Stay in Touch

Check out CL's Book

Dear Chump Lady, Parental alienation and teenagers?

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.

Ask Chump Lady

Got a question for the Chump Lady? Or a submission for the Universal Bullshit Translator? Write to me at [email protected]. Read more about submission guidelines.
  • Had an affair with her 2nd cousin and then moved on to an affair with her boss? That should make her family re-unions and work life much more interesting.

    Cue the Jerry Spring theme song.

    She’s making some unusual decissions, and I can only reiterate what has already been expressed: be age-appropriate transparent about the facts (and to quote Joe Friday, “Just the facts”), and stop trying to manage her relationship with her kids, but do model good boundaries and respectful behavior because it doesn’t sound like they are going to get that from their other parent 🙁

  • During the process of hammering out our custody agreement for our disabled adult autistic daughter (we are both guardians), my ex got it in his mind that she was capable of “choosing” where she wanted to be every night, and that we didn’t need to spell everything out in some agreement. I sued and got a GAL who deep-sixed that concept, thank God.

    But before the GAL brought clarity to us, he bribed her shamelessly. I remember one day, after she had been brought home from yet another great vacation with Dad at a late hour before a school day, I was trying to get her tired and cranky butt on the school bus.

    In exasperation, she turned to me and said: “Dad is the Fun Dad. You are the Chore Mom.” I laughed out loud and said “Damn straight ~ now get on the bus!” Because I have a perverse sense of humor, I wore that title proudly! Often on my FB posts I’d begin with, “This week, on a Very Special Episode of ‘Chore Mom’, Darling Daughter learns to clean her own bathroom!” I did make a point to tell the GAL about it (since, no doubt, my daughter would blab it to her). She agreed with me it was better for my daughter to be with the Chore Mom than the Fun Dad.

    Now that we’re all squared away with a firm agreement and schedule, he dropped the seduction cold. Now I get calls from her when she’s with her dad saying how bored she is.

    I’m only saying that its hard to sustain acting fun while being crazy. It eventually backfires on them. Just stay strong and document it. As for a GAL for yourself. Its money well spent in these cases.

    • My ex tries to be the fun dad but he gets bored with it and now the kids hang out and watch tv at his and not much more. But at the beginning it was a ton of expensive gifts for no reason at all other than he was riddled with guilt and wanted to buy them off. They saw right through it and called him on it.

      Now he promises them things but never comes through so me and the kids have agreed that if they want an activity or something expensive we sit down, discuss it, make a decision and then come up with a plan to save the money for it.

      Working out well with this new plan and idiot Ex merrily spends his money on himself and OW…yet is still broke most of the time and OW bails him out. She’s responsible, I’ll give her that.

    • Just spelling out GAL — guardian ad litem — good advice, thanks Jennifer!

  • Tell the kids the truth. Not details but the basic truth. I somehow had the instinct to do this right off the bat (at least about one affair – then the others came to light and the kids figured it out) and while it really pissed off ex I’m glad I did it because it’s very clear as to why we divorced and it wasn’t for any other reason than him fucking around and teh kids know this is wrong, no matter how he tries to spin it (which is that he just didn’t love me anymore and whoops, just happened to meet someone else at just that moment. No mention of the years of other affairs).

    Take control and get through it. The kids will trust you if you’re honest.

    • Here’s a question, Do you do the age appropriate talk while stbx is there or do you do it with only the kids? Telling my kids D 10 and S 6 seems a bit hard. I just don’t know how to go about it. Right now the kids know we are getting divorced but they don’t know the reason. I am just at a loss when it comes to telling them that she cheated on me multiple times.

      • Only with the kids ~ he’ll have his chance to tell his side of the story (and I will bet my own kidney that he won’t invite you to that chat).

        CL’s script is more or less what I used. My daughter couldn’t comprehend what an affair was, so I told her we were getting a divorce because I was unhappy with Dad having a girlfriend ~ which is not what married people are supposed to do. That was direct and honest.

        My son was sad (and not too happy with me) when I had to explain that Dad’s “friend of the family” (to whom he had already been introduced) was really Dad’s “mistress.” My ex brought her to all my son’s high school shows and concerts. It was horrible for all of us ~ except them.

      • D10 and Son 6? “Your mother has another boyfriend that is not your dad, and married people aren’t supposed to have other boyfriend and girlfriends”, sounds about right to me. It’s true, right?

        • From what I know she is no longer talking to this OM. 1) I called an confronted him. 2) I blocked his number before dday. I know that it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. I haven’t bothered snooping any further because it would put this huge knot in my stomach and I no longer care.

          I do care however that my children know the truth. I however worry she’ll renege on all that we agreed on once the kids come back to her and say “Mom, you weren’t faithful with dad that and that is the reason your no longer living together.”

          • If the agreement is a legal document, then if she reneges on it, you have options. I can’t remember if you’ve settled on an agreement yet, or if your divorce is finalized.

