Emotional Flooding when My Children Show Up

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i2097i
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19 Apr 2021, 6:46 pm

I am currently divorced and sharing custody 50/50 with my ex. I just got a diagnosis for Asperger's and I have been trying to integrate this new information into my life. The divorce has almost definitely traumatized me and I feel locked in a lot of the rough emotions at times. The marriage ended because of multiple infidelities on her part.

Every time my kids come back to my house I struggle with very intense emotional flooding. Before they get there I usually fantasize about how I'm going to be the awesomest dad and do the coolest dad-things with them. They will love being around me. Unfortunately this is not usually how it goes.

Today they came home and I glanced outside when they were unloading from the car. Just seeing my ex with them for less than 20 seconds is more than enough to plummet me into the depths. As they made their way up the stairs I could feel my body shriveling up and closing down. I didn't want them near me. It feels like they can see how exposed and insecure that I feel and I don't know how to stop it. When they finally come up to me, my amazing 5-year-old son runs up and tries to say hi to me. I can't even manage to look at him. Do I want him to feel the coldness that is coming off of me?

I don't think that I know what I want or expect out of them when this flooding happens to me. In the past I have displayed all sorts of emotional displays, most of them regrettable but none horrible.

Anyway, I know that this stuff makes them feel bad so I just tell them that I'm grumpy and I need time. I think a big part of it is that I pressure myself to be happy when they show up but in reality I feel an extremely intense mix of emotions that I struggle to cope with. The emotions are so so loud and it is hard not to plummet into self-hatred or really getting down on myself.

I guess my question is this: can anybody relate to this feeling of being in this emotional bind? I WANT to be super-awesome-dad (and I know that I can be!) but the flood of emotions is like smashing your finger with the hammer on your first nail of the day. It just sets the day off wrong.

Thanks in advance

- frustrated dad



Mountain Goat
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19 Apr 2021, 7:02 pm

I can understand what you are feeling. I have never been a Dad. But I can understand seeing my first ex girlfriend that I was going to marry. I can't look at her. I can't talk to her. Somehow even though I want no harm to come to her... Even though she did some horrible things to me and she was very much two timing me... I could go on... But because I loved her, I do not want her to be harmed, but at the same time, I have to protect myself from the emotional stress of seeing her... So though that was around 15 years ago, I still to this day can't speak to her if on a rare occasion I see her. I just avoid her and walk away.

Yet I have had another ex girlfriend who I really respect and think the world of and she is married now to a really nice man, and I have heard that they are doing well together.
But the first ex... No.

So I can understand your feelings. I apologize for not experiencing quite the same situation, but I can think back to the situation I was in and relate in a smaller way.

Would it be an idea to have someone else with you when they come so if you shut down the other person can take over?


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IsabellaLinton
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19 Apr 2021, 7:48 pm

Do you have a therapist for your divorce trauma? It seems you could really do with some emotional support for what you've been through, which is a major life upheaval involving a lot of emotions and betrayal of trust. I think that would be a good first step for you, or else if you could tolerate it I wonder if family counselling would help?

I shared custody of my child with my ex when she was young, starting at six months old. She was primarily with me, but the transition times were still difficult both coming and leaving. I was changing my entire routine on a schedule that I never wanted to create. It was also difficult seeing my ex for the reasons you describe. He had court-ordered sessions for parenting and for psychiatry that he refused to attend, and he was documented by court-appointed psychologists as posing a risk to my child. Still, she had to see him and my life had to vacillate back and forth between two very different worlds of parenting vs. shutting down / working full time / being autistic. It was very difficult and I can empathise with what you are going through.

In terms of advice, don't worry about being the world's greatest dad. Focus on your kids being the world's greatest kids. Let them lead the way and show you their likes and interests. Don't put so much pressure on yourself to be perfect. Trust me, all your children want is a comfortable place to land because the transition is tough on them too, even if they don't say so.



i2097i
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19 Apr 2021, 8:52 pm

@Mountain Goat - Dad or not, I think you're definitely touching on the same exact thing that I am. She was the first and only girl that I have ever really loved. When I see her all of it rushes back and I feel overwhelmed with that while at the same time feelings of embarrassment for not being more capable of "getting over it" like everyone else seems to be able to do. The tension between the feelings of overwhelming love and overwhelming regret are just too much to handle.

