Stay in Touch

Check out CL's Book

How Cheating Affects the Kids

Hi Chump Lady,

I’m wondering about a topic that I don’t think I’ve seen you address. My question is sort of inspired by yesterday’s column about that ghastly piece in the New York Times. I’m wondering if we have firsthand accounts of how cheating and adultery affects children?

I ask because I really don’t want to be projecting things on to my daughter, but I do sometimes wish I knew how she felt about the whole mess. I worry that some of her first impressions about the relationship between me and my ex were formed at a time when she didn’t have the full information about how he was treating me. So she thought maybe I was erratic or had a temper, when I was just breaking under the stress. Sometimes, once first impressions are formed, they can be really hard to untangle.

I see a lot of posts, particularly on the private Facebook group, from people who feel their children have sided with the other partner. I can see how easily this would happen. I lingered far too long in a bad marriage, because I was worried about protecting my daughter, and I think my daughter actually resents me for that. She does not want to be indebted to me that way. Learning about what a shithead her father is only seems to increase her anger, because she feels she was entitled to one normal parent. I think she’s right about that, actually.

Sometimes, it seems as though the more she realizes she’s being unfair to me, the angrier she gets … at me.



Dear Walkbymyself,

I’m opening up the floor to discussion on this. I have written about this topic quite a bit actually. But let’s take apart your letter.

So she thought maybe I was erratic or had a temper, when I was just breaking under the stress.

I’m sorry, this shit is so hard. That’s why I implore people not to stay for the children. You don’t want to model chump/cheater dynamics to them — that one partner’s entitlement is natural, and the chaos janitor is a bummer. Because kids will look at that and not have an example of relationships with healthy reciprocity and mutual respect — and if they have to identify with someone, go with the better deal — the abuser, who gets the perks. And not the angry, sad spouse appliance full of resentment.

It’s easy to type, it’s some hardwiring to break. Forgive yourself. No one is a perfect parent — the important thing is to show up. Do the work. Try your best. It’s absolutely galling to be compared to Uncle Daddy/Aunt Mommy who canceled their subscription to adulting. I do believe most kids figure it out, but they’re young and don’t have the perspective. It’s a long arc. Best thing you can do is be your best self NOW, reinvent. You’re free of the fuckery and I assume in a much better mood.

people who feel their children have sided with the other partner.

Kids should never feel they have to take sides. They are absolutely entitled to their relationship with the cheating parent. And it’s our job to stand out of the way and let that relationship happen. We’re usually so busy throwing ourselves on the grenades of dysfunction. Accommodating, covering for the checked out cheater parent. Naturally, we don’t want our kids to feel hurt and rejected. But that’s how they learn who the other parent really is. And if the crap parent shows up and pays and does parent things — WONDERFUL. So many of us don’t get that. You might despise them, but bite the bullet. Find a safe place to vent (here, private FB pages, into the cosmic void…)

Your job is to gain a life and be the best Sane Parent you can be and not slop your grief on minors. I believe in answering questions (if asked) and not gaslighting kids about why you broke up. Do it age appropriately and without editorializing (i.e., “Dad’s a slut.”) They have their own grief to work through. They cannot handle yours too. It’s not fair that anyone is in this situation.

I lingered far too long in a bad marriage, because I was worried about protecting my daughter, and I think my daughter actually resents me for that.

This is a very common sentiment expressed here. And chump kids weigh in on this blog often. And of course there is intergenerational chumpdom. The accepted narrative is that kids want their parents together at all costs, when in fact they’re suffering under the dysfunction too. Many of them, sadly, have been conscripted into conspiracies against the chump parent, having been introduced to affair partners, or found evidence of affairs and carried around the secrets. Bringing it all out in the open is healing. But of course it hurts like a motherfucker.

But yes, don’t stay for the children. So much of this is also economic, and we don’t live in a world with family leave or decent affordable childcare. For those stuck, focus on financial independence and a damn good settlement.

Learning about what a shithead her father is only seems to increase her anger, because she feels she was entitled to one normal parent. I think she’s right about that, actually.

Her education about what a shithead her father is isn’t your job. There’s just her own experience with Daddy Shithead going forward. She doesn’t need the details of his sex addiction or whatever you’re dealing with. Kids know way more than we give them credit for. Be a Sane Parent safe haven. Where everyone’s centrality isn’t tied up with what the Fuckwit Is Doing Today. What’s going on in your kids’ lives?

Chump Nation — any chump kids out there? How are you dealing with these issues?


Ask Chump Lady

Got a question for the Chump Lady? Or a submission for the Universal Bullshit Translator? Write to me at [email protected]. Read more about submission guidelines.
  • My dad was a closeted gay who preferred young men and boys🤬😭. They had 5 kids. My mom was an unwitting beard. When I was 2 we moved from the US to Asia. Dad spent 50% of the time traveling out of the country. My mom cheated on my dad with numerous men and left us in the foreign country with strangers who abused us— I was 7. Dad was funny at times (he also had a temper and was violent- stabbed my sister with a fork once, slapped my baby sister so hard he gave her a black eye- she was 5 months 😭). Dad love bombed me and his moments of seeming care were in contrast to my mom who was hostile to me— called me names, put me down. Dad died suddenly when I was 15. Day after, mom told me how relieved she was that he was dead. Within weeks mom was off traveling with one guy after another- some married— she left me in charge of my 13, 12, 7 and 5 year old siblings. I was 15. She got DWIs and had me post bond. Bartenders knew my number to come get her- I was 15. When I was 16 she hooked up with a guy in a bar, he was nice to me, she kicked me out- said she would never let another guy of hers give me attention. Mom is also a prolific liar (very similar to George Santos— she was prosecuted for writing fake Rx’s for people she met in AA — tells people she’s a neurologist but she never graduated with her bachelors, never went to any medical training….lies about everything and anything). So…. No wonder I ended up in an abusive relationship to a psychopath addict…. I’d never heard of narcissistic abuse until my XH was diagnosed after Dday… now I know. It’s astonishing how many things in my life make sense. I’m almost 60 and just learning about all the ways this abuse affected me. Now I know it was never me.