            I think it’s important for children to know the truth. My STBX’s parents never were straight with their two sons, and I do not find it coincidental that both sons have a track record of failed marriages. My STBX once reported that one of his colleagues at work has a husband who had an affair. She had a revenge affair, and well, they’re over it because everyone has an affair. No big deal, right?

            Well, yes, it is.

            RCCola, I think you can tell your children the truth, but refrain from editorializing. If the children ask why you and their mom can’t get back together now that OM is out of the picture, you can say that married people aren’t allowed boyfriends or girlfriends. It’s one of those promises you’re not allowed to break. Ever.

            Also, I think that family counseling is probably a good idea. I wouldn’t expect the wing nut to come, but if you go with your kids, it’ll help.

            • I agree that the straight truth is best because the alternative means more of this shit in the next generation. Ex’s father was a cheater and eventually his first wife divorced him over this and he ended up with Ex’s mother. For all these years it’s been ‘my first wife wasn’t nice to me and that’s why I cheated’ and never ‘I cheated so my first wife was furious and not nice to me as a result’. And his parents played their affair as the greatest love story ever told. Both Ex and his sibling have a history of having affairs. Him cheating on the person he’s with and his sibling cheating with attached people. As I told Ex early on, when he was pissed the kids knew the truth, there is no way in hell this is going to carry on another generation if I can help it.

              • Nord, Kb,

                Thank you. Yes it is a legal document. However not signed yet and not notarized. Will be this week. I will tell my children the truth, and you all have given me a board to spring from and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I do not want to have this issue cloud the progress I have made in the past month. I will pray about it. Pray for me! 😉

      • I did the ‘dad has been dating while married and that’s just not what people do when married so we’re divorcing’. Essentially, that’s it. Mine are teens so we’ve had some long talks about cheating but in the end they don’t know many details but they do know that he ‘dated’ more than just current OW and that is the reason why we divorced, not some mythical ‘things came to a natural end’ type of story that he was trying to sell.

  • “Mommy has a boyfriend and she’d rather be with him.” Cool as a cucumber.

    Don’t go for explaining things in a mutual setting with a master manipulator. CL is right — sitting them down and giving them a sugar coated false version in order not to tarnish the cheater’s image is doing a mindfuck on your own kids.

    • Even better ^^^. And I agree, don’t gaslight your own kids for your unfaithful stbx.

        • If she’s moved out, there’s a reason, right? You might be getting a quickie divorce or you might not. Don’t wait.

        • Do it now. It will save your kids a lot of confusion and self-blame. They will have a concrete reason as to why their family is splitting up and they won’t be dealing with unicorn stories. It will be hard and it will hurt (even you) but it’s the best way to go about it. As my therapist said to me once: you and the kids lived a lie for a long time. Isn’t it time to start living with the truth?

  • I will add this, though.

    There is a fine line with being honest about what is happening ~ that is, giving the kids a truthful explanation for what they are seeing and living, and overburdening them.

    It is never right, IMHO, to make any child ~ even (especially!) ~ an adult one, a confidante. That’s what your peers are for. There is a gravitas to being Mom and Dad that all children have with all parents. When the message a child gets (again especially a teen or an adult child) is that one of their parents is *not* going to be okay, then you mess with the child ~ who then feels the need to protect the parent.

    So I was crystal clear with my kids why I was divorcing their father; and, they understood why I would never be friendly with his New Wife. But, I also made it clear that I could fight my own battle, and that we would all survive this. And we have. I was also clear that it was important to me that they continue to have a healthy relationship with their Dad, and that if that meant getting to know his New Wife, then I understood that it was the right thing for them to do. They will form their opinions of them anyway; and, my example of shutting my ex and his New Wife out of my current life speaks volumes.

    Your kids will need to navigate the tricky shoals between the two households. Its hard enough for them without unnecessary loyalty binds. A dear friend of mine was a young adult when her parents went through a high conflict divorce where they violated every rule about keeping the kids out of it. When the dad remarried (and the woman was not an affair partner, but someone he found after the divorce), my friend told me that out of respect to her father she was not rude to the new wife. But, and these are her words, “I felt that if I sat at her table and looked her in the eye, I was betraying my mother.” The mother never asked her to hate the new wife, but my friend had such a front-row seat to her mother’s pain that she instinctively felt she would be disloyal to her mom by being civil to the new wife.

    I asked my friend if she ever resolved that: and she said “no.” Her father died before she had kids of her own. Once she became a mother she felt ashamed of how she took sides. In my opinion, her mother had the power to release her children from that sort of torture. And she failed to do so.

    • “her mother had the power to release her children from that sort of torture. And she failed to do so.” Damn, I do not want my kids to ever feel this way.

      I feel that if I do tell my children their mother will turn it around on me somehow. It is just tricky. She has manipulated me for a long time and I don’t doubt she would do the same to them.

      • Turning it around and trying to get you to “share the blame” never ends. It NEVER ENDS. My kids are 18 and 20 and they still get gaslit. “You don’t know what living with her was like” “You don’t know the real reason for the divorce” (which real reason is never explained because it would cease to be this enigmatic catch-all excuse) It’s all bullshit and they don’t buy it. There’s a 3 1/2 year old kid (add nine months to that) that is proof of his LYING.

