It's My Fault
Updated: Feb 4, 2021
On a walk with my seventeen year old son to break up the groundhog day moments in Rona time, I was reminded of the ties I will forever have to my ex (their father). The conversation quickly turned from a dialogue on school to an analysis of my mothering and decisions regarding my three year old daughter. In his infinite wisdom of never being a parent, my high school senior felt he should let me know his thoughts on the waste of time online karate classes were for my daughter. His argument was shallow with little basis on the facts around her class. But it was more about what I was ruminating in my head at that moment than the actual words exchanged between us. Couldn’t shake the thought, that “He’s here even when he isn’t’. When would I find my peace?
As I listened to his condescending tone and watched his body language shift, he inched closer and elevated his 6 foot 1 body to tower over my 5 foot 3 inch frame. My shock was not about the topic, but the right he felt to question my parenting decision about something as mundane as karate classes for a toddler.
That’s a piece of my world right now. This was one teenage boy, but this same interaction occurs with my nineteen and fourteen year olds. At times, it’s a free-for-all and the three are shooting similar criticisms like a firing squad while I listen and do my best to hold back my gut response to yell and throw a solid uppercut onto one or two chins. I haven’t, because I know I am charged with being an adult and they believe it’s my fault we are in our current situation.
After seventeen years of marriage to a semi-narcissist and covertly manipulative man, whom I was convinced I loved, I left. I woke up one day and realized I no longer cared for him. Made a plan and walked away, never to look back. It would have been an easy break mentally, emotionally and physically if we didn’t have children.
Kids complicate everything. In some ways that is necessary for us to see the nuances and complexities that force us to adapt in life. Still they can also be a vehicle for pain delivered to you when they are the push and pull in an invisible war. Once your children see your flaws and humanity, you have opened yourself up to another world of hurt and pain from the core pieces of your heart. I can’t walk away from them or ignore the pain they trigger.
They are my kids and this is my fault.
The kids didn’t control nor ask for this move and change, they were thrown into it and mainly by me. Their father was surprisingly blindsided because after all the years of his empty threats to divorce me, the first time I said I was done, I was absolutely done. I meant it. I rallied all my resources and strategically made a break for it, landing on my feet launching forward.
So from the start, I was to blame. I get it and I own it. I was the one who made the decision and followed through step by step until I knew I was free to live without my ex sucking the life out of the air I breathe. So by default, the separation and break up of the family was my fault.
To understand how I came to be blamed, you have to know the dynamics of those seventeen years. I spent the final five years of the marriage fighting an invisible opponent that only I could see and feel the presence of. That’s how manipulation works. It takes years for you to see it’s impact. It’s like planting a microscopic parasite into someone’s body that latches on and slowly navigates its way into your most vital organs. Infiltrating and destroying the things that sustain your ability to live. Control and insecurity are masked in caretaking and concern.
I wasn’t in an abusive marriage. I’ve never been beaten. I was never tortured or isolated. The man I fell for was thirty years old when he married me at the ripe age of twenty-two. I knew nothing about life, love or my adult self. I was an impressionable young brown girl who had been a single mom for the first year of my eldest son’s life. I was searching to build a life and have a solid family structure of my own making. I also wanted to free myself from my parents expectations. Which as a Muslim female, meant I had to be a married mother to be considered adult enough to lead my own life. It was a flawed message from the start, but I understood why it made sense to my family. I pushed forward so I was to blame.
What I pictured adult married life to be and what I lived each day, didn’t match up from the start. I didn’t find a partner but instead a third parent. I opened up a space and provided the opportunity for him to prove he always knew better. I deferred to his older age as a badge of wisdom I couldn’t possibly possess. He had control over me, because I gave him control. It took almost twelve years to realize that his decisions and actions were never for my well being, but for himself and to minimize me in order to feel his own power and strength in the role he played as a husband. I say role, because that is what his perception of marriage was. If we play a part on the outside visible for all to see, the core foundation to build a family doesn’t require effort and time to nurture. We were never friends, we were husband and wife. Two people playing roles in a make believe home that collapsed when it was shaken by life’s realities, as all things without a solid foundation do.
That’s the art of manipulation. You find someone who has authentic emotions for you and is willing to compromise for the benefit of a partnership, and convince them that they can not survive without the guidance and control of your watchful knowing eye. You enable someone until they are codependent. I allowed it to happen. I’m not a victim, but I was unexpectedly impacted. Still I am to blame.
Now I am almost two years into a separation with no clear final steps in place and little direction of what the future will look like with custody and living arrangements. Am I still to blame?
I got out from under the pressure and control and lived my own life, but now those manipulative hooks are dug so deep from a distance in the most vulnerable place, my children. I live in a home where even without the presence of him, his words and beliefs about me resonate in the tone and statements of my three teen boys.
They copy his cadence and they know his angles for triggering my blood to boil. This form of manipulation might be the hardest to resolve. Getting my children to understand the invisible nature of their father’s manipulation and its residual impact is not my role and would honestly make me the worst mother ever. But without the clear perspective, I am still always to blame. In their eyes I started this and I will always be the one to blame for the breakup of the seemingly happy home and family they think existed.
I often wonder if I will ever step outside this cloud of blame my children see hovering around me. My decision to leave a toxic space and remove us from unhealthy family dynamics will never be seen as a good choice by my kids.They can’t understand what they can’t see. They believe the picture that was painted for them. I had to take a leap without thinking or looking in order to seize an opportunity to establish a strong foundation and create a new family dynamic.
I have to live with the fact that in their eyes, it’s always going to be my fault.
In those moments being pummeled with their blame, individually or collectively, I have to pause and reflect before responding through my honest raw emotions.
I have to leave a space that acknowledges their pain and the position they are intertwined unknowingly within.
I have to be the adult, the mature one, the one who sees how these changes impact them now and into their adult lives without adding to the complexity they’ll face.
I will take the blame if it helps my children grow up to be better men and partners to the people they love and who take the risk to love them back. Someone has to find a happy ending in this.