November 15, 2010

Go it Alone

Posted by meli on Monday, November 15, 2010 in , , , | 2 comments

A situation came up recently that brought back some old feelings of hurt. Feelings that I knew weren't fully healed, but it was still surprising to feel them bubble to the surface again.

Nick returned a phone call to his Dad the other day. A phone call that raised no questions about me or the kids (how are we doing, what are the kids into, how was larsons birthday, etc ... no mention of us).

I've been bugged by this. So many thoughts swirling around in my head. I can feel myself directing this frustration at Nick, and that's not fair. It's not him I'm mad at. I actually don't think I'm mad at anyone, per say. I'm just frustrated with the situation. I need to get thoughts/feelings out, and organize them into a blog; try to make sense of everything I'm feeling.

Growing up, I always had this optimistic/fairytale hope that when I married the love of my life, his family would become my family, and we'd all just magically love each other. I dreamt of shared holidays (my family and his), all together, laughing, creating memories.

Haa... pie in the sky, right? lol
Not reality. Atleast, not our reality.

Nick came back from Iraq changed. As I've said many-a-time ... drastically changed. During his first couple of years back he worked damn hard to severe ties with anyone and everyone who ever cared about him. He pushed, and he pushed, and he pushed until the only people left in his life were me and the kids (I, apparently, don't scare off too easily. Who knew?)

When he severed ties with his Dad, I did my best to keep lines open between our family and his Dad (through email, phone calls didn't happen. I called them once... the day Nick deployed to Iraq [he left within 24hrs, so wasn't able to make calls himself before leaving] I called to let them know of Nicks deployment, and what I heard back was "You didn't have to call, you could have just emailed". So, that was my one and only phone call to them). Nick didn't want anything to do with them, but I knew that our kids were in the middle, and didn't deserve to essentially feel tossed aside by grandparents who they have known about and loved their entire little lives. I was going to do what I could to ride out Nicks destructive cycle (not having a flipping clue of just how long that would take ...), while maintaining as much normalcy and connection as I could to the people he said he wanted nothing more to do with.

It wasn't an easy thing for me... extending the olive branch. Nicks Dad and I have never been what you'd call close. We've tossed around our share of judgement and choice words to each other during the first year or two (or three or four or five? it has all meshed together) of my marriage. I never felt as though he thought I was good enough for his son; that my family was good enough to marry into; that my gene pool was sufficient enough for his grandchildren. Yes, my feelings of not measuring up were made 100% bigger in my head by my own insecurities, but the basis of those feelings, I felt, were pretty on track. And Nick has, for as long as I've known him, had this level of insecurity about him (amplified by his injuries in Iraq). He avoided confrontation like the plague, and therefore couldn't bring himself to confront his Dad about the way he was treating me. He ignored it, and ignored it, and ignored it until his own frustration for not defending me ate away at him.

He left for Iraq dealing with it internally, and came home dealing with it internally. That self loathing for not defending me and the kids, on top of the tbi and ptsd from his time over there, he had enough. I know he worked up the courage to attempt to talk to his Dad once after he returned. I was left out of his Dad's Christmas newsletter. Which in itself wasn't hurtful; It was seeing that a boyfriend made it in the letter... that's what "shoved the knife into my back". His daughters boyfriend makes the family Christmas newsletter, but his son's wife (his grandchildren's mother) nah, no mention. Might seem petty, but it really did deeply hurt my feelings. I know that Nick brought it up, and all I heard from him after that conversation was 'That sonofabitch is just full of excuses"

That's when he said "fuck it, I'm not doing this anymore", and he wrote his Dad off. I encouraged him not act out of anger. To cool down and try to talk it out again. Nope, he was done.He was pushing everyone else out, and now he got his Dad out, too. It was perfect for him ... he didn't have to deal with much confrontation, and he was able to justify his actions/blame it on someone else.

So, not easy to extend the olive branch, but not as hard as I imagined. I knew that my kids would suffer if I didn't. As I said, the kids knew their grandparents. Larson remembered them, and the other two were so used to hearing stories and seeing photos of them that they felt as though they knew them. They loved them. It would hurt them to have these two people vanish from their lives. I also knew that eventually Nick would harbor great sorrow for pushing everyone out of his life, and I knew that I could help with that. I knew I could keep a connection alive while he went through his depressive cycle, and in time he would come out the other end; ready to let people in. It's quite easy to put myself aside for the well being of other people.

