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Dear Chump Lady, What do you tell a 2-year old?

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!



Dear Eff,

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.

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  • Don’t get me wrong but I wish I had your problem. My kids are 17, 14 and 11. He left almost a year ago and rally hasn’t had anything to do with them. 2 weeks ago hemoved interstate and suddenly he is ringing every couple of days, emailing them with photos of his 3 month old baby, and he even emailed me this morning to let me know that my daughters taining had been cancelled according to a message on facebook which I dont look at. I mean WTF! He lives 600km away but is letting me know where I have to be or not be?! What got me was that he told my 14 year old on Saturday that I wouldn’t let him see them. She called him on that, but he lies so easily, so readily, I don’t know how to protect them. And I do find it incredibly hard to be indifferent when he invites himself back into our lves from such a distance and I cant do anything about it. I feel invaded.

  • A child of two, will easily start to forget him.
    Think back… can you even remember being two ? I imagine a very few faint memories. Kids are easily distracted.
    Just like a toy they may think they want, once they have their attention… diverted they forget all about it.
    Same with “H”. Tell baby boy, Daddy loves him , but has a new friend. Leave it at that. I am sure there is probably a great illustrated childrens’ book to help with this life lesson.
    Plan a fun day outing to Barnes & Noble and go look for books to help him understand this.
    Chances are since you are young, successful you will find a truly wonderful , WORTHY man to share your lives with. A new man that will love , respect and cherish you both.
    “Dad” will become a distant stranger…. who will (hopefully ) buy him a car on his 16th birthday ! The” real men” in his life may very well be your father, your brothers and your new husband .
    Happy for you and your new life !

  • I am in almost the exact same position, 29 with a 3 year old and only did the pick me dance for 3 months too. While I know that we are both in a better position than most being young and self supporting, it still sucks that our kid is so young. At two, a child doesn’t have the capability to hate, thus they will probably actually like the other woman. That’s such a shit sandwich to eat. I want my daughter to hate the OW like I do but you can’t go teaching hate to a kid. When kids are older, they get it. They get that dad is a fucker. How have others coped with this when the kids were SO young? Everyone keeps telling me that “the relationship won’t last between them” but what if it actually does?

    • It won’t. 🙂
      I have a 2 1/2 year old, and my ex is one of these guys too – I’ve thought with all 3 women he’s dated since I was pregnant that he’d “settle down” with one of them, and every time I end up mad that I tortured myself over it. But also, who cares if they do last, with him treating her like crap and cheating on her (which he will) – if she wants to put up with that life, let her. As long as these women aren’t dangerous to your child, consider their visits free babysitting and time to move on with your personal life. If he doesn’t have visits, congratulations.
      The more you can let go of this (I know it’s hard, believe me, I do) the better things will be for your child and yourself. And also believe me that these Other Women THRIVE on attention from you. Don’t give it to them. Treat custody like a business deal, your ex like a business associate (that you hate) and build your life with your daughter the way you want it.

  • This is just the post I needed. I know many people who have gotten divorced but no one with a small child like I do. I know this situation sucks for you just as it does for me but it helps to read that I’m not alone. My little girl is 3. I want her to have a relationship with her father but it is definitely challenging to keep the course when I have to communicate with him on some level. Her father keeps asking me to do family things (go to the zoo, park, etc.) I keep declining. Does your Cheater?

    I wish I would have left mine months before like you have dome. I did the pick me dance for a year and a half and just left 2 months ago. He continues to tell me that he is not the want that wants a divorce. He wasn’t ever going to leave me for the 2 OW so in some f’d up wayne isn’t the one to blame for our family falling apart.
    If you don’t mind me asking…have you filed? How have you handled communication, drop off/pick up? My daughter is adjusting but I have been the primary caregive her entire life. She doesn’t want to go with just him. She wants me to go too 🙁

    BTW- I loveChumplady’s advise on telling the little ones in age appropriate ways. I was wondering the same thing.