    • I completely understand. My childhood was about survival daily. I was the adult in the family by age 7. It’s why we can’t identify abuse, narcissistic behavior. It all seems so normal. I never had any tools of a healthy life, let alone relationships. Now my toolbox is full. Life is soo much easier.

    • Mc99 – May I ask a “delicate” question? When you look back at your traumatic childhood, were there capable adults who didn’t get involved? Do you wish they did? I’m getting more judgmental the older I get or maybe red flags can no longer be ignored.

      • When I was 16 and homeless I was injured and out of school and a school counselor who was aware my dad died the previous year came to see me. She gave me a book about alcoholic parents. Other teachers may have known I was on my own, they never mentioned it, but I recall they were kind. I worked a Union job after school 2:45-9:45 and my co-workers and bosses were kind. I am really smart and a great student so I got into university and got Pell grants and loans. I had a baby as a teen but ended up going to law school when she was 4. I managed to do well in school notwithstanding my struggle to survive, sexual assault, domestic violence in my intimate relationships, etc. it’s hard to believe I survived. I had aunts who lived elsewhere and grandparents but they also lived away – my other grandma was local but very elderly and in a home. She did what she could-gave me her 1962 car (this was 1984) so I no longer had to hitchhike to work.

        • Hats off to you, Mc99, you are freaking inspirational. Thank you for sharing all you have accomplished! It gives hope. May all your wonderful resilience and resourcefulness continue to bless you with long life and happiness!

    • You survived and got through law school with a 4 year old! You are one of the MIGHTIEST people I have ever heard of.

      The way you were treated in childhood was actually criminal. What your parents did went beyond narcissism, they committed actual crimes. That you have gotten to where you are, broken the cycle, and are telling us your story speaks to your strength and character.

      No child should have to live in that kind of survival mode. And I’m sure you have felt at times that, even knowing how strong you are, you would have preferred not to have HAD to be strong in the face of such abuse.

      But you did not let it destroy you and that’s why you are mighty.

      • Thank you Kara. I’m teary reading all the kind words. I thought I had the life of Riley with XH and our four kids, beloved dogs, home, lovely neighbors, to make up for all the terrible things early in my life but after 25 years of a great life, Dday hit and I was thrust into a lot of trauma and re-trauma. I realize XH is very similar to my mom too, which is spooky.

        • MC99, yes me too. These are themes and patterns that keep coming up for me until I learn to value myself and raise my standards. I am sending you good vibes!

        • How very sad for you. I’m very glad you accomplished so much in spite of the hardships. I bet you could have gone in a totally different direction, i.e., a direction similar to your mother’s, but because you didn’t, speaks volumes of your character. I bet you’re a very grateful person, not because of what you went through, but in spite of it. May you continue through the rest of your years on this earth to be an inspiration to others! Bless you.

  • The best book I read on the impact on kids is, “Parents Who Cheat: How Children and Adults Are Affected When Their Parents Are Unfaithful” by Ana Nogales PhD and Laura Golden Bellotti.
    I booted Fraudster after discovering he planned to marry his online romance scammer, then he went through a series of women. In addition to dealing with the discovery of his financial theft and sabotage to the house and finances before he left, we were dealing with COVID lockdown. I was devastated and struggling to cope. He ignored tween (the grandson we were raising) for almost a year, then started contacting him by phone. He introduced tween to one AP by phone as his new mom (one week into dating her!) and she assured tween they’d be a wonderful, happy family together, living in the marital home. Days later she ditched him, and he made false reports to Child Protective Services about me. The investigation worked in my favor and CPS advised child have no contact with him.
    Ex had no real interest in raising kiddo, but refused to cooperate with the court-ordered assessment by the Parental Responsibilities Evaluator, then refused to pay his final half so the report could be released to me and the court. It recommended awarding full custody (all parenting time and sole decision making) to me.
    Tween, now teen, told me he felt guilty because at the time, he welcomed the idea of having a much younger, eager mom, even though he knew and told my ex (his grandfather) that she’d be his step-grandmother, not his mom. He said he liked the idea of having a two-parent home again, and someone age-appropriate identified as mom, not grandma.
    Teen has been abused, neglected and abandoned now by three people, although he finally has control over if and when he ever chooses contact with his father and grandfather. I don’t know which hurts him more, the people who abused him or the bio mom who abandoned him. I do know that he’s hurt, and that it’s exacerbated by kids and others who make assumptions or cruel comments–sometimes unintentional– about the absent parents.
    While it’s easier in some ways not have to deal with co-parenting, the impact of being abandoned is unfathomable.

  • I didn’t have to explain why my marriage imploded. Asshat did me a huge favor and texted me and the kids his love for HoWorker/Wife. The divorce was difficult due to such rage I didn’t anticipate, which looking at it from the other side, was also a huge favor because it made me see who my husband of 25 years actually was and is. Sometime during the divorce, my lightbulb went off and I realized I had been “saving” my children from their selfish father for years. During the divorce, he was going to get a one bedroom apartment and I told him “don’t do that to the kids”. The minute I said it, I knew that was the last time I was ever going to do that. So later when he emailed me some sad story about if I didn’t take the cats they would go to the pound, I was prepared. He ended up telling the kids that he took them to a “farm”. I knew it was going to be painful, but I had to let them (ages 18 & 21 at the time) navigate their relationship with their father. I have been NC since 2019, even with many hoovers.

    My son is now 24 and barely speaks to his father. My daughter is 26, and has a relationship with her father, her stepmother and stepmother’s parents (which was hard initially as I lost both of my parents during the divorce). Triangulation and manipulation is strong with Asshat, but I’ve just put my head down the last 5 years and became the best me that I could become, avoiding any and all games. I worked hard on getting through this and I feel my kids see it. We are now a tightknit family of three.

    In the words of Bono, “you can sew it up but you still see the tear”. This will always be a part of their lives, but I don’t want it to define my children. Resilience. Life is always lurking and you don’t know when a tsunami is going to strike. That’s what I’m teaching my kids.

    There was an obituary in my local paper awhile back: “She saturated her reamainnig three decades with joy and life enhancing activities”. That’s what I want my kids to say about me.

