My Secret Confession

Now that the custody bombs have stopped exploding and I am tiptoeing gingerly through the wreckage of my life, I feel relief that Prince and I were able to reach a settlement. I didn’t trust the custody evaluator, seeing the evaluation to the end would have cost another $30,000 before we even got to court, Luca might have imploded from the stress, and I might have crawled under the covers never to emerge.

The lawyers are nitpicking over the final language in the stipulation, but the basics have been agreed upon:

1. Prince gets full physical custody of Luca. We “share” legal custody, although in the spirit of reducing conflict, I gave Prince school choice, medical choice and mental health choice for Luca. I did not, however, agree to not speak to the parents of Luca’s schoolmates, as Prince requested. I guess he never learned about the First Amendment in school.

2. Franny’s timeshare stays the same, thank you Jesus. So she will remain with me 62.5% of the time. The exception is that Prince will HAVE to pick her up on the Tuesdays she’s with him, instead of making me chauffeur her to his house. He can exercise the option to take her on the Friday nights of her weekend with him, although he can choose not to if it’s not convenient. When I balked, my attorney said I could not force visitation on him. My hope is that he does not dangle Friday nights over her like a carrot. But that is a rather thin hope; Prince’s spots are never going to change.

3. I get zero child support. Zero. The vocational exams found that we have the same earning capacity, and Prince seems determined not to work. I was flabbergasted that his two homes, jet-setty lifestyle, and ability to shell out $50,000 a year in private school tuition wouldn’t factor in to the financial decision, but my attorney assured me that lifestyle issues didn’t effect child support, and Prince’s parents had “mysteriously” cut off his trust fund disbursements when the litigation began. There is an upside though: there are caps on my share of Luca’s medical and mental health expenses, the mental health expenses being enormous. That means that if Prince wants to send Luca to Sigmund Freud, and Sigmund Freud is out of network, Prince has to cough up the money over and above my half of the insurance co-pay. And finally: Prince has to pay for all of Luca’s private school through high school. Every penny.

So it’s over. The year-and-a-half of ex partes, depsositions, declarations, compulsive note-keeping, emergency sessions with my attorney, the hemorrhaging of money — done.

But what’s left, mainly, is devastation. My relationship with Luca is ruined — for now, perhaps, but ruined it is. He will not speak to me or see me. He will not take me up on my offer to spend a weekend at the beach town he loves and ride ATVs in the sand dunes. The last time he spoke me to me, he referred to his dad and his dad’s fiancee as “my parents.” So Prince has succeeded. He has succeeded in erasing me from the family portrait and sketching in a new mother.

Here it is, my secret confession: I wonder if I should have stayed. If I had stayed, might Luca have had a happy childhood? My kids would have grown up in the comfortable context of an in tact family. They would not have shuffled back and forth between two radically different households, having to readjust to the rules and norms particular to each. They would not feel that they have to choose between two parents, as in Luca’s case, or in the case of Franny, work so hard to be Switzerland.

If I had stayed, and I had sucked it up and gone along with the wishes of Prince and his family, my children would not have been raised in conflict. Perhaps Luca would not have been taught to look down on his mother. As much as his arrogance towards me pains me, the bigger issue is that the primitive ego defenses he has acquired via Prince’s parental alienation–projecting all that’s bad in his life onto me; splitting his parents–are sure to permeate his peer and romantic relationships. The sorrow I feel reflecting on the impact of all this on his future is even greater than the sorrow I feel about the impact on his relationship with me.

Perhaps, if we had stayed married, Luca would have grown up to respect women, to allow others to have differences of opinion. Would he not have been spared the internal turmoil of hating his mother, of severing the bond with the woman who bore him, nursed him, pushed him in his front-end loader down the sidewalk, laughed and clapped when he uttered something adorable in toddlerese, such as “Waiter, I’ll have a hamburger with meat and two buns”?

Now that eight years of post-divorce life have blurred and dimmed my recollections, I find myself second-guessing my belief that I had to get out or I would die.

Was I too demanding of Prince? Did I overreact when he informed me, upon my suggesting we write a will, that if I forced him to do so he would leave his money to his best friend? Was it really that odd when he balked at my desire to have a second child, informing me that he had no obligation to sire a second child because I had not specified that term in the prenup? When I finally talked him into a second child, should I not have protested when he insisted I go through a sperm-spinning procedure to produce a girl because “you couldn’t handle more male energy in the house”?