        Speak your truth and just stand by it. Always be there for your kids in a non-judgmental way, so they are confidant they can always come to you for the straight scoop. Keep your hurt feelings out of it — that’s what inappropriate.

        • Yep, Ex tries to tell the kids that it was ‘hell living with your mother’, despite us laughing and planning trips and various other things right up until the moment I discovered the whole rotten mess. And he wonders why the kids don’t trust a thing he says. Just be honest and don’t judge. I HATE that my younger kid gets along with final OW but I smile serenely 98% of the time when i hear about things over there. The other 2% is when I just can’t hide my disgusted feelings but I think my ratio is pretty ok.

        • That said, don’t beat yourself up if you do show your pain, as I did today with my 15 year old. He asked me to pick him up from his dads house and take him to a friends. His dad lives in the family home. It is difficult for me to go there; I do so as little as possible. After waiting for quite awhile in front of what used to be OUR big, beautiful home, he finally emerged from the house. After he got in the car, I quietly asked him to be more considerate and be ready to go right away, as it was painful for me to just sit out in front…that it brought back painful memories. I started to cry. I did not plan to. It was just one of those days. I think my son really saw my pain today. I don’t think he will keep me waiting next time. For what it’s worth.

          • YOu did nothing wrong, KDL – you’re simply human. And it’s perfectly ok for your kid to see that you are human, you hurt, you bleed, you are not made of stone.

    • I understand what you’re saying but I imagine it was very hard for the mother to hide her pain. My kids’ therapist said it’s better that the kids see the pain than to see that everything is ‘ok’ in a fake way. There is nothing wrong, according to the child psychologist, with the kids understanding that betrayal is incredibly painful and people do get hurt.

      My kids understand why I have no love for final OW, and they know I will never be friends with her. Hell, it’s been nearly two years and I haven’t even met her! but if Ex finds a new woman I would be fine with her. She would not be the one who helped cause enormous pain to my kids or myself, so I would have no problem. I hope my kids have an ok relationship with current OW but I hate that they have to be ‘nice’ to her, this young girl who blissfully fucked up their lives and that it’s not an honest reaction but one that they act out for two reasons: 1) ex gets furious with them if they’re not nice to her (so older kid doesn’t see her at all and thus not their dad), and 2) younger one is sick of all the drama so goes along with it. It sucks all around for my kids, so I don’t burden them with anything but I also don’t pretend that this young lady, no matter how nice she is to them, is a nice person deep down. She’s not.

      • Our pain is *ours*. It is real and it needs to be addressed in an open and honest way.

        But we have no moral right to give our pain to others ~ and there are ways to be honest about being in pain that do not create a loyalty conflict in our children. When we recover from surgery, we can say “damn, that hurts!” and go right on with our therapy to get well. Emotional pain is no different.

        That it is a whole other category ~ a whole other hemisphere ~ than making our children feel responsible for helping us cope with our pain. If, as was with my friend, her mother left her with the meta-message that the mother could not cope with what was happening, and that she needed her children to do that, that constitutes as great a harm to the kids as anything else.

        I own my pain. I work very hard not to let it contaminate anyone else but me: having my ex’s behavior spill over to our kids was enough for them, I think.

        Besides, *I* need to believe that I can cope with my pain, thankyouverymuch. What a pussy I’d be if I needed to hide behind my children….

        • I see what you’re saying now. I didn’t burden my kids with my pain but I couldn’t hide it either. That would have been impossible as I was barely functioning and my shrink put me on meds as a result. I was just honest and told them I was pretty traumatised and that we’d be ok, their dad loves them (hahaha) and that while it was going to be difficult for awhile we’d be ok. And that they could tell me if I was putting too much out there for them and they could always be hoenst and talk to me. The result is taht they’re honest to a fault, tell me when they think I’m off about something and they trust me to the ends of the earth.

        • I should add that I have offered to meet final OW several times but have been rebuffed, as in Ex saying (very dramatically) ‘You will NEVER MEET HER!!!’. It’s ok for them to introduce my kids to her cheating father (yep) and her mother but not ok for her to meet me, their mother. It’s all kinds of fucked up and I feel sorry for my kids having to deal with this.

          • Nord,
            He’s probably afraid if you talk to her, you will uncover lies she has swallowed. He can’t afford that.

            • Yeah, that’s what I pretty much figure. She’ll see I’m this nice, sane woman who is old enough to be her mother and that he’s a dirtball. Hopefully she’ll figure it out before she has any kids with him. I’d hate to see another set of kids fucked up by this idiot.

        • I think there is a difference between being in pain, which after infidelity is so hard to conceal (speaking for myself, I was a sobbing mess) — and being emotionally incestuous with your children about your pain. Which IMO is about making YOUR pain THEIR responsibility. Protect me! Let me lean on you!

          I think it’s fair to say — Mommy is upset right now and feeling very hurt. But is going to be okay. And then you model resilience and navigating yourself away from people and situations that are harmful to you.