  • My dad had an ongoing long term affair that he sprang on the family when I was 14. For some reason, I immediately saw him as scum and never had contact with him again although he made a few half-hearted tries over the next 50 years. Even as young as I was, I saw his actions of selling our home, throwing us into poverty, skipping off happily into the sunset with his new schmoopie – as proof that he never loved us anyway and all of those speeches he made about “all we have is each other” were deluxe bullshit. His words were worthless. His actions told me all that I needed to know.

    This is why I struggle so much with my own divorce after a 40 year marriage – when ?de ja vous? – my spouse of 40 years surprises (shocks!) me with his announcement of schmoopie and he throws everything under the bus to run off with her and never look back to see if I survived. And instead of my adult children seeing his actions as his truth….they, instead, jump to his defense and coddle him, help him, stand up for him, invite schmoopie to family events before I could even get the divorce pushed through, etc. The only conclusion that makes sense to me is that he groomed them from diaper age to see me as the unpaid house servant. They believed I needed to be cut out of the family because, “He’s happy now, why can’t you just be happy for him?”

    They never saw me as their mother. I was his wife and easily replaceable. A broken wife appliance that he had put up with for way too long. It’s been three years now and nothing much as changed except there is some trouble in the replacement scheme because schmoopie isn’t the dream mom Fuckwit promised them. But, they’re still all trying to make it work.

    • “They believed I needed to be cut out of the family because, “He’s happy now, why can’t you just be happy for him?” They never saw me as their mother. I was his wife and easily replaceable. A broken wife appliance that he had put up with for way too long.”

      tallgrass, I am so, so sorry to read this. My heart hurts for you. I am sending you Blessings for Strength, Stamina and Stability. May the Heart of the Universe bring you Peace and Comfort. May the Lords of Karma have a rhinoceros take a dump in the FW’s car while he is sitting in it. (Or the equivalent there of.)

    • I feel your pain on this one, my daughter was a bit too young really to not want anything other everyone being nice and happy (and a step mum who was grooming her to the max while her mum was incredibly upset and angry) and despite that I very much feel that I have come out of this with the stain on my character. I don’t push it and over a few years super step mum has thurnes out to not be quite as interested in my daughter as she makes out (what a surprise) and I can now carve out a relationship without him. I agree that I think laying the groundwork on some of this stuff happens when they know they are going to drop you like a stone but you of course have no idea. Playing the long game we seem to have a close and happy relationship but I do wonder if she was too young to ever really see it or be able to comprehend what really happened. And yeah does drive me mad!

      • Schmoopie tried hard love-bombing my kids too. Initially they bought into it because they were “so happy” while I was a mess. Then the kids noticed Schmoopie & Dad weren’t too interested in them (shocker!) after awhile so the kids have come around firmly into my court. I second playing the long game!! I’m also the daughter of a chump & later realized that my Dad treated my mom terribly (but it took a long time) to realize that. Because he was mightily into “impression mgmt”. My poor mom suffered the indignity of that for a long time 🙁

    • Tallgrass, you can love yourself and be your own queen. Put your healing first and the kids will come around. I am praying for you and me and all of us on this dumb boat. (Hugs)

    • Tallgrass, your comment just gave me an epiphany.
      My experience of parenting with my cheating ex-husband (throughout our marriage and after I left him) was that he saw it as a constant competition and he was the assured winner. He put me down in countless big and small ways to prop himself up. And a lot of it happened in front of the kids.
      At the time, much of it seemed harmless, e.g. the jokes about how mom can’t cook, but you just made me realize how he shaped my kids’ experience of me.
      Not to mention, when I discovered his affair with justafriend coworker AP and left him, he framed it as “mom left us because she wanted to go live the single life.”
      And I wrong-headedly believed that the kids knew of / remembered D-Day and understood the fallout, and that I should shield them from more knowledge than absolutely necessary. (They were 18, 16, and 13 at the time.)
      I did not know or realize the extent to which they had been indoctrinated by their father until years later, when we finally discussed the divorce, and my sons claimed they had no memory of their dad having an affair.
      My daughter – the inadvertent whistle blower – always knew.
      It took many years of work to rebuild my relationship with my kids – especially my oldest, who is his father’s golden child.
      But we’re solid now.
      I always felt I was atoning for the ways my (necessary) choices hurt them. Now, thanks to your comment, I’m thinking about all the ways he set me up to fail as a parent.

      • I, too, always let the cruel jokes about my incompetence slide by. I never thought it was cute or funny and I assumed that my children also were just nodding to keep their dad in a good mood when he headed off onto one of his entertaining rants about my mistakes. As it turned out, the kids thought he was right. He was the poor victim having to care for and put up with the unreasonable, stupid, lazy woman with little to no talent. When in truth, I am the hard working, cum laude graduate managing a totally unmanageable broken family with just my sheer determination and ability to self sacrifice while he did as little as possible. My children never saw that. He told them I was broken. They accepted that as truth. And I had no idea they couldn’t see what was clearly right in front of them – even with my rose colored glasses I was clear that he was doing almost nothing in the family. It’s so strange. Like an alternate universe.

    • That is so, so sad. I’m very for you. You lost all your children to the shinyness of their fuckwit father. I only lost my youngest (of three.) I’m 8 years divorced now, and though I just recently (if 5.5 months is recent) saw “that” son, I didn’t really get him back. He’s 36 and very much like his fuckwit dad, i.e., all about himself. At this stage, did I ever have a relationship with him? I divorced his dad (finally) when my son was about 23. I almost divorced when my son was 19. He pretty much cut me out of his life afew years after I divorced his dad. He knew the cause of the divorce, but he chose to keep his relationship with the fuckwit and stop all communication with me. The only reason he popped back in (that I can tell) is because my other sons came out to visit me. He came over with his shiny new girlfriend and acted like we had just seen each other a week ago, not 5 years of zero contact. He barely spoke to me, and when he left, he kissed me on the cheek as if the next time I’d see him would be in a week or so. I didn’t get a text for Christmas or for mother’s day, and I doubt I’ll see him again unless he wants to impress his now shiny new wife. So my thought is, there’s nothing I did to cut my son out except to be unacceptable of his bad behavior, just like I was disapproving of his fuckwit dad’s bad behavior. What has been hard to accept is not only did I marry a fuckwit, apparently I also gave birth to one. But there’s nothing I can do except pray for him and try not to lose hope. I hope you’re able to do the same. Losing hope is when you know it’s over, because you don’t want to try any longer. Though difficult, when you’re dealing with a fuckwit, it’s much easier to accept the hopelessness. But when it’s your child, you keep riding the hope train until you die. I still don’t want to believe my son is a fuckwit even though his behavior and actions show that he is.

