Dear Chump Lady,
Married 16 years to what appeared to be a nice women. Three kids in the process. Marriage was not great all the time but we had a lot of good times. She was a stay at home mom and I was the primary breadwinner. One day, ex-wife “wigs” out (even acknowledges that she is having an MLC). Asked for a divorce. I find out through phone records that she was having an affair with her second cousin.
I do not file as I was trying to save the marriage and work on myself. I know..I know..stupid. She breaks up with first married affair partner and then starts an affair with her boss who is also married. I am told by my lawyer to not leave the house. After making every mistake in the book, I finally find my nuts again and realize that she is gone to lala land.
For two years, while the divorce was moving forward, she leaves at 6am and returns at 11pm (she working she says). I assume all of the parental responsibility. The kids at the time are 9, 14 and 15. I finally move out and we get divorced. During the two years she subtly poisoned the kids (in some cases not so subtly), but on the advice of my attorney and the courts, I say nothing about her affairs.
I begin to piece my life back to together. We finally agree on a 50/50 parenting plan. She receives a hefty alimony settlement (10 years) and I get my freedom from crazy. The first year on my own, the relationship with my daughter and younger son could not be better. My oldest for a while hated me (his words not mine) because of what mom said to him. My younger son, pretty much stay neutral. My daughter and I work well, but I can begin to see some of the clear abandonment issues she had.
During the first year, I move into a four bedroom, my ex moves into a two bedroom and shares a bed with my daughter. Her boyfriend was not in the picture because he was still married and my ex loved to play the victim and make it seem like she had it really hard. Fast forward, about a year and half ago, my oldest son, found out what his mother did and was angry — and I mean really angry. Called her a liar, said she was a victim. It was bad.
I suggest to ex that she be honest with the boys as they will forgive her. She refuses and much like a psycho says she did nothing wrong (typical “it is all your fault” crap). Shortly after the confrontation with my son, she sits both boys down and tells them that she left me because (ready for this) — I cheated on her five times. She prefaces this with “there are all different forms of cheating that I will not get into.”
The boys come home and ask me if I cheated on mom five times? Note: her boyfriend also tells the boys that I cheated on their mother. I finally sit my oldest down (he is 18 now) and tell him the truth. He is even more pissed off with his mother. I ask him not to tell his sister or his brother. He ends up telling his brother (17 now). My oldest stops going to his mother house. I think the first few months of this year he stayed with her for about 4 days over a period of six months. My daughter still does not know. BTW, during this time, my girlfriend moves in and the kids all get along with her. In part, because I think mom is in lala land.
Fast forward to this year. My oldest and youngest son start working. I get them cars that are not great but what I can afford. I never go back to court to adjust my support as all I want is peace in my life. My ex and her boyfriend are not officially “out” (although he finally divorced). More recently, the boys have begun to go over to their mothers apartment while she is at work. This gives them the freedom to do whatever they want. Other teenagers come over and they all hang out and smoke pot. That said, I understand that they are teenagers and that some of the behavior is normal. However, my daughter who is now 12 is also pulling towards her mother and wants to be over “hanging out with the teenagers.” I have not agreed to it.
My question is — I suspect that my ex is poisoning my daughter (subtly) and if history is an indication of what will happen in the future, then she will pull back so that she can also feel like a teenager. My ex-wife plays into this. I have tried speaking to my ex, tried email but as you can imagine, she is a vile human being who plays the “I am a wonderful mom card.” I have spoken to my lawyer who said that I may have a case for parental alienation but that it is very hard to prove and that my kids will end up being dragged to court and having to choose between parents. I do not want that. I send a monthly parenting plan to my ex, however; she breaks or uses the kids to get around it. She is the master manipulator. What suggestions do you have?
Dad of 3
Dear Dad of 3,
You’re a cautionary tale of why it’s important to tell your kids the truth about the cheating from day one (in age appropriate ways). I know people advise against it, which I find nuts. Yes, don’t editorialize (i.e., mom’s a slut), but IMO it’s essential to tell them the truth about why their family is breaking up (infidelity is a deal breaker. Mom won’t stop cheating.) Otherwise kids suffer the way your kids are suffering. The wing nut gets to the narrative first, it becomes the dominate narrative, and then they discover later that they’ve been played. Their takeaway may be that all truth is subjective and who knows what the fuck happened really?
