Dear Chump Lady,
I am having a problem. I was chumped 5 years ago this month. I am in a good place now, remarried, etc. But my issue is — I have two teenagers and I cannot talk to them about their father.
They know what happened and all that, but I cannot talk to them about anything to do with their father, we are zero contact, I mean zero. The issue is, they sometimes want to talk about their childhood, before I was chumped (I am sure he was cheating the whole time but whatever) and I cannot do it. I don’t want to remember anything about being with him. Just nothing, It’s too painful. So am I denying them the reality of their past because I just cannot discuss it? Am I being too petty? I feel like I am. I feel like I am denying them their good memories because they are all now tainted for me.
How do I get past this and, I guess blank him out of the picture? I feel bad that they can’t talk about their dad and their growing up, he left when they were almost 11 and 12. I just have no good memories now. Every kid should be able to remember their younger days with happiness and reminisce. I am just being a bitch? Will this let up or what? Please help.
If it’s too painful for you, I imagine it’s pretty painful for them, what with being abandoned at 11 and 12 years old. When you say you have absolutely zero contact with him, I assume that means they do too? It doesn’t sound like you’re coordinating schedules and doing drop offs. So, no dad for them, only memories? Maybe he’s around, but he isn’t doing the day-to-day parenting stuff?
You have the consolation of a new marriage, of being loved and validated. They don’t have that. They’ve got this new guy in their lives, and maybe they like him well enough, but he’s not Their Dad.
One extremely difficult part of breeding with a fuckwit is that while your allegiance changes — you stopped loving him — your children’s does not. This causes a lot of heartache. Let’s list a few ways in which it sucks.
1.) You wish your kids understood the injustice. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t — but it’s not THEIR injustice. Their injustice is very different than your injustice. Your injustice is that you were chumped and abandoned. Their injustice is that they lost their intact family. They lost the parenting “team” raising them. (Even if that teamwork thing was illusory, it was theirs.) It’s hard for them to feel your pain — especially as teenagers — when they’re carrying around bucketloads of their own pain.
I know you also lost your intact family and a parenting partner, but you’re the adult. From their perspective you moved on. They’re the kids. They only get one mom and one dad, and they’re still too young to create their own families or realize that choosing your own tribe is often far more gratifying than shared DNA.
2.) You hate that the fuckwit hurts them, and yet they still love the fuckwit. Dad doesn’t show for the sports banquet? Mom fails to pay support? Any time someone hurts our children, the primal response is to want to rip their throats out. And yet that threat, that person we want to warn them about, is someone they love. We have to sit on the sidelines and eat the shit sandwich of that warm regard they have for fuckwits. STOP! THEY ARE ONLY GOING TO HURT YOU!
Nope, can’t go there. They have to figure it out for themselves.
3.) It feels disloyal. “If you loved me, you’d hate him.” That’s how it feels. How DARE you love this piece of shit AFTER ALL I’VE DONE FOR YOU. And yet you cannot burden your children with this divisiveness. You can’t make it All About You. Just get back to the job of sane parenting — pack the lunches, sign the forms, show up, listen, buy the dental work.
I know how hard this is. You guys are heroes.
4.) They want something from you that you cannot give them — a good opinion of their other parent. Couldn’t they want something simple like a pony? You’re entitled to your opinion. You know the truth of what happened. The disconnect of what they want –and what you can give — is still sad. But do NOT wear the blame — it’s sad because a fuckwit cheated and abandoned his family. You’re not a failure because you can’t think kind thoughts about him — he’s the failure.
So what can you do?
This is what I’ve done — make it about your kid. Do they really want to hear about Dad, or do they want to hear about how cute their Thomas the Tank Engine mania was, or that time they were licked by a cow, or how many times you had to read Zoom City before bed?
It’s okay not to have good memories of their dad, and write him out of your story, but please do indulge them in good memories of them.
Another thing I’ve managed is to have good memories of a departed grandmother. She really was wonderful, and loved my son, and we talk about her. Can you seize on anyone related to the fuckwit who you can speak well of? I think it helps kids to have a general sense of family on all sides that loves them.
Finally, just be kind to yourself. You’re not petty, you’re mighty. You’re raising two teenagers (kudos! salutes! confetti!) and you’ve rebuilt a new life. You’re modeling resiliency to your kids and that’s the best gift you could give them. Once upon a time I loved a fuckwit and we had amazing adventures! not so much.