          That sense of agency is healing to kids, IMO. Okay, I got knocked down. I’m gonna get back up. Watch me. I’m still your parent. I’m still on my game. We’re going to be okay.

          A lot of cheaters, like the mother in this story, are guilty of alienating the kids. My husband’s ex did the dad is a bad, bad man and if you don’t get what you want, I will come rescue you! She also cried to the youngest and played “hurt.” And expected him to wage her battles for him. It’s some fucked up shit.

          It’s natural that children want to love both parents, and for boys to protect their moms. It’s sick when a wing nut manipulates this to their ego kibble advantage.

          • Thisthisthis!

            If I can ask, CL, what did your husband do in the face of the ex’s behavior? In true alienation cases (with little ones) its recommended that contact with the alienating parent be pulled WAY back. When the children are teens and young adults, its much harder.

            And maybe more to the point, what (if anything) did you ~ as Dad’s New Wife ~ do (or not do) so as not to magnify the loyalty binds your stepkids were unfortunately thrown into. In a magnificent book called “Stepmonster” Wednesday Martin states that when children of any age are being placed in a loyalty bind by a parent ~ especially a mother ~ only that parent can set them free. She cautions step parents that by being too likeable, too friendly, too loveable, the loyalty bind for the child is even worse. Like emotional quicksand: the more you struggle the faster you sink.

            Do you mind me asking?

            • Long story, but he wound up letting go, because you can’t police a young adult. What are you going to do, chain them to their bedpost if they want to be at mom’s? Mom has no supervision. Mom lets you smoke dope (or turns a blind eye). Mom doesn’t get on you about your grades. Mom buys you shiny things. It was very painful, but he let his son move out of state with mom and her latest affair partner (now husband). It’s been a year, and I think it’s been eye-opening for the kid. He gets it in a way he never got it before. Front row seat to the crazy. Mom promised him a pool and fabulous school — reality? he’s living in a HUD foreclosure in Oakland.

              Anyway, the relationship is much improved for the letting go. It’s counter intuitive, but it works. I would not advocate this approach for small kids. I’d fight like hell. I had custody issues with my son’s dad (he’s mentally ill and ruled unfit for decision making by the courts). I waged holy hell in court to not have my son live there.

              As for being a step mom — I’m sure the kids very much did feel the loyalty bind. (Although it also baffles me why they didn’t feel it for their father. The OM was accepted, but then he doesn’t make much of an effort I suppose.) It’s got to be agonizing for them in the beginning, to have your family break up and having to incorporate new people into your life, that you didn’t ask to be there.

              It gets better over time. I just kind of hang back and let my husband take the lead. I’m friendly, but I don’t chase. I think it would be different if the kids lived with us, but they’re young men now, one off to college and one done with college. What is encouraging, is that as they grow into their own selves — the whole family model is less and less. They aren’t defined by their relationship with their mom so much. They’re just their own people. The more their own world opens up to them, I think the less they feel that bind. Also, my husband is thriving in his new life, and mom… well… I’m sure they can’t help but notice it’s been a big step down in every way.

              I think as a step parent it’s important to recognize that the kids love that other parent (In my case, a serial cheating wing nut). It’s their mother. They love her. Personally? I think she’s a sociopath and if she ever crossed my path, I’d want to slap her for her decades of serial cheating and mindfuckery. (Might as well slap a post for all the good it would do.) Everyone has to use boundaries — I don’t speak of her, or try to editorialize about how much she sucks. And they have to learn to not try to convince their dad, or me that’s she a Good Person. (The children of narcs totally learn to protect the image).

              Once you get past that little stand off (we’ll have to agree to disagree on the lovability of your mother) — then you can have a relationship with just them.

              I think that’s part of it. As long as they’re in her orbit, they’re in the narc dynamic — feeling like an extension of her. And that image needs defending. Let all that shit go. Let them draw their own conclusions. Not my job. Not my husband’s job.

              • I should say, I’ve not been perfectly “meh” about any of this. It’s taken me three years and I’m still a work in progress. But they’re good kids in a fucked up situation. I try to have compassion, even if I don’t always have total understanding for their POV.

                You worry when they’re older, how much entitlement got modeled to them, and fear that they’re okay with the abusive dynamic. (It’s Good to Be King! it’s bad to be a chump!) But you know, life teaches us all.

          • Funnily enough my younger one came to me when I was still pretty destoryed and said he had a dream where I picked myself up, brushed myself off, got a great job, met a great guy and had a better life than ever. I swear that’s the day I started to believe it could really happen and I held on to that through some very dark times.

    • “It is never right, IMHO, to make any child ~ even (especially!) ~ an adult one, a confidante. That’s what your peers are for. There is a gravitas to being Mom and Dad that all children have with all parents. When the message a child gets (again especially a teen or an adult child) is that one of their parents is *not* going to be okay, then you mess with the child ~ who then feels the need to protect the parent.”


      Yes you are 100% right Jennifer.
      Sometimes such honesty is traumatic for the child.