When kids think their family broke up for some nebulous reason (like a midlife crisis), it makes marriage seem very perilous and mysterious. Oh no! People just “fall out of love” like it’s some dark cloud of evil that just randomly descends on a family. Versus, reality — that in life there are deal breakers. If someone, through poor character, behaves badly — there are terrible consequences. Families break up, people get hurt.
When you model reality to children, you model how to navigate crisis. You model actions equal consequences. You model truth telling. It’s no longer your job to protect your ex-wife’s image.
So, Dad of 3, it’s good that your sons know now, as painful as that was. And I would suggest, perhaps in some family therapy, that you tell your daughter too. But understand that even if your kids know the truth about mom’s serial cheating, this is still their mother, and they want a relationship with her.
It’s not your job to go along with her “victim” narrative and protect her image. And do not try to manage her relationship with the kids. You wrote: I suggested to the ex that she be honest with the boys as they will forgive her. Hey, if she were that sort of person, you would not be in this pickle. Admit fault? Ask forgiveness? Are you kidding? You’re dealing with a wing nut, and they don’t take responsibility. They blame shift. It’s like breathing to them.
Her inability to do the right thing will appear in her parenting as well. There is no co-parenting with a wing nut. There is only parallel parenting, and when you have teenagers, imposing discipline is pretty impossible. Why? Because teenagers want the path of least resistance. They want to be where the rules aren’t — so they’re going to choose Mom the Fuckup’s house over Dad the Buzzkill’s house. Mom isn’t going to do anything to impose discipline, because then she’ll lose her Cool Mom status, which she desperately clings to, because — duh, she’s a fuck up.
All you get to control here is YOU. Your house. Your rules. You can’t control what they do at mom’s house — right down to the dope smoking. But you can (and you should) raise one hell of a stink about it. Just because she’s abdicated all responsibility, doesn’t mean you have to. You bought them cars? You can taketh away cars. Enforce your boundaries. I’d say something to your boys like, I want to help you out with your job, but it’s not okay that you waste your time getting high. Here are things I will help you with — I’ll get you some therapy so you can work out your anger. I’ll give you a place to live, but you have to respect my rules (like no dope smoking). But I won’t subsidize your parent-free life with a car so long as this behavior continues.
Find out what power you have, and USE it.
Will this make you popular? No. It makes you the sane parent, which is a big shit sandwich sometimes. (Ask me how I know….)
I know this is all very depressing. But here’s the better news — they figure it out eventually. Who the sane parent is, who the wing nut is. Who the cheater is, who the chump was. There is an arc of history ahead of you — and you Dad, are going to keep being a decent, productive man with integrity. Ms. Wing Nut will keep being the train wreck she’s always been. Unsatisfied, chaotic, manipulative. She gets to take all those crappy qualities with her into her new life.
Your kids are teens now. They don’t have the life experience to relate to what you went through. What it is to invest a life in someone and be betrayed. (We pray, of course, that they never have this experience.) They don’t have any perspective on your life or your choices — as they grow up, they will. All you can do is stay the course, and keep modeling to them what a good person with integrity looks like.
I really think if at all possible, you need to get your kids into some sort of therapy, especially the youngest. I’ll tell you what red flag was waving for me in your letter — the fact that she sleeps in your exe’s bed and there is a boyfriend. Maybe your lawyer can’t slam her for parental alienation, but he sure as hell needs an order to prevent sleepovers. Judges care about that. Sexual abuse is rampant. I don’t mean to freak you out, but if that wing nut doesn’t have boundaries around boyfriends (her cousin for fuck’s sake?) — that child needs legal protection. At the very least, you need to document this and complain loudly to a judge. This isn’t interfering with her relationship with her mother. Be very clear how you frame this. Courts wants kids to be with both parents. This is about what’s in your daughter’s best interest. And, IMO, this sleeping arrangement sounds inappropriate and risky.
Keep being there for your kids. Keep being the sane parent. I’m sorry this is so awful right now, but you’re at the intersection of two very difficult things — divorce from a cheater AND raising three teenagers. It’s tough stuff. Keep letting your kids know that you have their backs.
Most of all, Dad of 3, succeed at your new life. It sounds like you’re doing that. Surround yourself with a good people and a partner who loves and respects you. Your happiness and well-being are setting an example for them too. They internalize more than just fuckupedness. And you deserve some peace and happiness after chumpdom too. A lot of raising teenagers is balancing letting go with oh no the hell you don’t! They survive. We survive. Better days ahead.