      • Me too. Not only did I marry a fuckwit. I gave birth to two fuckwit offspring. Like those horrible birds that lay their eggs in another species’ nests and let the unsuspecting parents sacrifice and raise this predator baby.

  • My theory is that it is hard to be a good parent and hard to be a good child. If it was easy we wouldn’t need so many social services and therapists. My style of parenting was very different from my parents, their style was a slight improvement on their parents. My sons always told me I was strict, and I had too many rules. But I was also available, and reliable. I was their source of food, home, entertainment, school help, sports and music equipment, and transportation. Their dad breezed in and out even when we were married, because he traveled a lot in his work. You can bite the hand that feeds you, but you still like having a place to show up for reliable meals. So, even with all their complaints, I was still the one they came to for comfort and security. The sane parent does not sound like a glamorous job, because it is not.

    I worried about how the relationship and the divorce would hurt my children. I forgot how resilient they were. They figured out most things before they ever asked questions. I think they wanted to see what the answer would be, to determine who was honest. I definitely was more honest. I did adjust details for age-appropriate information. They saw and heard more than I realized.

    Don’t count on excellent 5-star reviews from teenagers. It wouldn’t mean much anyway; they have no perspective. Both came back to me in their mid-twenties, and apologized for some of the grief they dished out in their teens. Both came to appreciate many of my rules. Now they are in the mid-30s, and they are still learning that some of the harsh realities mom points out are never-the-less true. All I can offer is try to do your best and apologize when you make a mistake. Love, love, love!!! Even when you don’t like them very much, remember to love them. You cannot fix everything; you are not responsible for everything. If you can do this, you have a fair chance of success. There are no guarantees.

    • Portia, your comment is full of wisdom–especially the part about not counting on “excellent 5-star reviews from teenagers.” I’d say my own daughter, who was six when her dad and I separated, was about 25 before she reached the place psychologically where she could have a realistic, centered perspective both on me and on her dad.

  • Chump kid here.

    “So she thought maybe I was erratic or had a temper, when I was just breaking under the stress” – Please stop, and step back for a moment and look at this through your child’s eyes. Children don’t see ‘oh yes, this is a predictable response by my parent to a tough situation, so no problem’. They see that Mommy was erratic and had a temper and Daddy was unreliable and selfish. That’s scary when they rely on us to be their protectors, and doubly scary when one parent has already abdicated from that.

    I don’t say this to guilt you. I say this because if you want to repair your relationship with your daughter, you have to stop trying to explain away her trauma – starting with eliminating “just” and “but” from your vocabulary when you talk about this. Imagine instead saying to your daughter: “I was breaking under the stress, and that sometimes showed up as being erratic or having a short fuse. I’m sorry about that, it must have been hard on you as a kid.”

    You don’t have a time machine to go back and change her childhood, but you can change the way you talk to her about it.

    • Thank you so much for this. I have actually offered to my daughter, the apology for not giving her one sane parent. Your own perspective on this is exactly what I need to hear right now. Don’t worry about my feelings! Given everything I’ve gone through, I think I can handle this.

    • Absolutely. When I started saying, “I’m a mess today because (short explanation), but I’ll be OK,” they got it. I even told them, “I just had a really intense appointment with my attorney. I’m going to go into the shower and cry, and then I’ll be fine.”

      One time I was moaning with my attorney about how my kids didn’t even like me, and he said, “Show up and own up. It will work long-term. Their dad certainly isn’t doing that.” He was right.

      Now several years post-divorce, my daughter (23) said that the reason she wanted to be around me despite failing her in so many ways was that I admitted that I had really messed up and was trying really hard to be a good parent of a young adults.

      They need honest parents who are giving their all.

  • I was the one , who, at three or four, discovered my Mom screwing my Godfather. She gaslite me, and punished me for decades after. I was also told, constantly, To “look after your Mom”. I was 7. Dad is as much of an asshat as my Mother. The local bar was used to me showing up to take him home. I was 6 or 7. I never had the luxury of a sane parent. Now I try to be there for my kids and give them the one thing my folks never gave me. Listening ears. I try to listen, support, and validate them when they need me too. I occasionally still wish I had that growing up. I know what not to do. Wish it was easier to know what to do.

    • Same, Justme. I had no one who listened to me, talked to me, or cared about my dreams growing up. In fact, they would scoff at my dreams. So, when I had three sons, I was always talking to them! Looking deep in their eyes, and taking their ideas seriously. It was also healing for me, I learned that children count!
      It’s so lonely, being raised by a Narc and his captive. My sons have at least grown up being able to express themselves, and knowing they are dearly loved.

  • When my dad cheated I felt like my family life was a lie. I told my mom that. So imagine when my daughter asked if her whole life was a lie. I told her no, and that we had been together a long time. But I guess that it is a lie to some extent. The cheater has misrepresented themselves as a loving spouse and parent. When in fact maybe they missed a childs event or was late due to screwing the AP. Its funny though because as a child I thought was my life a lie and my daughter also, but…… I didnt register and my daughter didnt register that in fact the cheating parent was the liar, misrepresenting. Like we as kids are shouldering the burden by saying is my life a lie? Not wanting to point fingers at the cheater as a liar. Must be some sort of psychology behind this thinking.

    My second point is yes our reaction to the cheating and abuse makes us look unstable. The cheater is cool and collected. We loose our S@@t. Reactive abuse. My daughter is 19. I told her that that period of my life and my behavior was due to my reaction to her dads cheating. She said well thats disturbing. But I felt it had affected our relationship and wanted her to realize I wasnt a lunatic at that point. She is older and a girl so mother daughter relationships are fraught with peril anyways. My son was younger and we were fine. He never got along that well with his dad anyways. He has some issues that affected him and his dad wasn’t understanding. My daughter is the perfect golden child who is like her dad. My son the scapegoat and like me. But I just felt that I shouldnt have to keep anyones secret. Thats on them. I like to live honestly.