I like your idea of having somebody else there to help. This has happened a couple of times and I think it could be helpful to try it out a bit more. Thanks!

@IsabellaLinton - I have done a fair amount of therapy regarding all of this. What is it about my post that causes elicits the "It seems you could really do with some emotional support for what you've been through" statement?

Thank you for having an idea of how difficult something like this can be. My two different worlds are:
1. Single
2. Single parent

Both of them take ~1 day for me to be able to get used to. The process of getting used to them almost never involves good emotions. For the first one, I have to re-assimilate with the loneliness and lack of familiarity with my previous life. The second one is what this post is about. Finally, after a weekend without the kids, I have started to feel comfortable being by myself and grounded. They show up and drag in all that familiar stuff from the past. No fun.

I absolutely love your statements about the kids leading the way. I am going to take all of it to heart! Thank you.



IsabellaLinton
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19 Apr 2021, 10:26 pm

i2097i wrote:
The divorce has almost definitely traumatized me and I feel locked in a lot of the rough emotions at times. The marriage ended because of multiple infidelities on her part.

Just seeing my ex with them for less than 20 seconds is more than enough to plummet me into the depths.

I'm grumpy and I need time.

The emotions are so so loud and it is hard not to plummet into self-hatred or really getting down on myself.


These parts ^ made me elicit the "you could do with emotional support" statement. :P

Yes, what you're going through is entirely normal. Switching routines is difficult for all people and parents. Then add in the fact that you're on the spectrum - which means you like routines even more than most people. Then add in the trauma of your divorce. Then add in the new diagnosis of ASD which you are still coming to understand. It's a huge learning curve. 50-50 is really hard and to be honest, I'm not a fan of it. I appreciate that kids need both parents, but it's extremely draining for the children and the parents alike to split their lives like that, without having a main base or main lifestyle.

Go easy on yourself. Accept your sensory needs and get to know those of your kids, whether or not they're on the spectrum. There's a good chance at least one of them is, whether you recognise it yet or not. Even if they don't present the same way that you do. I mention sensory needs because that's important for kids who have to transition between homes. My daughter said it took her several days to adjust to "everything" when she went back and forth: a different pillow, a different mattress, the light coming into the room differently, different smells, different foods, different energy levels and expectations, different routines, even different clothes. She couldn't relax in either home for quite a few days and she would just get comfortable when she'd have to switch again. I think that sounds like torture for kids to be honest, especially if the parents don't get along well enough to coordinate their homes and stay in sync. I can guarantee your kids are going through everything you're going through, even if they can't express it. They have to act "happy" as much as you do, and they know it. Kids are really sensitive about hurting one parent's feelings and they expend a lot of emotional energy pretending "yes it's OK that you got divorced", when all they really want is stability.

I'd work on those sensory issues. Build a pillow fort or a blanket fort. Do some lazy stuff. Ask the kids what would make them more comfortable. Do they like bright lights? Dim lights? Ask them what they miss from their mother's house and take it seriously. Tell them it's weird for you and you're doing the best you can to help them feel safe and comfortable. My daughter used to write in her journal about what she did with either parent, so we could read it in her own words and keep abreast of her feelings. That might be something you strive toward as they get older. Don't forget about their friends, either. They'll end up being busy with schoolmates and birthday parties and sports or extracurriculars soon enough when Covid ends, and you can get to know their friends' parents. Chances are there are single dads out there doing just what you're doing, and looking for someone to talk to.

I know you're insecure and that's OK. Just take it one day at a time, and love your kids. That's all that matters.



DesertWoman
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24 Apr 2021, 7:15 pm

I think you spend too much time analyzing your life. You're a father, and that's all you have to be. If you handle fatherhood responsibly, you're doing a great job. End of story. Stop beating yourself up, it's not worth it.

Divorce is challenging, maybe you need some professional help for yourself. Your health and sanity is important. It's time to move on, and set new goals for yourself.

If your kids are good people, you have done an impressive job. Parenting is tough sometimes. Everyone makes mistakes. As long as you apologize when you're wrong, everything's fine!


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