While I'm away, readers give the advice.
On ending a marriage while a child is still young
M.: Fifteen years ago, when my son was only 3, his mother and I separated. She filed for divorce two years later. I stayed involved with my son as much as possible, never shirked any financial responsibility and made the best of it. I grew up in a stable, two-parent household, and am now 58.
Believe me, having a child with separate relationships with his mother and his father wreaks havoc on the child's emotional IQ. Regardless of the then-current circumstances, my life's biggest regret is leaving. It was the easy way out, and involved sacrifice for the one person in my life who did not deserve or choose it: my son.
The relief of a new relationship is no doubt real, but it always masks the true makeup of the individual.
My son lives with me full time now, an event for which I am eternally grateful. However, in his rush to judgment, cynicism and stubbornness, I see the scars I created. This was the true legacy I left for my son.
I should have never left.
On people who don't respond to or acknowledge your grief
J.: When I was growing up, I got the message that if something was obviously sad, it was stupid to say that you felt sad about it or that you were sad that someone else was sad. Years later, I was in a therapy session with my partner, and she was talking about her very difficult childhood. I didn't say anything, and my therapist asked me if I felt bad that my partner went through such a rough childhood.
I said of course I did, but it was so obvious that I would be sad about that, there's nothing to say. That's when I learned that how I was dealing with feelings was not normal. It's still uncomfortable for me to do it, but I make an effort to always say how I feel when someone tells me something that's emotional for him/her or that makes me feel emotional.
Learned the hard way: I was an only child in a mid 20th century household where the norm was that children were seen but not heard. My father died unexpectedly when I was 7. My mother announced this to me by sitting me down and saying, "Your daddy has died, and I'd like you to go stay with Mrs. Smith for a few days." Mrs. Smith was a neighbor down the block whom I scarcely knew.
Mrs. Smith was pleasant to me but basically didn't say anything except, "Your mother has a lot on her mind right now." I stayed a week, and when I returned home no one said a word about my father, the funeral or our future. My questions went totally unanswered; the usual response was "Not now, dear."
A year later, my dog died and I found out about it when my mother picked me up from school. She said, "Fido got out and was hit by a car. He's dead." That was it.
Basically, I was 40 years old before I ever personally heard anyone express sympathy to another person for a loss in the family.