Here’s a question that comes up a lot. A chump will describe a litany of horrors the cheater wing nut has inflicted on home life, an inevitable split occurs, and then the question is asked — how can I protect my children from the Crazy Parent and ensure that they don’t grow up to be Crazy People?
Boy, don’t we all want to know that!
I’ve gone over this topic at the Unending Punishment of Breeding with a Fucktard, but time for a recap.
We don’t control other people. Just ourselves.
GAH!!!! WRONG ANSWER!!!! Surely there must be an exception for children?! We must mold them and guide them, and if we Do It All Right than there are guaranteed returns on our investment, right?!
Nope. You just do the best you can do, and if you’re religiously inclined, pray a lot.
I’m not saying give up on this fight. Hell, if I wanted you to give up, I’d say stay with your cheater and keep modeling dysfunction because it’s all a big whatever. I’m not saying that, I’m saying — do your best, hope for the best, but let yourself off the hook — you’re not ultimately responsible for their relationship with their fuck up parent or how much they resemble their fuck up parent.
Here’s some tips:
1. Wing nuts are good at impression management. Kids are easily impressed. You know how much your cheater sucks, remember what a long journey that was for you to come to that conclusion? Well, you have a fully developed pre-frontal cortex, kids do not. With all your adult discernment and executive functioning power, you struggled. They’re going to struggle too. And the heart-breaking thing is that you’re probably going to have to watch as daddy breaks their hearts with his unreliability, and mommy boldly tells lies they believe. Then the affair partner buys them sparkly shit and they’re Best Friends Forever!
I know it’s just gutting, but you have to take the long view. Character is revealed over time and they will get it eventually. Kids might be easily impressed or distracted when they’re little, but they’re not dumb. They know who has their back, they can sense creepiness, it’s just that they want to belong. If playing nice with mommy’s new friend is the price of admission, they’ll eat the shit sandwich. A lot of childhood is eating shit sandwiches for adults (I’d rather be playing Barbies than combing my hair). They can’t really discern shit sandwiches that well until adolescence hits. (Then everything is a shit sandwich and you are a Horribly Oppressive Force. Ask me how I know.)
Anyway, my point is — suck it up and take the long view.
2. Set a good example. Be the sane parent. You don’t control the fuck up parent, you just control you. So be the best parent you can be. Have your kid’s back. Be the grown up, the reliable one, and I’m sorry — the not-so-fun one. This isn’t a democracy — raising children is a benevolent dictatorship. So don’t be afraid to be unpopular. Dad lets them blow off homework? Not. In. Your. House.
There are so many ways you can be a great example to your kids — kicking adversity in the ass and raising them on your own, being truthful, being a hard worker, creating your own family traditions, finding love again and modeling what reciprocal healthy love looks like. Frankly, the best example you’ve set to date is not being a CHUMP. Because you asserted yourself and created a new life, you’ve led the way for your kids to do the same in their lives one day.
3. Realize that some of this shit is genetic. I don’t say this to freak you out (but it is scary), but to let you off the hook. Things like addiction and mental illness have a genetic component. Even sociopathy has inherited traits according to the latest science. Do your best but realize that half their DNA is fuck up. And if you’re honest with yourself, aren’t there some scary characters in your blood line? You turned out relatively normal, didn’t you? And your ex, for all their fuckupedness had some good qualities (straight teeth perhaps?) that are also inherited.
On addiction, let your kids know that this shit runs in their family so they’re aware. If you cannot control the nature, be the nurture. That’s all you control, really.
4. Be honest. Don’t lie to kids and protect the image of the fuck up parent. And on the flip side, don’t editorialize and run the parent down. They still love the idiot and that’s their right. Just be truthful — mom cheated and that’s why we divorced. (Not “mom’s a whore.”) As the saying goes, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” Be real about what happened. Be real when you’re sad. But do reassure them. “Mom’s having a sad day, but it will pass. Don’t worry.” Children take a lot of comfort in knowing that whatever happens, you’ll do your best to make sure their routines and their friendships remain intact. “I will be making grilled cheese for lunch, then soccer at 4 with Caitlin.” Be honest and be predictable. They’ve had enough chaos.
5. Recognize the limitations of family court. Did your ex promise not to let Junior play video games on school nights, but then does, like All The Fucking Time? Did your ex promise not to introduce the affair partner for a year, but the skank is moving next week? Be careful what you take to court. You can’t manage the other parent’s life. You flunked being marriage police, and you’re going to flunk being the parent police too.
It’s exhausting and it’s impossible to control the crazy that goes on in another household. All you can do is document, and if it rises to the level of immediate danger to the children — then the court will act. There’s a pretty high threshold for courts to give a shit. Your results may be different, but I promise you most judges don’t care about most domestic squabbles, including your ex having an affair partner with sleepovers. They see hideous cases of abuse, it takes a lot of fuckupedness to impress them.
That said, if you are dealing with addiction issues, criminal conduct, abuse — get that shit in front of a judge! Don’t hesitate! What I’m saying is avoid anything that looks like “Fuck up promised to do THIS and DIDN’T DO IT.” They’re shitty people, what did you expect?
Look into parallel parenting instead of co-parenting. Your house, your rules. The upside to this (it’s not much of an upside, but I’m trying to be optimistic here) is that exposure to the crazy contrasting with the security and normalcy of your home WILL make an impression on your kiddos. Much more than fronting for your ex trying to create normalcy out of chaos ever did. They’ll draw their conclusions about the fuck up parent much more quickly because they have to live with the crazy, front row seat.
Lastly, (((BIG HUGS)))). It just sucks. Just do your best and know that many chumps have walked this path before you and survived. You will too.