Dear Chump Lady,
My ex-wife (married for 7 years, together for 10 total) was a stay-at-home mom to our 3-year old daughter, and I discovered the start of things in October 2011 when I looked at our phone records and found 5,000 text messages going back and forth between her and her personal trainer over a 6 month period. Fast forward to August 2013, finding more electronic evidence, having mutual friends ask why they are seeing my ex and her trainer together so much, and my ex refusing to separate herself from the situation and go to counseling together – and, the divorce was finalized last month.
I have been extremely involved in my daughter’s life from the moment she was born and cherish her more than anything in this world. I can deal with the divorce, but it brings me to tears knowing that my innocent child is being uncontrollably dragged through this mess. Rather than spend thousands on attorneys, I chose to support my ex financially until my daughter is school-age. To me, the goal very quickly turned to one of minimizing any impacts on my daughter, which meant avoiding daycare and disruption to normal routines. When my daughter is school age, her mom will go back to teaching (which is convenient because of vacation schedules, etc).
I have my daughter 2 weeknights a week and 6 weekend days a month, so no more than a day or two goes by without me seeing her. And, to be honest, she is doing exceptionally well. This though, I think, is eventually going to become an issue. My ex is renting out the former house of mutual friends, and so we simply told our 3-year old that their house is lonely, and you and mommy will be living there while Daddy stays in his house (the houses are only about 1/2 a mile apart). Her mom and I never bad-mouth each other, and my daughter is very comfortable and loving being with either of us.
The problem now is that the affair partner and his 18-year old son are constantly spending time with my ex and my daughter. The affair partner has already been married twice and was engaged to another woman when he began the relationship with my ex. My daughter appears to like him (my ex just calls him her “friend,”) but it KILLS me to hear her speak of him. I am at a loss of what to say. How do I approach this? When is the correct time to tell her, or shall I just address questions as they come up? She is so young, everything is so concrete to her, and I don’t want to alter the apparently positive state of emotion she seems to currently be in. On the other hand, I don’t want her to think that this is okay, and I want her to understand at some point why I will never be in the same room with this guy. I also wonder if it might be best to just ride it out for a year or two given the affair partner’s track record. My guess would be that this relationship cannot last long.
It seems that many folks have been through a similar situation but with older children that are more mature and aware of what’s going on. Any advice would be much appreciated.
I know it doesn’t feel this way, but it’s a blessing that she’s a preschooler. At that age, she’s easily diverted in conversation (Look! It’s Elmo!) and she doesn’t have a big grasp of the grown up world. Her world is the only world. She’s got a short memory and she accepts whatever you and mom do as normal. They aren’t doing a lot of compare and contrast at age three. From what you report, she’s pretty happy.
You wish she had another normal — an intact family with two loving parents. A normal where Shit Face and his son aren’t in her life. A normal where you don’t have to explain to her why you don’t want to be at any of her life events where Shit Face might be in attendance. I get it. But you don’t get to control that. Unless Shit Face and his son are endangering your daughter, there’s nothing you can do about his presence in your child’s life. You can’t police your ex.
Your ex is a cliche. Her personal trainer? Really? Oh yeah, that’s gonna last. I think you have a very temporary problem here. This guy will be around until the next pretty set of quadriceps turns his head. Then your ex is going to be scrambling around for the next Shit Face to replace that one. Her idiot choice of men could be a perennial problem, so I hope for your daughter’s sake she chooses better next time. And please, whatever you do, when Shit Face is gone, don’t reconcile with her. Perish the thought, but it doesn’t hurt to remind you that she’s scum. Okay?
Anyway, my point is, accept it right now that you’re the sane parent. You’re going to be the stable one, the happier one, the one with the healthy relationship some day that you can model to her. That’s what you get to control. And from where you are right now — recently divorced — that’s a LOT of work, building that life. So put your focus there and on being the best daddy you can be for your little girl.
I know it doesn’t feel like enough. Trust me, I’ve been doing this more than a decade longer than you — it’s ENOUGH. She’ll have both parents and she’ll figure out who has her back and who doesn’t. Who is sane and stable and who isn’t. Who has healthy reciprocal relationships and who doesn’t. Live your life with integrity and model that.
If she asks questions, tell her the truth. When grown ups marry, they promise to be each other’s one and only. Husband and wife or husband and husband, wife and wife. You’re each other’s special person. No boyfriends or girlfriends. Mommy broke her promise to daddy and had a boyfriend Shit Face. Daddy and Shit Face are not friends. It’s okay that Shit Face is in your life. But Daddy isn’t friends with Shit Face. All your friends are not your friends friends, right?
Daddy’s fine. Daddy wants you to be happy, and you’re a lucky girl who has a mommy and a daddy who love her.
Keep on keeping on, Colin. It’s gets better. I promise. Pretty soon you’re going to be asking me how to introduce your new fabulous girlfriend to your daughter. I’d be happy to tackle that one for you later.