I would be truly grateful for some advice here and don’t know where else to turn.
I have always known my father is kind of an asshole. My mother, who is a successful civil litigator, did 100% of the domestic labour and childcare, while his fragile ego and constant criticism caused 100% of our family discord. Mom was a perfectly sane parent and rarely ever revealed her dissatisfaction; nonetheless, my sisters and I watched with increasing resentment as his entitlement and narcissism ran roughshod over her life. When we tried to talk to him about his behaviour, he instantly became the victim of female persecution. As adults, we all have cordial, shallow relationships with him.
All this to say, while I’ve always known him as a shitty husband, no one ever believed he was a cheater. I don’t know when he found the time, as mom always seemed to be crowded by him; she has always managed his entire social life. She has even joked that she wishes he’d have an affair so he wouldn’t call to ask what was for dinner. So his recent announcement that he is leaving their 30-year marriage for a long-term business client came as a tremendous shock.
My sisters and I are in our 20s and are privately relieved that our brilliant, kind and soulful mom is free of our father’s bullshit. That said, we are watching helpless as she begins an emotional spiral. This is no pick me dance, as she has not loved him for many years, but she is absolutely drowning in her rage, humiliation, and regret. She has spent the past three decades making sacrifices and compromises for my dad. I think she knew he wasn’t capable of understanding, loving, empathizing, or seeing her — but she always believed he respected her. She is absolutely devastated to realize that the father of her children lacks even the most basic decency. Mom is too proud to put this all directly on us, but we’re aware of what’s going on in our own family. She has taken to drinking heavily in the evenings, and I was recently heartbroken to hear her say “he wasted my entire life.”
I’m writing to you because, in an effort to help, my sister recently sent mom an article from your site; as she read it, she laughed aloud for the first time in at least a couple of weeks. As a daughter, I have no idea how to support my mother through this. How can my sisters and I do our part to ease the grief and guilt, if at all? I would love the input of you and your wonderful network.
It’s a very helpless feeling to see someone you love in so much pain. And I imagine it’s exponentially harder when that source of pain is your other parent. That puts you in a very difficult position as support services go. I think your sister did a good thing — to direct your mom here, to a bunch of peers. People who lived this particular nightmare and can offer perspective and solidarity.
In addition to this blog and my book, there’s a community page here where you can find the private CN Reddit and Facebook groups. (I do not run or moderate these. They were created and are moderated by members of CN.) Introduce your mom to this safe space. She can vomit all her anger and grief on the interwebs anonymously.
A curious thing happens with a chump collective — you see that your situation is not at all unique. That cheaters say the same stupid shit from Chicago to Helsinki. And there are only so many manipulation moves on the chessboard. The sheer banality of it offers a certain comfort. It might be really cutting to hear: “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” Then you see it recited 174,388 times…. and not so much.
I know you’re probably hoping I have a magic elixir I can give you to take away mom’s trauma right this minute, but I don’t. And remember, you’re the kid. You have your own grief to deal with here. You don’t have to take on your mom’s pain. That’s beautiful of you. It’s also the chumpy kind of thing that children of a shitty narc parent do — I’LL SWOOP IN! I’LL SAVE YOU!
I’m not saying be uncaring. I’m saying, stay in your daughter lane and out of the therapist lane. You can bolster your mom by telling her how much you love and admire her. What an awesome parent she’s been. You can show up with a casserole. You can take her out to a movie. You can do all the daughter things. And that will have the effect of demonstrating to your mother that her 30 years were not a waste. You SEE her. You totally appreciate her.
She has spent the past three decades making sacrifices and compromises for my dad. I think she knew he wasn’t capable of understanding, loving, empathizing, or seeing her — but she always believed he respected her.
People who respect you don’t tolerate toxic lopsided relationships. Did he sacrifice or compromise for her? Forget the cheating, the fact that he allowed a relationship where only he was reaping the benefits of an invested partner, and she was not, means he didn’t respect her.
“he wasted my entire life.”
There are two ways to react to this. This first is: Yes, he did. This is a real loss. Cheaters rob chumps of opportunity costs. Years spent where they could’ve invested their energies in a better life with a better partner. It’s theft. It’s unjust and chumps have every right to be FURIOUS that they were conned.
Even if your mom spackled and did the cost-benefit analysis of being with a jerk — she did NOT deserve to be cheated on. To have her health risked. To invest in a fraud year after year and be used. To have her trust and fidelity weaponized against her. Of course your mother is heart sick about this.
“he wasted my entire life.”
The second way to react to this is: No, he did not. This is STILL her life. She brought her A-game. She was real. That’s all we control, ourselves. His deception is no reflection on her. She still kicked ass at her career, and raised two loving daughters. She gets to leave this marriage with integrity knowing that, whatever her faults, she was deeply committed and she tried.
If anyone wasted their life here, it’s your father. He threw away a family who loved him for a business client. Relationships can end, of course. But it’s how you end them. He didn’t need to cheat and lie and lose everyone’s respect. He didn’t need to detonate your mother’s life 30 years in. (I sincerely doubt this is his first rodeo.)
Anyway, your mom has lost a shitty partner. And you’re NEVER too old to rebuild your life and reinvent.
She has taken to drinking heavily in the evenings
Here you’re allowed to speak UP. “Mom, I’m really concerned about your drinking.” Is she getting any kind of support? Therapy? Is there someone in her life to keep her company now?
Self-destruction is a lousy response to being chumped. Why turn the anger inward? Why fuck yourself? Why give a loser so much centrality? Okay, they may have stolen decades of your life, do NOT give them one second more. Do not give them your liver and vital organs. FUCK them.
Chumpdaughter — you and your sister are good kids. Do share today’s column with her. (waving!) I’m opening up the floor to CN.