Stay in Touch

Check out CL's Book

Dear Chump Lady, What do I do with the presents?

grinchDear Chump Lady,

I recently found out that my father has been having an affair for several months. My mother knows and they are in the process of separating. However, we still plan to celebrate a “normal” Christmas — see family, exchange gifts, etc.

I haven’t bought him a gift yet and I’m not sure if I should. Or what I do with the gifts that I have? I want to do everything I can to support my mother and make it clear to my father that he lost more than a wife, but I wonder if withholding gifts is just vengeful and angry. Thoughts?

Megan

Dear Megan,

Oh how awful. I’m so sorry you have to go through this Christmas charade. I’m guessing your parents haven’t told the rest of the family yet? So you get a great big festering SECRET for Christmas… how jolly. You all have to pretend that this villain is really just a warm-hearted member of the family.

I blame the Christmas specials.

Did you ever notice that all the baddies in Christmas specials turn good and are accepted back into the fold after having a magical epiphany? The magician in Frosty the Snowman is a nice man after all, the Abominable Snowman in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is misunderstood — he has a toothache, and the Grinch is so moved by the goodness and Christmas spirit of Whoville that his heart grew three sizes that day!

I can’t help but wonder if your mother is hoping that this display of family warmth and Christmas wonder will turn your father’s heart. How could you leave this? Maybe the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come will wake him up with a vision of how withered and disgusting his mistress will become, how unloved he will be upon his death bed, how pathetic he is — and he’ll wake up with gratitude and empathy.

Or maybe your father will just continue to be a shit and enjoy some holiday cake-eating at everyone’s expense.

Guess where I’m putting my money?

I’m sorry Megan. You asked me about Christmas shopping. I think it’s okay to be angry with your father. I don’t think you need to spackle over your feelings and buy him a present for the sake of appearances. It’s going to take you a long while to figure out your feelings towards your father. This Christmas you are gifting him with your presence, which is quite enough.

Your loyalty toward your mom is admirable, Megan, but your relationship with your dad is your own. Please don’t feel like you have to reject your dad out of loyalty to your mom. Your mom needs to respect you will — or will not — have a relationship with him, based on the merits of your shared history and how he treats you. She can’t manage that relationship for you.

But IMO, you’re right to take your father’s infidelity as not only a personal assault against your mother, but also you and your family. He’s responsible for breaking this family breaking up. It’s okay to be angry with him about that, and feel repelled that he still retains any privileges from the family he rejected.

So if you have to buy him a present this year, I’d say you could choose from the “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” lyrics below. Consider a brain full of spiders or a greasy, black banana peel.

Happy holidays any way, Megan. ((Hugs))

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch.
You really are a heel.
You’re as cuddly as a cactus,
You’re as charming as an eel,
Mr. Grinch.
You’re a bad banana with a greasy black peel.

You’re a monster, Mr. Grinch.
Your heart’s an empty hole.
Your brain is full of spiders.
You’ve got garlic in your soul, Mr Grinch.
I wouldn’t touch you with a
Thirty-nine and a half foot pole.

You’re a vile one, Mr. Grinch.
You have termites in your smile,
You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile,
Mr Grinch.
Given the choice between the two of you,
I’d take the seasick crocodile.

You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch.
You’re a nasty wasty skunk.
Your heart is full of unwashed socks.
Your soul is full of gunk,
Mr Grinch.

The three best words that best describe you,
Are as follows, and I quote”
Stink!
Stank!
Stunk!

You’re a rotter Mr Grinch
You’re the king of sinful sots
Your hearts a dead tomato squashed with moldy purple spots
Mr Grinch

Your sole is a appalling dump heap
Overflowing with the most disgraceful
Assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable,
Mangled up in tangled up knots.

You nauseate me, Mr Grinch
With a noxious super nox
You’re a crooked jerky jockey and,
You drive a crooked horse
Mr Grinch!

You’re a three-decker sauerkraut
And toadstool sandwich,
With arsenic sauce!

Ask Chump Lady

Got a question for the Chump Lady? Or a submission for the Universal Bullshit Translator? Write to me at info@chumplady.com. Read more about submission guidelines.
      • I’d go with this. I discovered STBX’s because he made the mistake of ceasing from sex, which caused me to wonder. I’ve not confronted him about it, mostly because I have zero interest in sex with a man whose judgement is so impaired that he’d sleep with someone as disordered as OW. Additionally, he wasn’t as careful about locking his cell or his computer. For example, having push notifications from Twitter, and then having OW tweet private messages to you about how she’s sitting in a restaurant, all by her lonesome, forced to drink several drinks in order to numb her memories of how they used to sext each other at work–well, that’s pretty careless. That little exchange came through over the last Christmas holidays, by the way.

        STBX pretty much checked out all last Christmas. It was clear he had to text OW, who’s not happy that he is still married, but for some reason is still hanging around (he must give her great presents, or at least a significant chunk of cash).

        My source of guilt is that other people will actually try to get him something he likes and wants.

      • My ex announced he wanted out two weeks before Christmas, while we were sitting in a coffee shop. He did say he had planned on waiting until after the holidays to make this announcement, but since I was pressuring him to explain why he’d been acting so weird lately, he spilled the beans early.

        In reality, though I did not know this until much later, he had come to that coffee shop straight from a threesome with his two married OWs. Classy.

        • Yes, classy…..sheesh.

          “He did say he had planned on waiting until after the holidays to make this announcement…”. How considerate of him!

          My STBX also felt he was being oh-so-considerate….he waited for a few holidays to pass by before dropping the DDay bomb….. Those holidays were weird in a bad way, with him hurrying family events as fast as he could so he could go off and be with the OW….him being really abusive and, on top of it all, getting lousy presents. I:m talking *epic-ly* lousy and cheap.