    My final thought is that when my FW was at his worst. When his affair was exposed and he lost control of everyone and was at his pinnacle of acting crazy and abusive. He was being a jerk to the kids but mostly to me. The kids picked up on it and were being jerks to me. They say people and kids will gang up on the mark. They see the abuser abusing and they abuse the target too. Its a role model thing and also better to be the abuser than to be abused. So works on those 2 fronts. I guess its pretty common. Luckily, that didnt last long. Once you are away from the cheater/abuser, they kids stop. Its a reason to leave. It will improve your relationship with your kids. You think you should stay and tolerate it. You have done that for so long. But once you are out of the bad situation and in hindsight you see so much.

    • My youngest son, 18, had the same reaction. “So Dad was cheating the whole time? For 30 years? That means my entire life is a lie.” And he hasn’t spoken to him since that moment almost a year ago. My older son, 21, feels this is between me and FW. He has a good relationship with his dad. It’s weird how it can hit kids of the same family so differently.

    • “Gang up on the mark” is something I experienced too. It was increasing in the last few years of the marriage. I was so stupid! But, of course, I was raised in abuse so my reaction was to not need their kindness or respect. I could survive anything because I loved them so much I was willing to sacrifice everything on the chance that they would love me.

      • I am so glad we were talking about this issue. I’ve never heard the expression “gang up on the Mark” but it perfectly describes the dynamic in our house when my daughter was a little bit younger and more impressionable. Now that she’s older, I suspect this is one more thing that she feels guilty about.

      • Yes tallgrass. Me too. I was raised outside of marriage by a chump mom who feasted on breadcrumbs and never asserted herself. In fact, in my culture, being the suffering woman is held up to high regard. (I’m still cleaning up the legal fallout from her poor choices.) My dad lived with us, but remained married to his first wife until I was 16 and didn’t marry my mom until I was 38. I loved my dad, who passed away some time. But yeah, he was a cake eater and it took me a loooong time to see that my upbringing was not healthy and also not my fault. I was determined to have a real marriage and a real family. I never would have guessed that I chose a covert narc for a partner. Someone with such low self-esteem that he has no agency and can only play victim. It’s messed up.

    • Agreed. My sons says I’m a better parent now that FW is gone. I feel more honest and kinder to MYSELF. When FW was here I had to make myself small and walk on eggshells, always afraid of his judgement and insults. Also, my understanding through reading and therapy, is that psychologically, children can’t believe the parent is bad, so they blame themselves. It’s for survival reasons. At adulthood they can start to pull apart what is the parents’ responsibility and what is not. But it takes curiosity and courage. Not easy for any of us. I too assumed I would get compassion from my kids, but no. Either I got attacked or I was ignored. Lundy Bancroft writes about this phenomenon where the parent teaches the kids to hate the other parent. Usually dad teaches boys to hate mom—which is my experience. It’s to justify the dads bad behavior—“mom’s so rotten I had to act like that!!” In reality it’s immaturity and refusal to be held accountable like a real adult. By the time FW left, he openly treated me with contempt and disgust. He was violent and nasty. And in front of my sons. Now he continues to badmouth me in subtle ways by framing himself as a victim and me as the villain. What a psycho dick!!!!! Nobody needs that shit. Life is hard enough without head games. Time to move onward and upward without that loser!!

  • I believe the dynamic in my home growing up, turned me into quite the co-dependant. Like many of us, my Mom was treated like a servant, and then my father dumped her when I was 18. I immediately thought my job was to save her. I threw away a lot, to move away to another state with her, because she was terrified of running into ‘them’ about town! Now I see how ridiculous that was. I wish there was a CL then, to tell her she didn’t have to scurry away, she could be mighty! She was a loving, good Mom, and did not deserve what he did to her.
    Her feeling like a victim, made me feel like one, too, and I’ve struggled until very recently with low self-worth. Inter generational trauma is a bitch, and it can kiss my ass!

    • Hi FreeWoman, me too! My mom was always making herself small. Fuck that noise. Live honestly and be proud!

  • This is the ultimate nerve to step on with me. Because you’re so right – kiddo sides with the parent with the perks, i.e., FW.

    I’m a dad, and I am experiencing severe alienation. When your kid hangs out with Mom for the perks and the endless unsupervised solo time, when the other parent abandons all rules and says yes to everything, what’s the return on hanging out with stuffy old Dad? He’s got rules, says no to things, and seems a little, you know, depressed. I’ve heard little bits of what my FW says about me occasionally, and it’s breathtaking, utterly false. She’s built up the idea that not only is Dad a crazy loser, he’s the reason the marriage was bad, and from what I’ve heard, she’s probably making up scenarios that never even happened, framing me as angry or even abusive. And now my kid won’t even talk to me about why there’s endless canceling and avoiding of time with me. Says Mom is chill now, because she’s not in a marriage with fighting. This is the biggest sadness in my life.

    And what happens when eventually the affair comes to light, as eventually it will? I have no idea. The problem with cheaters is that their lying and perception management extend to kids. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

    • I suspect that it’s not so much the perks, as the underlying threat: if your kid doesn’t wholly side with FW (or worse, sticks up for Dad), then maybe FW will not love them anymore and will take all the ‘fun’ things away.

      You mention ‘when the affair comes to light’ – did your child not know that was the reason for the divorce?

      • Two therapists said “not yet,” so I haven’t explained. And FW certainly isn’t going to say, because all the kids are good friends, and there have been outings with the families (AP is married).

      • I think that’s definitely part of it – I have been repeatedly acknowledge as the one who doesn’t get angry. FW has a wicked temper, despite this supposed “chillness.”

      • That has happened to me and my now husband from our exes. It’s another way for them to “get even” or destroy the chumps. My boys are adults and have finally seen their (ex and Howorker’s) true colors.Daughter is 17, we’re waiting. I was upfront with my kids, “Daddy has a girlfriend and her name is (Howorker’s name)

        If they were manipulating during the marriage, they will definitely be manipulating during the divorce.

    • Male chumps often get that scenario, smeared to be bad-tempered, volatile and angry, to justify the female stepping out and it’s so effective in doing damage because it stops people approaching to clarify because people are intimidated by the threat of being responded to in that manner.

