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How Do I Set Boundaries with My Kids About My Ex?

Dear Chump Lady,

My cheating ex-wife avoids me. We don’t speak on the phone. And she does not go to events with our kids if I am going (she is afraid there will be a scene). I guess she assumes that I can blow up at her. But have you seen guilt-driven behavior with exes that act like this? I am happy with the boundaries. Thinking about it, I bet I make her just as upset as I get when I see her.

I am taking the high road. I am going with my kids to their therapist. And I know they are having a hard time….where (I think) they will say, “Dad we are having a good time with [the Other Man] and he’s nice.” They want the okay from me that’s it’s okay for them to have a good time. And that they are not betraying me. And it’s a big shit sandwich where I know I should say “hey it’s okay” — but I do want to set some boundaries. I am not going to talk a lot what they do there with them.  It blows chunks hearing from neighbors that they saw her and him with my kids at the pool on Labor Day. What do you recommend?



Dear Steve,

Well, I’d take it as a blessing that your ex-wife doesn’t want to be anywhere near you. Better that scenario than her showing up like the proverbial turd in the punch bowl. Enjoy your outings with the kids and don’t try to get inside her head, about whether she has “guilt,” or fears your wrath, or hates the sight of your tartan trousers. You really have no idea what makes her tick or why she behaves like she does. And you know what? It’s NOT YOUR PROBLEM ANY MORE!

Isn’t that good news?

We can play armchair shrink (and let’s face it, I enjoy that game a lot) and surmise that she has a guilty conscience. But I think it’s just probably more likely that she fears exposure and projects that on to you. Her fucking around isn’t embarrassing — YOU are.

But you still have to practice “meh.” Say it with me — MEH. Detach. What she does, with whom, and how often is no longer any of your business. (Caveat: Unless it puts your kids in imminent harm.)

When your kids discuss the other man douchebag, you need to practice a big Meh with them too. Oh really. Huh. <Scratch yourself. Stare absently.> With your neighbors you can be more direct, “I’m really not interested in getting news updates on my ex-wife. Thanks.”

As for the harder issue of eating the shit sandwich… I don’t know how old your kids are, but yes, don’t force them to choose. I do think children should know why their parents split, in age-appropriate ways. Mr. Douchebag was mom’s boyfriend when we were married. That is why we had to divorce.

So you give the facts, and you leave the editorializing out of it. (i.e., “Mom’s a slut.”) There is disagreement about telling, which frankly, I find insane. You shouldn’t gaslight children. I think it is far healthier to tell your kids the truth — that some things in life are deal breakers, and if you do these things, the consequences are that families break up — than it is to let them think there is some mysterious, evil force that just descends like a toxic cloud and makes parents fall out of love.

I also think it’s okay to set boundaries with your kids — age appropriate ones. A three-year old can blather on, they’re three. But you can tell a teenager, hey, son I really don’t need to know what your mom had for dinner, okay?

When all else fails, try this bit of advice about raising teenagers: Every situation can be responded to with “cool,” “wow,” or “bummer.”

“Look at my new scuba diving suit!” — COOL.

“I’m going to pierce my face with a safety pin and drill studs in my tongue!” — WOW.

“Mom lost her job and has to go live with grandma!” — BUMMER.

Notice how these are all variations in the key of Meh. There’s no analysis. No warnings. No lectures. Just a bland reaction of vague sympathy. The conversation moves on.

Children of all ages can read your reactions and find your buttons. In recovery literature they say — “Move your buttons.” In the case of kids, I say — don’t let them see that you possess buttons.

If you have no visible buttons, your kids cannot play one parent off the next. They also don’t have to feel bad when they stumble upon your painful triggers. In time all the angst and the urgency will pass. Your new life will crowd out your old life and your ex really will exist in a land of Meh. For you and for your kids. Your new normal will be theirs too.

Until then — MEH!

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  • I read here your children are hoping you can help them negotiate the relationship with their mother’s new man. If you are OK then they will be OK. Sadly, that’s your job. Your pain gets put back while you help your children negotiate this new life. I am with CL. Maintaining meh is going to help your children weather this new situation. If you take your pain out of it then you will hope that he is a nice man. If he is going to be in your children’s lives he had better be. Every time they tell you something positive all you need to say is, “That’s nice”. That’s it.