          I’m looking forward to day when I don’t associate those holidays with those memories anymore.

  • Megan,

    I’m sorry about this.

    From the limited information I have, I’d say that you will just have to hang back and let this play out. Both your parents are choosing to have one more “normal” Christmas. Frankly, like CL, I think that’s pretty weird. (Do they know that you know?) I’d say get your Dad a card but don’t worry about a gift. And then lay low. Like CL, I’d encourage you to allow yourself to get angry and respond based on how either parent treats you going forward.

    Yesterday, I posted a link to an article on grief. Basically, it said that to get over something — to truly heal emotionally — you have to let yourself expereince the anger, pain, etc.

    Again, I’m sorry. Try to enjoy seeing your other relatives, and keep a low profile while the parents work this out. Hang in there.

    Best,

    Chump Son

    • “(Do they know that you know?)”

      Opening up a whole new line of Christmas lyrics…Do you know what I know? And the classic “On the first day of Christmas my cheater gave to me…”. Let’s not forget “O Come All Ye UnFaithful” and one I didn’t even need to rewrite:

      “I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus
      Underneath the mistletoe last night.
      She didn’t see me creep
      down the stairs to have a peep;
      She thought that I was tucked
      up in my bedroom fast asleep.

      Then, I saw Mommy tickle Santa Claus
      Underneath his beard so snowy white;
      Oh, what a laugh it would have been
      If Daddy had only seen
      Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night”

      Christmas last year was when we told our children. We’ve had some fake family moments too. It will be a big relief to have honest holidays this year, no matter what the circumstances.

      My parents spent a whole year fighting every night, over my dad’s infidelity. My sister and I both knew, but were afraid to let the other know. What if she didn’t know? Horrible. No more fake holidays for me, hopefully never again. Wishing you all truth and honesty, with your loved ones.

    • I did one last Christmas shortly after dday. I wasn’t going to but then one of ex’s family members got very bad medical news and at that point it made sense. The next day ex went on holiday with OW, while telling everyone it was over with her.

    • They do know that I’m aware of it, to answer your question. Thank you for your kind words! I think that what you’re describing as “true healing” is totally correct. I’m trying not to get hung up on feeling one way or another, and just going through my feelings honestly.

      From one Chump Child to another 🙂

      • Thanks, Megan. You actually just invented a concept there. Chump children. In my case, I’m 55, and so am not really a kid. I contribute to CL because I see narcisstic disorder parallels between the situations here and my relationship to my late father. Infidelity was not the issue though other kinds of bad entitlement-based behaviors were. Reading and writing about these issues creates a kind of lab, I think, that can help you figure things out and get feelings out.

        In any case, you are a really good writer and I think you just invented a concept. The chump child. I’m honored to be on that team with you!

        • David,
          I’m a chump kid, too. I’m on here to try to do no contact with my turd father although he is still married to my mother. The best book for children of narcissists is “The wizard of oz and other narcissists”.

          • I have read that book, and I think it’s very good. Got some great points. The bottom line is that NPD types are very seductive and will be selectively nice, but you can’t really ever expect them to change. I posted a good article from “Psychology Today” on the previous blog thread (or two) that talks about the need to give up on these folks, get angry, and then grieve your loss. They certainly know how to “flash,” i.e. to show flashes of being a good parent/a good spouse, but it’s just not in them. Once you see them for what they are, you get over much of the anger and get to “Meh,” as CL recommends. Once you are at Meh, you may see them (you may have to) but your real contact is very limited. And, of course, limiting physical contact/communications is important too.

            Hang in there.

            • Thanks David.

              I found CL after a huge fight with my father over the summer. I finally called him out on his shit, and made him say that he refuses to contribute to any family get togethers. I basically cornered him into admitting that he is a taker, and he got really pissed. I picked a fight with him on purposed, because I wanted to yell at him. His cheating was exposed over 16 years ago. My mother decided to stay with him because she likes her lifestyle. As much as she complains about him, she has become narcissistic also in that she wants us all to put up a front because it is easier for her. It is basically a shit sandwich for her kids if they want any relationship at all with her. When we were younger you could never find him because he was out getting off being deceitful and causing chaos with his double life. Now, he is older and retired and like gum on shoe you can’t lose him for anything. He thinks because he is the “father” he deserves respect. Anywhooooo… I could go on and on and on. I fought with him partially because I wanted my mother to see the effect of his abuse has had on her children. She wants me to ignore it and just pretend. It’s the pretending that kills me. That is why I encouraged Megan to ask an honest question and see how her father really feels about her instead of guessing.

              Anyone who wants a laugh about narcissistic behavior, I can provide a few gems. I asked my father why he never chipped in money when we went out for family meals. First, he said, if it was to celebrate a kids graduation or whatever, he provided a gift, or contributed to the meal, but not both. If he was at the meal, he deducted the cost of the gift from what he would contribute to the meal. Soooo…. is your presence the gift? Here is the reason he says. “Do you know how hard it is to when your doctor tells you that you are going to live to be 93 and you only have enough money to last until you are 87? (he is 76, and this is extra insulting since my youngest brother died unexpectedly at 30). No. I don’t know. how hard is it?

              But the biggest howler is probably the most familiar. He cheated. and then he says to me, in a scream in front of my children
              “You were raised Christian! You are supposed to forgive me!!!”

              raised christian? by who? by you? are you yelling at me for not forgiving you, even though you said you asked for forgiveness, which you didn’t? In some ways it boggles the mind, but after reading the books, it doesn’t.

              Fast forward to this December. I had a christmas open house (being raised christian and all 🙂 ) and sent an invitation to my mother. She asked, and I told her my father could come (I’d been reading CL since this summer). I said “sure, he could come, but why would he?” She said “he wants you to call him and personally invite him on the phone.” I said “no. I haven’t personally invited anyone, so why would I do it for him”. I didn’t call.

              He showed up at the party, and I gave my mom a hug and then him. After the party, I got a phone call from a friend that knew the whole story. She said “I saw the whole thing when he walked in! You were amazing! You just rolled with it, and kept having a good time! Unbelievable! Academy Award!”

              But the happy ending for me is this. The MEH! I got it here. Thank you so much Chump Lady. After a lifetime of denied emotions, I couldn’t reconcile my final attitude towards that turd. But MEH should be a medical term. I was able to do it because I found the words for my feelings here. I felt true to myself. I was kind to him because that is who I am. I didn’t engage him, nor did I put any energy into him at all. I hope this helps any other chumpsters and thanks to CL and the no contact (which also means “no space in my head”) attitude which helps you get your soul back.

              • Nancy,

                Thanks. Some good gems for me there, too.

                The mother-who-caves/adapts…. That’s my situation as well. I’m expected to only remember the happy things. (My father is deceased.) I find this grating. Not realistic. I’m working on Meh, and I’m closer than I used to be.

                You can find my previous posts with background on this under the moniker “Chump Son,” which is how I sometimes post.

                In any case, thanks for what you said. It’s very helpful. Amazingly so. Hang in there and keep on truckin’ on the Meh train!

  • Thanks for this– I feel for you, Megan. My 21 year old daughter is trying to navigate the relationship with her cheating father–my STBX. I can tell that she doesn’t want to give him anything at all, or see him. I hate that she has to eat the shit sandwich, too (I actually hate it more than mine.) But–she has one more semester to go in college, and who knows how vengeful these narcs can be? So I have gently suggested that she give him a present that doesn’t feel to painful to her to give. I don’t really want to be, or think I should be, the traffic cop in this. At all. But he blames me when she doesn’t give him kibbles (asshole) and we are finalizing the divorce. And I don’t want her (or me) to come in for any kind of retribution until we legally sever the ties, and the finances are tied down. (I live in a no fault state, so it’s kind of dicey, until it’s done.)

    Its so much fun!

    I think soon she will be able to let him float away–which is where he’s really been all along anyway, of course. It really suck to be (like you) in the adult child shoes. YOU have to make the choice about how to treat the cheaters in your lives–they are going to continue to line up for all the cake you’ll give them. It must feel awful, to be conflicted that way.

    The worst thing my STBX did, imho, is to give my daughter the gift of a father she could no longer look up to, respect or feel anything but conflicted about. Thanks for that! (And, he didn’t even think about how it would affect her, he said so… what a jerk.)

    I wish for you the best inner peace you can find this holiday, and know that your mother loves you. Letting her know that you love her back is a great gift.

    • This: The worst thing my STBX did, imho, is to give my daughter the gift of a father she could no longer look up to, respect or feel anything but conflicted about.

      In my case it’s the gift he’s given to his two tween sons. As they work on figuring out what kind of men they want to be, he’s provided them with no role model. Other than what NOT to be. What’s that expression? — If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning!

      • That’s what broke my heart too — that the boys looked up to my ex with almost hero worship, and now he is so diminished in their eyes. I looked up to and admired him as well, but no more.

  • “This Christmas you are gifting him with your presence, which is quite enough.”

    I agree with CL: You presence is you present. And going forward I hope this is the last year you’re put in the position of having to pretend everyone is close and caring when in reality your father has caused tremendous harm to everyone else in your family. You’re only as sick as your secrets, after all. Allow your father the opportunity to change, but judge him on his actions and protect yourself at the first sign he’s disregarding whats best for you the way he disregarded what was best for your mother and your family.

    Good luck!

  • I am so sorry you are going through this Megan. My 20 year old daughter is also going through something similar. She asked for a couple books recently: “The Unavailable Father” and an Kindle book called “Where Were You When I Needed You Dad.” She has already read the Kindle book and said it was stunningly on point for her.

    I do not know if you are getting counseling, but I think it may help if you do at this point. It is a terribly confusing and difficult time for you as well as your whole family. It is particularly horrible to be going through this on the holidays, and to have to pretend. Hugs and prayers xxoo

  • Megan,
    My heart breaks for you having to deal with this horrible situation brought about by your father and his selfish actions.

    You owe him nothing more than what he deserves or you are willing to give in spite of that. But I will add a caveat to CL’s caution that you “do not have to reject your dad out of loyalty to your mom.” I suppose that is true if it is the only reason you would reject him….but please remember that the man who is supposed to love and respect you shows his true character not only in that behavior but in his treatment of those closest to you….and I cannot think of a closer person than your mother. You will probably discover more as things go along about just how badly he mistreated her, abused her really, with lies and deception and mind games. But just wait until the divorce proceedings start – then you will have proof positive of his character and any “remorse” he may say he has. (He won’t – and my guess is he’ll fight tooth and nail for everything – all at your mother’s expense.) So no – you don’t have to reject out of loyalty – though I think loyalty is an admirable trait and one that your dad certainly doesn’t possess- but you have to ask yourself, if his true nature is to hurt, lie, deceive, and destroy good people who’ve done nothing more than be a good wife and mom – is that someone who deserves your respect and love? Because – as my own children found out – if he did it to his wife and the mother of his children – he’ll do it to you – not maybe in the same way – but a lack of character and morality is inflicted on all who interact with him. So don’t feel guilty for taking a stand for your mom. The relationship between you and your dad may be yours, but it was born of the relationship between him and your mom – so it’s never quite as tidy to keep one and not the other as some would suggest.

    I’ll leave it at this – you do no shame to yourself at all if you cut him completely and stood with your mother as the wronged party. But you have to decide just what being a father really means and if he is the example of a man you want for your life. Good luck.

    • Char,

      Your response is the perfect response to those who maintain that a divorce is something just between the two parents, and it shouldn’t affect the children whatsoever. My ex wanted me to tell the kids “it just didn’t work out, so we’re divorcing.” But infidelity isn’t like that at all–it’s a lack of loyalty, a lack of respect, and it’s inflicted not only on the other spouse but on the children as well. Why does everyone want us to sugar coat this for the “sake of the children”? I tried doing this, but my kids were old enough to understand exactly what was going on. When they are old enough to decide what kind of relationship they want with their dad, I am not going to intervene or try to persuade them either way. Whatever you decide, Megan, you’re an adult–don’t let anyone pressure you into something you are not comfortable with.

  • I’m sorry, Megan, for what you are facing and how you are expected to deal with it.
    Have you considered giving your father a gift-that’s-not-a-gift-to-him? Check out Heiffer International – you can purchase a farm animal for a needy village “in his honor”…you’ll get a gift card to put under the tree, you’re still participating in the family festivities, and you’re helping someone who can use and deserves it.

    Have a little fun with it – maybe some village needs a donkey (Dad – here’s an ass named after you!)

  • Just let your mom know your concern. It will give her a great amount of strength and a tremendous amount of pride to know her baby loves her and wants to protect her feelings. My daughter was my biggest supporter. She would write me notes, decorate my kitchen with hearts and pics of us, baked me smiley faced cupcakes, and sent me sweet texts. My kids were the blessings in such a painful time.

    • I love all these ideas! I’ve got cupcakes on the go right now. This is the one thing I have no doubt on: I want to do everything I can to be there for my mum, because this is going to be incredibly hard and painful.

  • Megan, I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this. My kids were 25 and 27 when their dad walked out. We had one last family Christmas where everyone knew that he had “fallen out of love with me” but we were still together and I had hopes he might wake up and realize what he was going to lose. It was a really tough time but I did my best to make it as pleasant as possible for my kids. I know the tension was thick enough to cut with a knife, and my ex had bought me a pile of presents which was ridiculous, considering what was going on. Was he trying to look good in his kids’ eyes by showering me with gifts? It was awkward for everyone. After the holidays we started taking the tree down and my ex wanted to divide all the ornaments up. I started crying and said I wanted to keep them all together. When he left I took them all and divided them up with my kids. Grief is multiplied during the holiday season it seems.

    My advice for you is to do what makes you feel better. Don’t worry about your dad. What is important is taking care of yourself and your needs. Please be sure to get counseling and maybe look online for the Adult Children of Divorce (ACOD) groups. It’s always good to know you’re not alone and hear about how other kids have navigated this very difficult journey.

    My oldest son was furious with his dad at first and cussed him out, but I think things between them are better now. My son told me that the passage of time has helped. Most likely you will continue your relationship with your dad at some point, so try to remember that things won’t always be this way.

    • That’s awful about the ornaments, Lyn. My husband went through something similar. (He’s very sentimental.) I’m glad you could give them to your kids. Good way to handle that.

      • Yeah, I’m very sentimental too and had carefully collected and protected them over 31 years. When my son and his wife were helping me divide them up, he kept pitching the ones that reminded him of his dad in a box and saying “that’s an ugly one.” It was kind of funny but kind of sad at the same time. We gave my ex the Star Trek ornaments that were his favorites, though. I tried not to keep anything that reminded me of him, but I did find that I’d missed one when I opened the box this year — it was the Grinch!

    • This is awful! I’m sorry that there’s enough of this crap going around for there to be such strong parallels here. Did you regret having a “normal” Christmas, eventually?

      (And I’m definitely thinking about the future and trying not to make decisions purely out of anger, but whoo is that tough!)

      • No I don’t really regret it but it was very sad, more for me than my kids. Our family had always enjoyed bonfires and we built a big one Christmas Eve. I remember what a beautiful night it was and how the glowing embers flew into the sky. I tried to concentrate on the beauty of the moment and enjoyed the storytelling. My ex was actually kind to me that night. When I started crying later i went to bed early while everyone else was downstairs watching TV. He came up to check on me and I told him I was sad because it was probably my last Christmas in our home. I knew I’d have to move out since the property was too large for me to take care of by myself if we didn’t stay together. My ex actually came to bed and put his arms around me, but the next day he was pushing me away and being mean again. It was very confusing. I didn’t really comprehend the depth of his involvement with the OW until much later, but when I found out his weird behavior made more sense.

  • What is this crap about “falling out of love”? EVERYBODY falls out of love, thank goodness. If not trains wouldn’t run on time, children would get to school late, payrolls wouldn’t get met. If someone cannot live without the adrenalin highs every few months then take up sky diving or bungee jumping! I’ll bet your husband has met his soul mate like that twerp in SC

  • Megan,

    Last Christmas was “normal” and only because I didn’t know. My ex broke the news to me that he was not happy and was leaving on Christmas Day. The kind soul (insert sarcastic face here) told me later that evening so we could have at least one more normal Christmas. Had I known beforehand, there’s no way I would celebrate such a blessed event with him. Our adult child still does not speak to him and I will support whatever he decides to do in the future. Like you, my son will have to navigate this relationship with his father. I have taken myself out of the picture. I don’t know what’s right for you but whatever that is, please give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling. What your dad did is deplorable and there is no need to spackle that. Set boundaries and you just may be able to have a decent relationship with him going forward. Big hugs to you and your mom.

  • I’m not sure if the betrayal of the spouse or the betrayal of the kids is worse, but either way, cheaters are filthy scum that hurt their entire family, yet insist it was in the best interests of everyone.

    Megan, I am so sorry for your situation. You are truly between a rock and a hard place. Although you are angry and sickened by your father’s action, he is still your dad, and it isn’t easy to just walk away from that relationship. It’s damaging, like everything the cheaters do. I agree with others, be supportive to your mother, give your dad a Heifer Int or similar, and remember that your relationship with each parent is your own.

    My own son is 17 now, he was 13 when ex first walked out. Son still wants a relationship with his dad, because it’s his DAD. At the same time, he is disgusted by his father, uses words like: loser, moron, crazy, liar, mooch to describe him (they are all accurate descriptions, unfortunately) and hates the insanity, the delusion, the lies and craziness of his dad. I believe that son will ultimately sever the relationship with his father, but probably not for a few more years. I fully expect that once son is old enough to work full time, his dad will come slithering around, expecting son to support him. Son knows this as well. In the meantime, son sees his dad a couple times a week, but is very embarrassed by the nuttiness. It is very hard to see him go through this.

    Megan, hang in there.

    • “Cheaters are filthy scum who hurt their entire family”…. Nah! Mine told my kids he didn’t do this to them, he did it to mum,so why are they so upset. They were 10, 14 and 16 at the time. I wonder why?

  • This is great advice as always, CL. But there is one point that confuses me: “Your mom needs to respect you will — or will not — have a relationship with him, based on the merits of your shared history and how he treats you.” So are you saying the daughter should base her relationship with her cheater-dad only on how he treats her, and ignore how he treats others? Because, that is what got me into trouble with my cheater ex. He treated me like a queen, so I ignored the red flags of his treating others like shit. Also, this is one of the issues we chumps have with shared friends who stay neutral. These “friends” say, “yeah what he did to you sucks, but he never did anything to me, so it’s ok.” Um no, not ok. The guy has proven himself to be a POS with no character, and you still want to associate with him? I realize this cheater is her dad, but so what? Shouldn’t she maintain the same requirements for morals and character? OK, if she writes him off solely out of loyalty to her mom, that’s not appropriate. But if she has a problem with him because of how badly he treats other people she loves (including herself, as part of the family), and because of how selfish and immoral he is, that seems completely legit to me…

    • Thanks for the opportunity to clarify. I think Megan already knows Dad has treated mom like shit. That’s why she’s disgusted, and angry, and feels loyal to mom.

      Kids aren’t neutral friends. They are kids. This is their parent. They shouldn’t be forced to choose, or to cut one parent out to “support” the other.

      That’s a shit sandwich the betrayed parent has to eat. Children usually still love their cheating parent, despite knowing how much they hurt mom or dad. And I don’t think they should feel bad about that. These relationships take time to work out. And kids also don’t have the lifelong perspective older adults do — they haven’t been married, or had significant relationships. They don’t know what it is to invest a life in someone, to be a spouse. They just don’t get it.

      I think the best thing a parent can do is teach boundaries and model that behavior. Life has deal breakers, consequences. To honor your feelings and not spackle.

      But chump parents cannot and should not manage their children’s relationship with the cheater — (of course, unless the person is putting the kid in immediate harm, yes, then the authorities and the courts will do something — otherwise it’s a fuckuped free for all). You support. You be the sane parent, the loving parent, but you don’t run interference.

      If you really want them to end it with the disordered parent, you have to give them that space to learn for themselves, to be hurt. Because these people usually suck across the board. They’ll be narcissistic shits who cannot be relied upon. Or whatever.

      If a kid figures this out for themselves, as perhaps Megan has, that she wants little to no relationship — that’s her choice. And it’s a valid one. But I think she needs to untangle her desires from her mom’s, if mom is putting any pressure there. Maybe she will want a relationship — even a superficial one — eyes wide open — with her dad. She should feel free to have that.

      • OK, I can agree with this distinction about things depending on whether the cheater’s kids are children or adults. For example, my cheating dad left my mom when I was already an adult. My dad had been a POS his whole life, and my siblings and I had periodically cut off contact with him before, so it was a no-brainer for us all (individually) to permanently sever contact when he did that. In my kids’ case, though, they are young, and so they don’t really understand what their dad did. So, I support their relationship with him. And they love him. But, deep down inside, I do hope that one day they will see him for the lying, cheating, narcissistic deadbeat POS that he is…

      • My children (especially 20 year old daughter) is facing that now. She has seen her father once (when home from college for Thanksgiving this year) in the almost 2 years since D-Day. He asked to see her again over her Christmas break, but she knows he still sees one of his long-term AP’s. She also said she knows that any frank conversation would include her telling him she will never be part of his life in the long run if he continues with the AP. And she knows he will continue to see the AP, so it will be another rejection of her, and she said she cannot emotionally take that again. So she alternates between wanting to see her father and wondering why she tries. I cannot solve the problem for her, but as a mother I find it heartbreaking to see my children, my daughter, go through this. It is like some sort of bizarre repeat of what he did to me and I have no skin in the game this time.

  • Megan,

    I am sorry. I can relate somewhat. I found out my step-father was cheating on my mom right before I was planning to visit home around Father’s Day. I had brought a card with me to give to him that day. However, once my mom told me what was going on, I tore the card up and didn’t even wish him a Happy Father’s day.

    Granted it was a step-father and not my father. However, I doubt you’d regret not giving him a gift this year. Unless your mom specifically asks you to keep things as “normal” as possible, I wouldn’t bother.

  • I don’t have a lot of time to expound, but I will say that I believe my sons’ relationship with their father is not the same as it was before they realized he is a cheater who abandoned his family.
    We really don’t talk much about their father. I think it is painful for them, and they are concerned that it is painful me, and they don’t want to hear or see that. I have been very careful not to badmouth their father in front of them or within ear shot.

    I was able to get out of them that the relationship is “awkward” and that it is very sad that he doesn’t seem like a father any more, but instead like a friend with a lot of problems. I gather the ex has many complaints about his life–too much work, etc. He is more like a generous uncle who pays for half their college and takes them out for a meal or to buy groceries now and then, before dropping them back at home. I gather they talk a lot about their father’s new hobbies (not about the woman, apparently, thank God) and about themselves and what is going on in their lives, but I could be wrong.

    In the early days, I did feel betrayed when my kids would visit with their father, but I would bite my tongue when they left (and have a beer!) and greet them happily when they came back home. I still do that, minus the beer. They’re never gone for very long. And they do value the time they spend with their father, however strained and limited. I think maybe it’s useful to them to see that they haven’t been totally 100% abandoned, that their father has major faults but does try to love them the best he can, that he has some redeeming value. Because they came from him, I think it’s natural to fear their father’s failure as a reflection upon themselves, so that when they have a laugh or a good time, instead, it’s reassuring to them. They may worry about their father, as well, as broken as he is. They see that I am strong, but what about him? Touching base keeps them right. They actually have fun with him. There were times when we were married that he could be a LOT of fun, especially for the boys. And, for better or for worse, they will always love him, though that love has been forever changed. Sadly, respect and admiration have been replaced with something I can’t be sure of. Is it empathy? Is is protective feelings? Is it resigned fondness of the good days? I think their thoughts will be private. I bet there are people here who had a relationship like that with their own parent and can explain it better than I can.

    But I thought just last night, in the grocery store with one of my sons, as we were joking and laughing (something my ex despised), I really am glad I didn’t ask my kids to choose. There’s no need to do so. They’re good kids, and I trust that they know he sucks, and they get around that strain to salvage something from the relationship. It is entirely different from what I have with my kids, but they manage both. I used to worry quite a bit, and now just a little, that their father would say something to them to bring them to the dark side, that somehow he would make what he did in their minds ok, or, worse, optional for them one day. Or that they would find a way to accept their father’s point of view that I am somehow to blame for the destruction of our marriage and their security. But I control my own behavior and I have given them no corroborating evidence. To the contrary, I am strong and happy, and their father is a known liar and cheater–a coward. It hurts to know your father is a coward. It’s embarrassing. I know that they know that, and I know that they do love him in their own way, and I know that’s ok. I am glad I didn’t FORCE it–I think faking a happy celebration is emotionally abusive to children, but Megan’s mom has her needs, I suppose. I’m also glad I didn’t inhibit their relationship. I neither facilitated nor hindered it. That has worked for me and for them so far.

      • My boys almost never speak of their dad in front of me, I guess to protect my feelings. They were getting married around the time my ex left, so I felt like I really lost them too. They were distant for awhile because they got upset with me for calling them so much and crying. That was a mistake but at the time they were the closest people in the world to me outside of my husband. Eventually I formed other support networks and backed off from them which seemed to help. What’s interesting is I think they now talk to my parents more than me or my ex. I think my parents provide some continuity and my dad has in some ways provided stability their dad has not. I’ve done my best to build my own life so I can be happy which is apparently the best thing you can do for your kids, but I do feel like the relationships we had before the divorce will never be the same.

    • I wish I could be like that all the time. I ammost of the time but I have my moments where I lose it. I realise that I am fucked financially and that he’s living high on the hog and when the kids come home and tell me about his latest big expenditure or big plan that will use the money and future we both were supposedly working towards I have been known to get pissy. I do my best but I’m no saint and do lose it every so often. Not too much, thankfully, but it’s hard to keep quiet when I have actually faced being homeless within days while he’s buying top level flats. Deep breaths!

      • I’m sure if I’d been in that position, I’d have had a lot more to say in front of the kids. I am fortunate in that I am able to support myself financially, and always did. xH was always quite stingy, and felt that the money he earned was his.

        Big hugs, Nord. That is a particularly pungent shit sandwich you’re eating.

  • The Christmas that we were separated, my husband came over to open stockings and gifts with the kids. He was surprised to find lumps of coal in his stocking. Made a big impression and really helped to reinforce the belief in Santa in my youngest.

  • Hi all,

    I’ve just finished reading through your comments and CL’s letter. I have to say that I’m totally overwhelmed by the support and kindness of strangers – thank you all so much. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the idea of donating to Heifer in his name; I definitely think I’ll be doing that. Thank you also for mentioning ACOD; I think I’ll be looking into that group as well.

    Just a couple points of clarification:
    My mum is (thankfully) handling this with grace and good sense and has been VERY clear that she doesn’t expect my sister or I (both adults, as mentioned) to burn bridges for her sake. Nor does she expect us to ignore what’s happened and carry on blissfully. She’s absolutely giving us the space to decide what we want in this situation… which really does speak for itself.
    She has also made it clear that cheating is her line in the sand – even if my father wanted to repent, she wouldn’t let him. This is hard and horrible but I’m very proud of her for finding her inner CL and not letting my father ruin her life (any more than has already happened). Thank you all again so much. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I have some smiley face cupcakes to make. 🙂

    • Enjoy your cupcakes!

      Just curious though — if cheating is her line in the sand and she’s got no interest in reconciling — why the “normal” x-mas appearances? Has she not told people she’s separating? Does she not want to be the Christmas bummer?

      • We’ve got a very, very large family and Christmas is incredibly important to all of us. Her exact words were “I’m going to limit the effect he has on the rest of my life, starting with dinner at your Aunt N’s”. She doesn’t feel like SHE would be the bummer, she feels like it’s letting him win if she has anything but a “normal” Christmas. As for our personal Christmas, she’s leaving that up to my sister and I. Whatever is the least awkward (I might have laughed at that, but so did she).

  • Megan: I didn’t see an age for you. My father was a serial cheater although at the time
    ( I am 63 now) I’m not sure that was even a term that would have been used. My sister’s and I all sided with my mother but would have loved to have had a relationship with him. He really didn’t want one with us; not sure if he felt quilty (might have) or if he wanted to be the hip swinger who did not have children. As we got older we each had some relationship with him but to be honest none of us were very close to him and now that both my parents are dead I have several pictures of my Mom in my home but none of my father. I think the father /daughter relationship is a tough one. I think if it make you feel better talk to him one on one and tell him how you feel and if you don’t want to be all nicey nice then just be civil.

    • I’m 25, and my sister is 21. I do plan to talk to him, eventually, but I’d like to have it all sorted out in my head first. I think this is good advice, and I am definitely trying to consider the future and how my feelings might change when this all calms down.

      • Megan, my kids are younger than you but my older one tried very hard to have discussions with his father and his father literally ended each and every one by screaming at him like a child. It was horrible and did incredible damage. My advice is to let your actions speak for you and if you do really need to talk see a therapist to help you sort your feelings and thoughts and give you tools on how to approach any chats. My kid is in therapy now and it’s helped him enormously in taking control of the relationship with his father. He has his father’s number but wants a relationship–but on his terms and with the full knowledge that he will never really be able to count on his dad to be there.

        I’m sorry you’re going through this, by the way. It sucks and the hardest thing for your mom is probably how this is impacting you and your sibling. Big hugs for the holidays. 🙂

  • As a chump kid, I feel for you having a cheater dad. My suggestion would be to talk to him directly. Ask him if he expects a normal gift exchange. Ask him if you are supposed to pretend nothing happened. See what he says.

    If he say “oh honey, I love you, I always have a special present for you because you are my child and that will never change” that is a good sign.

    If he says “let’s just do what we always do” and he starts mumbling, he is going for the cake. Be prepared to be disappointed.

    You deserve to hear it from him, and not depend on your mom. If he sticks to his “easy way out” form, he will let you “spackle” and you are taking on the awkwardness. You are willing to be uncomfortable so he won’t feel uncomfortable.

    Cheaters love this. The absolutely hate to face the consequences, and sadly, his relationship with his children being so accepting of him is one of them.

    You seem gentle and empathetic, which are wonderful qualities. However, narcissists depend on other people to be this way so they can do what they want and not have to hear about the destruction. Good luck.

    • This, wow. “You are willing to be uncomfortable so he won’t feel uncomfortable.”

      That one hit home. I will have to be careful of that kind of thinking! Thank you so much for this perspective.

      • I know my oldest son sat his dad down and told him, “You really need to think about the kind of relationship you want with me and my brother.” My son was upset that his dad had basically run away from everyone’s anger. My ex answered, “I want whatever kind of relationship you want with me.” My son said this pissed him off because his dad wouldn’t take responsibility for his part in their relationship. My son felt that his dad just put the burden back on him.

        • Arrrggghhh..Lyn, what your ex said to your son makes me scream. Soooo… you cheat on your wife and let your kids take responsibility for their relationship with you? can you say “parentified child”? another example of narcissism and emotional abuse.

          Although it is sad that this happened, I commend your son for taking the risk and talking about it. He is better off knowing sooner rather than later that the guy is a dud in the dad department.

          The “parentification” of the children is also in the narcissist’s playbook. Let the kids take care of them and their emotional needs. It’s abusive because it does put the burden on the child to figure out how to get along with the parent. The abuse is that the child doesn’t spend his energy finding out about themselves, and what their talents are. They just waste their time dealing with the emotional needs (which are always a mystery, especially to the kid) of the parent.

  • Megan

    Has your father spoken to you about your feelings, especially about the holiday season and how awkward and painful it may be for you?

    If not….you have your answer. Sometimes what they don’t say speaks volumes.

    If your father is fine with leaving you in gift giving limbo and you’re expected to go along with the let’s pretend “Christmas” he is teaching you about conflict avoidance and rug sweeping 101.

    This is how chumps are born, they are conditioned to step around the elephant in the room and and play along with a charade.

    Ask yourself why you feel you cannot just speak directly to your father about how awful and confused you feel about Christmas and how you’re expected to act as if everything is ok when it’s not.

    • My 25-year-old daughter (19 at the time) was the one to uncover my ex-husband’s affair. She discovered pages and pages of text records on our family cellphone statement. She directly called him on his behavior–“Dad, what is going on with all these texts to this number? I want you to stop texting/calling AP.” His answer–“No.” Needless to say, she has not seen nor spoken to him in almost six years. My 28-year-old daughters still use him as their DD to the bars. Seriously. How many young women go to bars and nightclubs with their DAD? They tell me it’s because he likes the bands that are playing. I think it’s because he brings his debit card. Hard for me to keep my mouth SHUT.

  • My four children, now ages 21-28, treat my XH of 2 months with respect, but they don’t initiate too much. Since he moved away in 2009, they have experimented with him being offered his own Thanksgiving and Christmas with them, one week before (2009). We have also let him come to ours, mostly to lessen the work we have to do (2010 and 2011). When he came to our holiday dinner parties, he kept texting and talking to the AP, which helped my kids understand how I felt. When I discovered AP2, and filed for divorce, they went back to offering him a pre-holiday again (2012 and 2013). He tried to tell me once that it was so unfair that I got the kids for all the holidays, but I reminded him that he left and moved 1000 miles away, and then 3000 miles away. They are too old to be a custody battle. They are kind enough to include him without forcing us to be together, acting normal. He has lost his connection to all of them. I pay for the family cell phone and can see that he may call them occasionally, but they don’t initiate contact. He can pretend to share the big moments, when all of us chumps know that the little moments of everyday life ARE the big moments!

