Please help! I do not know how to navigate this entire divorce mess with my two teenage daughters. My youngest sees her father every other weekend. This includes time spent with the OW. This weekend they took a day trip and she took many pictures on her phone from the day. She wanted to tell me all about it. Fine! She wanted to show me her pictures. Fine! With those pictures came selfies of her and OW. Plenty of them. A group selfie….her, her father and OW. One big happy family!!!! No pictures of daughter with just her dad. I said nothing.
Seeing that was like driving a stake between my eyes. I excused myself to the bathroom for a moment to gather myself and to try to decide if I should mention to her how seeing those photos hurt me. I decided to word it in a way that wouldn’t hurt her feelings, but would explain my boundaries and to let her know that I wasn’t ready to see pictures like those yet.
My words were (and I held in my tears and emotions) “Can I say something to you briefly….and please don’t take this the wrong way or be upset?…..I am not yet at a point where I can see pictures of you and OW. I wanted to hear about your trip and see your pictures, but I am not ready to see you with OW. This is a boundary I need to have in place so I can continue to heal from the hurt.”
She rolled her eyes at me. She said “Whatever Mom” …..”I can never do anything right”….”Those pictures were just there.” I am not stupid. She knew those pictures were coming up. She could pull her phone back and pass over them before continuing. She is 16! She isn’t a toddler. She knows how much it hurts to be cheated on. Has happened to her with boyfriends. How does she not see how this would hurt? Did she do it on purpose? Did she want the drama? Why couldn’t she say,”Gee Mom, I am so sorry. I did not do it on purpose. I will be careful next time.”
Why do I feel as though I should be silenced about talking about my feelings?
I don’t know how to handle this. Now she is angry with me and she won’t talk to me and she was verbally abusive this morning to both her older sister and to me. And she said that her sister and I gang up on her. “Everyone sees it”!
This is why I held on for five years (knowing of the cheating) and tried to reconcile my broken marriage. Because I saw what was going to happen to my children and our family. This feels hopeless. I feel so damn defeated. I didn’t want any of this!
How do I fix the mess?
It’s not your mess to fix. You set a boundary, and when you set a boundary you let go of the consequences. People may not like your boundaries. They might lash out. They might get ugly. It’s your boundary. Stick to it.
I don’t fault you for having the boundary and I think you went about it the kindest way you knew how. That doesn’t mean your daughter is going to like it.
She’s a teenager. If she’s like most young people her age, she resists all boundaries. Given the narcissistic age they’re at, never show your vulnerability to teenagers. You think toddlers are manipulative? (I’ll just bat my eyelashes and look cute here and mom will give me a cookie!) Teenagers have had the last decade to perfect their skills of button pushing. You just handed her your button when you said this hurt you.
You can’t expect your kid to understand your pain, but you can expect her to respect your boundary. I would suggest a simpler boundary for now — what goes on at Dad’s house stays at Dad’s house. You don’t need the particulars. I doubt you wanted to see her pictures, or hear about her fabulous day out, so don’t put yourself in that position. If she goes there, don’t agree to see her phone. Just utter a pleasant banality and change the subject.
A wise person once counseled that all conversations with young people could be reduced to “cool, bummer, wow.”
I spent a terrific day with dad and his mistress!
I’m got fired from my internship, but it’s okay because I got a job as a tattoo artist!
Look at my sleeve tattoo! It’s the Battle of Gettysburg only with zombies!
Teenagers don’t want to share everything with you. Don’t share everything with teenagers. If she pushes you on why you don’t want to see 40 selflies of her and the OW, you say “I’m glad you had a good day.” If she keeps pushing you just state your boundary. “It’s better for me now if I don’t hear about the particulars of your time at dad’s. Hey, want tacos for lunch?”
Look, she is 16. Whatever her kerfuffles in her dating life, she has absolutely NO IDEA how you feel. She hasn’t the foggiest notion of what it is to invest decades in a relationship and have kids and a mortgage and entangled family. She has no idea what it is to be gutted by adult infidelity.
From her perspective, she knows her family fell apart, and if she can’t have her intact family, then she’ll go with the next pleasant narrative We’re All Happier Now and Everyone Can Be Friends. The reality of your pain, of your boundary of not feeling friendly toward the cheating ex, doesn’t play well with that narrative. She’s grown up watching you eat shit sandwiches. Why won’t you eat this one too?
Because there are consequences for abandoning your family. Because there are deeply hurt feelings. Because it is a terrible loss and you’re going to grieve it. Eventually, I trust you will get to meh about the ex and the OW and their trips to petting zoos or WTFever they’re up to, but you’re not there yet. Because this pain is fresh and raw. Don’t be inauthentic, but don’t discuss your emotional slop with minors either. They just need to know you are still IN CHARGE. You’re mom, this is your boundary. Respect it. Next subject please.
I know you wish your daughter could respond with compassion, but maybe she’ll get there at some point years from now. But don’t predicate your relationship on it. Your pain isn’t her job. And hearing about it probably makes her feel disloyal to her dad, and guilty about enjoying time with the OW. She’s got to work those relationships out on her own and connect the dots for herself. And that shit takes YEARS. Your job is to focus on your new life and parent your kids.
Part of which includes not taking shit off teenagers. She’s verbally abusive to you or her sister? You shut that down. Not acceptable. Boundary. Consequence. Enforcement.
Chumps have this codependent notion that sharing our pain will compel other people to not do certain things. I can tell you about my pain! And that will (guilt them, make them feel bad, and compel them) to not Do The Upsetting Thing. No. Cut to the chase and be direct with people. Here is my boundary. Do Not Do The Upsetting Thing.
It’s much more effective that way and shields you from further hurt. Then your vulnerable underbelly isn’t being rejected.
If the person persists in Doing the Upsetting Thing? That’s good information to have. That means you have been clear and they are indifferent. So you enforce the consequence, whatever that is.
So, in summary — keep your pain to yourself around your kids best you can, but get that boundary right out there in front.
Did your teenager do it to stir up drama? On purpose? Who knows? We’re talking about teenagers. Their brains aren’t fully formed (as I keep telling mine). Drama is part of the gig. Steady on and keep parenting.
This column ran previously.