Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cats in the Cradle

Tonight we ate dinner with my friend Jack and his daughter, Emily. Jack and Emily's mum have recently separated, so there's been a period of adjustment for everyone as they learn to live apart while still being a family, for Emily's sake.

So far, so good.

But for whatever reason, Matthew chose today to quiz me about Emily's new living arrangements. Naturally, I was utterly unprepared for his questions and wonder if I said anything right.

This is how the heartbreak went:

Matthew: Why does Emily get to live in two houses?
Belly: Because her parents live apart from each other and they each have their own house.
Matthew: Why do they live apart?
Belly: Because sometimes grown ups get along better when they don't live together.
Matthew: Why?
Belly: Umm...because sometimes grown-ups end up not wanting the same things anymore and they argue.
Matthew: Or they're sad?
Belly: Or they're sad.
Matthew: So does Emily live with Jack more or her mummy more?
Belly: Emily stays with Jack for one week and then her mummy for one week. And Jack brings her to school every day, even on the days when she's with her mummy. So she doesn't really have time to miss him, if that's what you're thinking.
Matthew: I'm not thinking that. I'm thinking about where Daddy will live.
Belly: Mummy and Daddy live together, Matthew. With you and Luke. It's not something you need to worry about, ok?
Matthew: I don't worry about it Mummy. I just think that if Daddy lived in a different place from us then we'd get to see him more often. We could live with him for one week and you for one week.

HUGE pause for me to pull the stunned look from my face, and turn the rearview mirror so that Matthew and I can see one another.

Belly: Why do you think you'd see Daddy more if he lived somewhere else, Matthew?
Matthew: Because he'd miss us so much he'd leave work early, like he does on Fridays and we'd play and go to the park, just us boys. And for the weeks we live with him, he'll drive us to school, too.
Belly: I see. But we all live togeth...
Matthew: MUMMY! I know! Can you ask Daddy if sometimes we can pretend that he lives in a different place and he's missing us and then we can go to the park?

Small pause for me to take a deep breath, to prevent myself from bursting into tears.

Belly: I'll talk to Daddy about making some special Daddy-Boys time this weekend, ok?
Matthew: Ok. Thanks, Mummy. That'd be great.

And you? Please share your kid-question heartaches. Surely mine isn't the only one...


  1. Oh boy.
    That hurts, mom.
    For three years when my guys were little, my husband was gone most of the time. Gone all week, back for a day and a half, during which time he would be getting ready to go again.
    It got to be that we wouldn't make a fuss about saying good bye. We would go ride our bikes or wave, have a group hug and move on...

    I know that was a tough conversation, but they're resilient and so are you.

    And hugs.

  2. Thanks, Pam. For getting it and for the hugs.

    DH is very, very unhappy with me about this, even though I stressed that I did NOT relay the convo to make him feel guilty. He DOES work a lot, but that's life.

    Hope to be able to help him carve out some time this weekend.

    Sigh. A Mama's work is never done, but sometimes, Daddy needs more play time. Right?

  3. That is truly heartbreaking- I'm not sure why your DH is upset with *you* though. If it was my child I would be utterly broken and feel like a failure- and then see if there is ANYTHING at all that I could do to change the way my life is going.

    I used to babysit for a family who wanted their child to have a long afternoon nap- because they worked 11 hours a day and by the time the commute was done they didn't get any time with their kid unless the kid stayed up until 11 pm. It was hard on everyone- but that is what worked for them.

    Sending love.

  4. Big hugs, Belly. I'm sure that conversation was hard.


  5. That is one of the hardest things about being a dad, and I can relate why DH is upset, because I've been in the same boat. On the one hand, you've got the "day job" and you work real hard to try to provide, and the company doesn't give a rats-patootey about your family and demands more of your time if you're going to be successful. And if you try real hard to be a good dad, come home early, coach the kids teams, it slows down your "success" at work.

    It's tough to find a balance, and if you try real hard, sometimes you still end up feeling like a failure on both fronts.

    Sigh.... Tell DH not to worry about it -- he's not alone.

  6. And part of the reason DH would be upset is that it's embarrassing. It's embarrassing when the kids tell people you're never around.... Or decide that they wouldn't want to ever do what you do for a living because they don't want to be stuck at a desk or work long hours.

  7. Thanks, all.

    I know that DH isn't really upset with ME (at least I hope not) but is acting that way b/c he is upset.

    Thanks Dan McM for your perspective and your kind words. What can I say/do for DH so that he doesn't feel like a failure? He is doing his best to provide for us, but the kids miss him, obviously.


  8. This is tough, for everyone. Kids say it so plainly too, don't they?

    Sometimes it's about making the time count. I know I often spend a lot of time (on Sundays for instance) with my kids but am not always "there." Sometimes after work (granted, I get home early) I try to power-play...wrestle, play horsey, shoot baskets, work on a puzzle.

    It makes me angry how un-family-friendly some employers are.

    Peace...to you all.

  9. Liz, please realize it is not your job to be DH's advocate in this regard. Every family deals with a similar situation. It is up to the DH to choose how he is going to make his kids feel by the choices he makes, just like us moms do. My DH works all day at a very stressful job and when he comes home, he chooses to unwind... right through any time he could be spending with his kids. He will regret it one day. But then again, maybe he won't. I think he is too selfish.

  10. When I was little, my parents found themselves in the same situation. My Father worked for a major bank, and was expected to put in all hours. My mother would wake me up when he got home (anywhere from 9pm to 11pm) so that he could see me.

    Personally, I don't like this idea at first selfish thought.
    If my kids get woken up, they are up for 3 to 4 hours before going back to sleep. Also I want my alone time, which only happens when they are asleep.

    BUT, I have to think about the benefits of my husband and children being able to connect more often. Somehow I think that even my selfish needs will be better met as the stress level in the house will likely decrease over time.

    Of course considering how neither my husband nor my children are able to deal very well with big changes, I would have to wait a couple of weeks before seeing any benefits!

    We are going through something similar in our house right now. I am requesting from my husband that he commit to being present for at least one important activity consistently every day. For our schedules, this could work out to be bath time, and/or bed time. I'll let you know if it actually happens. The commitment was made verbally Monday afternoon, and has yet to materialize.

    Oy Vey.

  11. They do have a way of getting straight to the heart of the matter, don't they?

    It's not just Dads - when I asked my younger son what he wanted for his 10th birthday 3 years ago, he asked me if he didn't ask for a present could I work less because then we'd spend less money. Ouch.

    Hard questions? Yes. Tough lessons? For sure. Real life? Absolutely.

    Poor you, poor Matthew, poor Mark - real life stinks sometimes ... but you did the right thing, you answered his questions honestly, and you advocated for both him and his dad.

  12. Thank you, Shannon, for the reminder that our is not the only family dealing with this sort of thing and for stopping by to comment!