I wanted my kids to have what everybody else had: a strong, two-parent family.
My husband, Tim, and I were first married in 2001 after meeting in an online chat room and dating for a year and a half. In our seven-year marriage, we had two children: a boy and a girl. He seemed to have a genuine interest in art and I was attending college for graphic design and was fascinated by Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse.
We both enjoyed going on walks, shopping, and dining out. I don't know if I was ever “in love” with him at any point but I was approaching my thirties and we seemed comfortable with each other. We both worked full-time jobs: he was a machinist, and I was working in the printing industry.
We were good friends and enjoyed each other's company. Marriage seemed like the natural next step. But just a few years into our marriage, things drastically changes.
After I became a mother, my ex-husband made it clear to me I had myriad flaws. "You’re crazy!" "You’re stupid, fat, ugly, and an unfit mother." He told me I was a "mental midget" and that he was ashamed I was his wife and said I didn't dote on him like he had expected.
The verbal abuse he hurled at me day-in and day-out cut deeply. I never overcame my insecurities as a wife or mother because he made me feel unattractive and constantly compared to me other women. Often depressed, I never measured up to my own (ridiculously high) standards or those imposed on me by my husband. I needed his support desperately but instead, he abandoned me physically and emotionally.
I struggled to lose weight after my second child and was more withdrawn from the outside world; thus, I didn't go for walks as I did after my first child. My husband targeted my appearance when he returned home from drinking. He would tell me he could get a better wife and that many women would love to have him, but who would ever want me?
I believed both parents should spend time with their children; he believed it was acceptable to leave his family to go drinking all night. He believed going to Burger King for an hour once a week was adequate time to devote to his wife and kids. He made fun of me because I read parenting books when my children were young. "A real woman doesn't need to read how to be a mother," was his go-to line.
By the time my second child was just two years old, the verbal abuse and alcohol abuse in our home were intolerable. The kids and I were run out of the house each time my husband returned home from drinking, which was several times a week.
I had spoken to my friend who advised me to go to the domestic violence shelter. I called the shelter hotline several times to ask for advice. I learned about having an emergency plan in place for the times Tim returned home and became abusive. I also called the police many times for domestic violence in our house: fist marks where he punched and missed my shoulder in the kitchen and the living room; broken furniture, toys and my favorite oil painting smashed in fits of rage. These were just some of the physical remnants of the dysfunction in our house.
I remember having bruises on my upper arm from where he had grabbed me. My friend urged me to go to the police station to file the report on my husband. When the police took my report and photographed the bruises, they were able to arrest him without anything further needed by me.
My friend told me that once I was in the shelter, the volunteers from Legal Aid would then place me as a priority to assist me in legal protection, or even divorce. Somehow, my husband found out the location of the shelter and hired a process server to “serve” divorce papers to me.
As I pulled to a stop sign, a man with sunglasses blocked my car with his minivan. I rolled down my window to assess the situation and the man threw the divorce papers at me and told me I was “served.” My husband sought a marriage dissolution based on the grounds of incompatibility.
My legal aid attorney urged me to agree with the terms of the dissolution because if either party disagreed, the judge would dismiss the case and I’d risk losing the help of legal aid and would have to wait even longer for the child support I needed to support my kids until I found steady employment.
Once the shelter discovered that their location had been compromised, they asked me and my children to vacate the premises. I didn't have enough time to find a job, fix my car and secure an apartment. We returned briefly to our house.
The dissolution dragged on for 18 months. We delayed many hearings as we tried to “work” on our marriage, but nothing ever changed. I used the time to apply for public housing. Once I was approved for an apartment, the kids and I moved, my oldest started Kindergarten, and I found a childcare program for my daughter. I was able to start my job after my son boarded the bus for school.
In the five years we were separated, I continued working full-time and my kids did well academically and socially. In the beginning, it was more difficult because I had to rush around after work each day to get things done and set things out for the next day.
Once I had saved enough money for a down payment on a house, I found a decent home and with my good credit, I qualified for a USDA rural home loan. I was still depressed when I saw all the couples and families that had two parents but ultimately, our family was calmer when I was separated from their father. It was lonely but the kids and I stuck together.
