Dear Ms Peirano,
I'm 36 now and live in Spain. And that's without my two children (ten and twelve), who I haven't seen in five years. I know what other people think of me: raven mother.
I met my future husband Jason when I was 22. At first we got along well and then got married. A year later our daughter Lena came. I experienced a roller coaster of emotions. Although I was proud and happy to have a child, I also found it a burden to always care for someone. I was still quite young myself and was never able to try or find myself. Even as a teenager, I always worked and supported my mother, who was overwhelmed with me and my brother and always complained that her life was so exhausting.
I wanted to do better than my mother and I really threw myself into the role of mother. Cooked and baked, planted the balcony, baby swimming, the whole program.
I started my own business as a beautician. Two years later, when I was 26, Liam was born and shortly after that we moved close to my mother-in-law so that she could help us. Her mother had died and so the house became vacant. Jason pushed, and I gave in, even though I felt uneasy about it.
That was a huge mistake, as it turned out later. My mother-in-law did a lot to drive a wedge between us. When I met Jason, my mother-in-law was already pushy and dominant. She wanted to decide everything, rearranged the furniture in our living room and asked critically what I had cooked for her son. But she was 600 kilometers away and we endured that two or three times a year.
When we moved near her, I lost a lot: my clients, my friends, my independence. I really wanted to start my own business again quickly, but something always got in the way. And in the arch-Catholic, rural area where we now lived, there were not enough daycare places. My mother-in-law was nagging me about why I would have had the children at all if I would then give them into someone else's hands.
But she only helped us with childcare when she felt like it and had the time. And she manipulated the children by giving them lots of sugar to eat or buying expensive toys, which I didn't allow myself because I hate electronic toys.
We had a lot of stress with the mother-in-law. Sometimes she just stood in our apartment (she had a key), sometimes she talked us into the upbringing and often she complained to Jason about me. He couldn't assert himself against her and then said "helpful" things to me like: "Just put it on the draft" or "she doesn't mean it that way" or "well, she's a bit right."
I was heartbroken. I was 27, lived in a stuffy small town where everyone talks about everyone, had two small kids who pushed me all day, a husband I just fought with, and nothing to report. My mother-in-law dominated our lives, and when I wanted to resist, she would go to Jason and complain about my selfishness.
I tried therapy, worked on rebuilding my independence (more badly than right) and lost myself. Until my childhood sweetheart Maik, who lived in Spain, got in touch again. We wrote long emails, then met and fell in love. I felt understood by him, I took care of myself again, did sports and paid attention to my appearance again. I could finally laugh again and had joy in life again. Nevertheless, I was of course torn inside, because I longed for Maik and wanted to live with him, and on the other hand I had my two children who needed me and to whom I couldn't offer more than a life with daily arguments between their parents and a crying mother.
After two years of conflict I made the decision to move to Maik in Spain and told Jason that. He immediately agreed that I would leave him, but he and of course his mother were absolutely against me taking the children with me. They kept talking to me until I gave in. The children would lose their mother tongue, the school system in Germany is much better than in Spain, they have a nice house with a garden and secure living conditions with their father, while I couldn't offer the children anything and should I please find myself first before I go with them dare the children to have any "hippie adventures".
That's it. I just couldn't take it anymore and fled to Maik in Spain. And there I was able to establish a livelihood quite quickly by becoming self-employed as a beautician and masseuse.
I was fine, Maik is the man at my side, and I like it a lot better in Spain than in Germany. It's only when I think of the children that everything in me tightens. Lena is now twelve, Liam ten. I haven't seen either of them in five years. They've never been to Spain with me because Jason doesn't support it and speaks badly of me.
Jason has hired a housekeeper, now has a new partner and of course his mother comes and goes with him. I hardly recognize the children from the few photos I get. My letters and emails often didn't arrive or were only answered superficially. I don't think the children remember me much.
It's hard to live with the guilt of abandoning my children. And I would like to have a rapprochement with them. Do you think there is a possibility? And how?
Best regards and thank you,
Dear Simone T,
reading your story, it struck me that at some point there had to be an abrupt about-face from your overwhelming situation. Where do you think you would be and how you would be if you hadn't gone to Spain and just stayed with your husband for the sake of the kids?
Can you go back to how you felt before your breakup for a moment and imagine enduring it until today? It probably feels unbearable to even imagine it!
But despite everything, her escape from the situation was quite large and probably also radical.
That's why I can understand that you suffer from feelings of guilt. Guilt arises when we question our actions and think that we have harmed someone. Sometimes that's true, sometimes it's a misconception. But the guilt plagues you until you figure it out and unravel it.
Guilt is a good thing, too, because it's a social emotion (like shame) and makes us behave "right" toward others (although what's wrong and what's right is culturally driven and not always clear). And if you are guilty, you can also make amends or compensate for something. The teenager who damaged things is called in to clean up. The motorist who damaged another car has to pay for the repairs…
I recommend that you deal intensively with your feelings of guilt again.
Put yourself in the shoes of all the people involved and ask yourself who you are guilty of, why you are guilty and what your action means to the other person.
Did you feel guilty towards Lena and Liam for leaving them with their father? What do you think that means for each of your children, both in the past and now? Do you think your children are sad because they have to grow up without a mother?
If so, why aren't your children contacting you or coming to visit? Did you visit the children in Germany and keep in touch? If not: do you blame yourself? And if so, how could you make up for it or compensate for it?
What were your reasons for leaving the children with their father? And what part does Jason have in the loss of contact between you and the children?
I can imagine that this is precisely the critical point. Many parents separate, and many parents move to another location for a variety of reasons. Despite this, most of these parents make an effort to remain in contact with their children. They make (often difficult) arrangements with their ex-partners, take on long journeys and costs, spend most of their weekends on the freeway or rent holiday apartments near their children. If we put our finger on the sore point: How would you rate your own efforts to keep in touch with the children after breaking up with Jason?
At the time of the separation, your children were still preschool children and could not make contact with you themselves. They could neither read nor write, nor did they own a telephone, nor could they plan or pay for a trip themselves.
Did you deal with Jason thoroughly enough to sort out contact with the kids? Or have you given up?
I see two aspects of your story that you might want to explore:
First, I have a hunch that you were heavily influenced by the story of your own mother, who herself had a tall girl (you) and a shorter boy and felt overwhelmed by that. They unconsciously absorbed the message: "Children are a burden. And it stays with the mother. Children make mothers unhappy." In the early years of motherhood you tried to reverse this family motto. They wanted to be a perfect mom who can do it all: baby swim, bake, cook, plant.
But ultimately, through the unprocessed family transmission, you actually repeated what happened to your mother: you lost yourself as a young mother, you were overworked and unhappy. Like your mother.
I would recommend that you take a look at the topic. The book by Sandra Konrad is recommended: "It stays in the family. About love, loyalty and age-old burdens."
Second, I have the impression that you often tell your story from the victim's perspective. It sounds like you tried everything to improve the situation, but you just couldn't handle the other people and the circumstances.
There are certainly some aspects that have remained constant (e.g. the unbroken relationship between Jason and his mother, the dominant personality of your mother-in-law, the lack of child care in your area). Still, you had leeway and made many decisions, such as moving in with your mother-in-law. And you left it at that.
When you tell stories about yourself as a victim, you also feel like a victim. It's empowering to take responsibility for telling a story, for example by saying: I made the decision...I didn't change the decision...
You ask me if and how you can get in touch with your children again. Here, too, it is important that you take responsibility for your story, because if you present yourself as the victim of your father and mother-in-law, you bring the children into an inner conflict. They probably won't like to hear that.
I think the children of your hurt have split deep within themselves about the loss of their mother and don't feel it anymore. There is a layer of indifference, and probably rejection, fed by the stories told by your ex-husband and his mother. The children will protect themselves from further injuries and will not immediately happily jump at you. But it will be a long way to regain the confidence that you want to give the children a place in your life.
But do you want that? Are you ready to put up that high and long-lasting stake?
You might also read here:
Marianne Nolde: "Parents stay after the separation. What ex-partners should know for themselves and their children."
If you have decided for yourself whether you are willing to establish really reliable contact with your children and thus also to endure a part of their environment (Jason and his mother plus the arch-Catholic village), then I recommend the following steps:
But the most important thing is that you mean business. There is a wonderful quote from the Bible: As you seek me with all your heart, so will I be found.
And whether you want to search with all your heart or not, you know best, and your children will feel that too.
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