Sorry for the silence again - it was DS1's birthday on Monday so most of last week was taken up planning presents and parties, in between trying to get some work done - doesn't leave a lot of time for blogging!
I can't believe DS1 is now 6. I keep saying 'Where did those 6 years go?', but I know exactly where they went, the first three were spent dealing with the ex's harassment and coping with being a new mum, and the three since seem to have flown by with only slightly milder versions of the above.
I had a meeting with DS1's dad today. It was stranger than usual. I always dread these meetings, I get tense leading up to them because I know I can't just be myself. There is a way that I've learnt to behave with him that works, i.e. it gets me the best deal I can for DS1 - it's not how I naturally am, but it has become so automatic now that it almost feels natural - like a suit I put on.
The main thing we were trying to find a solution to today was DS1's switching behaviour so radically between the two of us. So essentially, as I was sat there being something other than myself in order to be able to engage with his dad, we were discussing the problem of DS1 doing exactly the same. The Irony.
What was particularly strange about today though, was that it felt like the first time the ex didn't doubt me. It felt like that he didn't question when I said 'this is how DS1 is feeling' - he seemed to get it and it seemed to make sense to him. He didn't seem to feel accused or defensive when I spoke about how DS1 felt or behaved after visits to him. When I described DS1's aggression and yelling, for once it didn't seem to occur to him to think I was exaggerating, he just looked shocked and said 'That's just not a child I recognise'. If I hadn't known better, I might almost have felt like I could take the 'ex-behaviour mode' suit off - but that's not a risk you take lightly when you've ended up in court without it before.
However, this type of response is definitely new. I wonder if it's that his new baby is almost one year old now. Maybe having lived through that year, seeing his wife becoming a new mum, he finally gets that having a kid with you full time is not all fun and laughter. If that is the case it's a huge journey from where we started - I remember when DS1 was in his first year and he decided to cut his financial support in half, his words were: "I'm not paying for you to sit around and have coffee with your friends". Maybe he's at least starting to get it, whereas before it seemed he thought I was just making up how hard it was to make him feel bad. Of course, there was no apology for how he's behaved in the past, but that is never going to happen. I can't see him ever admitting he was in the wrong about anything. But if this is real, if he is actually hearing what I'm saying for the first time without a paranoid filter, and if that makes a practical difference to how he behaves towards me and DS1, then all to the good.
Of course, he's only 'thinking' about some of the suggestions I've made. It's nothing definite yet. He may come back and say 'Yes I've thought about it but lets carry on the way we are'. I hope that's not the case. DS1 has a bald patch from twisting his hair out, nails bitten to the bed from worry and a sore bottom lip every time he comes back from his dad's from biting it. The ex has seen those things, and it seems that he accepts they are to do with DS1's to-ing and fro-ing between us, so I'm hopeful that something might change.
He's agreed a couple of things that will make some difference: He's going to get in touch in the week so DS1 knows what to expect at the weekends - rather than at the moment, when he gets picked up on a Friday night with no idea what to expect. He's also agreed to give DS1 some more 'jobs' to help out at his, like he does at home. I told DS1 this and rather than whinging as he does most times he's asked to do something extra at home he said, "Good, I like helping out". It did surprise me, but it also reassured me that I was on the right lines when I said to his dad that one of the reasons DS1 does so much yelling when he comes home is so that he knows that he matters. Having no responsibilities at dad's, coupled with not having much choice/not being included in decisions seems to leave him feeling he doesn't matter at all at his dad's. Hopefully that is about to change - but I'm not going to count my chickens.
I almost have the feeling now like I have before our meetings. The hope that maybe this will be the meeting that he'll finally listen, that things will genuinely change for the better - always tempered by the almost certainty that I will be disappointed. It's these opposites that cause the tension - and the pressure to 'get it right' - to find the 'magic' way of expresssing myself that will get through so that I can improve things for DS1 - like searching for a button that probably doesn't exist. It always feels like walking a tightrope - say enough about DS1's difficulties so that the ex sees a need for change, but don't say too much or make it sound like his fault, or he'll just get defensive - or make it sound like my fault, so he goes on the attack. It's such a fine line usually - maybe now its not. Or maybe I just walked it particularly brilliantly today, maybe I found the magic button. Either way, after today I have even more hope, and that almost feels worse because I can't believe I won't be let down again.
It's difficult not to feel that way. In the year or two after we split up, every time the ex would do something terrible I'd always be really shocked but think 'Well at least he wouldnt' do X', and every time within a few weeks he'd have done 'X' - and so the cycle continued until there were no more Xs left. If I'd have known the kind of things he was capable of - the mental cruelty, the narcissism and the heartlessness that goes along with it - I would never have gone on a first date with him let alone planned a child. It just goes to show how little you can know someone even if you've been with them for years. It also goes to show that people are not always what their friends think they are - ask any of his mates and they'll tell you he is a 'puppy dog'. Presumably the new wife thinks so too. To this day I suspect they all believe that 'all that fuss' over DS1 was down to me being a 'crazy woman' rather than anything he did (Gaslighting anyone?)
Anyway, one thing he said - totally in passing - stayed with me. I was talking about how hard it is getting DS1 through tea, bath and bed on a school night with an 18-month-old in tow as well
And he said: "I don't know how you do it".
It might not sound like much, and people say it to me all the time, but he never has. I've never had that clear acknowledgement from him that he accepts that being a single mum to two kids is really hard work, and doing it well is impressive. Maybe it didn't mean that much to him, but it did to me. To hear that from somebody who for years denied, belittled and dismissed everything I had to say as a mum, is, in some small way, healing.
Maybe his new son really has changed things for him. Maybe he hasn't. But for today this felt like something different was happening, and I might just dare to hope for a few days longer that things will really change, and that eventually DS1 won't come home from his dad's in the state he does now, and so for my little family there will be more good times, more happiness, less yelling, less having to deal with it all. It's a nice dream, so I'm going to hold on to it for just a little while, after all, you never know....