when I asked her why she had packed up all her things and left. The unmistakable WTF inflection that must have polluted the way I was speaking no matter how much I tried to sound and remain calm. Just as she felt that, I could feel her withering away from my undeniable judgement. When we ended the call I could almost feel her falling away from me like gravity had suddenly become stronger. All of a sudden she was a stranger to me.
It was her choice to leave. It felt like it came out of thin air, even though in retrospect we should have all seen it coming. What’s worse is that they both love each other deeply, but miscommunication has made them resentful. They can’t just let each other go. It’s like one really long fight that no one is going to win.
Not only am I the oldest daughter, but I’m also a mother. It’s in my nature to try and help. To listen and try to make it all better. What eats away at me is that in this, I can’t. I can’t help them.
I can’t make them go to counselling so they can learn how to communicate better. I can’t make them look at each other and know that they love each other without question. I can’t ever really know what is going on in her head no matter how much she tells me because I’m not her. I can’t tell him that it will all be okay because I know that in his head it won’t be. I can’t not selfishly wish they would stay together so I don’t have to choose who to invite to what. I can’t plan my wedding when they’re falling apart. I don’t know what to say when she’s crying on my couch, or he’s crying at the restaurant where we meet up to see each other. I can’t help feeling like if they would just listen to each other they could make each other happy again, and I can’t force them.
This isn’t just heartbreaking. It’s the kind of pain that causes more and deeper pain whenever I think about it. That deep itch under a cast over an already broken leg. It makes me dizzy like I stood up to fast. I have to park my car to cry because I just can’t catch my breath. I hate to see them hurting.
I feel so helpless.
I spent a long time hoping that this would be some sort of horrible mistake. That she would realize whatever it is she needed to realize and go back home to the man who loves her. Where I know she’s safe and protected. I see now that this hope has been bleeding into all of our conversations and that she feels that pressure no matter how much I try to urge her to do what’s going to make her happy. I’m struggling to swallow my selfishness and be there for her.
I love her so much.
I love them both so much. I know they both just feel so alone, and I never know quite what to say.
So this is what it’s like to be an adult when your parents split
You pretend everything is fine when you wake up so the kids cant tell.
You drive away from the restaurant before you start to cry so your parents wont see.
You feel happy if you can make it through one night without crying on the couch with your spouse.
You fall behind on work
You consider changing your name so your mother won’t know you wrote this.
You read between the lines of every text message you get from them.
You try and find the right words to tell your kids the truth.
You smile before you answer the phone so hopefully she hears that instead of all the questions you want to ask.
You keep a close eye on your siblings because your parents cant right now.
You wonder if it will ever be the same.
You realize it wont.