I had a lovely home in a gracious neighborhood, a home with an impeccably landscaped backyard and a kidney-shaped pool, a home that I imagined being the fun-filled destination spot for teenaged partiers. At the time, that home felt like Eden to me; did I fling myself out too quickly? Was it really so bad that my mother-in-law selected and placed every tschotke and stick of furniture? Was I being too demanding by wanting to know how our bills were being paid? Should I have cared less when irate vendors called me to complain that Prince was refusing to pay their fees because he objected to the way they wrote out their invoices?

Maybe Prince really did know better. Maybe I didn’t know how to pick the best pediatrician. Maybe I shouldn’t have breastfed so long, or at all. Maybe I should have let the flat spot on Luca’s head stay flat instead of having him fitted with a helmet to round out his scalp. Maybe I shouldn’t have burst into tears when I realized I’d lost my wedding band, and Prince informed me that he would not replace the ring because I hadn’t looked hard enough for it — despite the fact that I was six months pregnant and on bed rest.

When we were married, I grew to dread our vacations. We had to spend virtually every one with Prince’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Machiavelli, who planned the trips, complete with daily itineraries in which every meal had to be eaten together. Was I immature to feel lonely when Prince insisted on spending the winter holiday in Aspen with his family, leaving me at home due to my high-risk pregnancies? As time went on, more people in the Machiavellis’ orbit confided tales of the family’s back-stabbing, exploiting, ripping-off of other’s ideas: was I being soft because I cared about the rights of others? Was I too idealistic, believing that staying married to this family meant that I was colluding with bullies?

If I had waited things out, would Prince have loosened the reins? He and his fiancee, Sarah, take vacations without his parents. His mother has let Sarah decorate her own house. Prince even listens to Sarah’s parenting advice. I know this, because he and Luca tell me that Sarah makes all the right parenting choices.

Sarah is perpetually 75 degrees and is utterly unfazed by Prince’s character assassinations of me and the bizarre umbilical cord he has attached to Luca. If she knows of the Machiavellis’ reputation, she does not appear to take issue with it, or else she places said reputation in a little box, out of reach, and forgets about it.

When you enter her home, it is comfortably beige, devoid of any object or color choice that makes a statement. The children’s drawers are marked with type-written labels. The emergency phone list is encased in a silver frame, one on each child’s desk, the tops of which are spotless. When Prince and Luca engage in screaming matches, Franny tells me, Sarah simply goes into her bedroom and shuts the door.

If I had done that, if I had shut the door on Prince’s behavior, on his parents’ ruthless narcissism, would I have been codependent? Or simply savvy enough to accept the things I couldn’t control for the sake of keeping my family together?

Leaving Prince gave me things I would never have had with him: a husband who respects women and honest work; a stepson that adores my daughter; transparency around finances; an adult relationship in which I am an equal partner, instead of a second-class citizen relegated to the sidelines; a voice, and the drive and passion to express it.

But leaving Prince shattered my in tact family, and that is a Holy Grail that will forever be out of my grasp, and out of the grasp of my children.

  • What about you? Have you moved on from your divorce, or do you have regrets?
  • With the maturity that the years have brought you, do you feel that your marriage could have been saved?
  • Do you have guilt for what your kids have had to endure? Or do you believe that they would have suffered more if you had remained in your marriage?


About perilsofdivorcedpauline

I am a survivor of a world-class gnarly divorce. My dastardly ex-husband is suing me for full custody of my son, and more time with my daughter. He’s super-rich and I’m super-not. You get the picture.
This entry was posted in Divorce, Custody, and Parental Alienation and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to My Secret Confession

  1. Sophia says:

    Pauline, you so eloquently voice the “what if” that all loving mother’s ask themselves. I feel your words and heart bleeding as you write. And what a gift.

    Sometimes, I think that because of the circumstances surrounding my seperation from my ex husband, I was spared the even more heart-wrenching trauma of “choice”. For me, it was too simple: Stay, and I would put myself into harms way physically and emotionally. And you know, what good are we to our children then?

    Aside from the fact that we are forced to tear down our family in order to rebuild a stronger and better one, it’s important to think about the “what if” had nothing changed. Our children can hate us just as much if we never divorced. They can blame us just as much for our decisions, and be affected negatively by them even if we stay married to their father. Who knows. Maybe things would be not only worse and more stifling for us as women, but for our children too. All we can do is to have faith in ourselves, do the things that we can and that we beleive are right, and just hang on and wait to see what happens.

