The Vine: March 1, 2017
Over two years ago, I left my husband.
Months of asking him to go to marriage counseling were to no avail. And I realized just how much I'd changed over the course of our relationship (and not just as a result of marriage and children): I felt controlled and manipulated in my actions and responses, I focused on having appropriate affect in different social situations when I felt nothing, I focused on having appropriate affect in response to him. The only time I was mostly my actual self was with our children and with my friends.
So, I left him. Coldly, I called in the troops to help me pack up my and my children's belongings, and get my kids to my parents' home where I had made arrangements to move in (after confiding certain things with my mother). And he was heartbroken, of course. On my way out, I offered my terms: 50% custody of our children. He's a good father whom I knew would only improve if he didn't have me to rely upon to do the heavy lifting.
Surprisingly, my solicitation for advice is not about my ex, but about my brother. We were raised Catholic, but he went EXTREME in his beliefs. He found a branch of Catholics who believe, among other things, that the Pope is not Catholic enough (even pre-Francis). After my separation, my bro decided to intervene on my…scratch that, it wasn't on my behalf but on god's behalf, to save my marriage. He went behind my back to my ex to try to get us back together, never having tried to lobby me on the issue. Once this happened, I told him in no uncertain terms that it was neither appropriate nor welcome.
Fast forward a year later to Christmastime. He started visiting my sons when they were at my ex's with no discussion with me. I was persona non grata. Add to this, my ex told me my brother tried to lead my children in prayer during every visit. So when our planned visit finally happened, I respectfully (and I swear to god that I don't believe in anymore that I tried to put it in the most respectful terms possible) told him that it was my and my ex's job to lead our children spiritually, and that I disagreed with his beliefs and felt it unwise to have him lead our kids in prayer.
He lost it. Called me names, accused me of so many things. Yelled at me for a good half hour. Finally, I stopped trying to argue and I planted myself a foot in front of him. I stood with my jaw out, not saying a word. He grew so infuriated, he grabbed me by the shoulders and threw me across the living room. And, um, I kinda kicked and punched as I came back. Not my proudest moment.
Another year later, and my mother is struggling with this deep chasm between her children. And it pained me to see her so upset. So, I wrote a short letter stating that despite our obvious disagreements, I want a relationship with him. This was a month ago and I've had no response from him. What do I do next?
Good luck unpacking all this baggage
As far as Brother specifically, you do nothing. Despite his inappropriate interference in your children's lives and spiritual upbringing — and he knew it was inappropriate; that's why he went around you to visit them at your ex's place — and his putting hands on you, you've tried for the sake of your mother's peace of mind to be the bigger person and reach out to him. He hasn't responded yet, and that's probably a good thing, because 1) he's a no-zealot-like-the-convert asshat, and 2) it buys you some time to think about your boundaries with your ex and your children, and work with Ex to set them.
Because I don't see Ex in your letter, really, exceeeeept that you led with that part of the story. My sense of your decision to bury the lede somewhat here is that maybe you wanted me to see that your leaving your husband was a "good shooting," and maybe unconsciously to draw parallels between the controlling behavior you couldn't tolerate in Ex and the same kind of shit Brother is trying to pull along a different axis. I do think you should have left (you weren't happy) and I do think that Ex and Brother share certain problematic "vintage" head-of-household qualities; I think you shouldn't have to apologize for taking a physical shot at Brother when he hurled you across the room. But I also think it's interesting that, while you say Ex reported the prayer "leadership" to you, you don't mention his reaction to it, and you don't say that he tried to kibosh it, or disagreed with it, or how you found out Brother tried to "counsel" him on getting back together with you — did Ex tell you that? or did the kids rat the grownups to you?
Either way, since you made sure to note that Ex is a good dad, it's time to sit down with him for a conversation about Brother on that level and say something along the lines of, look, I know Brother must have put you in an awkward position at the least by coming over here to counsel you on a marriage I chose to end, then kept showing up without my knowledge to pray with the kids, and I'm sorry you had to deal with that — but the kids' religious instruction, or absence of same, is our business, not Brother's, and if you choose to permit that, I at least need to know about it. (NB: I don't know the formal terms of your custody arrangement, and if you don't currently have it formalized, that might explain some of the vagueness here — and you should think about retaining a lawyer and getting the situation codified if you can possibly afford it.) But I would really prefer that you didn't permit it, or permit Brother to be in the kids' space at all, because he got physical with me and I don't want our children around that energy.
Or whatever you choose to say, but if part of you kind of let the shit go as far as Ex letting Brother dominate him because you didn't want to antagonize Ex further as the dumpee, I totally get it and I wouldn't look forward to this conversation either — but it wants having. Schedule a neutral-ground coffee with Ex, get him up to date on where things stand between you and Brother, and then maybe let him talk for a while about his take on Brother and the prayers and wherever he's at with it. Then roll out a "what I hear you saying is X" statement or two, and then be like, Brother is not in charge of the kids' relationship with God, should S/He exist, and what the kids will really absorb here is his utter lack of respect for me, so let's set some ground rules.
If Brother keeps giving you the silent treatment, well, way to absorb Jesus' teachings, dingleberry, but you did your part to mollify your mother — and it's not you who went all Mel Gibson and opened this divide in the first place, so you've done what you can do there. If and when he answers, agree to disagree on some things for the sake of family harmony — including whether he's the best guy for the job of shepherding your kids' spiritual journeys, which he's not to do anymore, period.
Tags: kids the fam