But, it didn't really pan out. Atleast, not in the way I had envisioned it.
I continually talked to the kids about Nicks parents, and I showed photographs of them (as I did with other grandparents/family members/friends. Moving around with the military ... stories and photos, phone calls and letters, it all helps to keep the kids connected to people they don't get to see often). But the effort wasn't really being reciprocated. The kids would ask if they could call and talk to them, or if we could plan for them to visit us ... but nothing ever came. Even their most simple request ... newer, more recent photos to look at ... nothing. No calls. No birthday cards. No visits. Nothing. It all abruptly stopped.

The most honest response I got was something along the lines of "It's hard to for us to maintain a relationship with the kids when we can't have Nick also. Nick made it clear he doesn't want us in his life. You guys are a package deal, it's an all or none thing.". While I don't share that mentality in the least, I can understand the undertone of the message. They were hurting. I mean, Nick is their son. I imagine it really painful to not have a relationship with your son. I imagine that pain is awakened each time you connect with that son's children. I imagine it's easier, less painful, self protective to just cut ties all together. It's a pain I hope I never feel. But at the same time ... my children have suffered unneeded pain because their Grandparents all of a sudden stopped calling, stopped sending birthday, halloween, valentines day cards, they stopped sharing their lives with them. Yes, Nick made the choice to cut them out of his life, but we have to acknowledge that they made the choice to cut themselves out of the kids'. It didn't have to be that way. I did what I could to make sure it didn't have to be that way.

I had to stop sharing stories and showing the kids photos because I could tell their feelings were being hurt. I would listen to them talking to each other ... "That's our grandpa, but not like our grampa grampa, just our grandpa. Grandpa, that means we love him even if he doesn't talk to us". It was heartbreaking and confusing for them, and I wasn't going to continue. Kids see and feel things on a level that is so deep, and often overlooked in adulthood. I slowly stopped sharing stories about them, and eventually the kids stopped asking questions about them. Now, on the rare occasion the subject is brought up, the kids don't automatically know who we're talking about. Like the recent phone call from his Dad. Nick mentioned to me that he called, the kids over heard and asked who we were talking about. It went something like this ...
Kids: "who are you talking about?"
Nick: "your grandpa"
Kids: "who?"
Me: "your dad's dad"
Kids: "our grandpa is dad's dad? I thought he was your mom's dad?"
Me: grampa barr is grammas dad (my mom), this is your other grandpa we're talking about. grandpa paul, dad's dad, the one who lives in nevada"
Rylan: "who?!?"
Owen: "dad has a dad??"
Larson: "ooh yea, the one with the fridge magnets, right?"
Me: "yep, that's the one"
Kids "cool. c-ya, going to play in the woods".

It's a sad and unfortunate situation, but there isn't...
I started to write the words "there isn't anything else I can do about it", but that's not accurate. I could put in a bunch more effort, and see if it makes a difference this time, but I don't think I'm going to do that. Not out of spite, or resent, or ill will ... simply out of exhaustion, and a desire to put my remaining energy into positive relationships. Nick isn't yet in a place of welcoming people back into his life, and putting in effort to maintain healthy relationships with them. Nor is he able to work through a problem/issue with someone in a positive and constructive way. He doesn't hold a level of security, confidence, and self esteem to feel he's worthy of being cared for, so he doesn't put his energy into healthy relationships. And I just don't have it in me anymore to pick up his slack in that dept. It's hard enough to find the time and energy to maintain a connection with my own family, people who make great effort to stay in our lives ... I just don't have any desire or energy left for relationships that are hurtful and not reciprocated.

I realized rather recently that there was another reason I was clinging so hard to keeping lines of communication between us and Nicks family open. More then the kids. More then Nick. I realized I was also doing it for me. When Nick pushed everyone out, I was the only one willing to stick around. He was (is) sick. The injuries he sustained in Iraq are lifelong. They're destructive and exhausting. I felt so alone in dealing with everything he threw at me. I felt so alone in trying to work through his issues, and help him. I felt so completely alone. It felt as though everything was riding on my shoulders. If, through his pushing, I gave in and walked out on him, like everyone else had, I would be signing his death wish. I literally felt as though his life was in my hands. It was an enormous responsibility that I was subconsciously asking for help in dealing with. By keeping communication alive with his family, I think I hoped they would hear the pleas (some silent, some not so much ... you've ready my blog, I'm not subtle), and come to the rescue. Come to help rehabilitate my husband; their son. Send support.

Had I realized this back then... I really don't know that I would have voiced any of it. No way to know for sure, but I'm thinking I wouldn't have. As time went by, it became apparent that I was in it alone. All of Nicks anger and depression came lashing out at me full force. Noone to help take the hits. Noone to weather the storm with. Noone to help shake some sense into this man who was (is) so obviously struggling mentally. It was just me. Only me. I felt abandoned. Not just by my husband, but by everyone who succumbed to his destructive pushing without thinking about what that meant to me and the kids. Without thinking twice about perhaps sticking around to lend a helping hand to the 4 other people in this family. I felt a lot of resentment ... resentment on top of all the previous hurt and resentment from his Dad over the years that I was not yet over.