    Thank you for writing this. And thank you for your questions, because I don’t think I’ve asked them of myself for a while. They are the ones I used to ask myself over and over as I marinaded in guilt. But I do not regret. I cannot regret. I did what I had to do to survive. My own mother once told me that when there is an emergency mid-flight in a plane, and the masks for oxygen drop, we must take a breath ourselves first so that we are physically and mentally able to help our children.

    Pauline, if you were under the covers or shut behind a door, you would be of no use to either of your children or true to yourself.

    I am so glad you are who you are, and I hope your son will find you again when the storm subsides.

    • Sophia, thank you for this detailed, lovely comment. It is so hard for me to trust myself–and on my more lucid days I know that it is just as likely my kids might have felt hurt for growing up in toxic environment and allowing one person with no boundaries to run rampant. Just with ending the marriage could have happened without hurting them…a fantasy, I know, but one that today is haunting me.

    • Perfectly said, Sophia. You ladies are so inspirational. Thank you…in so many ways.

  2. Oh honey, there is so much to this post that we need to have coffee for like two hours.

    First of all, despite all the positivity that I project, I have my moments of doubt, especially when I read studies that say that five years later, unhappy marriages are much happier. However, I know that we wouldn’t have learned the things that we have learned if we hadn’t split up.
    It is not strange that Prince is acting differently in his new marriage. My ex is different with his girlfriend too, much more tolerant and less controlling. But he admits to me that he only learned to do that because of the breakdown of our relationship.
    As to your relationship with Luca, if I were in your shoes, I would tell myself everyday upon waking that one day he will reach out to you again, one day you will have a close and loving bond. You must never lose hope for that. Children always want to love their mothers and when he is older, he will realize that.
    You should so appreciate the love that you now have in your life. As you say, if you had stayed in a controlling relationship with Prince, you would never get to experience that. That is a huge gift! I can hardly wait to fall in love again because I know it will be so different the second time around.
    Thanks for sharing and keep the faith. xo-Molly

  3. Oh hon, I feel for you so much because I know what you’re going through. The “Should I have just stayed?” thoughts swirl through my head often, especially on court dates and therapy sessions. But you have to realize and accept that YOU deserve to be happy, too. YOU deserve to be treated with respect and YOU deserve honesty. You weren’t living your life in your previous marriage. It was living you, or rather, Prince and his Family were living it for you. As for Luca, as much as it pains me to say this, you have to let go for now and know in your heart that he will come back to you. You couldn’t control Prince’s actions when you were together so had you stayed, Prince may have turned him against you anyway.

    Yes, I have tremendous guilt for what the kids had to endure during my marriage and since then. They would have suffered more had I remained in the marriage, especially my oldest daughter. She became his target for his aggression behind my back. I’m convinced my youngest may have suffered the same treatment had I stayed. My oldest kept silent for years until I left him. Then one night, three months after I had left him, she told me everything and I was devastated. The guilt of not leaving sooner hit me like a truck load of bricks. I had been contemplating leaving for two years and in those two years she endured so much. I’m in tears as I write this because i still haven’t forgiven myself. But I will someday… And so will you.

    Sending you big hugs, my dear… XOXOXO

    • Guilt is such an intrusive bedfellow. Interesting that you have guilt for not leaving sooner. I have had many adult children of divorce tell me they were relieved when their parents split up, or wish that it had happened sooner. Wouldn’t it be great if we had crystal balls? I know you made the best choice with the information you had at the time. My hope for all of us who are guilt-plagued, is to shrug that monkey off our backs. It is utterly unproductive. Thanks for writing. xo.

  4. Jenny says:

    You never pull any punches on yourself, do you? I’m just going to say, right now, that you did the right thing by leaving. No one should be treated that way and have to live her life according to others’ machiavellian plans. Your kids would not have benefited from your unhappiness and diminishment. It’s terrible that your ex is such a greedy, vituperative soul who had to wreck your relationship with your son, but give your son time and he’ll want some answers from you. It’s great that you still have the same custody of your daughter, but I honestly don’t understand the BS that passes for child support calculation (as I sit, waiting for support checks that used to be on time, and now apparently are blown away by the winds of resentment before they reach my mailbox).

    As far as your son respecting women, he wouldn’t have respected them more if you’d stayed, because you were treated like a child and a weakling. Better that you leave and the kid sees you operating independently in respectful environments. . All women who’ve left their marriages go through wondering how it would have been if they’d stayed, and most of us conclude that we feel it would have done us in.

    Enjoy what you have now. You earned your happiness by creating it. Spend lots of time with your daughter. And have faith: your son will make his way back to you.