  • My father was a cheater, although I did not know that until after he killed himself and my mother revealed it. My father had lots of problems–he was manic-depressive, suicidal, controlling, verbally, physically, and sexually violent, and paranoid, which came out as insane jealousy of my mother, and, when I reached adolescence, of me (he would accuse her of “making eyes” at men in public places, once told my brother, born one day short of nine months after their wedding, wasn’t his; gave me the third degree after my first date and I never went on another one, once invaded my room in the middle of the night searching for the man he was sure I had in my room).

    When my brother and I were children, after his first serious suicide attempt, my mother almost divorced him, but made a decision to stay with him. (I do not know if he was cheating then.) A third child a half dozen years down the road cemented her decision. My mother spent the next 20 years (until after 30 years of marriage his mental illness escalated to the point he threatened my sister’s life and she finally left him) walking on eggshells, pick-me dancing, being blamed for all his problems, and verbally and physically abused.

    Once when my father had my mother down on the kitchen floor strangling her, I pulled him off her. She hustled my sister and me into the car, but would not leave. I told her that if she went back in that house she was crazy. After that, I wanted to be nothing like her. I’m sure I was afraid of ending up like her. I’m ashamed to say that I developed an attitude of contempt for her, and not even later learning about the psychological effects of domestic abuse fully erased that.

    One reason I fell in love with my now-ex was that he appeared nothing like my father (I knew nothing about narcissism, whether malignant/overt or covert). Unfortunately, despite my determination not to be like my mother, I had internalized a number of attitudes that were present in my FOO, chief among them catering to a man’s temper, caretaking his moods, and . My now-ex wasn’t violent, but he did believe himself to be superior to me, and despite evidence to the contrary (I was getting an MA when he was still finishing his BA, I was the driving force behind our both going for our PhDs, I won teaching awards and dissertation fellowships either before him or that he never won) I believed this. And acted on it. I catered to his moods. Etc. Etc. I put up with his serial emotional affairs.

    My conclusion is that even if children don’t know the truth, they know when something’s wrong, and they experience the effects of a household warped by secrets and lies.

  • Trust that they suck. Yes, it’s hard not to explain point-blank to the kids exactly why they suck, but I believe that in most cases (except those where the FW is very talented at impression management—some of you have these FWs) they’ll figure it out on their own. My kid is too young to be in the Chump Lady comments section even though she’s benefited greatly from CL’s wisdom, but I’ll try to summarize her experience from my perspective.

    My kid was so little when I was chumped, she doesn’t even remember FW ever living with us. That being said, he was around / involved so little that there wouldn’t have been much to remember anyway. He did the Disney Dad thing for a while once he secured visitation rights, and since all of his visitation occurs primarily on weekends, he gets to do Fun Things and none of the brush your teeth, take your bath, drink your medicine, get ready for school, do your homework, go to the dentist kinda stuff. In fact, he has literally never been to a doctor’s appointment with our kid, either before or after the divorce, in about 10 years. I thought “Of course he’ll be her favorite parent; all they do is play and eat ice cream when they’re together, and I’m left to earn a living for her and do the hard stuff.” But I stuck to CL’s prescription of explaining things simply and age-appropriately whenever she asked questions. She seemed satisfied with those answers and didn’t ask questions much.

    That was almost a decade ago. About a year or so ago, she did start asking questions. Or telling me about things that happened at her dad’s house that disappointed her or prevented her from enjoying herself, and waiting for a reaction. “Daddy said we could go to the park, but [FW’s current gf] said we couldn’t because Daddy wouldn’t clean up all his beer bottles.” “They never plan anything for us to do. They said we could go to the beach but when we got there, they had forgotten the beach bag, so we just turned around and came home.” “I’m not allowed to cry at Daddy’s house when I feel sad, so I just cry by myself in my room.” Etc. etc. You know, just regular chaotic people stuff. 🫠

    I still try to be fairly neutral about them as people and say things like “Wow, yeah that sounds about right” or “Yeah I know, he used to do that at our house too” or whatever, but I always validate her 100%: “You’re absolutely right. That’s not acceptable that he broke his promise to you. I’m sorry that happened to you.” “I’m really sorry you didn’t get to do that activity. It’s not okay that they made you feel that way.” “I’m sorry you were tired and they kept you out at the bar until 1am. That is not cool and that’s not what parents are supposed to do.”

    I know she loves her dad, and that’s fine. Maybe she vents about me too over there: “Mom insists I have a bedtime!” Haha. Even if she hated my guts, at least I would know I did my absolute best to give her the structure and resources she desperately needed in life. You can’t control other peoples’ feelings and misconceptions. But the fact that she trusts me enough to tell me all of this, and that I’m the person she comes running to whether she needs to vent, cry, share good news, or pay for a field trip or something like that, is worth all the pain. I’m her sane parent. It is my pleasure and privilege to be here for her. I show up and do the commonplace stuff to make our life work, all day every day. She knows this inherently and asks me for things unreservedly. She’s also very close with her stepdad of 6 years, and they are always building something crazy together in Minecraft or finding weird bugs to examine when we go hiking. It’s all turned out the best way possible, and I can see her growing into someone who knows when to be dubious of people when she needs to be.