      Personally I intend to wait until my son is a fully grown adult (Im thinking 26).
      My mother told me a’ lot’ of unnecessary detail from the age of 7-19 about my father and she came across as having no boundaries or sensitivity to my need to maintain an (internalised representation) image of a worthy father figure.
      It may have been a fantasy but developmentally it was necessary to idealise him.

  • Two of my daughters are going off to college in less that a month, they need a multitude of stuff for their college experiences, dorm stuff, some new clothes, and where does Uncle Daddy spend money on them? The comic book store…new comics are going to be a great help come this winter and they both are going farther north, where the snow flies early and often! No clothes, no boots or shoes, no money for books…comic books, every single time they go out with him, which isn’t that often, it’s the Avengers, Thor, and various other “heroes”. He has yet to offer any graduation gift, he was supposed to have a grad party for them with his family this last Sunday. That party got cancelled. My girls know what is up, without any word from me. Teenagers are astute and nosy, selfish and giving, smart and ignorant all at the same time. My advice is don’t lie, yet details are not warranted. The idiots we put up with and finally got smart about speak volumes for themselves.

    • Cindy, it sounds like your didn’t “share” a party with your ex for your Daughters. My Ex is demanding that “we find a mutually picked neutral site” for my youngest sons grad party next spring. I already planned to have his party with my SIL and GF’s help at MY house. She’s making it sound like I am robbing my child and being selfish by refusing to have a party “with her”…. BTW, the oldest had his Grad party while we were divorcing…..of course my SIL and my extended family did most of the work, and I paid for the entire thing–I just think she want me to do all the work and pay for it too…..again.

      What do other Chumps think? I will not allow her and OM (now husband) to step foot on my property, and I don’t think I have any obligation to create, and attend a very awkward “shared” party…. Am I wrong?

      • No. I don’t think you’re wrong. If she wants to throw her own party, with her friends and family, let her. Your son gets two parties, bonus!

        I’d also take your son’s temperature on your plans. It’s sad for him I’m sure, but he’s a young adult, and I’d say — I love you, but my boundary is I’m not doing a shared party with these people. I hope someday you’ll understand. I will throw you a party with my family. Frankly, I think he might be relieved that his celebration isn’t overshadowed by the awkwardness.

        Weddings, tho? That’s a whole other story. I think you just have to hold your nose on those and be “meh.” Also, they’re not in your home usually.

        • JamesR, I planned and executed my own party late June. It was for my family, my friends and the girls’ friends. Early in the planning process I waffled about asking Uncle Daddy if he wanted to assist/pay for a portion and invite some of his family. Then I came to my senses. Then I told the girls that they should invite their father, and his parents and his sister. Uncle Daddy wanted to know how many of his extended family would the girls be inviting. Uh, that would be a zero, dude.
          He made the comment that he would have his own party to avoid any animosity. OK…has yet to happen, it has been cancelled, and he is still a tool who makes promises he cannot seem to keep. Don’t let her try to force you to do something you don’t want to do, she can have her own party, and like CL says the kids get two parties. How sweet is that!

      • Hi James!

        There is no way in hell that the OW will EVER set foot in my house. I even had a will written after our divorce so that my sister gets my house in trust for my kids, and my ex and his OW will NEVER be in my house. So a party with her was out of the question!

        I had considered inviting my entitled ex to my son’s hs grad party at my house (100 of my family, friends, and my son’s friends), but last fall I had invited him to a much smaller family party to celebrate our youngest son’s first communion. At that party, my ex proceeded to go into closed storage rooms to find “his” stuff that he left at my house at our divorce 2 years earlier. None of the stuff he left is “his” anymore — and heck, I have been cleaning and reorganizing MY house for the last 2 years, so he had no right to go through my personal storage closets. When confronted, he left the communion party in anger, not even saying goodbye to our son.

        I did not want the same drama at a much larger graduation party, and my older, graduating son agreed.

        But, to have a way to include a celebration for my son with his dad, I hosted a dinner immediately following the graduation ceremony at a restaurant (not my house!) and included my immediate family, ex, his immediate family (NOT the OW) and my son’s girlfriend and her parents. About 20 people. My son was glad at the chance to celebrate with his dad (knowing dad would not likely have a party) and I was happy to have that celebration without drama at my home. Yes, it was an added expense for me, but worth it to honor my son’s desire to have a celebration with his dad.

        Maybe you can come up with a way to have a smaller celebration with your ex and kids, and still have a special party at your home for your extended family and friends.

        Congrats to your son too! I hope he enjoys his senior year!

  • I wanna say that I agree with CL that the daughter sharing a bed with her mother when the OM is in the picture is more than a little fucked up, and definitely NOT healthy. This is a situation that should absolutely not be happening. I do raise my eyebrow a little given that her first AP was her COUSIN.

    Even if there is no sexual abuse going on, it’s obvious that her mother doesn’t see a problem with this given her cavalier attitude about incestuous relationships. Reading that part honestly made my skin crawl.

    Her mother and the boyfriend may not have done anything to her, but the sleeping arrangement is absolutely not appropriate and I would definitely look into that.