  5. What if? What if? You can drive yourself nuts. At some point, you have to accept. There is nothing else to be done; you have to move on. It’s no longer a question of what you could have done to prevent the current situation; it is now a question of how to deal with the current situation. That must be your focus and I’m not saying it’s easy. We all lapse into kicking ourselves from time to time, but until time travel is invented, we can’t “undo” a situation; we can only deal with it.

    Good luck. I’m reading. wb 🙂

    Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is? -Frank Scully

  6. Well, there’s that #3. That oh-so-big #3. And the way it bites women (more often than not), at least in my experience. Hello Slow-Spiral-Into-Poverty.

    Then there’s that “I wonder if…”

    In my case, I didn’t leave, though I could’ve (maybe?) been (additionally) strong-armed (bullied) into an outrageous set of demands that would have theoretically kept us intact. For a few more years. Doubt it would’ve changed anything, though I wonder… in another state (amazing how that works), I wouldn’t have been left tto quite the same whims of an ignorant judge, and assumptions-a-plenty.

    How easily those $30k chunks disappear. He with the fattest wallet wins.

  7. Kimberly says:

    I am 7 years post-divorce from a 10 year marriage. The only regret I have is that I didn’t do it sooner. My heart aches for you and the battle you’ve been through. But I believe that by leaving, you have championed your dignity. You are stronger than you believe. You are wiser than you know. And I wish you peace with your decision. I’ve found mine. And peace on this side feels SO good.

  8. Great post, Pauline. In my relationship we just weren’t meant to be. Our personalities were such that it just never would have worked out. I think your situation sounds similar and I’m convinced if we don’t get out when we can it will only get worse (for everyone).

  9. Annie says:

    You know most of my thoughts on this already. I do believe that had you stayed, Prince would have found you at the bottom of that kidney-shaped pool one day, which would have been worse for everyone. I understand the guilt and have a helping and a half of it myself sometimes—sometimes for having left, sometimes for having stayed too long, sometimes for having married the fellow in the first place. (I don’t regret the kids, just the choice of sperm.)

    Give Luca time. Parental alienation often bites the alienator in the end. I would agree with Molly. Hard as it may be, don’t give up on him, not ever.

    Lastly, cut yourself some slack, girl. As William wisely advised: “… it is now a question of how to deal with the current situation.” We don’t get do-overs and the best we can do is to live rightly and wonderfully now.


  10. sanewife says:

    In my line of work, I work with young- and middle-aged adults who have gone through similar things that Luca is going through. TRUST ME when I say that he will return to you one day. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve worked with who were alienated to one parent by the other parent, then they turn on The Offending parent to go back to the other parent once they are old enough and wise enough to figure out what happened. Once Luca is old enough to understand the damage his father has done, he will reach out to you. It may not be next month, next year, or until he’s 30, but it will happen. Believe in yourself that you DID THE RIGHT THING by leaving. In my practice so many people question themselves as you are, but I agree with the other comments you have received about this: you, Luca and Franny are MUCH better off (even though it doesn’t feel like it right now). Everyone will be ok, trust in that. Continue loving them and letting go. In time, it will bring you peace.

  11. Jen says:

    As someone who is right in the middle of the beginning of a divorce that is happening quickly, I am finding myself on a roller coaster of emotions that includes frequent moments of sobbing over my children…taking it to the horrific “what if” extremes of “What if they are more likely to be abducted or molested?” You know, because they are vulnerable and with alternative reality, two “homes” and two very different parents. And then I remind myself that you can’t go back the way you came, you can’t unsee when you’ve already seen. And after the ugliness of even a partial divorce, how could you ever make it work? Should I have stayed still and not rocked the boat to begin with? Maybe. But would any of us be better off if it rocked 10 years from now? 20? I have to believe the end was inevitable, eventually.

    I often ask myself, “Was it really that bad?” I had made myself happy in so many ways…with my children, with my friends, with my writing, with my hobbies. But I was fractured and bruised and swallowing disappointment from trying to throw myself against the brick wall of my marriage…the one thing that was supposed to outlast growing children and careers and even friends and big houses.

    I worry about the fate of my kids. But I have to doubt if that intact life would have been so much better. Both decisions come with consequences and in the end, even if it’s more of a struggle, I *think* I believe in showing my kids that I have been true to myself and that finding real happiness will set the right example. If I keep telling myself that, I’ll eventually believe it…right?