    • My go-to with the revolving door of schmoopies that my ex brings into my kid’s lives is this: “Is your dad’s new girlfriend nice to you?” kid: “yes”. me: “I’m glad to hear that.”

      I also keep it light by making a running joke of any complaints they have about their time with dad. Kid: “Dad made us clean his car while he played tennis.” me: “aww, that sucks. Do you want me to call Child Protective Services?” And then we all laugh.

      I am prepping for the day when they tell me they walked in on their dad being dominatrixed or that he left a giant dildo in the bathroom. I have CPS on speed dial.

  • you don’t have to like your ex. They’re your ex for a reason.
    Daughter said to me he’s not that bad, she doesn’t know what he’s really like.
    He could win an Oscar for his acting skills. He has a lot of flying monkeys, he could start a cult for all the deluded women who fall for his crap, I was one once.

    • It truly is. X will never be out of my life, even when the kids are adults. He and Wifetress will always be there for things like graduations and weddings. What a sandwich to have to keep eating for the rest of my life. :/

      • My ex and I have a son, but he was emancipated before Dday.

        We did have to share things like graduations of grandchildren etc, but by then I just did the cursory head nod and moved on. They were both pretty much exposed as, and acted like low life’s; so it wasn’t’ that hard for me.

        But having to co parent with dependent children has to be the worst. I know there are exceptions, but likely not in betrayal situations.

  • “Well, I’d take it as a blessing that your ex-wife doesn’t want to be anywhere near you.”

    I envy Steve. From the moment we start forced cohabitation (Feb 2016) until just about 3 months ago, I was subjected to an ex that constantly, persistently, and LOUDLY tried to force interactions between us, both in public places and “out of sight.”

    Early on it was “You’re going to have to learn to deal with me” and “I’m not just magically going away,” then it became “You’re damaging your relationship with your daughters by not respecting their mother” and “It’s been [x] years, you need to get the stick out of your ass.”

    Then, once I filed for a reduction of support, I got a one-sentence message via OFW: “Don’t contact me unless it’s urgent.” Since then it’s been virtual silence (big exhale)

    • Haha!! I bet she thinks she is punishing you!! My was was the same! He tried to involve me in one if his illegal financial schemes. I said no, and he said, “You are dead to me. I will never speak to you again!” Oh, I dearly hope so.

  • Are the kids really asking: “Is it ok with you if I have fun with this new person?”

    Children in these situation must sense that they are on shaky ground emotionally.

    Could one answer be “I am happy if you had fun sweetie”

    • That’s how I handle it: “I’m glad you had a good time there.” I centralize the kids in my statement and rarely talk about X and Wifetress unless I have to but accept the fact that they love their father and stepmother. I try not to get in the way of that.

      • Exactly. “Sounds like fun, glad you enjoyed it and got to have that experience.” Or if I’m told about something pleasant her dad’s girlfriend did for her, “cool! I’m glad you enjoyed the [nice thing] that [young girlfriend] treated you to…that was thoughtful of her and I hope you said thank you.” As long as the partners involved aren’t toxic, I think this works fine.

        Maybe that’s too much of a shit sandwich for some people, but honestly, I want my kid to be happy and feel loved and it is not at all her burden what happened between her dad and I. Besides, as a general rule, I think the more people who love your kid and treat them nice, the better.

  • When I left my ex it was super hard on my youngest who was 14 at the time and it was RIGHT as the pandemic hit. He used to say stuff like I feel guilty loving Dad after what he did.

    I had to get in bed with him and wrap myself around him on numerous occasions because well parents separating, moving, and a pandemic in the same 6 weeks is crazy hard. I used to tell him its ok to love someone and not like their actions. That is all. I didn’t weigh in and we don’t talk much about his Dad.

    He is thriving which is good. I see his Dad at his events and I am sufficiently socially nice. I have 90% custody so he sees his Dad but most of his time is with me. Navigating the kid stuff has to be the worst part of this. Mind you my son has requested from my ex not to meet his new love and he is respecting that for now.

  • Unfortunately the kids don’t understand that the Other Man is NOT nice. He’s a Fuckwit. In time they will see it. Once a cheater, always a Fuckwit!

