Dear Chump Lady,
My Dday was 2nd January this year, and I left my cheater for good mid April. I’m luckier than most in that I’m only 28, have well paid employment, and can support myself. I also have great family and friends who have supported me through this mess. We have a son together who will be 2 in November. So yes, his affair began whilst I was still pregnant, and beyond into newborn land.
I’m wondering exactly what sort of language should I use to explain to my son what happened when the time comes?
And how can I reword it as he gets older so that he understands properly what happened and why I don’t live with his Dad (or indeed, want anything to do with him)?
There’s been more than enough lying in our (never existed) family, I sure as hell won’t be keeping it a secret from my baby and teaching him that lies are okay!
Believe it or not, yours is a good problem to have. You found out early, you got out early, and your son will never grow up having cheater dysfunction modeled to him. The narcissism, the family “pick me” dance, the ambient abuse — and all the resulting drama. I don’t know what your custody arrangement is, but I’m guessing you have custody, or primary custody — so your values are the values that are going to be modeled to him. I don’t think you have to worry that he’ll grow up thinking lies are okay.
Your son is nearly two, and kids think their world is normal. Living with you, visiting dad will be his normal. I don’t think he’ll question this arrangement for at least a few years. When he does, I would tell him in age appropriate ways, without editorializing. The rated G version would be “When you get married, you promise to be each other’s special person. Daddy broke a promise to mommy and we had to get divorced, because Daddy had a girlfriend.”
What you don’t say (as righteous as it would feel) is Daddy is piece of shit and will never be forgiven. If you love Daddy you are hurting me. Daddy doesn’t deserve your love.
You don’t want to lay that burden on a kid, of your pain and his father’s sins. He’ll figure it out eventually without you saying a thing. I promise you, he will connect those dots. But probably not until Daddy lets him down in some spectacular ways, and again, probably not until he’s an adult and he realizes what it means to commit to someone in marriage. And what it would feel like to be betrayed. As a kid, he has no context. Figuring out who his dad is, and what it all means is a process. It’s HIS process, not yours. You’re just obligated by your court order to have the child in the man’s life. You don’t control what your ex does or does not do with that relationship.
You also don’t control how your son is going to feel about his dad. I know you want your son to make an informed decision about his father’s character, if only to assign blame. “This single parent shit? This wasn’t my idea. I was railroaded into this. I didn’t intend for you to grow up this way. I wanted an intact family!”
You aren’t giving him second best. You’re giving him your best. Period. There is no shame in being a single parent. So don’t have any. There is shame in being a cheating, lying loser, however.
You son will realize from the earliest age that life has deal breakers. If you lie and cheat, you hurt the people closest to you. You lose those relationships. Your life example — leaving his father — has demonstrated that. You don’t need to say much more, because you’re living that lesson.
You’re also showing your son resilience. You support yourself, you’re surrounded by loving friends and family, you enforce boundaries. You’re setting an awesome example. That’s enough. It’s early days still — you’ve only left your cheater 6 months ago. Your new life is going to crowd out your old life, eventually and your ex will become more and more peripheral. Yes, even with sharing a son together, he will cease to be relevant in your life. You WILL get to meh. It’s still early days. Hang in there, Eff.