    • THere are so many circumstances involved. My son, for various reasons that I could not predict when we split up, has had a really hard time. My daughter appears relatively unscathed and happy and attached to both her dad and me, she does not take sides. So much is out of our control. For myself, I don’t know how I could have stayed and not gone nuts, or been any kind of role model for my kids. I would have been relegated to the sidelines and watching my ex and his family raise my kids and run my life. If I had decided to be a stepford wife, I suppose I could have done it. But I don’t know if it would have been better. Part of the reason I’m dwelling on this now is because I’ve just gone through a wicked custody battle…hopefuly you will not have to go through that. The studies show that kids of divorce fare better than kids in miserable marriages if the divorced are low-conflict…something to shoot for.

  12. cougel says:

    Oh sweetness. My heart goes out to you. I don’t have children, but I do ask myself if i would have stayed in my marriage if I had. IF. IF IF IF IF. We will never know what might have happened had we made different choices. But that’s the way life is. We make a choice, and we have to trust that in the moment we made it, we were guided by our instincts. Every decision comes with a price. Had you stayed, you (and no doubt, Luca) would have paid a price too – just a different kind. There is risk either way. Regret is inevitable, and what you’re feeling is normal. It will get better with time. We are here for you.

  13. I think we all have those secret confessions. Mine, which I have yet to write about (but will…soon) is this:

    Should I have just given up? Would my kids have been better off if I had given my ex full custody? I, too, suffer tremendous guilt over the constant back and forth that my kids have had to endure, and at times, I think to myself that perhaps they would have been better off had I just given in. My ex had his new girlfriend/future wife. She had two kids, the same age as my kids. They had a dog and a cat and everthing but the picket fence. So literally, from the moment he left me, they were an intact “family.” And I was just …broken.

    The guilt can be overwhelming, but there is one thing I believe: We are meant to be where we are. You will find your way back to Luca (or rather, he will find his way back to you); you will feel whole again, like you made the correct choices; and even your daughter, who it sounds like did an amazing job at being Switzerland, may grow up to be a negotiator or a mediator or some other professional that will make wise use of her peace-keeping skills learned at this precarious time of her life. We are meant to be exactly where we are — and it has all happened for a reason.

    This is one of my more introspective, fate-embracing moments, because usually, I’d say “eff fate and that que sera sera BS.” But right now, I feel like we are where we are for a reason. It may not be clear now…but with any luck, someday…

    • I DEFINITELY don’t think it would have been better or you to have relinquished custody. Nonono. Your kids need you. But I do get the pang of feeling that you don’t live up to the ex’s picket-fence facade…I’m easily seduced by that kind of thing, even when I know it’s mostly about appearances.

  14. Wow, the comments to your post are almost as powerful as your post, and I don’t know if I have anything new to add. I left my first husband, and asked myself many of these same questions, yet without the complexity and heartbreak of kids – there weren’t any. I do know in my case, and in yours – there was no choice but to leave. Your son is being so harmed by his father, and one day he will realize that, and will regret the years that were lost because he’s too immature to understand what is happening now. Your ex is an evil and manipulative Prince, and for your sake, and your daughter’s – and your son’s – it’s so good you got out so that you can rebuilt the life full of love and joy that you deserve.

  15. This hurts so bad. I know, I think often, what if I’d stayed? What if, what if, what if….

    At this point, in hindsight is 20/20. And, reality is: no matter if I’d stayed or if I’d still gone, either way it would have taken me choosing to be happy, to make the most of whatever life I’ve been given or led into. Realistically, I would not have seen that had I stayed. I would not have been happy, my children could never have been in that shadow. It took me leaving to learn that important factor: life is what you make of it. I needed to make my own happiness…in the end I only hope my children will see which of us is happy. What we’ve had to do to reach that happiness. And learn from my example.

    Touching. Pure and simply touching.

  16. badbadwebbis says:

    I posited that question to the Pumpkin a couple of weeks ago, and she looked at me with undisguised horror and said, ‘You would have been a sad person and we would be miserable.’ I realize that is probably an exaggeration, but I was glad to hear it. She went on to explain that although she loves both her father and me, it is very clear that I could not be the person that I am if I had stayed with her father. She went on to say that I would not have been able to help her be the person she is if I had stayed with her father.

    I appreciate her generous statement, but I also suspect that she might not have felt the sense of responsibility for others’ feelings that she does now (although I certainly grew up that way with 2 married parents, and also their marriage wasn’t very good, and was what I feared my first marriage would become). It’s impossible to successfully second-guess those sorts of choices, and I think that Luca might always have been a bone of contention between you and Prince. I think you made the right choice. The choice that allows you to stop suppressing who you are and what you think is usually the right choice.

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