Dear Chump Lady,
I recently “commented on a comment” to one of your posts https://www.chumplady.com/2014/02/dear-chump-lady-my-soon-to-be-ex-wants-to-take-a-family-vacation-together/. The commenter said, “Get rid of your husband, he has no self respect or integrity. Do you want your son around someone like that? He’s using him and your son will pay the price in the end.”
I certainly understand and agree with the sentiment. But I imagine most of us with young children cannot control the fact that our kids WILL be with their other parent. I’m almost 4 months since my STBX finallly moved out after a year and a half of torture. She was on her fourth (that I know of) boyfriend and living in our family home with me and our twins while we went through the legal divorce process.
Now that she’s gone, I have the best my lawyer said I could hope for — equal joint custody. Our kids have been handling it very well but are now starting to ask questions. They haven’t come right out and asked why mommy and daddy are divorcing. I think it may be because they know and don’t want to hear the answer. Your advice and that of many on your site is to tell them the truth, so for me that means to tell them that mommy cheated. Of course, they will get a different answer from me than from their mother! She will never admit that is the reason for the divorce and will say I’m badmouthing her and going against what we heard in the parenting class that everyone divorcing in Maryland has to take. This class, BTW, says to never badmouth the other parent to the children (I NEVER have) but doesn’t address this issue at all.
I still, after reading all of CL’s great posts and the great responses don’t know if telling them is the right thing to do for my kids. So I wish I could somehow not have my kids around her, but it just doesn’t work that way. They will be around her 1/2 the time and there is nothing I can do to change that. My family and friends are mixed when I ask for their advice. Some say tell them, some say no but that they will find out on their own eventually. I don’t want my kids to resent me later in life if I don’t tell them! I’m really struggling with this and absolutely HATE my STBX for putting our children and me in this position.
I really appreciate what you’ve done to create chumplady.com and help so many chumps like me.
I’m pretty consistent on this answer, but it bears repeating — TELL. Tell in an age appropriate way without editorializing. (i.e., “Mom’s a whore.”) Why is it important to tell? Because consider the alternative — children grow up with the scary, nebulous sense that people just “fall out of love.” (Could mom or dad fall out of love with me? Will I be abandoned?)
Compare that to the truth — some actions have consequences. Four boyfriends during marriage means you will find yourself divorced, with all the attendant pain and chaos.
Children of the youngest ages understand actions and consequences. There is safety in this — if I conduct myself well, I won’t hurt other people. If other people hurt me, I can enforce consequences.
Cheaters want you to protect their image and agree with their narrative. Who does that favor? The cheater. It doesn’t favor Twinsdad, who eats the shit sandwich in the name of harmony. And it doesn’t favor the children who wonder what the hell happened to my family? It favors the cheater.
Implied in the “don’t badmouth me” (with the truth) is a threat. If you don’t maintain my image, I won’t cooperate on this co-parenting thing.
Well, surprise, Twinsdad — she isn’t going to cooperate with you on this co-parenting thing any more than she co-operated with you on the marriage thing. You don’t want me seeing four men while I’m married to you? Fuck you.
But! But! Surely she will be her better self for the children! If there is no “acrimony” (i.e., you keep your mouth shut), she’ll do the right thing for the kids!
She won’t Twinsdad. She’ll do whatever the fuck she wants to because that is who she is. That is who she has demonstrated that she is. All you control is YOU. You just get to be the best parent you can be and let go of what happens at mom’s house unless it is endangering your children. (And I don’t mean in the too much video game sense, I mean in the sense that mommy’s boyfriend is a violent, drug offender.)
The flip side of this is true too. You don’t control what she says about you. I was reading somewhere on the boards where someone said — oh you need to keep your kids away from the vicious manipulation of the cheater. Ye-ah. Good luck with that. They have a court-ordered right to see their kids. I’ve lived this chumps — I’ve endured 12 years of childrearing thus far with a man the court’s found mentally unfit who has sued me for custody multiple times. You think that guy says sweet things about me? I’m the Great Satan.
Funny thing, my kid still loves me. (He’s a teenager, I’m the one who buys his athletic shoes and Hot Pockets. I don’t kid myself.) He has figured it out over the years who the sane parent is. Who has his back, who comes through for him, who shows up. That’s me.
If I could control crazy, do you think I would’ve divorced twice? If I could make people not be abusive to me or my kid, don’t you think I would’ve exercised that super power?
You don’t control your ex — you can’t manage her behavior through what you do (telling) or don’t do (not telling). You just control you. And that extends to your narrative. What she did to ruin the marriage is the truth — she cheated. Those actions had consequences.
If the parenting class of the state of Maryland gives you shit, I would ask them — if mommy was an alcoholic and we divorced because she’s a fall-down drunk, could I tell that truth? Mommy won’t stop drinking. If mommy was a heroin addict? A gambler? Perhaps they would answer: Oh those things are OBVIOUS. No need to tell. But infidelity? That can be a secret! It’s terrifically damaging, but let’s not speak of it. How healthy is THAT?
Tell your kids, but keep in mind they have no idea how to process this information yet. They don’t know what it is to marry and invest a life in someone. Look how long it took you to figure out who your ex really is — they’re just kids. They will love their mom anyway. Don’t let that hurt you. It’s their right to love her. And it’s your right to tell the truth. Just be the best parent you can be in the face of your ex’s fuckupedness. (I guarantee that’s not going away.) Your kids will understand in time. Be the sane parent. You get to control that.
Oh, and if your ex is really pissed off that you told the truth? Not. Your. Problem. In fact, I would argue she might be a little cowed by you in the future when she realizes you aren’t her chump any more.