After being divorced for five years, we started spending time as a family again. Tim had let the house go into foreclosure and moved into his parent's house. Since his parents supervised the kids during their monthly visits, I felt more at ease about their well-being.
During some of these visits, my ex-husband seemed to have an interest in reuniting our family. Since I had moved to another county after our divorce, I drove my children the hour drive to pick up their father and to visit parks, playgrounds, and restaurants. During our visits, it felt like the "ideal" family that both the kids and I had desired.
His eyes no longer appeared bloodshot and he didn't reek of alcohol. I had forgiven him of the past due child support of $3,000 and hastily remarried him in June of 2014. In retrospect, that was a mistake.
At the time, I was totally obsessed with the idea of a stable, nuclear family. I wanted my children to have the best — and that meant security, stability, stronger social supports, shared resources and reduced stress.
The reasons I married him the second time are eerily similar to the reasons for our first marriage. I wanted to settle down and have a family. Everybody else my age had already established their families. Life was empty for me as a single woman and I truly believed two like-minded adults could happily raise a family. I never took into account the devastating effects that alcoholism and abuse would have on my mind and on my family.
In our second marriage, the kids were older and I imagined it would be easier for my husband to spend time with them. In the beginning, they would often go to the park or walk to Burger King, Subway, or some other fast food joint. I had more time to spend with the kids since I only worked part-time (I was trying to finish my degree by taking online classes in sociology, with hopes of becoming a victim’s advocate or counselor).
We attended art museums and movies as a family. In our photos from these excursions, my children's faces seemed to gleam with contentment.
Within a few months, though, the same issues manifested: substance abuse, verbal abuse, and abandonment. Again, I felt like a single mother. My husband started funneling all of "his" money toward drinking. He returned home, wasted, only to hurl insults at me or the kids and get ready for work.
It felt like deja vu, nothing had changed. Again, I sought help from a domestic violence shelter in my community. Ohio Domestic Violence Network paid for my attorney fees after my grant for legal assistance was approved.
Our child support payment was essentially the same as it was with the first divorce and this time, the divorce process took just six months. We had no accumulated wealth; in fact, we had virtually nothing. I owned the home before the remarriage, and thankfully the judge granted me the house.
Our second divorce was finalized in 2016.
While my ex-husband was in jail for a DUI, he wrote a few letters to inform me that I wasn't a "true Christian" for seeking a divorce. I could never hold a peaceful phone conversation with him, so I stopped the phone calls, too.
In my second divorce, I made the choice to have my maiden name restored. I wanted closure on my relationship with my ex-husband. At times, I feel I have betrayed my children by taking my maiden name, as they share their father's last name but I'm just a woman who has finally accepted her status as an "unmarried."
I was awarded full custody of my children. Furthermore, I asked the judge to deviate from the traditional visitation schedule of every other weekend. I'm required to take them to their father's residence once a month. My ex-husband is uninvolved in their lives and makes no effort to call to ask about school or life. He never initiates the call to set up visitation with the kids, either.
My kids are often so busy with schoolwork and daily activities that they don't make time to contact him. Their father calls sporadically, and, most times, is intoxicated when he makes the effort. It's hard for the kids to carry on a normal parent/child conversation with their father, as he's obsessed with talking about fanatical things: conspiracy theories, hidden government agendas, and other unusual topics.
In retrospect, my insecurities drove me to remarry too quickly. I didn't want to accept being a single parent. I wanted my kids to have what everybody else had: a strong, two-parent family.
As much as I try to suppress my emotions about my ex-husband, his substance abuse, or any other element of my failed marriages when it comes to my children, I can't deny the hurt they’ve experienced. My children hurt because they are without two parents, and many families in our community are comprised of two parents. Those families seem to have more people involved in their lives. I think my kids are very humble but the arrogance of “ideal” families is overwhelming, at least to me,
For this reason alone, I agonize over my choices. Ultimately, I think I made the right choice to divorce. Being married never helped my ex-husband to be interested in our family. Addiction was and is his primary interest in life.
Since my divorce, I have lost weight and I keep fit to remain strong at my manufacturing job and to support my family financially and my children and I have grown in our faith as a result of the struggles in our lives.