We never expected blending our families together to be easy. It never is. We lived 2000 miles away from each other and while my divorce was amicable, Ant's was anything but.
Anthony and his wife had a relationship devoid of warmth and intimacy. His wife had an explosive temper whose primary targets were Anthony and his then ten year old son. Ant did what many of us do when we are in an unhealthy relationship; he kept his head down and tried not to give his wife any reason to blow her top. Anthony played the part of supportive husband and father, coaching hockey on top of a full time job with a one hour commute. His wife continued to be a stay at home mom long after their children were both in school. They had a comfortable life and even though Anthony was unhappy the rest of the family seemed satisfied with their lifestyle.
Ant's son had been a challenging and unhappy child from a young age. Life is confusing when you live with a mother who seems angry and unpredictable. Anthony countered her intense and critical style of parenting by being nurturing and expressing unconditional love and optimism. Ant was the go-between for his wife and children, always trying to calm the waters and keep everyone happy. With no love or affection toward each other, Ant and his wife turned their attention, resources, and energy toward their children. Their home was a place where their children's schedules and desires took priority over everything else. It was a combination that would ensure that no one would really be happy.
As Thing 1 matured his outbursts became more frequent and violent. He resisted his parents' authority at every turn. Getting dressed, cleaning up, showering, brushing teeth and wearing weather appropriate clothing, were all viewed as battles to be won. Complying was seen as defeat. He broke things. He began having difficulty getting along with friends at school and on the ice.
Rules were not made for Thing 1. When coaches called him off the ice to give other players a turn he wouldn't come, and when he did he would mouth off to coaches. If they benched him for being disrespectful Thing 1 would escalate, once refusing to leave the hockey rink with his father. He was unable to take responsibility for minor mistakes such as forgetting something or missing a shot. Everything and anything had to be someone else's fault. He lied. A lot.
Thing 1 visited a social worker and two psychologists, and although he (and at times his mother) were not always cooperative, they suggested that he was suffering from Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Here's the catch; if you have a child with ODD it is likely that you bear some responsibility for it. Children develop ODD for a variety of reasons including their natural disposition, but it is generally recognized that inconsistent discipline is the hallmark of ODD. Here we had an overbearing mother and an obliging father, a particularly toxic combination. Guess who points the finger at whom? Darren didn't learn to brush off responsibility on his own. His own mother had perfected the art of deflecting blame. I am not a professional but it was clear that both of them suffered from an inability to say, yep, I did that, and I'm sorry and I'll try to fix it. Somewhere they learned that taking responsibility was admitting defeat and that must be avoided at all costs.
Certainly someone has to do something, right? Ant recognized that as an adult it was time for him to reflect on how his behavior was effecting both Thing 1 and his wife. Perhaps he was the problem. The ex refused to go to couple's counseling so Ant went on his own. From her point of view he was the one who needed fixing, and Ant was willing to give it a try.