Sitting On The Sidelines

Sometimes I have wished that I could take the messy parts of life, put them in a cardboard box, seal the box with packing tape and put it on a high shelf in the garage.  It isn’t realistic to send the box out with the trash.  Oh, if we could  just get a reprieve from thinking about that stuff.  I’d label the box with a thick, black Sharpie – “Do Not Open Until Mentally Prepared to Deal”.  The box would collect dust.  I’d move it occasionally.  I’d take it down and think I was ready to open it.  I’d take a box cutter and slit the tape and just the opening of the top would let a vapor into the garage.  The vapor would cloud everything, and I’d grab the tape and hurriedly seal the box back up.  I’d put the box back on the shelf, wait for the vapor to dissipate and tell myself that in another couple weeks, I’d better be able to handle the contents of the box.

My mom came and metaphorically put all my’ Mark Junk’ in a plastic grocery bag and took it to her house.  She hatched a plan, and because I’m overwhelmed and weighted down, I let her take the grocery bag to her house. I didn’t just let her, I helped put the junk in the bag.  I may have even put the bag in her car.

What was she thinking?

I think a few folks wondered if I actually did throw – as in send flying across the room and crash-landing against a wall – a couple plates, during a phone call with Mark.  That was a reference to my vacation zen post where I spoke of visualizing a stack of plates balanced precariously on my head.  Balancing the ‘virtual’ plates was a way to maintain focus, not get myself riled, and stay on course.  I lost my focus in the conversation with Mark, but I didn’t literally throw any plates.  The only object I’ve ever thrown AT another person was a fork.  I was 11 my brother was 9.  He was incredibly brother-like, I was incredibly big sister-like, I lost patience and threw a fork at him.  My aim was, and still is, lousy.  I broke a pane out of the french glass door.

And when I was telling my mom about losing it with Mark, I made reference to the fact that every time I try to communicate something to Mark about how the kids are feeling, “I might as well be squirting lighter fluid on burning briquettes.”

My mom has a long, productive history as a ‘fixer’.  Within 40 minutes, she hatched an elaborate plan.

  • All future visits between Mark and the kids will take place at her house.
  • The kids will not discuss those visits with me.
  • Mom will be the go-between.  If Mark wants to talk to the kids, he calls mom first.  The kids go through mom to talk to Mark.
  • If Mark does anything to make the kids uncomfortable during these visits, the kids will report to grandma and she will talk to Mark.
  • Once the visits and the relationships get back on an even keel, visits may resume at Mark’s house.
  • Mom will keep me posted on what happens during these visits.

Mom’s hope is that we can find a way for Will and Jenny to have a functioning relationship with their dad.  She’s willing to go to great lengths to try and bring that about.  She sold her idea to the three of us.

Mark liked her idea, too.

I have to admit that I really thought that he wouldn’t like the idea of my mom controlling his relationship with his kids any more than he likes my controlling things.  All that stuff about animosity between divorced couples is true.  I try to help, he thinks I’m ramming things down his throat.  He’s probably trying his best, I continually see him coming up short.  In the meantime, I have two kids who don’t want to spend time with their dad.  And the cycle continues…


This last Wednesday, the kids had a session with the counselor.  She thought this new plan was ‘interesting’.  She also said that she thought it was unrealistic to expect the kids to not talk to me about these visits.  She suggested that the kids be allowed to discuss the visits, but that they don’t need to tell grandma that they are talking with me.  I found that interesting.  When I mentioned that to Will, he said, “I want to talk to you, but I don’t want to lie to grandma about it.”  (Gotta love that about Will.)  When we talked to grandma about all this, she seemed to understand the kids’ need to connect with me on all this.

During the session, there was more specific talk about what bothers the kids during previous visits with Mark.  I think the counselor is still trying to get a picture of the dynamic.

Right after the session, we headed to grandma’s for the first visit in this new plan.

While my kids spent the afternoon and evening at my mom’s house with my ex-husband, I floated around my house trying to make sure that gravity was doing its job.  I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing.

And these are the thoughts that ran through my head while I was testing gravity:

  • Why would my mom and her husband readily agree to spend two whole days a week with Mark?
  • Won’t Mark be on his best behavior the whole time?
  • Can Will break himself away from grandpa (his favorite man on the planet) long enough to try to interact with his dad?
  • How come my mom can fix this mess and I can’t?
  • Why didn’t we try this four years ago?
  • What do we do if this doesn’t work?
  • What if mom makes something really good for dinner, and I’m missing out?  Yes, part of the visit included inviting Mark to stay for dinner.
  • How can I be 48 years old and I still have my mommy fixing my problems?
  • Wouldn’t this all make a great reality show?  Desperate Moms Fix Their Desperate Divorced Daughters’ Desperate Lives.

After Mark left, they asked me to come up for a wrap-up session.  The consensus was that Mark really tried; eight hours was way too long for a visit; and we’ll be taking these visits one at a time.

When we got home, Jenny cried in my bed until midnight.  She kept saying, “When will my dad see me?  How come he doesn’t want to know me?”

And the other thought going through my head is this:  Supervised visits look good on the surface, but they can’t address the intrinsic narcissistic traits that prevent Mark from really connecting with his kids.

Nothing can address that.

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  1. 1. Go with the flow.
    2. One visit at a time.
    3. What the hell was the counselor thinking asking the kids to keep secrets?!

  2. Kind of made me feel like I was old school for taking issue with the whole ‘go ahead a lie to grandma” thing.

    I hope that’s not a sign of the times.

  3. Wow. I feel for you and the kids. So sorry for all the hard in your lives! My heart breaks for Jenny especially. This is a very, very tough time and I’m so glad she can open up to you AND that she’s getting counseling. I agree – the whole “lying to grandma” thing is weird. With my kids, they know they can talk to me about anything but I don’t ask them specifics about their time with their father unless they bring it up. When he and I aren’t getting along, I don’t want them to feel like they’re being disloyal to me by having a good time with him. (Not that I’d ever make that an issue but kids make up weird stuff in their heads sometimes.) At this point, it’s not really an issue but it was a big issue last year.

    I think your mom can do this because there isn’t the same emotional attachment issue. Because of your kids and your desire to have him connect with the kids, the two of you are emotionally attached – perfectly normal and understandable. He will keep mis-interpreting the things you say to him. So it’s a great idea to have someone less emotionally involved be the go-between. Do not beat yourself up about this. I spent the last year having other people talk to my ex on my behalf. As you know we’re back on speaking terms but I had to officially and fully break away from him and his craziness before we could get to this point.

    Sorry to ramble . . . you are doing all the right things in a crazy situation. Hang in there. Hopefully things will get better with this new arrangement.

  4. Jessica,

    Reading your comment was like hearing a positive voice from the other side.

    I have always walked that fine line of letting them know they can talk to me about visits, but also not pumping them about visits. They usually unload a bunch after they have been home for a bit and have time to decompress. I always find it fascinating that I don’t even approach the subject and they unleash. It’s as if they get comfortable in familiar surroundings and everything bubbles to the surface.

    And this will sound weird to some, but when they come up with stuff they don’t like about their dad, I always challenge them to balance it with a good quality. I realize I err on the other extreme, but I go to great lengths to make sure they can’t ever say that I encouraged them to speak poorly of their dad.

    Thanks so much for writing. I hope you know how much it helps.


  5. You are doing all the right things with your kids. Unfortunately, you can’t protect them from the pain of having a narcissistic father. You can just be there to help them pick up the pieces. And thank goodness they have you for a mom!!

  6. Thanks for that.

    I look at them every day and wish I could do more.

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