    I empathise with Megan, and her dilemma, but hope she will listen to her own feelings and act accordingly. This is a new situation, and sorting through your feelings is very difficult. Be true to yourself and know that you may sometimes feel very differently than you expected to. These are uncharted waters! Go slowly.

  • I am 39, in the middle of my divorce. Kids ages 10, 7 and 4. Considered having Christmas together, fake it for one last hoorah. Decided NOT to for a few reasons. 1- I don’t fake things well, x2b is a master and I know I would probably punch him in the face. Police lights at Christmas, not a good memory. 2- Faking it for the kids, lesson I learned growing up, never works. They know. People being in the same room on Christmas morning, it’s NOT what the kids are looking for. They are looking for the feelings of an intact family celebrating one of their most beloved days of the year. That can’t be faked.
    My parents were both cheaters. They are still married. Mother is the ULTIMATE narc, dad is classic enabler. My mother is the one who pulled the “I did it to your dad, not you” card. My dad “only” cheated once and it was and is obvious that he was ashamed. Mother, serial cheater. Probably still cheats. I remember the Christmas after my dad cheated. It was a mess, beyond a mess. Mother wasn’t there, he couldn’t/didn’t wrap the gifts, they were in plastic store bags tied shut. I was 14 or 15 that year. Even though it was a complete disaster, it was probably the most honest Christmas ever. Nothing ever felt right about pretending for Christmas morning that our (2 sisters) lives were perfect just because of a tree and gifts to open.
    My point is, I don’t think it’s healthy to pretend just because it’s Christmas. I don’t mean you suck all the joy out of this time of year by being bitter, angry and hostile. I think it comes down to starting a new tradition, a new life, a new understanding of what the next year will bring. I discussed it with each of my kids. I knew going in to the decision I would have Christmas Eve, the fight over getting up at 4 am isn’t worth it. We will be going out to dinner and Santa, aka, my dad, will be delivering gifts. Santa will leave a note about stopping early just for them so they could have some of his presents with their mommy.
    I am not completely selfless. I know what I got them vs their father. Mine are much better presents because I KNOW my children. Go to dads and know the gifts you wanted most, will enjoy most, are right here waiting for you. When you get tired of not being able to play with the antique airplane he bought you to hang in your room above your bed at his house, know that mommy almost got killed on black Friday getting you a tablet that you have been begging for since last summer.
    I win because, as always, I put them first, know them best and love them more than I will ever ever dispise their father. Stupid ass.

  • We are right in the middle of the fake Christmas insanity. H has finally admitted that he never wants to leave AP, but wants to stay in the house and co-parent. H thinks we are doing a “great job” raising our two boys (14, 12) and thinks we can still have fun family time together. We could even get divorced and still live together. That way I could see other people too (since I don’t want another relationship while I am still legally married)! What a generous gift for Christmas!! Hmm, I think you lose the “fun” family time when you are a selfish lying cheat. Extra fun seeing him wear the ‘special’ clothes he bought with OW. We are going to buy a Christmas tree tonight. The kids deserve a tree. Merry Christmas. Right.

    • Ugh Breathe. I’m sorry for what you’re going through. My ex also envisioned us continuing to have fun family times and me being “his friend”.

      When you say, “no, I think I’m too crushed to continue a relationship with you” they accuse you of being the smaller person. It’s so messed up.

      All I have to say is don’t let him run the show. YOU decide what YOU need to navigate this situation and don’t let him control you any more. My ex was surprised that I basically refused to see him after D-day. He thought he’d come back the next day and tell me how the divorce was going to work. He was still trying to control the situation, but I’d had enough. I told him I didn’t want to see him anymore. I stayed away from him, made arrangements when we closed on our house to sign papers early, whatever I needed to do to avoid being around him. My priority became putting myself first. It was the best thing I could have done for my sanity and healing.

  • Megan, my kids were ages 19, 22 and 25 when we separated and we all found out about the affair. My kids got “We would have divorced years ago but I wanted to keep the family together until you were adults” from their dad (Wish I’d known that was the plan.). This sort of turned the tables on them, it was a version of “Look at all I’ve done for you, you should still love me.” I think that was shameful. Over time they have continued to stay in contact with their dad but it is not the same as it was.

    I’m not sure you should cut your Dad out of your life. Ultimately what matters the most is taking a course of action that is the least painful for YOU. On this subject worry about you, not about either one of your parents. I think the bitterness of total estrangement would eat away at you in the long run. You will feel differently in a few years as the pain subsides. You won’t have your Dad on the pedestal he was on before this all happened and things will never be the same. However, I think that if you can at least have a friendly relationship someday that will make YOU feel better.

    I’m not sure that the animal gift is a great idea, it seems emotionally loaded to me. The point here is not to send a passive aggressive message but to deal with an awkward situation in a way that does not betray your feelings or principles. I love the idea of a charitable contribution, though, maybe to a worthy organization that one of you supports. You will be doing something good but will not be extending generosity toward your Dad that you are not feeling right now.

  • Roslyn,

    I totally agree, and am stunned, by what your ex did in attempting to somehow shift blame for the marital problems onto his kids. Horrible. Basically, he was turning his failing into some kind of noble sacrifice for them. Such an action reveals how much he lives in his own little world, oblivious of his actions’ effects on others. You and the kids are well of to be rid of him.

    That is really a very telling thing to do, a real indication of his poor character.

  • >