I got a letter this morning from an old college friend who found this site. Sadly, she had her own chump story to share. Her ex is a screwed up narcissist of the most dysfunctional sort, and she’s fortunate that the courts recognize it, and the guy has limited, supervised visitation. Which he doesn’t exercise very often, and when he does it’s just to tell the kids how fabulous his (bankrupt, diseased) life is without them.
But she had a question that I thought I’d throw out to the Chump Collective, because I’m sure you guys struggle with this too. What do you tell the kids? How do you keep them from making the same mistakes you the chump parent made? Do you tell your child, “Oh Mom/Dad loves you” when their behavior is, in fact, very UNloving?
I’m beginning to think there is real damage in doing this. I think about a letter I answered early on in this blog, wondering if the cheater’s claim was true, that the whole time they were cheating on you, no REALLY, they loved you.
I call bullshit. I compare it to throwing you down a flight of stairs while telling you, “Hey! I love you!” and watching you tumble. It’s so obvious when put that way — throwing someone down a flight of stairs is not a loving act (nor is cheating on them). So it’s patently stupid to say “I love you” when doing something so harmful, and conversely, believing someone loves you when they’re capable of such abuse.
So, is that the message we want to give children too? Or is it too much for them? Do we believe that the fucked up parent who abandoned them, blew up their family, and put their welfare aside for a side dish fuck really LOVES them? Or do they just love themselves? Do they “love,” but we’ll give them a pass because they love imperfectly? Because it’s really harmful to let a child grow up thinking mom or dad doesn’t really love them?
Let me tell you what I also think is damaging — and might create future chumps — being on the receiving end of abandonment, mindfuckery, or addiction and being told by a grown up — no really, this person LOVES you. Just because they left you for their affair partner/don’t exercise visitation/are sprawled drunk on the sofa — doesn’t mean they don’t love you. Somewhere. Deep down there. It’s just that don’t express it in the right ways. They’re a bit messed up. But it’s there! Watch and wait! Be patient! And love them, because they love you.
And so the chump kid learns to spackle. To equate shitty treatment with love. Oh, that’s just how love is. People treat you like crap, but you know, deep down, they really care. It’s complicated.
Let’s forgive them, and go back for more. Because if they tell us they love us? It’s a big King’s X. Don’t expect words to match deeds. Don’t expect respect or reciprocity. Learn devotion and tolerance.
By divorcing a cheater, we have demonstrated boundary setting. Self respect. Marriage is certainly a different kettle of fish than parenthood. We imagine that our cheater narcissists love their children even if they don’t love us. But do they? And how do you explain that to a child without being the Bad Parent who alienates? How can you protect them? Or do they have to figure out that sad lesson for themselves?
Curious to hear what you think.