  • To Dad of 3:

    Lots of good advice here. I would definitely recommend counseling for you and family counseling for you and your daughter, and perhaps you and whatever son lives with you.

    As others have said, you can’t co-parent with crazy. It sucks that their mother will let them smoke dope and hang out. But, and I say this as someone with a lot of experience with the 18-22 age bracket, hanging out and smoking dope is NOT the normal behavior of a teen, and this shot up big red flags for me. No way should your daughter hang out there, either. The fact that she sleeps with mom is also extremely problematic. I would definitely want to have her in counseling!

    You can’t establish the ground rules while they’re at their mother’s house. You can establish ground rules for your house. At the heart of it is That There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Got a car? Great. Pay for gas and insurance. Can’t pay for insurance? Keep your grades up. It doesn’t really matter what the agreement is. What matters is that there are reasonable expectations and reasonable consequences for non-compliance. This is really important with teenagers, since they’re all about pushing boundaries.

    However, having and enforcing boundaries will earn you their respect. I guarantee that they do not respect their mother. Sure, she may be”cool,” but they’re already aware that they can manipulate her. If you’re the parent who can’t be manipulated, they’ll learn that there are important consequences to decisions.

    Best of luck to you.

  • I don’t have children so take this with a grain of salt… If I were the parent of the kids hanging with yours at mom’s house? I would like to know that they are not supervised in any way.

    Is this not a common expectation?

    Definitely in my youth the boundaries were laid out about the privilege of driving a car and all the expectations that went with it regarding my grades, behavior etc. I think it builds character and gives them the control ultimately to decide are they willig to work for that privilege?

  • I made the ex tell the kids why we were getting a divorce. It was devastating. It was the only way. He tried to puss out and tell them, “Your mom and I are splitting up,” but there was NO WAY IN HELL I was going to let that fly. The first kid was away at college, and because he wasn’t here to witness any of the pain, we agreed to wait until his college year was over and he came home to tell him. The younger two we told on consecutive days. xH tried to make it sound like it was arbitrary and just one of those things, but for once in my life I put my foot down and insisted that he tell them the truth–that it was because HE had a girlfriend. The boys were teens and knew that that was a line you don’t cross, and they understood why, then, that the marriage was over. He tried to weasel out of the truth, but I wouldn’t let him. By the time he brought the oldest child home from college, he knew he would have to tell him the truth, as well, and to my relief, that child confirmed that his father told the truth. I am sorry for my kids–so, so sorry! But the truth is really important, so they can make sense of life, so they can form their own boundaries! My kids were so worried about what it would mean to live in a home broken by divorce–they’d seen the effects in school mates, and a lot of the effects of those kids’ pain was obviously devastating. They worried, then, naturally–what will happen to me? Their social status changed in a heartbeat, too.

    We talked about why their father would do what he did (I told them he was severely depressed). I tried to be very fair and compassionate, but they understood clearly that cheating and abandonment are grounds for divorce. There was no ambiguity.

    They did insist that I not lay around in bed, and I didn’t.

    I made a promise that I wouldn’t bad-mouth their father, and I don’t. There have been moments where I started to, and my kids cut me off immediately. And they are right. I have watched mothers alienate their own children by being extremely harsh and punishing if the kids visit their fathers. I know the pain that it causes when the kids make plans with their father and when they leave, but my philosophy is that I will be the sweet and happy mom they WANT to come home to for respite.

    Being with their father is stressful. They love him, but nothing will ever be the same. We have our good memories before BD, and we are keeping those. We can talk freely about those days, still with a twinge of bittersweetness, I’m sure. But he no longer is their mentor, their role model, their hero. He has disappointed all of us. I have to remind myself to “trust that they suck” and that the kids know it. And they do. They take what their father is capable of giving, in doses they are capable of receiving. When xH calls to speak to them and I can hear them chatting, it causes me sharp pain. But I realize their life is not for me, it is for them, and it is truly a good thing that they not feel completely abandoned by their wayward Uncle Dad. So, I leave the room and bitch to a close friend who hates it when HER kids hang with their NPD dad. SHE gets it, so acutely. I lean on HER, not on my kids. I hate that he can just waltz in when he feels like it and make appointments with them with no consideration of me, leaving all the responsibility with me, and after causing them so much pain. I hate that he gets to have this carefree lifestyle with an intruder–the life I thought we were going to have after our youngest finished high school, and see the kids when it is convenient for HIM. But I say nothing other than to tell my kids, “Have a good time,” or, “That’s fun!” They know what’s what. Then I go and scream to my friend, and she screams to me.

    This letter really upset me a lot. I really feel like kids need to know right off the bat what his happening to their lives–what the rules are, and that their non-cheating parent is strong. I think kids need to be protected from very bad behavior like having to sleep in a slut’s bed. I think kids need security and stability, not uncertainty and innuendo that can be manipulated. I think CL is right–you need counseling for you and your kids. It doesn’t have to become chronic and expensive. But you need to come clean to your kids and additionally tell them why you weren’t honest up front–you were trying to protect them from the pain of their mother’s behavior, and that you are sorry for the confusion it caused. You need to set boundaries–there seem to be no boundaries for the kids anywhere. Be strong. You’ve been hurt. Time to get some clarity and strength.

