‘If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.’ –Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
There is always a saying that only a thin line demarcates love and hate, which is what exactly played out and in fact is still playing out in the lives of a couple, whom I will call Veronica and Debo, alongside their two children.
I was talking about making an impact in other people’s life, with a friend from my church. Making an impact, quantifiable impact, was something that she talked about a lot and it was something that I had seen her do as well. She was all for women supporting women, but she is no feminist. She was the one who told me the story of one of her mentees, Veronica, for whom she had become something of a life coach for, over time.
Incidentally, she had met Veronica when she was going through a really tough time, a bitter divorce trial. Their relationship had started on a business phase, how to get Veronica’s bedding business off the ground, but as time went on, all Veronica really wanted to talk about was the divorce and how it was permeating every area of her life.
For 13 years, Veronica had known Debo, but she didn’t know the same man she knows now. He was her first real love and, no, it was nowhere near a love-at-first-sight issue, but one that had grown over time and when they had been dating officially for five years, he proposed, and she accepted. It felt like they were an old married couple anywhere. They were already wearing same aso ebi and such.
Everything went smoothly until the fifth year into their marriage, and then things changed. It was not obvious, but it was there in the atmosphere, the tone of their conversation, their constant argument in the presence of the kids. Things just went flat. And then, it got worse. There were instances of physical abuse and lots of emotional abuse.
One day, Veronica had had enough and she filed for divorce. Everyone was blindsided. Even she was surprised at her step, but she had had enough. She had made plans to leave her matrimonial home, with the kids, for a safe place, until she sorted out her permanent accommodation plans, but her plans fell through and she was forced to live in the same house with a husband she had served divorce proceedings to, for one whole month.
He too refused to leave, saying it was his house, built with his hard earned money. And interestingly, he came home every night, which was something that had been scarce before the papers were served. It was a very tense atmosphere, so tense the kids knew something was not right, even before Veronica told them they would be leaving.
She slept with the door of her room locked, dreaded his coming home, and as though he knew, he made sure his every action was now heightened. He made sure Veronica knew he was around, tooting his horn as he drove in the compound. The mental torture was on a different scale. He glibly told her she had declared war and he was going to fight with all he had, and that all was fair in war and love.
Before proceeding to trial, their lawyers met and tried to see how they could work things through. Unfortunately, it was a stale mate, because Debo was not ready to accept the compromises Veronica was making and he wasn’t making any of his own. They headed to trial proper, and there, all sorts of allegations were made against Veronica, most of whom did not hold water in the view of the judge. As for Veronica, she didn’t really want to fight, she just wanted out.
However, it was when the subject of custody of the kids came up that it became everyone for himself. She had to fight, or else she would be painted a blackened faced demon with horns. Debo wanted primary custody of the kids. That alone took them almost one year to finalise, and in the end, they got joint custody, meaning the kids spend half of their time with both parents. It was less than ideal, but it was better than not getting to see her kids at all. Because, as it turned out, whenever the kids were with Debo, he would make sure they did not talk to her and when they were with her, he would call all the time to talk to them. It was just plain frustrating.
The worst part was he kept filling the kids with his bitterness against their mom. He said all sorts of negative things about Veronica to the kids, in the early stages of their divorce, that the kids always had lots of questions when they got back home to their mom. It was so bad that Veronica brought it up with her lawyer, who made it known in court and an injunction was issued that neither of them could bad-mouth each other to the kids. It reduced the incidences, but it was still present.
At one time, their then four year old daughter had been asked to describe her dad and the young girl had said, “Dad hates mom.” It was totally unexpected and it warranted the school management calling Veronica and Debo for a meeting, which hadn’t gone well.
Everything that has to do with the kids is a struggle with him. He purposely goes in a different tangent to everything that she does. The divorce broke her, but it was something that she would do all over again, if she had to. Anything to give her children a safe home, (even if they only live there half of the time), free of oppression and dehumanization, a home where everyone is respected, heard, and free to be vulnerable without fearing it will be used to manipulate them one day.
Even though, it’s still a long way to when the kids can decide where they want to spend the chunk of their time, Veronica has decided to live for each day. To review her days and be grateful when she’s had a great day, hoping to replicate it tomorrow and when things have gone haywire, then it is time to avoid a repeat performance.
Because in the end, she can’t really change Debo. If she couldn’t change him for 13 years, when they lived in each other’s pocket, it is highly unlikely that she would be able to change him now.
But she could change her own reaction to him.
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