    Keep up the excellent ob!!!!!!

    • Dazed, he just wants cake. He’s trying to goad you into the pick me dance. Enjoy the veneer of family, and still retain his right to fuck around with the OW. You’re absolutely right to keep your distance.

      As for blaming you for the divorce? He’s an asshole. Every time he says “I didn’t want to end the marriage” substitute the word marriage for “CAKE.” And hear the truth: “I didn’t want CAKE to end.” You are not the bad guy here — don’t take that shit.

      • Chumplady -great recommendation (as always), the “cake” substitution is perfect. I will do that! Since I left he has not once said anything about how this has caused me pain or any empathy for what he has put me through. It is all about him, his feelings, his struggles. I mean, why wouldn’t I want to spend time with him, he is so awesome, right?! Wrong!!

      • My divorce was final last Thursday. I woke up this morning to his voice on my answering machine sobbing and begging for me to tell him to come home. As well as I have been doing, it really pulled at my heart. I did not return the phone call but I’ve had a sad day.

    • Dazed, in the previous blog post, there was a link to <a ref=""Bring Your Marriage Back from the Dead. The short answer is that someone who blameshifts all the responsibility for the problems on you is not interested in anything but CAKE.

      CL’s site is not hopeful about reconciliation because cheaters aren’t interested in taking any responsibility, admitting any wrongdoing, working to rebuild trust. And since they’re not interested in doing this stuff, you can kick them to the curb secure in the knowledge that you’ve done the very best thing you can do for your family.

    • Dazed – mine is always trying to arrange family time, he doesn’t want a divorce either. He also suggested he could move back in so we could co-parent, but he will stay in the spare room and keep seeing OW. Oh yeah and because I kicked him out (when I discovered his cheating) technically it was me who broke our family up.
      Our little boy just turned 4 and our baby was born in June, 4 months after I kicked him out.

      • You should change your screen name to “mighty!mummy” — well done. He wants family time and to live in your spare room? Does he just think you’re going to roll over and be grateful for his presence in your life? What an asshole. You’re vulnerable, you’ve got two small children, he thought he’d just drop in and play daddy. You can do laundry, fix his meals, and he’ll fuck the OW. Boy, who could resist such an offer?

        I say you deposit two small children with him on his days and enjoy a little adult alone time.

  • Effthatguy–

    I too think you’re in a much better position than most. I was 4 when my parents broke up. I BARELY remember them being together. While divorce can hit children terribly hard, I think if they’re young enough (like I was) the idea of shuttling back and forth between Mommy’s House and Daddy’s House will be almost second-nature. That’s how it was for me. I never thought twice about it, even as I entered school and made friends with kids whose parents were married.

    CL is right that when he’s old enough you should tell the truth but don’t editorialize. But most importantly, tell the truth. You may think you’re throwing your son’s father under the bus, but what you’re really doing is modeling honesty and good values to your son, who luckily won’t grow up to repeat his father’s lecherous behavior.

    • I’d love to throw him under a bus. And then reverse over him. And drive over him again. And then drain the engine oil out all over his head!

  • ‘There is no shame in being a single parent.’ Let’s both remember that Eff. Your son is going to be okay and so are my kids – because we ARE giving them our best.

    Take care of yourself and hug your son.

  • His Dad takes him every second weekend. Here in Australia, we don’t have to have a custody agreement per say, but I’m getting one (it’s called Consent Orders here) and he’s never tried to argue against that arrangement. Yet…ha! It’s going to be sent to him for signing next week, so we’ll see. He’s already done the whole “I’m busy tomorrow, you take him” when it’s his turn.

    Unfortunately my cheater is also mentally ill, an alcoholic, and currently unemployed. I’ve also had to get a protection order against him for verbal abuse – threats to kill my next partner and name calling etc (and he also tried to kick my door down and smashed a window whilst drunk one night…). He knows I want nothing to do with him so doesn’t bother asking to do stuff together!

