Starshine Roshell Photo: Jackie Sallow Photography
I left my controlling, abusive ex a year ago. We have two small boys together. I met him when I was 16 and left him at age 24 due to his drinking, cheating, and domestic violence. I'm not in love with him anymore, but will always have a spot in my heart for him as the father of our children. A part of me misses him and wonders if things would work if we gave it another shot and acted as adults instead of immature children. The only way to find out would be to give us another try... but I'm wondering if my heart, soul, and sanity could handle it if we didn't work out, or if things went back to the same routine. That man did a number on me, and it took me a long time to understand that I'm not worthless, to be comfortable in my own skin, and to be content by myself when our boys spend the weekend with him. I've grown since I've left him. Really, I'm just looking for an outsider's opinion — someone other than my mother saying "I told you so" or "what are you thinking?!"
No problem. I'll happily be the person other than your mother to say that:
Sweetheart, what the flack are you thinking?!
You and I (and your mother, I'd wager) agree that "acting as an adult" is exactly where you need to be aiming right now. So I'm confused; please explain how skulking back to an abusive, cheating drunk who stole your self-esteem qualifies as leaving your "immature child" phase behind.
Adulthood is about recognizing the holes in our characters and the gaping gulches in our life plans — and setting about patching them. You were absolutely right to leave Mr. Wrong, and it's tremendous that you're growing. Don't stop now. If you were done, you'd never consider spending another minute with a guy who's teaching your sons, by example, that their mother is undeserving of respect and that manhood is about intimidation and abominable impulse control.
Pinpoint the place in your heart that will always belong to this oaf. Acknowledge it. Cherish it, if you must. But don't nestle into it. The confidence and dignity of adulthood are just around the corner.
When did the child become the overt power wielder in a family? I see it everywhere: Parents who cannot say "no" to their child. When exactly did it go from "children should be seen and not heard" to only seeing or hearing via your child (both unhealthy extremes)? When did lessons in "please," "may I," and "thank you" get excised from the parenting manual? And isn't it doing the child a huge disservice in the long view?
First off, if you're the person who was behind me and my kids in line at Starbucks on Saturday — and it sounds alarmingly like you are — then I want to apologize for the terrible mess they made at the powdered vanilla-shaker station. And the way they badgered me for apple fritters and cake pops. And the way (sigh) I caved to their unrelenting, too-loud demands. In my defense, though… a woman can only do so much parenting before she's had her morning latte, n'est-ce pas?
But I hear you. Still repelling violently from our grandparents' "spare the rod" philosophy of child-rearing, the parenting pendulum seems to have swung too far into the "spoil the child" camp. As our culture becomes more hurried, competitive, and complex, maybe our permissive parenting is an effort to preserve the innocence — the refreshing guilelessness — of youth as long as possible. Hell, maybe we're subconsciously trying to dive back into it ourselves. I confess to occasionally having trouble recognizing the line between my kids being rude and my kids being, adorably, kids.
Do allow for the possibility, though, that your own perception is skewed. From the outside, the parent-child dynamic often looks like it tips toward the louder, messier, less patient of the two. We're unlikely to notice the well-behaved child at the table next to us; it's the one who shrieks and whines that draws our attention and leads us to draw potentially unfair conclusions.
Unless, of course, you're waiting for your Venti medium roast and small people are flicking sugar packets at stir-stick goal posts just past your head. Again, sincere apologies.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- How U2 became the new Nickelback
- 13 Urban Outfitters controversies
- Russia is stealthily threatening America with nuclear war
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- Save the world... by changing how you pee
Subscribe to the Week