    • I too hate that ex waltzes in and sees them for fun stuff and I get the heavy lifting and most of the real child-rearing…but then I realise it was always that way. My older one points out to me that his dad was never around much anyway so it’s not all that different, except that he’s just more open about his selfishness.

      I try not to say things but I’m not perfect and I sometimes slip when ex does something particularly enraging. I’m much better now about it and have learned to hold my tongue but I do admit that I had my moments at the beginning of this. The kids and I have talked about this and they’re able to tell me when they think I’m not being respectful.

      This whole thing sucks sometimes but I figure we all get stronger and better if we’re honest about it all.

  • is it better to keep quite about the fact that your kids father didn’t give a crap about them, that everything he did, does and says is just for show. that he basically walked away for the hard parts of life and children to have fun their whole lives. leaving the messy tough job of raising them to me. me, the chump, shielding them from his selfishness. do you tell them that he really didn’t like them ( told me this about our youngest)? or do you grit your teeth, suck it up and hope they figure it out themselves?

    • You know, I think they figure out who their ally in life is. Hearing from their mother that their dad didn’t give a crap about them just begs the question — what were you doing marrying a guy like that and having babies with him? It’s going to be hard enough on them yearning for a father figure that doesn’t basically exist — it’s an unbelievable heartache. Don’t rub it in by validating it — just let them know you understand their pain and always be there for them.

      • thx. I think of all the things that he said and did that was the worst. my therapist said that they know, they just don’t say it because its so awful. i’ll try to file it under “family secrets we never talk about” and forget he said it.

        • We’ve ALL been there. I cringe when I hear people say, “Oh, your dad loves you.”

          Love doesn’t walk away. Love doesn’t abuse the kids’ other parent. Love doesn’t sell their kids’ soul for their own selfish thrills.

          But I would NEVER EVER say this out loud to my kids. That is cruel. All they hear is that they are unlovable, and that is devastating and unfair. Saying it is selfish–it is a futile attempt to find relief from your own pain, to win allies by making your children the enemy of their walk-away parent.

          Your kids are smart enough to figure out that love comes from doing, not from saying. Be sweet. Be a source of nourishment and kindness and strength, not a source of bitterness and pain. Don’t sound off on your kids. You will only hurt them and yourself–NOT the other parent. You want what is BEST for your kids, and telling them that their father doesn’t love them is destructive. You don’t have to lie, and you can acknowledge good behavior (when he reinforces rules, however infrequently, when he does something thoughtful or goes out of his way) but you don’t have to ask kids to invalidate their own observations by insisting that their walk-away parent’s actions show love. That is destructive, as well.

          Acknowledge their pain, get them professional help if indicated, but model happiness and strength for them, even if you have to fake it. Be strong and effective, not weak and opportunistic and bitter.

          • As hard as it can be to be a single parent, I also thank GOD that he didn’t take my kids away from me and that I get to be here with them. When it’s hard and I’m overwhelmed, it’s ok to say, “I’m tired and I’m overwhelmed and sort of stuck right now. I need help.” But stop blaming the ex. Count your blessings. I remember the night we all decided we HAD to have the new McFreeze or whatever they were so we got up, got in the car, went through the drive-through, and tasted our first McFreeze together. Something so mundane, and I was THRILLED to be part of it.

            Your kids will remember that you were there for them. Make sure they remember that you loved them and were grateful for all the time you got to spend with them.

            • My son was 13 when the ex walked out. He left me a letter, but said doodly-squat to the kids It was a very confusing time until I discovered the girlfriend. My son had serious abandonment issues and would constantly text me or call about where I was and when I was going to be home. It went on for months before he finally felt secure again.

              Yeah, there was all sorts of talk about how much Dad loves you. Made me cringe too.

  • I am sure my take is not going to be popular but here goes.
    I DO lean on my kids and they do know EVERYTHING.
    They knew the OW for years and their father’s response to their begging and demanding the truth of what happened to their family is always the same “It is none of your business and I wont discuss it”.
    He has never once admitted to their relationship. I cannot legally call it an affair because I was never in the bedroom with them.
    I completely fell apart because I was so blindsided. Everyone was shocked, his parents cried and people still cannot believe it. I was suicidal and my sons stood by my side. They had to know when I was hospitalized, there was no choice. They were 18 and 23 when I discovered the betrayal; they are now 22 and 27.
    My therapist, my psychiatrists, the boy’s therapist and my lawyers all agreed that they had to know the full truth of everything their father had done. Their lives, our economic situation and their father was just gone. My eldest son asked for and had his own appointment with my lawyer to explain what an asshole his father was.
    My sons are remarkable young men. They have never wavered in their support of me and now even give me dating tips.
    I was their rock every day up until that point and they felt loved and protected by me. Now they got to give that back and it has made them stronger men. They understand what betrayal is and they also understand what commitment is. They saw what it means for someone to cherish their vows and what a woman who has integrity looks like. Even with the pain and devastation that they saw me live through, they admire, love and support me.