    He’s shacked up with the OW (who was his receptionist, original right?) and it’s gut wrenching having to drop my son off there and know that he’s hanging out with that morally bankrupt homewrecking whore!!!! But you do what you have to :/

    It’s fucked up how they turn around and blame you for leaving and breaking up the family. I know that game all too well, it’s so ridiculous 🙁

    • A mentally ill, unemployed alcoholic? With any luck he’ll just retreat from your and your son’s life forever.

      So the OW, who was his receptionist, still has a job but he doesn’t? Wow, she got the prize…

      He sounds scary! I hope you’re documenting this for your lawyer, and that’s great you’ve got a protection order. Stay strong!

      • I seriously hope you’re right! It doesn’t seem likely at this point however unfortunately 🙁

        He lost his job after over a year of poor performance, lost time (busy at the pub with OW) and coming back from lunch pissed. And she’s a “single mum” with two teenage boys to support!

  • Has anybody else’s cheater tried to blame their mental illness for their cheating??

    He says he “wasn’t himself” and that it “wasn’t the real him”….I had no idea depression made you capable of leading a double life for almost a year, and then be able to lie to your partners face for another 6 months before finally getting busted (not even coming clean)….?

    When I’ve felt depressed (thanks to him!) I want to curl up into a ball and lie in bed. Not go out and pursue my co-worker for hours every day for sex.


    • Hi Eff; there is NO WAY that depression could cause cheating, NO WAY. Occasionally people who are bipolar (manic-depression) will do sexually inappropriate things while in a manic (high) phase, but they’re also doing other excessive things like spending loads of money, talking a mile a minute, doing a million things and barely sleeping. And those phases are obvious and brief, usually a few weeks at most. People w\bipolar who do anything hurtful or inappropriate are also HORRIFIED at what they’ve done, once the manic phase ends. None of this sounds like your ex!

      Besides, no matter what the reason, if someone is repeatedly disrespectful of you, you need to get out of their close circle. Addictions, mental illness, messed up FOO, doesn’t matter; you can even feel a lot of compassion for them – from as far away as you can get!

      • Yeah I tell him he’s full of shit, and that lack of integrity and loose boundaries caused it, not his depression!!
        He tries anything he can in true cheater fashion to blame shift (victim of circumstance!) and try and make me feel guilty and be the bad guy.

        I don’t buy it. At all. His fault – 100%.

      • I suspect that STBX will be trying to blameshift his affair onto me, and then use stress from work as an excuse.

        The problem is that while I accept and have long recognized that he’s in a depressed state, his depression doesn’t cause him to blur the distinction between right and wrong.

    • Usually depression interferes with your sex life.

      But does it matter? What if he cheated because he was manic or drunk? Has he become healthy? Is he even in treatment?

      Sometimes getting away from someone is about self-protection. And protecting your kids.

      I would say you have a moral obligation as a mother to separate from a man who tries to kick in your door.

  • Sorry, above comment is from me, KarenE; forgot to change my screen name on work computer; I know there’s another Karen around here sometimes.

  • He’s got them all….FOO issues (his dad was verbally/emotionally abusive to his mum and he witnessed it for years – and became exactly the same towards me), cheating, addictions, abuse…..and still expected me to stay with him because we have a son together!!

    You’d think they’d put two and two together and realise that’s why he’s so fucked up?? But of course not, cause that means he wouldn’t get his CAKE!


  • Hi Eff , my kids also have to go to their dads every second Saturday night, and he shacked up with the OW straight away. My kids are older ( 9,11. & 12), so they understand what has happened , but the thing I find the hardest is when they come home and say ” I know she broke up our family , but she’s really quite nice”. A good friend of mine divorced 10 years ago when her boys were 10 months and 2 years old , and have had to visit their dad and OW interstate a few time a year , and have never thought badly of OW until now that its happened to me , and now they understand what happened to their parents. They now think very badly of OW and have very little interest in talking to their dad when he phones. My friend has always taken the higher road, and never bad mouthed their dad or OW, but after 10 years , they have now worked it out . It’s a long time to wait, but your son will know the truth eventually .

