I swear I would be at meh if not for my adult kids. Please help; I need advice (and I thank you for all your help since D-Day).
A little background: After 20 years of marriage, the weekend of my youngest child’s high school graduation, my husband announced ILYBINILWY. He did this hours before extended family was anticipated to arrive and stay for weekend celebrations. True to form, I smiled, hosted, entertained, and kept everyone happy while attempting to internally navigate my trauma.
His behavior was so unexpected that I had no doubt he was cheating. I kicked him out by the following weekend, and filed for divorce. When evidence of his affair came to light days after the graduation, I told my kids (18m & 20f).
My daughter had been FW’s “golden child” and as long as she made him look good and she tried to be perfect, he publicly celebrated her. My son was the scapegoat. FW constantly found flaws and disappointment in my son. Despite these behaviors, FW generally ignored me and the kids on a day-to-day basis. I was actively involved, and they seemed well-rounded so I didn’t understand the psychological impact he was having on our kids.
During the divorce process, my daughter was angry with me and insisted I get over it within a week of D-Day. She berated me for any display of emotion. Please understand, in my healing process I have realized that I was raised by a narc and I was conditioned to keep myself small and show minimal emotion. Even when I express my feelings, it is largely subdued. I am proud that I am allowing myself to cry openly and calmly state that shit is shitty. My daughter started avoiding me and spending more time with her dad. He love bombed her, which was easy because she lived in a different city. (He just had to text funny memes daily.) She gobbled up the crumbs. She reported how much she liked his AP. AP was FW’s supervisor. They both earn a good income and flaunt their money. To shallow people, they look awesome.
I earn a good income as well, and it has only improved in the four years since my divorce. However, I live a simple, minimalist lifestyle. I am very private. I love being single and I have a fantastic life. I have traveled internationally, learned a second language, and have met and made amazing friends (during a pandemic). I don’t share this information (again, I keep myself small and I don’t brag). I don’t care about FW anymore and feel like he has found his perfect mate. Good for them; they’re great together!
I would be meh, but my kids are killing me. My son had initially been supportive, and continues to be kind, but FW has taken an interest in him since the divorce (crumbs). FW told my son that at the age of 22, he was so young when my son was born that he didn’t know what he was doing and was afraid to make a mistake. (AKA: I am not responsible for how I raised and ignored you) My son, clearly a chump in the making, told me this and wanted me to sympathize with FW. I calmly explained that FW was 7 years older than me, and questioned my son if he recalls ever hearing that I gave birth to him when I was 15, or his sister when I was 13. My son seemed confused and I had to clarify that I WAS 22 and his father was 29 when he was born. His father is a liar. Despite repeated, blatant lies, my son wants badly to believe his father and bond with him. I look like an asshole when I point out obvious lies, and now I try to just remark “Uh-huh” and “Cool.” Also, my son has reported to me that AP has had a lot of life experience and is “so wise.” (Forgive me, I have momentarily lost my eyes somewhere in the back of my head).
My daughter now has nothing to do with me, and declines opportunities to communicate or interact, but reciprocates “Happy Holiday” texts. She spends holidays with FW and AP. This is very painful.
Finally, I am at a loss. I never understood how a mother could abandon her family when her kids are young, but I’m starting to question if it would be bad if I disappeared now. I realize how I modeled denial and spackling. Can I just assume that I suck, I fucked up, and relieve them of the inconvenience of my ineptitude? I could change my name and move overseas. My profession allows me this ability. I could start anew…
Or am I just impatient? Do I need to suck it up, eat this shit sandwich, and hope that my kids eventually (decades from now, if ever) gain life experience, reflect?
Kids Killing My Meh
Dear Kids Killing My Meh,
Here’s my basic philosophy about breeding with a fuckwit and adult children: You’re entitled to your shitty parent, I’m entitled to boundaries.
So, your son may inwardly exult about the wisdom of dad’s girlfriend, but if he tells you about it? — you’re allowed to say nicely, “I don’t want to hear about that.” Set a boundary. What happens at dad’s place stays at dad’s place. You don’t have to explain or defend yourself. It’s a boundary. Now change the subject.
