Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Selfish IS a Four-Letter Word

It IS.

I've been thinking about this a lot today.

Yesterday's session with the mediator did not go well.  My fault, I think.  I was still rubbed pretty raw by all the adjectives from Sunday and felt disengaged from the conversation.  We talked a little bit about custody again, and I admitted that I felt bad about not getting to have the kids more; but I agreed that it was the most practical solution.

Then we started talking about ways to deal with the house.  Si wants to keep it and buy me out.  He told the mediator about how he wanted the kids to have the stability of their regular home. 

"Do you think it may tip the scales a bit?" asked the mediator.

How do you mean? 

"Well, unfortunately, the kids know that Kate is initiating the divorce.  You will have more custody of them.  You will live with them in their home, while Kate lives somewhere else.  Don't you think it weakens Kate's position as an equal co-parent?"

He didn't think so.  She asked me what I thought.

"Well, yes; I think that's true.  But that's the price I pay."  I shrugged and my eyes slid toward the window.
She sat still for a second.  "What do you mean by 'the price you pay'?"
"By being the one who leaves."  To me that was such a no-brainer.  She looked at me funny, though.

Then, Si talked about his fledgling proposal to buy me out.  We agree that the kids' college fund is sacred, but he is offering to cash out their trust funds, paying me with that money, then having the kids be part owners of the house.  They get their money back (and maybe a little more) when he sells.  I was amazed.  When we were in the heat early divorce discussions, months ago, he told me...uh...firmly... that he would not allow me to touch their trust funds.  As if I would have even thought of it.  The trust funds are gifts from Simon's parents.  It's Sara's and Nathan's money; and before that, it was Digginsmoney.  I have never had much use for Digginsmoney.  

Si now sees this a s a tidy solution, but I have issues with it.

"And when they find out?  That Mom went away and took all their money, too?"
"Who will tell them?  They don't need to know."
"They will ask where you got the money, and you'll tell them the truth.  Or your parents will tell them. With gusto."  They can't stand me.  As my FIL put it, I "took our first born son away from his home and his country".  (I know:  gack.  Yes, they really did say, "first born son", as if they were about to present him to King Herrod or something.)  When they find out that I touched Digginsmoney, there is going to be nastiness.

I mentioned that I felt that this "tipped the scales" of my relationship with the kids yet farther; Si took exception. We were sent to our separate corners:  the mediator wanted to see each of us alone.

She was in with Si for over half an hour.  When it was my turn, the mediator said that she had talked to Simon about having some accountability for the demise of the marriage, and that he had admitted that he had not treated me well over the years.  Given that, she asked me why I maintain that the divorce is my fault. 
"Because no matter what, I'm the leaver, and that makes me the bad one."
"Why does that make you bad?  Maybe you are escaping a bad situation."
"Well, because leaving is...selfish!"
"Why does selfish have to be bad?"  I couldn't even figure out what she meant.  I sputtered.
"Well... well.. of COURSE it's bad!  It's the WORST!  It's the WORST thing a person can be.  It's the thing I most hate being."  Believe me, I have been pondering the question of the worst traits a person can have, in my humble opinion.  I think I may have settled on:  selfish, unkind, weak and cowardly.
"Why?"  (I know.  She needs to cut it out.)
"Because... because.."  I was at a loss. "Huh.  Because... selfishness... is the absence of other-centeredness.  And other-centeredness powers the wheels of social change...  So when I divorce Si, I am gong to be-"
"Selfish.  And broke and-"
"There will be money.  You're going to be OK financi-"
"-and unloved and stupid and-"  (Let's not forget rude, since I was interrupting her at that point...)
"Happy.  You deserve to be a little selfish.  You have sold yourself short for years.  You are going to be happy, and show your kids what that looks like."

I am having a hard time getting my head around selfish ever being a good thing.  I have a hard time dealing with all the guilt that my selfishness has caused.  CB told me once that I should "be more selfish".  He was talking about buying a guitar, though!


  1. Maybe you just need to figure out the line between being selfish, and self-preservation?

  2. I wrote a long response to this and the internet ate it, so I'll try again.

    The mediator is right. You are falling victim to the classic "leaver's guilt syndrome." I have seen this repeatedly and experienced it myself. You are not being selfish, but you won't be able to really see this and believe it - likely for years.

    Thus you must simply do as she says. Feel selfish as you do it, if you must, but just do it. Tips the scales back in your favor (she's totally right about that.) And that whole "price you pay" part? You're totally wrong. The price you pay is the guilt, not the terms of the divorce agreement. Pay the guilt in your emotions and let the agreement be fair. Do what the mediator says instead of doing what you feel is right, because your feelings now are all wrong.

    I've seen two friends who went through this exact same thing and it did NOT turn out well for either of them. One is going to have serious relationship problems with her kids because she gave up SO MUCH and let her ex have so much power and time and everything over them. She insisted she was doing what was "right" because it's what she thought she deserved. She was wrong and I feel awful for her. She doesn't deserve that and neither do you.

    I did the same thing, too, but fortunately I am still waiting on the final steps for the divorce. I am SO GLAD I had to wait! I gave up a lot and would have given up so much more that I now recognize would have been unfair, because I felt that guilt and thought it meant I deserved less or even nothing. I've been accepting less than half of what I should have legally received in child support if the divorce were finalized 6 years ago. I have not and will not receive any alimony. Looking back, I realize that this was not right, but I was unwilling to accept it at the time. I should have insisted on the legal minimum for child support, and allowed myself some alimony so that I could have gone back to school 6 years ago because it's too late now. Too many other things are set in place and I can't afford the time commitment. It makes me sad. I was wrong, and so are you.

    I know I'm rambling. It's 5:30 a.m. and I wrote this so much better the first time. But the bottom line is: suck up your pride and guilt, do the right thing by standing up for those things you should have - even if you don't really believe you deserve them right now - and feel selfish if you must. You WILL regret it later if you don't.

  3. Lillian is absolutely right, Kate.
    I got stuck giving up most of what I was entitled to in the mistaken assumption that it would pay off any guilty feelings. It was the wrong decision. Big time. I lost everything because I felt bad about fighting back.
    Whatever sense of guilt of selfishness you may feel, be sure and keep them well away from your divorce settlement.
    Hang in there, girl.

  4. Hate to say it, but ultimately, this is why people use lawyers - to stop feelings getting in the way of their best interests, and the best interests of their children. You have contributed as much to the marriage and family as your husband, I'm sure. Input isn't all financial. You need to make sure you come out of this as equals. Don't let adjective-induced guilt lead to long-term regret. It's worth taking the time and maybe some additional pain, to get the balance right. You can do it.