    I am back on my feet again and we are a solid, honest and loving family of three. We support each other totally.

    • Your young men were already adults when you discovered the betrayal. Old enough to make up their own minds, in other words — I hardly think you biased them or “alienated” them.

      You can’t legally call it an affair? Do you have a gag order in your decree like I do?

  • I am 100% behind telling children the truth in an age-appropriate way. I waited to tell my son until after he was through a very demanding time in his life. This meant I knew and he didn’t know for four months. He was very upset I didn’t tell him immediately. He made the good point that what his Dad did to me, withholding the truth, was like what I did to him. He felt betrayed all around. I explained my reasons for waiting, that I felt he needed the time to process the situation and since he was working fourteen hour days on a cause he deeply believed in, I did not want to destroy his time doing that. He came to understand I had his best interests in my heart. Tell. tell. tell. tell. tell. You are only perpetuating dysfunction by keeping quiet.

  • My 12 year old daughter was also upset that I hadn’t told her and her 13 year old brother about the cheating. They had at first assumed I’d chosen to kick their dad out just because he was too difficult to be with – I had come pretty close to that a couple of times in the past. They were very worried about their dad, so I just told them that the separation had been his choice, they didn’t need to worry.

    My daughter figured out the cheating about a month ago, a year after DDay and separation, just a few weeks after meeting the OW (introduced just as papa’s girlfriend), and a few months after figuring out her dad had a girlfriend. He had lied when she had previously asked if he had a girlfriend, which made her furious, and just changed the subject when she asked him if he had cheated on me. She then came to me in each situation, to get open conversation.

    I told her that I wouldn’t have lied if she had asked directly, that even if they hadn’t asked I would have discussed it with them when they were older, and that I figured the separation was enough for them to cope with, without knowing this about their father. She countered that not knowing what had really happened made it harder for her, and that she NEEDS to know what’s going on. It really does seem to help her feel more stable, when she knows there’s absolutely nothing hidden – she knows even the bad stuff.

    “Love doesn’t walk away. Love doesn’t abuse the kids’ other parent. Love doesn’t sell their kids’ soul for their own selfish thrills.” This is so true, it made me cry.

  • Hard to believe all the parents who believe it is okay to tell children about the reasons, cheating and otherwise — for the split. Whatever happened to keeping the children out of the middle and telling them the reasons for the divorce have nothing to do with them, Mom and Dad both still love you, and while things will change, both parents will do their best to make sure the child’s life remains as stable as possible?

    Of course, both parents have to walk the talk, and that doesn’t always happen. Recognizing that, I still can’t think of any real justification for pulling children into the adult conflict and giving them the opportunity to choose sides. This situation creates a very unhealthy, co-dependent relationship between the child and one parent. In addition, the child may feel like he or she is responsible for, or needs to take care of, the parent. That’s a huge and unfair burden for children of any age, especially children coping with their own loss due to the divorce or separation.

    These actions are all elements of parental alienation. I would encourage anyone who suspects he or she is dealing with alienation to learn as much as you can about this destructive family dynamic. The knowledge will help you make good decisions for yourself and your children. And while understanding alienation doesn’t take the sting away from being a targeted parent, it does dull the sensation a little bit.

    For more information, and resources, on parent alienation you can visit

    • If you look at the comments here, Mike, you’ll realize in pretty quick order that we know all about parental alienation. Many chumps have been victims of character assassination and alienation by their disordered exes.

      That’s a damn sight different than telling children the TRUTH about why their parents are getting divorced. Age appropriately, and without name calling. Children deserve to know that there was a REASON their parents broke up that wasn’t “we grew apart.” Abandonment isn’t a loving act. It’s hard for the chump, left with the kids to say, “oh, [cheating, AWOL parent] loves you” when it’s hard to see how that is true. Yet, most of the chumps here take the high road.

      Telling your kids the truth about infidelity — that life has deal breakers that lead to consequences — isn’t harmful. Infidelity is harmful. Don’t blame the victim on my site and leave your link, dude.

    • Mike,

      Thanks for posting this. I needed to hear it. I do not want my kids to feel like they have to take care of me. I do not want them as a sounding board either. I don’t see how they could take it in. Besides they will see their mom for what she is on their own. When they do they will know that I am a rock solid foundation for them to come to and talk to me. I will not bad mouth their mother because, she’s their mother. I do not want them to look at her in a bad light during this time. My D10 already has been questioning me asking me if I’ll find someone else or if she’ll have a new mom. Mom has been talking to new “friends” in the past three weeks. One of which is the OM whom i found text messages to. It angers and validates my feelings. I’m not going to let what she is doing control me. I’m digging out of my hole of chumpedness. I cannot control STX’s actions and bad mouthing her and condemning her actions to my children right now will do no good. Again Mike thank you for your post and confirming that the path I’m taking right now is the best.


  • >
    %d bloggers like this: