This year was my first Christmas without my kids. It was the first time in 21 years that they did not wake up to a magical Christmas Day that I was a part of. This year I let their Dad have this time with them because I thought he needed them more than I did. It turned out that they needed and wanted me more than they wanted him this year. They know that Christmas has always been a special time for me. My parents always made a big deal over the importance of spending time with family and so in turn I always made it a special family time for my kids. One night over the Christmas holidays, I had a conversation with a new friend of mine. We had played some family games, and had a few too many drinks when he asked me how I saw my life these days. I wasn’t sure what he was asking me so he started to explain. He said that this was not how he envisioned his life. He had built his white picket fence and when it came down he was crushed. He missed his family and with this conversation I became vulnerable, teary and admitted to him that I missed my kids. I didn’t miss my relationship but that I was hurting and his question made me start thinking about how I had built my own “white picket fence”.
When we are young and witnessing our parents relationship, we begin to decide what kind of relationship we will have or want for ourselves as adults. If your parents were considerate of each other, worked collectively as a team of two to raise you and your siblings in a respectful, loving, and attentive environment; you probably would have grown up wanting to find a partner modelled after your mom or dad. If you grew up with a dad disrespecting your mom or visa versa you may have made a conscious decision to either be more of a dedicated, respectful partner rather than what you grew up knowing or maybe you had never really thought about it at all; not really placing any value on any relationship you might have.
As a child I started building my white picket fence. I wanted to marry a loving husband who would engage and teach his children what being a husband and father looked like. My mother is my fathers whole world..she always has been. Her happy has always been his happy. He spent time doing things with my sisters and I in ways that my mother did not. He encouraged my sisters and I to read, he took us camping in the summer, took us sliding and skated with us in the winter. He let us choose the music we wanted listen to or the books we wanted to read, and in doing so he created the same love in me for music, reading, and writing. Today those three things, soothe my soul..he must have known I would need these tools to get through the hardest time of my life. In the back of my mind he was the type of man I wanted to be a father of my children. Unbeknownst to me the father of my children did not have that kind of family life or upbringing.
His dad did as he pleased, without much respect or consideration for his mother and therefore in his mind vowed he would not be that same kind of man. In the beginning of our relationship he wasn’t like his dad. He worked hard to provide for his family and we worked as a team to build our own version of a picket fence around our house; however, he wasn’t the dad I envisioned. I didn’t expect him to change or to be something he wasn’t, but I did want him to form a bond with his children that would also create a strong belief of family in them. The bond between my husband and his children was important to me, and still is. Unfortunately with his work schedule he was often up before the kids, and home after they had gone to bed. If he was home while they were awake he was often irritated by them and their “noise”. They were apparently not part of his “program”. I was at a loss of what to do. Moving forward from that point on, I felt I was alone and on my own. The paint on our fence had started to peel.
Just when I thought we had built our fence, and that it was sturdy and looking good; it started to need repair. The white paint wasn’t so white anymore, boards were coming loose and the posts weren’t as strong as they once were. It wasn’t something I could mend on my own but tried for several years until I started feeling like a dog chasing its tail. No amount of paint, nails or cement could fix what I didn’t break and he became the man he vowed he would not become. I stayed in the relationship for my children which was the absolute worst reason for me to stay. They witnessed their father’s disrespect and the abuse he inflicted on me because I gave him the power to do so. I stayed and he figured that he got away with it once, then when I stayed for round two there was no way I would ever leave. What he didn’t know was that I felt round three beginning and decided it was time for me to go. Three strikes and YOU’RE…OUT!!
The fence came down, along with everything I had tried to build for and in-still in my kids. Now that two of the three are adults and the other is just starting his teens they have to decide how they want to build their fence. They will have to decide how they will model their lives around what they’ve had to deal with and probably continue to struggle with it for the rest of their lives. My hope is to find a different route this time and maybe not concentrate so much on what kind of fence I build, if I build one at all. I know what I want and feel free to express to them the importance of honesty, appreciation and respect in a relationship…can build a strong fence. The fence will still need to be maintained regularly, but being aware is one of the first steps in making it strong. The “white picket fence” that I built with their dad, was just as much theirs as it was mine and I’m sorry for them that he didn’t think it was worth maintaining.