I understand that most of that resentment was misplaced. Most of that resentment was purely my own doing. I felt I was too weak to take care of everything on my own, and I also felt too out of place to ask for help from his family. If I'm not asking for the help, it's not really fair to be upset when help doesn't come, right? I do get that. Yet again, if given the option to do it over, I really don't know that I would have voiced any of these feelings. I didn't feel comfortable enough, I didn't feel the concern was there, and for a good many years I had no clue what was going on with Nick ... it would have been hard to put it into constructive words. Hindsight gives a perception that is much easier to talk through and figure out.

Recently (over the past year), through the magic of facebook, I've been able to connect with some of Nicks extended family ... all of whose words have helped me in ways I will never be able to express. While I do still feel an enormous solo responsibility to weather this out with a man I pledged my love and my life to ... simple words of love and encouragement; genuine questions of care and concern ... they really do go a long, long way.

We had been struggling alone for so long. Life is so terribly short. Having good, supportive family and friends around really can help you through hard times. It was that outpouring of love and support from Nicks extended family that prompted me to again talk to Nick about his Dad. To encourage him to perhaps take a deeper look into his relationship with his father. Like I said, life is so short ... I encouraged him to really think about what it was he was doing, where it was getting him, and what exactly he wanted. What he wanted was his Dad back in our lives, but he also wanted to be able to confront situations in a constructive manner, so old resentments didnt start to boil, new ones didn't pop up, and we could all truly move forward. So, he picked up the phone, and gave it a go. HUGE step for Nick. Really, really huge. He took the first few conversations slow, kept it all surface, didn't want to jump right into resolving issues. That was his plan anyway. And then he realized that he was still not in a place of being able to confront situations in a healthy, meaningful manner ... the only way he could confront a situation was with both gloves on, full defensive stance, lots of anger and finger pointing. Not really helpful ... so he went back to ignoring issues all together, and the phone calls have severely slowed down. That's where we are now.

During this year of attempted communication between the two, the kids still weren't really being recognized. There was a phone call last year, Christmas time (or around there), ... Nick put the kids on the phone. I quickly scrambled to remind the kids who they were getting ready to talk to, so they wouldn't feel confused, and then after that phone call they had a lot of questions. Wanted to hear about them. See photos. Wanted to know when we could visit (they love to visit people, lol). So, with a lot of trepidation in opening them up to be hurt again, I answered all of their questions about that set of Grandparents. They were really excited to be reminded of these two people, but that was the only time they really talked about them (until the other day). I didn't bring them up again, and neither did they. It's a good thing, too, because there have still been no birthday cards or phone calls. No recognition. Nick brought it up to me. It was making him upset. But, as I said, his solution was to ignore the problem and continue being upset. I was a bit put off by it, but that's about as far as I delved into my feelings regarding it.

Although now, thinking about it... it did hurt.
And now, looking back ... all of the previous hurt I felt, none of it was ever really resolved in my head, so this new hurt felt magnified. I had thought that I moved past some of it, but it turns out I didn't ... When Nick pulled away, I immediately went into caretaker mode. Put all of my feelings aside to do everything I could to make sure we didn't lose his parents completely. And then all of the hurt that stemmed from that ... well, I didn't have time to deal with that, either, I was too busy dodging all of the bullets Nick was flinging at me. I never really stripped the feelings down to the bone, made sense of them, and let myself recover from them. All of that hurt and resentment came up to rest right under the surface a couple of days ago when we had that short conversation with the kids prompted by that phone call, and then it bubbled over after Nick returned the call, and there didn't seem to be much care or thought about the kids.

I chalked it up to Mama Bear syndrome. I felt my kids were attacked (in an off beat, ignoring, you don't exist sort of way), and I felt upset about that.

Not really understanding it, just feeling it.
Not putting it into words, just acting on auto pilot.
I was hurt. I was angry. I was frustrated with my anger.

And thats why I came here ...
to get it all out ...
to hopefully find some understanding and meaning in all of these swirling feelings.
Thought it's probably messy and hard for you readers to follow ...
I get it!
That's what I came here for; mission accomplished!

Now that I've made sense of these feelings, I can make the conscious decision to mentally move past my resentment. Especially since I am willing to be brutally honest, and know that my resentment really had so much more to do with me then anyone else. Yes, the hurt is still there. It's not yet fully healed, but I know that the way I feel and act isn't the way other people should feel and act (what a concept, right? lol). Maybe it's still too painful for him to be part of the kids' lives. Maybe he feels there are boundaries there, and it's not his place to cross them. Maybe he still feels pushed out. Maybe he's scared. Maybe, maybe, maybe ... I don't really know. If Nicks Dad feels it too painful/not his place to have a relationship with the kids, when he doesn't have a great one with Nick, then that's his right. He's allowed to deal with his grief and his pain whichever way he sees fit. I may not agree with it. I may not like it. My kids may be personally affected by it ... but it's not my judgement to make. We all deal with pain differently. At the same time, I don't have to continue to put my kids out there to be hurt. I can understand and empathize, but that doesn't mean I have to agree and engage in.

We don't have to agree on anything to have a good relationship, we just have to share mutual understanding and respect. Without being able to have constructive conversations about problems, it's just not going to happen. Nick is not in a place right now to have those constructive conversations with his Dad, and the relationship between his Dad and I has never really ever been there ... so, I'm not sure where that leaves us.

I wish it were different. I wish there was this great, close relationship between them and me (because a close one with Nick is just not in the cards right now ... hopefully one day). I wish I had a level of welcoming comfort to call them up when Nick is having an especially hard day, and it's wearing on me. Or call them to share a funny story about the kids. Or call them to ask about a specific holiday tradition they used to do that I was thinking about starting up.
But, we don't. Never have; maybe never will.
I'm letting go of my childhood dreams;
my fairytale hopes of one big happy family.

It is what it is ... and I'm learning that that's ok.


  1. Melissa,
    I know that you and Nick know that me and all of my family love all of you very much. I don't judge Nick by his father, because if I did, you and I would be in the same situation as him and his Dad. I love Nick for who I seen he can be.b I don't like some of his actions, but he is part of the family and I stand by the 2 of you, not just you. It is such a GREAT loss that Nick Sr. doesn't see that by him turning his back on his grandson's, he is the one losing out on all the special monents that I for one would never want to be without. My Grandson's are my world. Even if I can't see them as much as I would like to {yet} by seeing pictures of them, hearing their voices over the phone and by you sharing all of the new updates and stories about them, really keeps me close to them and them to me. I love all of you so much and try not to let Nick's Dad get to you. He is who he is and that's the way he wants it to be, like I said, it is his loss. Remember, before you guys got married, we knew then that he was a selfish man, so I guess he is one of those that you can't teach old DOGS new tricks. In my opinion you, Nic and the boys are better off without someone like him in you're lives. He is too undependable and you'll never know what will set him off to just disown the family and at any given time. The boys sure don't need someone of that nature in their lives teaching them that whenever you get mad at someone it is OK to just not correspond with them any more. Nick for sure at this time in his life doesn't need someone that he can't count on no matter what the problem or situation is. It will be more devastating for you all to have someone with such a negative attitude to be in your lives going through what you all have been going trhough for all these years. You all have enough troubles right now to have to worry about kissing someone's ass just so they'll be in your life.
    I love you and I am glad you shared your thoughts and feelings on your blog. I hope it helped you some with all the hurt and pain that Nick's family has caused you and the kids, not to mention Nick...

  2. You said it Mom! Girl please just let it go. My hubby is not in the military but he is a truck driver. He spends long amounts of time away on the road. You may not realize it and I don't know if Nick has told you, but they are just as stressed out being away from home as we are stressed out at home without them. There are way more important things in life that you can focus your energy on. I've always said that your family, your real family, are the people you are proud to surround yourself with. You and only you can choose your family. Don't waste anymore energy of your positive energy on someone who obviously doesn't want to see you happy. Real family only wants to see you happy. Hell, I'll be your family if it makes you happy, but that is just ridiculous.

    You're going to have to let go of your ideal family image. It's only what you've learned from society anyway. Find ways to cherish the people in your life that make you, Nick, and your kids happy and you'll all be happier. Make some new friends closeby and start traditions with them if it's traditions you seek. Have fun with the people you love. Be grateful for what's already right under your nose.

    Trust me, I've tried to force relationships to work with my mom and my hubby's mom and it wasn't pretty. I had to let it all go. I have three young boys who never see or hear from either of their grandparents and they are perfectly happy. Your kids will heal but if you keep chasing this dream they will continue to suffer as you struggle to make it work. I'm not jumping on you because like I said, I've been there. The truth is you can't change anyone, nor should you want to. Just be grateful and embrace those that want to be embraced.

    Okay I think I'm done now. Follow your heart and do what's best for your real family :)
    Good luck!