Similarly, your son is entitled to his boundaries — and you don’t have to like them. They’re his. Even if they’re stupid, ill-informed, and patently wrong. Like, he doesn’t want to hear you running down Schmoopie or dad. Or correcting points of fact. (The age his dad became a parent.) He wants his spackle. And he wants a relationship with his father. That’s his right.
Does it make your head want to explode? Come sit over here with all the other incendiary devices in the demilitarized zone.
I frequently fail at my own advice on this topic. A recent example: my son sold his old car with the help of his deadbeat father at an auto auction. It was predictably a shit show. Title issues, follow up that didn’t happen. Deadbeat driving the uninsured vehicle…
But from my son’s perspective, his father was going to HELP him. And my son would get money! (Huge incentive to the econ major.) At one point, I stupidly asked about this saga and expressed skepticism. And my son said, “Mom, dad spent a lot of money fixing up the car to sell it!”
OH REALLY? The guy who owes thousands in back child support? Who didn’t pay a single dime towards college? Who dumped you off his insurance despite a court order? Who goes entire years without speaking to you? THAT GUY BOUGHT YOU AN AUTOPART?!!!
(Yeah, my family just bought the car and the college education, but whatever.)
Trust me, I get the injustice. Why is HIS kibble so valuable and my kibble is a deflated currency?
It’s not fair, but again, my son is entitled to his shitty relationship. This story ends with me shutting up. My son did the logistics. The car sold. How he feels about it is HIS business. He shouldn’t have tried to bolster his dad’s image to me. (I know from fuckwits.) And I shouldn’t have expressed my very-well-known opinion.
But, but you’re about cutting through bullshit and changing narratives!!!
You know what has the best chance of changing the narrative that Fuckwit Parent Is Awesome and Chump Parent is a Drag? Letting go of the rope. Stop involving yourself. They’re adults. They’ll figure it out.
And keep it in perspective — they’re young adults. First, it’s natural that they don’t want to hang out with you or check in so much — they’re launching. Try not to take it as rejection. Keep the lines of communication open, but don’t chase them either. Second, they don’t have the life experience to GET IT. Life hasn’t kicked them around yet, and they haven’t invested deeply in a marriage and children. This is a very long arc.
Honestly, I don’t want my son to ever know the pain of breeding with a fuckwit. But he understands something I don’t — what it is to be abandoned by a fuckwit. He he has the desire for a relationship, however painful. You don’t have your kid’s perspective, that to keep dad in their life they need to navigate Schmoopie.
During the divorce process, my daughter was angry with me and insisted I get over it within a week of D-Day. She berated me for any display of emotion.
I wouldn’t take shit from your daughter. But neither would I slop my D-Day grief on the kids either, if humanly possible to avoid it. I know it’s hard, but chumps need to vent in a therapist’s office and on online forums. Kids are carrying their own grief, they can’t carry ours as well. I’m sorry your daughter was insensitive.
My daughter started avoiding me and spending more time with her dad. He love bombed her, which was easy because she lived in a different city. (He just had to text funny memes daily.) She gobbled up the crumbs. She reported how much she liked his AP. AP was FW’s supervisor. They both earn a good income and flaunt their money. To shallow people, they look awesome.
I think you’re torturing yourself with comparisons here. Just work from the assumption that your daughter is entitled to a relationship with her shitty dad. It’s not disloyalty to you (although it feels like that). Most people want to be around the superficially Happy and Successful versus the mordant Old Testament prophets with twigs in their hair. Would you rather have a beer with Kim Kardashian or Bernie Sanders?
I’m not saying you have twigs in your hair (Bernie, get a comb…) I’m saying meet superficial with superficial. It might be right now that’s the only kind of relationship you can have with your daughter — something not very deep. Either because she isn’t very deep or she can’t go there right now. Or maybe ever. So, send her the greetings, maybe do something low-stakes together — go shopping, see a movie, exchange Wordle scores.
If she’s really cutting you out of your life because you showed emotion? Well, shared DNA is often overrated. It’s okay to put some distance there. But I wouldn’t be inclined to write someone off who’s in her early 20s. Her brain isn’t even fully formed.
Here’s the good news: You’re setting a great example of living your best life — keep at it! THAT is the lesson. More than saying shitty things are shitty, or being emotional, or correct, you’re acting on your values. You left a cheater, you’re thriving. That’s enough. Back to meh.