How do I protect my kids from my spouse’s affair partner(s)? How do I shield my kids deal from this new blended family that’s been inflicted on them? And…Hell, we’re not even divorced, and he’s introducing the kids to my replacement. What can I do?
I get these questions a lot. And I have the same head-banging answer of disappointment — Nothing.
NOTHING?! Are you fucking kidding me?! I get cheated on, lied to, lose half of all my worldly possessions in a divorce AND THAT DOUCHEBAG AFFAIR PARTNER gets to be around my kids?
Uh huh. Yep.
Introducing the shit sandwich you can’t avoid — What Other People Do.
Once you are divorced, you don’t get to control what goes on at your ex-spouses’s house or how they parent. You don’t control who they date (even if they were dating that person while you were married). You don’t control how many fuckbuddies they cycle through each season. You don’t control how many of them get introduced over breakfast to your kids.
Yes, if you’re lucky, you can write into your divorce decree that your ex cannot have overnight visitors, or provisions around sleeping arrangements. I had a judge write this into a custody decree with my ex, and I didn’t even ask for it. The judge just had a thing about unmarried parents having sleep overs with paramours while having custodial time with children. So it’s there. Despite the fact that, in my particular case I don’t care. My ex has dated the same woman for over a decade and she’s the more competent adult between the two of them. He’s violated the order every summer vacation. And if I cared, you know what my options would be? To hire an expensive lawyer and try and hold him in contempt. Spend thousands for a hearing. To do what? Have a judge fine him? If I’m lucky pay my attorney’s fees? (that’s never happened to me in over a decade of being sued by a mentally ill pro se person). Tell him sternly not to do it again? Spend a life being the ex-spouse police and monitoring how he spends his evenings and with whom? Documenting it all and going to court?
By all means, while you are divorcing use evidence of the cheating and the introducing of affair partners as reasons for why you should have custody and decision making. Some judges care. But many do not. But once you have that divorce decree and that order — even if it has provisions for “visitors” — enforcing it is up to you. And that depends on how deep your pockets are.
Judges see a lot worse. They see horrific child abuse, addiction, unspeakable drama. Unless this person is a criminal or is putting the child in imminent danger, courts don’t care. You saying the person has crap morals and is a slutty home wrecker and should be kept from your kids makes you look like the batshit crazy person.
I know that is hideously unjust. Because what is the most precious thing to you? Your kids! It’s one thing to have your marriage broken up, your bedroom defiled, your finances decimated because of infidelity — but to touch your KIDS? Protecting them from hurt is primal. Clearly cheaters don’t think of this at all. And it pisses me off to no end that so many cheaters eat cake EXACTLY because they figure you would never put your children through a divorce. Which they’re quite happy to pin on YOU (which is why so many of them drag their feet, much better if you’re the Bad Guy).
And I’m sure a lot of “reconciliation” is undertaken with the express purpose of folks being goddamned if they’ll let the Other Person touch their kids. Understandable, but wrong headed.
Children eat the biggest shit sandwich with infidelity. Their families are broken up by divorce, their allegiances confused — all we can do in response is be the best parent we can be. That’s all we get to control — ourselves.
And it’s a lot to ask of a chump — to be the sanest, most together, consistent parent after DDay. To not bad mouth the person who has just gutted us. To not try to protect your kids from the affair partner who aided and abetted in the destruction of their family. It’s a Herculean task of sanity. And yeah, it’s fucking unfair.
If you haven’t achieved “meh” about your ex, fake it around your kids. IMO, it’s okay to tell them why you’re divorcing (i.e., “mom cheated”) but not okay to editorialize (i.e., “because mom is a whore”). Shore them up the best you can. Get counseling for everyone. But when you feel yourself spiraling out of control, obsessing over your ex and the AP, put the focus back on yourself. How can I be a good role model? You really have an opportunity to show your kids what grace looks like in the face of adversity. How to navigate heartbreak. How to survive and thrive (but focus on survive right now, thrive will come later).
I know that’s not very satisfying. These are the days where you wish you had an uncle in the Russian Mafia or a lynch mob at your personal disposal. They pass. Take it on faith that your kids will figure it out in time. (Yeah TIME. Damn you Time!) They don’t have the life experience to get it, and they won’t for another 20 years or so.
Oh, and don’t let your kids jerk you around and do the humiliating dance of “pick me” with them either. Children have been known to exploit an opportunity to play one parent off the other. Your house, your rules. Be secure in your role as their parent. Don’t spoil them or let them get away with shit. Don’t go all soft and wobbly because you’re afraid they won’t love you. (If they’re teenagers, they don’t love you right now anyway.) You’ve still got a job to do — so do it!
Some day they’ll thank you for it. By then your ex will be on their 15th ex-affair partner probably. Life has a way of filling in the bigger picture so you don’t have to.
(((Hugs))) Chumps. Meanwhile, I know it sucks.
This column ran previously. Feel free to comment!