    I also have to keep telling myself that when the kids say the OW is nice , at least they are being treated well . Makes it a little bit easier to deal with .

    • I’d say I’ll have the same thing happen to me. She actually is a nice person (on the surface of course…rotten to the core inside) and we actually got along great. I know this because we went around to her house to visit (aka buy pot) with my 4 week old baby and she was cuddling him and shit….little did I know they were screwing and just wanted to “feel better about the situation” by bringing me and my son over there…Ick.

      However of course my cheater insists they are just friends and he’ll be getting his own place when he gets a job. Seriously, why do they bother lying still?!

    • Thank you so much for posting that one day the kids will get it. My kids were 10 mos, 2, and 4 at the time of the affair. My 4 year old is now 7 and she knows what happened but the little ones dont have a clue. He is marrying the OW (her new goal in life is to be my kids 2nd mother). She showed up at my sons school this week on his birthday, I nearly had a panic attack. This has been the biggest personal challenge that I have ever had…

      • Surely personal challenges won’t come any bigger than this!!!

        The OW in my case is actually scared of me I think! I’ve caught her running off and hiding inside the house a couple times when I’ve dropped my son off there haha!

        No way she’d show up in any group setting.

  • Hi Eff,

    I am sending you big hugs and telling you it does get better. My ex and I split when our daughter was 15 months old. I found out about his deception – on Christmas, no less – when she was only 13 months old. Most painful thing I’ve ever experienced – even more painful than losing my parents. I did the Pick Me Dance for about 8 months, even after he moved out, then after lots of drama when the OW dumped him (and he blamed me for it!), I was done. Every year gets easier, and honestly, my life 5 years out is great.

    I burned at the idea of the OW being around my child, too. OW disappeared from the picture pretty quickly to be replaced by other girlfriends (which honestly has been easier to deal with). Even though I won’t be having brunch and going shoe shopping with ex’s GF anytime soon, I can honestly say I don’t resent her. I don’t want him back, and the fact is she is in the home where my daughter spends a big chunk of time. As long as she treats my daughter well, that is all I care about. I never thought I’d get to this point, but in some ways having my daughter in daycare taught me that you can never have too many people to love and care for your child – the proverbial village. Kids know who mom is, even before they can talk, and no one can replace mom.

    As to what I have told my daughter, I say that Mommy and Daddy tried to live together and couldn’t get along. We thought it was better to have 2 houses and each get to love her rather than being together and fighting all the time. She doesn’t need the details now, and I want her to have the space to fully love her father – she needs him.

    Hang in there and take care of you. Spend time with friends who love and support you; I leaned on my a lot and I’m incredibly grateful for the rich friendships that have come out of it. I wouldn’t wish the path here on my worst enemy, but I am strong and happy, and so is my daughter.

    • Two things I meant to write but didn’t the first post (blame the late hour or my Swiss Cheese brain). Although I decided that my daughter needed her father in her life – and he does seem to be a good father to her – I don’t mean to imply that kids aren’t just fine with one (sane) parent. Also, I found out that my ex had had affairs both while I was pregnant and when our daughter was an infant. I felt so betrayed. I couldn’t believe he could break his promises to me and put his needs above his family at the time I needed him most. If there is a piece of it that I am still working on healing for myself, it is that one.

      ChumpLady, you rock. I, too, wish I had found this site 5 years ago when I was so emotionally broken.

      • Yeah, me too. He brought her into our house the day after I gave birth and was still in hospital!!

        The mind boggles. He’ll never understand how much that sort of betrayal hurts a new mother….

        And yet **somehow** it’s still my fault :/

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