  • What makes my situation difficult is that my ex’s co-cheater has a history of domestic violence (emotional and psychological) and he has direct exposure to our 11y/o daughter. Not to mention the fact that this creep played me and won my trust as a “friend” before conspiring with her in their affair. Of course, my ex believes the real problem is that I haven’t moved on, and that Mr. Hugs (as I call him) is the true victim in this. My two sons, both adult, have nothing to do with him, and my oldest (22) does not talk with his mother anymore and won’t as long as she’s in a relationship with that “piece of shit” as he calls him. Both my sons are adamant about protecting their sister and asked me to do everything in my power to limit contact with him. I tried, but was advised by my attorney that there was nothing I could do given he’s got no criminal history. My daughter and I have a great relationship and I just keep things positive. I never talk shit about him with the idea that she’ll figure it all out later, and I’ll be there to hold her up. And, I did reach out to him a few months back and told him I’m watching the situation with my daughter closely and served notice that if he fucks with her head, heart, or body, there will be consequences. This shit sucks though as this POS is widely admired in our community, and all of my former family have moved on from me, and bought my ex’s bullshit narrative.

    • TM— for safety you could provide a cell phone for your daughter. Or if your EX won’t let her bring her cell phone, you could set up a “Code” word that she can use when she calls or texts you that stands for “I don’t feel safe, come get me, etc

      I had to do that with my kiddos in my first divorce.

        • As long as your daughter knows you “Got her back”, she will look to you. And as the others said emphasize “I’m so glad you had a nice time there.” Make it about HER.

    • I think you should also work as a team with your sons on this issue. Reassure your sons that you are keeping your eye on the 11-year-old, but remind them that kids tend to talk to siblings differently than parents, so that all three of you need to remind her from time to time that she can always talk to any of you about anything. Your sons should not have to protect their sister, but they shouldn’t have needed to warn their mother that they won’t associate with her new jackass either. We don’t live in a perfect world. I know my sons edit their experiences with the jackass in front of me, but I know they also support each other in regard to dealing with their dysfunctional dad, and I feel better about the time they spend with him because they have each other to provide the common sense (and ethics) my EX lacks.

    • You should also be able to have a conversation with a police officer about your concerns and therefore it will be on the record in the event that there is a reportable incident. If he is in the legal system because of DV incidents, this is an extra important base to cover.

  • I feel the angriest and the most heartbroken about the children forced into the blender.

    It’s ironic to me that we are now paying four therapists and three lawyers because of the man who ignored and lied to our original family therapist. It was 125.00 an hour and might have prevented us from
    paying the seven, eight, football team, whoever we are paying now. Having all these people around (and he’s still lying, being financially deceptive, breaking agreements, and hiding his double life) feels like we are still on a crazy train he is the engineer of.

    However, a great therapist is, to me, the best response to all of these extremely complicated fucked up situations created by the simple-minded (feeble-minded?) charlatan I married in a classic bait and switch move on his part.

    I keep the focus on my daughter and her feelings. The children dragged into this bullshit have the worst shit sandwich of all, IMHO. I can divorce him but they have to reconcile that one parent they love has abused and soul-raped the other parent they love. This is the thing that fills me with the most rage around this whole thing.

    Taking into consideration the age and emotionally maturity and mental health of the children involved, together with a kick-ass savvy therapist’s recommendation, is how I handle any of these grenades.

    I told the Craigslist cockroach to stay at least 50 miles away from me and my daughter. That’s how it is right now. It is unknown if they are still together but I do know where she works and lives. If it changes I will create a new response plan with my therapist, whom I trust implicitly and love to death.

    • I should also mention that the advice agreed upon by the trusted therapists in my world is:

      A) do not bring anyone around your children until a year after the divorce is finalized, at the very earliest. And that hardly anyone ever does that.

      And of course cheaters, extremely self-centered by nature, can’t do that.
      If they were capable of respecting boundaries, other people, considering what’s best for their children, etc., none of us would be here.

      The traitor was told by our daughter’s therapist to not bring any romantic partners to his home in order to establish his home as his and my daughter’s home. Of course he violated this….she texted me in distress because she found long black hair in his bathroom. So the progress he made was nuked again, yet he blames me for their relationship being toast. This is how they operate. He was given advice, he ignored it, the predicted damage ensued, and it’s somebody else’s fault.

      Don’t worry about revenge. These idiots are determined to sow and thus reap wreckage wherever they go and it happens a lot faster if you stand clear and let them have at it.

      • Regarding the last paragraph: “Give him the rope and let him hang himself” is my mantra, so to speak.

      • “Don’t worry about revenge. These idiots are determined to sow and thus reap wreckage wherever they go and it happens a lot faster if you stand clear and let them have at it. Don’t worry about revenge. These idiots are determined to sow and thus reap wreckage wherever they go and it happens a lot faster if you stand clear and let them have at it.”

        They absolutely will.

    • And in case any cheaters are lurking here, fuck you to Kingdom Come for destroying your children’s security and foisting your rotting putrid baggage on them to deal with and try to heal from. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you and the perp who’s cheating with you.

    • ” I can divorce him but [kids] have to reconcile that one parent they love has abused and soul-raped the other parent they love.”

      And they have to d that while living part-time with the parent who recognizes no boundaries, feels no empathy, and follows no rules other than “do what feels good.”

      • And to be clear, the failure to adhere to rules and do what feels good only applies to the FW. They expect chumps and the kids to adhere to crazy rules they make up as they go along and can be super strict with the kids while being extremely disordered themselves.

  • My kids discovered the cheating on Christmas and XH threatened them if they told me. All kinds of trauma response chaos ensued. Seven years later – 6.5 since I told him to GTFO —and XH continues to emotionally harm them— highly manipulative, threatens, blames, gaslights, disappears….. he’s still with much younger selfish AF and immature AP — she’s also acted in ways to further alienate the kids and they LOATHE her (e.g. tried to rename our teenager’s puppy and threatened to rehome her puppy-told the kids that she can’t stand “kids,” and said she “dreams of murdering X in his sleep because he’s so disgusting!” ????????????

    I’ve had a million opportunities for “cool” “bummer” “wow” responses. Kids only need one sane parent and I’m it. We have a great relationship and speak daily (3 oldest are grown and 2 moved away for college). I stay in my lane.

    My wonderful life has truly crowded out 24/7 thoughts about XH and what he did. It gets better every year.

  • Co-parenting with a cheater and liar is a major shit sandwich but gets easier when you live in separate houses and you’re not married any more ????.

    I was able to make sure the AP was not allowed in my kids life in the first year of separation when they were dealing with their world turned upside down. Even though XH denied there was an OW I made it very clear that the kids couldn’t see her, and he respected that. I guess he was relying on my cues to be able to have an OK relationship with our kids, and it was probably convenient for him to be honest. Lots of therapy and counseling for kids and myself, trying my best to be the sane parent and listening to them.

    They eventually found out (the old “misplaced” bra story) and fell apart a bit and I had to pick up the pieces, but hopefully it’s better than finding out all at once. Now I have to deal with them living with the OW part time and it’s not always a picnic, but she’s nice with them, so I stick with cool bummer wow. I don’t lie to them, listen as much as possible. But have let them know I am not interested in knowing details of their dad’s life. Kids are no dummies, they see through most of it and I’m just trying to let them know that they’ll be ok.

    Anyhow, not sure I made all the right choices along the way, but tried to do my best by the kids. It’s not like this whole situation came with a map to navigate around all the floating turds.

    • As far as imposing boundaries otherwise, my X had a lot of fantasies about remaining friends being a while happy recomposed family and I had to shoot that shit down. First off the kids are not to appear on their social media. I am their parent and they are minors so that shit has been made crystal clear. Otherwise it’s all business with X, however civil. And I turned down all joint celebrations and practiced saying no: “ I have other plans” ( reading a book), “no thanks”, “ you guys have fun!”, “nopety nope nope” and straight up laugh. Dodge, bounce, deflect!

  • My heart goes out to all of you who have to deal with a cheating ex because of kids.

    Perhaps the only silver lining to my late-in-marriage Dday is that my three kids were no longer minors. Two were married. One had a child. Another was in grad school. They went NC with my ex on Dday after he told him of the affair. And, yes, he did tell them, so there’s that. (The clueless man thought they’d be sympathetic. He told our son he wanted to get together to discuss how he fell in love with this much younger woman–you know, a guy-to-guy chat over a couple of brewskies. What could be wrong with that? ????) My son not only declined but also said he never wanted to hear from his dad again, writing something like, “I love you and wish you well but please never contact me again. I’m protecting myself and my family.” #myfault

    My ex thinks I’ve poisoned the kids. They are full-fledged adults with brains of their own, as my daughter likes to say.

    My ex says I “always spoiled them.” If loving, respecting, validating, and caring for kids constitutes spoiling, then I’m guilty.

    He ramped up the accusations in the end by saying that I was buying their affections. That last one really fries my ass. I mean, WTF?

    I guess he has to blame me to feel better about himself. He can’t acknowledge that he’s experiencing the consequences of his own shitty behavior. Such is his character. Crappy to the core.

    Good luck to all chumps who are struggling with shared custody and have to figure out a way to explain things to kids. It really sucks. Fuck these cheaters for hurting kids.

    • My ex still thinks our kids (2 adults & one almost 18) have the mental capacity of an 8 year old. It must be because he was always “working” at the hospital. He really wasn’t around to notice that they grew up and had a mind of their own. The two younger ones watched as he raged, manipulated and devalued me (in the last few years of our 23 year marriage)). When he finally admitted he was a serial cheater they were angry. The two younger ones want nothing to do with him (they are NC). Guess he thought they would just get over all the crap he put them through and just love him because he is their father. Oh and I too was accused of alienation. It’s to hard for the ex to fathom consequences.

      • Agree. Interestingly enough, mine was also “working” in the hospital. Hospitals seem to be hotbeds of cheating. Is it all the beds? Is it the constant reminder that people die, so carpe diem? For the docs, is it the adoration of the patients and nurses (kibbles R us)?

        My physician ex said he and the much-younger AP/nurse (cliché!!) bonded over caring for sick patients. Give me a break! Guess he and I didn’t bond over having 3 kids and being together for 35 years.

        • Physicians(esp surgeons), lawyers, military esp fighter pilots, CEOs, church leaders, politicians, law enforcement etc basically positions of power of all kinds—frequently attract people with high levels of narcissistic traits. They often have a god complex and think they are above the law or rules of any kind. Their job environment reinforces their beliefs. Thus, they feel entitled to do whatever they want including cheating.

          • Coupled with a narcissistic compulsive need for attention, to be the CENTER of attention at all times, these megalomaniacs want everyone to adore and/or fear them. Sadly, they equate fear with respect as they have no real understanding of the concept, and never experience it themselves. They think all women/men desire them. Everyone and everything is sexualized. Anyone who isn’t with them is against them and devalued and discarded and becomes the sworn enemy. There is no in between. As CL has pointed out, wives can’t make themselves into a new person, and the sparkle wears off the turd eventually so we are no longer enthusiastic kibble dispensers. and so the FW hunts for the novelty and plentiful kibble of the free ranging AP. Additionally my personal FW was an adrenaline junkie (among many other things) so he got his jollies through risky behavior, especially if he could get away with it. Sleeping with employees, married APs or preying on young women was all fun for him. In the end I just saw a disgusting creepy old man and finally his outside matched his inside.

            • Onandonandon, ex was a military pilot, currently a Capt. with a major airline.
              Your description is accurate.

              God complex, entitlement, need to be the center of attention at all times. In his mind he’s superior to everyone.
              If you’re not with them, you’re the enemy, dehumanized, discarded and devalued.
              Portrays himself as saint like, a man of integrity~
              In reality he’s a fake, a pathetic weasel.

            • Same with mine. I went along with it in the confines of our marriage. I just didn’t know he would be taking it outside the marriage.

          • Agree! My ex was/is a C-level, board of directors executive. He was also a serial cheater during our entire 25+ year marriage. I had no idea, but he was a very effective and discreet liar and phony. He had absolutely everyone fooled, not just me. My kids are grown, and they do have a relationship with ex and his wife, who is his last AP (as far as I know). I would never keep my kids from maintaining a relationship with him, but I’ll be honest – I do struggle with it. They are both awful, disgusting people, and I hate that my kids are a part of their sordid lives, but he’s their dad, so….

            • Of course you struggle with it! Ugh.

              One point I’d like to make here. I know most people think that the kids should stay with a parent regardless of behavior because “he’s their dad/mom.”

              I don’t feel this way. If a dad sexually abused his daughter, I wouldn’t encourage the daughter to keep up a relationship with dad because he’s your father.

              Infidelity is abuse. Lying to and betraying–yes, betraying the entire family’s trust–constitutes abuse. And he did this for years!! He pretended to be one thing but was another.

              If the kiddos want to maintain ties, that’s their prerogative. I’m sorry you have to eat that shit sandwich and hope that you told them that you’re on a no-need-to-know basis re anything having to do with their dad and/or the AP.

              But I don’t think they are obligated to maintain ties. They have a choice.

              Good luck, Momma marsh

              • Absolutely agree, and this might sound like “sour grapes,” but i seriously greatly dislike the fact that the kids maintain a relationship with him and his latest AP/now wife. It’s nauseating, and I wish they wanted nothing to do with them! But as you said, it’s their prerogative; they are young adults and are entitled to their own choices. Still, I hate that ex “landed on his feet” post-divorce in all ways, including with the kids, professionally, financially, etc. I take a tiny bit of solace in knowing that the kids do view him thru a very different lens now that they know his true character, but i still sometimes have a very tough time with the utter injustice of it all.

        • People who work in health care have the perfect cover: a pager that you cannot access or trace, giving the AP 24/7 access; a perfect excuse at any moment “it’s an emergency”; and a world filled with willing partners most of whom have dollar signs in their eyes.

  • One of the best things about kids is that they’re smart af and they see right through BS. They’re REALLY good at that. CL’s advice to “trust that he sucks” and “be the sane parent” carried me through years of constant custody court. Now I’m at the wonderful stage when the kids can clearly see that he sucks. They’re 9 and 13 and they never want to see him. He lets them “choose” to skip visitation (and then he gives them a guilt trip about how it hurts his feelings ????????????), so they only see him when I make them go. Which I do, about half the time, even though usually I have to pick them up early because he flips his lid, throws a tantrum, and turns abusive in the middle of the weekend. (I get texts from the kids saying “he’s throwing us out of the house, please come get us” and a message from him saying “it’s really bad you should come get them.”) He sucks more every day, but honestly I wish I only had to worry about my kids having fun with his latest chump. If he could get a victim to stick around with him longer, maybe he would behave better toward my kids. Oh well. They’ve accepted that he sucks so they don’t expect any better from him and aren’t surprised by his fuckwittery. Meanwhile I continue to be the sane parent, and I’ll be the one who gets all the college visits, all the holidays, all the grandkid time, and all the taking-care-of when they’re grown and I’m old.

    • Yes the kicking them out of the house and raging at them! Yep I live though this. I get 90% + custody, I get the holidays ect ect. It’s a blessing and a curse.

    • Why do you force them to go, especially with the insane results? I’m interested in why you do that.

  • All this crap about combing families is forcing children into an impossible situation. The children know one parent has committed adultery thereby hurting the other parent beyond words. I have never understood why we expect the children to need or benefit from being around the cheater. It seems to me this contract only benefits the cheater, so he/she can feel better about the fact that they have destroyed a family. The idea we have pushed on us that a cheater has anything to give a child is beyond my contempt. We’re supposed to just have social duct tape slapped over our mouth and go skipping off into the future with his/hers/mine/yours combo families. Wake up and look at the true story.

    • I am so with you. It makes my blood boil that cheating assholes are allowed to hide behind the children, because THE CHILDREN! Yeah, super rich that they seem to care about that now. The best I can muster is not “trash talking”, but if my kid asks a question or says something about our predicament, I answer with the truth as stated above — there are things that are just not OK in a marriage and that is why we are no longer under one roof. It breaks my heart, but I had no control over it and I sure as heck don’t want my kid thinking it was some sort of random black magic that made mommy and daddy break up. Ugh.

  • It is a long game.
    Each situation is different but if you are post divorce , all custody arrangements and financials are sorted , then we are in a pretty strong position .
    Grey rock is still the way but – you don’t need to express any anger towards the ex anymore .
    Be neutral friendly . Smile politely . Be the grown up adult, your children can look up to.
    Keep the ex guessing, don’t engage in skirmishes of any kind .
    I find the fact that another man is around my young children difficult to deal with.
    My daughter is 7 and loves to around the house in her underwear. I have made clear to the ex that any new man is not allowed to be alone with her and that she – the ex- is responsible for my daughter always being dressed when another male is around.
    I have relayed this information in our coparenting agreement which she signed . I also pointed out that I need full contact details of any new man who spends time with my children. This person can not be a stranger who I only know by first name without having further details.
    Otherwise I don’t care what they do.
    I’m not asking about it , if the children tell me about things , I make them feel comfortable- I acknowledge their stories and be friendly .
    Reality is that we can only be responsible for our own behaviour. Focus on that . Be the best parent you can be under these circumstances. That is in your own hands. Whatever the fuckwit cheaters do is not under our control . They cheated on us and the marriage , there surely will be a time when the gamble with the children’s feelings – they had no problems gambling with our relationship. And in that time, the children will Cleary see who is the same parent .

    • This is all very sensible, AFS. And good call on that “X can’t let New Man be around daughter unsupervised” clause.

      X left me for another woman repeatedly and eventually married the last one. Wifetress has been my childrens’ stepmother for years now and… well… that’s that. They love her a lot and it is what it is. I hate what she did and have no respect for her as a person buuuut I am thankful that she appears to be a doting and caring weekend parent to my children. It’s a small silver lining but it’s something.

    • AFS you’re making a huge assumption that the harassment, financial abuse and douchery stops when the parenting agreement and settlement order are signed. I’ve suffered baseless litigation for 6.5 of the last 9 POST-decree years. I’ve lost $40k to attorney bills for post decree nonsense. There’s currently an open motion (#5) in court that is so ridiculous Ex can’t figure out where to take it following the filing of my response. This with 2 children well-emancipated and one emancipating in a year. In addition, ex hasn’t reimbursed me for his share of expense for 18 months and refuses to cash the last 4 checks I’ve given him to reimburse for expenses he’s paid. Some of us won’t be in “strong positions” thanks to shitty court systems like Cook County until our youngest is OUT OF COLLEGE and for me that’s at least 5 more years so I’m susceptible to 5 more years of abuse. So yeah, I”m still angry, like any normal human being would be, while doing my best to be the sane, present parent. I hope I can feel “strong” in 2026 when I’m almost 60 and can finally start recovering physically, emotionally and financially.

  • Cool Bummer Wow have been my saving grace. My daughter really needs to talk about things to process them, so I get a little TMI on her home life at her dad’s house…but, Cool Bummer Wow makes it all work Thanks for the CL!

  • Steve – the following troubled me about your post: “she is afraid there will be a scene.” I’d be worried she is working on alienating your kids with this kind of crap. “Daddy is scary/mean to me.” Mine was doing this long before I knew what was going on. Not that there is anything you can do about her behavior, but you can be careful to show your kids that it isn’t true. Once they are old or mature enough to handle it, you can be more proactive about defending against it too. Your kids need you-the sane parent-as much in their lives as possible. They are lucky to have you. Good luck.

  • The “cool, bummer, wow” method worked really well for me. I got off lightly – only had to share custody for three years for my youngest, and I NEEDED the brake on my emotions CBW gave me.

    That restraint really paid off. It helped me detach from wifeing. It helped me let my adult kids go and be adults – and to develop more mature relationships with them. It helped me develop a great relationship with my youngest – giving him the same choice as his adult siblings of making up his own mind about his parents.

    And as time went on (I’m talking a couple of years, not decades, here) without my spackling, ex revealed himself and alienated all 5 kids without me having to say anything.

    Now they are all adults, if they choose to talk to me about something negative that happened with him (pretty rare these days as only 2 retain any contact apparently), I might ask “how do you feel about that?” And listen. I don’t give advice, I just reiterate that when people show you who they are, believe them. And that grown ups can choose who is in their life. And that therapy can be really helpful to unload sh*t from the past, like it is for me..

    Basically “bummer” with more syllables.

  • “But you still have to practice “meh.” Say it with me — MEH. Detach.”

    Thanks for this rerun, CL. Lightbulb moment: Meh is a practice! Not a state of enlightenment.

  • I am a great advocate of the “cool, wow, bummer”. I don’t shut my kids up when they talk about their mother. I want the lines of communication open. BUT I do draw the line when they spout their mothers lines like “you are a narcissist”. I will say I am not one, but I do not argue or get defensive. I don’t get hurt when they have a good time with their mother.

  • I have always made it a point of teaching the kids that there is a difference between nice and being kind. When we watch shows, I will sometimes use opportunities to point out or ask the kids, was that “nice” or “kind”? They really get it now. They understand that it’s very easy to be nice, and many people who do bad things can be very good at being nice. I believe that is how they relate to the OW the hanful of times they see her (luckily my ex has largely kept the kids away from the OW throughout the pandemic). They see she is nice, and that’s about it.

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