  • My kids are now 30, 31 and 32 years old. The divorce was 5 years ago, in their critical years of finding their own partner and establishing long lasting relationships based on trust and commitment. I think it has absolutely affected that for them, really very deeply.
    The youngest has a gf of two years that is a real joy, I’m happy for them both.
    My other two struggle with finding partners, my daughter in particular picks pretty scary characters to date that do not treat her well, she figures it out eventually but it takes way longer than it should, I think.
    I will always resent how little their cheater father ever considered the fallout his selfishness would have on his children. Zero thought or responsibility for that.
    But that is the classic narcissist, after all, it isn’t about improving anyone else’s life, just their own.
    I had hoped he wouldn’t throw them in the trash as he did me and continue to love them and communicate.
    I thought that would be beneficial for my kids, even if I would be definitely hurt by it. I really wanted that for them, or so I thought. He might hate me, I surmised, but he shouldn’t hate his own children too. Should he?
    But individuals that are toxic levels of self centered are incapable of looking out for anyone but themselves.
    He and his schmoopie mistress bride, two high level narcs in a pod, are only ever looking out for their own happiness. The world spins only for them, their journey is the only one that counts. Unless it benefits them in some way, no one else matters.
    My kids tell me the Schmoop has a son my youngest son’s age, 30, and she isn’t a good mother by their observations of that relationship and has little interaction with him.
    Not really a surprise honestly, anyone willing to carry on with a married man and break up a family for their own selfish wants, can’t possibly be a giving person in other areas of their lives either, not even to their children.
    We don’t discuss their dad much at all, he rarely comes up. I’ve left them to completely establish their relationships with him on their own terms. None of them are healthy or going good right now from the very few snippets I get, and that greatly disappoints me. FW, of course, blames it all on them, they don’t try to have a relationship with him, he tells them. He blows off the devastation he caused their lives and he expects them to do the same with it. It’s in the past, it’s a whole new world now and it’s his new narrative they have to swallow if they want his greatness in their lives is how he views it.
    It has been a painful eye opening struggle. It hurts to see them come to the realization he is not who they thought he was, not even remotely close. He is a stranger to us all. It was a shock for me too, I will never fully get it and neither will they.
    It’s shaken their belief in what to believe in about, well basically everything, I’d say. It did the same to me. There’s a quote that comes to mind here that’s hanging up laminated on my apartment wall that deals with that, that reads:

    “ If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” (René Descartes)

    They have also felt isolated coming to grips with their father’s lies and deceits. Their highly admired and deeply loved dad is actually a shit head who cares only about himself?! That’s a lot for anyone to deal with. You tend to keep it to yourself, it’s a shameful experience.
    But, I’m very proud of the adults they have grown into, empathic, loving, caring, responsible individuals. I spend a good amount of time with them, just back from a destination wedding this w/e.
    Our bonds are indestructible. I don’t know much else about life, but I know that.
    I really love having that and I think it has fortified them as well. It has gotten me past some really dark days. Days I didn’t think I could ever get past.
    We are a complete family without their loser of a dad, we all know and accept that now as just a fact of life. It’s been a grueling and painful process.
    We have a great deal of gratitude for the love we share. They all have a strong inner core, my gorgeous kids, I do admire that. They have none of the superficiality that literally defines their father either. I thank God for that every day!!
    We have each other’s backs, in this insane and bizarre spinning world, we know we will always be there for one another. It’s an empowering gift we never take for granted.
    We couldn’t save their dad, we all know that to be a very solid fact of life. None of us take any joy in knowing that ,his life choices will continue to hurt us in countless ways.
    No one gets through this life without trauma. Some really tough stories to take in just from CN experiences alone that break our hearts all the time to hear.
    But the endless examples of resiliency and the love and genuine concern and caring about contributing to helping others through some really hard stuff is why I can’t stop reading.
    When you are in the company of warriors, it makes you feel stronger and it gives you hope that there’s something better out there for you too maybe.

  • I think it might be more relevant to not succumb to the drama the cheating husband seems to love. Drama and entitlement go hand in hand more often than not. They want to suck you in to make you look worse than them. Model consistent and mature behavior to your kids asap. Keep your naturally angry thoughts about cheater ex to yourself and act with professionalism with your cheating ex.

    • That’s the ideal, but can be impossible in the aftermath of Dday, when you are suffering from severe trauma. I know I was a mess and truly could not control my outbursts of alternately crying and raging at FW. Thankfully, my kids are grown. I don’t know how I would have kept my feelings in check if they were younger. You can’t be the sane parent if you are made temporarily insane by the FW’s abuse.

    • “Drama and entitlement go hand in hand”

      Boy do you have that one right! Right after the divorce, Asshat took the kids for spring break ski adventure. Back when I was still painshopping, I saw an Instagram post where he made my son (who was actually turning away from the camera) take a photo next to the skin run naned “Don’t tell Momma”.

      That was another moment when I knew I had to be the sane parent and never put the kids in the middle, even if it seems funny to me. Because the kids aren’t laughing.

  • I was a young adult when my dad lied to me about why he was moving out and they were separating (things are tough right now was apparently code for I’m cheating on your mom with your half sisters mom insert that Marie Kondo ‘I love mess’ gif lol), I’d find out later that night while my mom was physically kicking him out most of the nitty gritty details. (which while traumatic, will live rent free in my head as my small mom is pushing my dad and throwing his work laptop bag at him before slamming the front door lmao). A decade later when dealing with my partner’s affair (the same partner who was there the night he left which is like.. ugh @ him to the extreme) my mom would tell me my dad was a serial cheater and had been kicked out multiple times over their 20+ year marriage because of it.

    I don’t know how I’d have felt as a kid if I’d been told what was going on but I can look back at my childhood and see the cracks now. I remember finding a letter he’d written to one of his APs apologizing for not telling her he was married. I remember the times he wasn’t around, attributing it to him working out of state but that was probably a lie told to shut me up. I remember finding notebooks from marriage counselling sessions and I remember the coldness that would happen between them. I internalize the majority of my issues in fear of feeling like a burden on others and I think it has a lot to do with what was going on while growing up.

    I also remember some of the ridiculous lies (why are they ALWAYS so stupid?!) for why he’d leave the house randomly. “I was checking out the house down the street… it’s for sale”, like huh?! lol

    My mom stuck around because she felt she had to. She’d raised my half brother alone as a teen mom and didn’t want to go through that again. So I understand why she stayed after the first affair when I was 2. I understand why she stayed a few years later when my brother was incarcerated and she was in the deepest depression of her life, but of course my dad felt “sad and unloved” so he had to seek affection elsewhere. I understand why she stayed over and over again up until telling me she “didn’t get married to get divorced” and made the divorce hell for him. (except then the FW had to go and die out of the blue without a Will so my mom had to finish the divorce with my half sister who tried taking my mom’s house but instead got the IRS involved to find our dad hadn’t been paying his taxes for the past 5 years so both of our inheritances were basically nothing.. again that Marie Kondo I love mess gif) … but I digress lmao

    It’s definitely affected me even though I didn’t know or realize at the time. As an adult learning these things I can see how strong and resilient my mom was but also wish she hadn’t been.. because then maybe I wouldn’t have turned out the same. Maybe I would’ve been able to see the red flags better? Maybe I wouldn’t have begged and pleaded? I don’t know but the thoughts are there.

  • My kids love their dad. Not for who he is, but despite who he is. And I think that’s just the saddest realization for any child. I hate him for all the cheater handbook crap he pulled on me. All the lies. The old appliance discard. How utterly cheap with love and money he was. I’ve got no mercy for the guy. I can’t even stand how kind they are to him now that the witch dumped him. But there’s a tinge of I told ya so and a big load of karma in their words when I heard he got dumped, so they know. Their dad is a shit but he’s their dad. He is good to them as much as his small emotional toolbox allows. I just say nothing and they accept my no contact even when it’s not convenient. I’ve lost a lot of quality time with my kids. I’ve lost a lot actually. But being free of his crap is a gift from the universe. It is what it is as they say.

    • My daughter asked me yesterday if it was ok to think of her dad as two different people. The daddy she still loves and the dad who cheated on and hurt me so badly that I cry all the time. I told her that it was fine, that’s how I think of him, too (before/after DDay). It made me sad that she knows what he is like that but I was proud of how she’s making it work in her head and heart.

  • My father was a serial philanderer and I am not sure whether that caused my mother’s shut down, unempathetic personality, but it was a shitshow either way. Dad was the sparkly fun one, mom was the passive agressive one, seething with resentment for having to be the adult and swallow the shit sandwich, but wanted to pretend things were just dandy at all costs. Kids get stuck between a rock and a hard place. As a kid I naturally gravitated toward Dad as he had the lighthearted persona, but he was a narc to the bones and I found that out the hard way. My sister came to me just yesterday revealing she is going into therapy to deal with the invalidating, gaslighting mindfuck that was our childhood. Having neither parent present and able/ready to parent is very hard, and leaves children feeling abandoned, discounted and with no working knowledge of what a stable, real relationship looks like. It’s so unfair to have to deal with trauma and be left stranded to deal with all the adulting for needy little humans (and they’re entitled to those needs too), all inflicted by the same shitty cheating person, but for the love of the children, someone’s got to be there. As the child of a cheater, who then ended up in the same position as my mother, it has been an experience that I ahve found so triggering to. all of my childhood trauma, and I have had many unwanted insights in to how difficult it must have been for my mother, but also that she just chose denial and fantasy-building over finding tools to process the massive amount of shit that goes with being chumped or her wiring had already been fashioned in a way that made anything like that impossible. It was different times, and when it comes down to it I am grateful for places like this, and the ever-expanding conversation over mental health and wellbeing that is being initiated in society at this time, to be able to access tools that will help me dismantle the fuckery behind it all and the opportunity to heal. There is no round it, through is the only way, and although I carry a burden of guilt that I didn’t do this healing. before I brought my children into the world, I’ll be damned if I let this cycle of trauma continue to them. This is my individual experience, your mileage may vary.

    • I suspect my daughter may have feelings similar to yours. She understands how unfair it was on me, but from her perspective, she was entitled to one normal parent and she didn’t get that.

      • Walkaway, I think you are judging yourself too harshly. My mother’s behaviour was not a phase, it was pervasively unempathetic and self-interested. Perhaps my family was a bad example to provide, because I feel like there was disordered personality traits in both of my parents, apart from any situational trauma. While you may have been incapacitated by your situation, I’m sure you were aware of it and tried to mitigate it, my mother was completely unaware and denied any problems on anyone’s part apart from my father leaving us financial straitened.

  • This is timely for me. I just came back from spending a weekend with my adult daughter who lives out of state. She asked for some clarification about her childhood, & her father, so we talked a lot.

    The cheater who was in my life was a serial cheater, with prostitutes, porn, and hookups via apps or strip clubs. Most was on business trips, and some things, like the porn & app use/clubs may also have been around our own city. I don’t have knowledge that he ever had any emotional attachment to any women. He claimed that alcohol instigated his lack of self control & then when it continued after being sober, he claimed a sex addiction. He never did consistent counseling or 12 steps, and the behaviors became more hidden. I found out years later, that his cheating never stopped, and he escalated into using more often, taking more money, and it interfered with his work somehow because he was “let go” but not fired for cause (that I was made aware of). I stayed married way too long: 36 years, and all the kids were out of the house by the time I knew enough & was confident in myself enough to divorce.

    Using advice from CL & CN, I told the adult children the facts, both several years before, and at the time of the divorce, such as “dad had a secret life and used money to do things a married man shouldn’t. I didn’t know, and still don’t know all the things he did.” Or such as “dad used pornography.”

    This past weekend my daughter wanted to know more of the facts. She had gotten a text from her dad, asking for her time to have him make amends. She realized that she doesn’t even “know what he did” & he didn’t tell her anything, so she was still left in the dark.
    These are some of the things she told me:
    “I never felt he was interested in me. Did he ever do anything with me? Was he interested in me? I never had any feelings towards him that were good. Around age 15, I started feeling like he was creepy. I feel like I didn’t have a father. I didn’t like to be around him & he made me feel guilty, like I should have been doing stuff with him, or getting him things or emailing him, texting him. I always felt like a bad daughter. I don’t miss him, and my life has been better once I moved away. It was fun being at home when he was gone. When he was at home, he used to yell at us, for kid stuff, and he was erratic. It never made sense when he was angry & I was afraid of him. Now he’s texted me, after not seeing me for years. He used call about twice a year & I’d have an awkward conversation with him. Now I feel like he wants something from me.”

    My other daughter, younger by 7 years, & now on her own, also has been through some intense grief about her childhood, and recently was crying, saying “I never had a real dad.”

    One of my sons (all my sons are less talkative), has said “He’s just like a stranger, like any other man I don’t know.”

    This past weekend, I did tell my oldest daughter more of the facts, and as I was telling her, I could see it helped her form the idea that she does not want contact with him & why she always felt creepy around him. I was able to go through her childhood chronologically and tell her the facts. “He was arrested for indecent exposure,” “he used “FriendFinder,” “he went to strip clubs,” “he used pornography on his computer,” “he was asked by his employer to leave.” I told her that here & there when I got evidence of these activities, he explained it away & I was too ready to believe his excuses. For instance, the arrest happened 33 years ago, when I was out of town visiting my parents with my first baby, her older brother. He took care of it with a lawyer, & told me something I felt was plausible, but confusing, and having a new baby, I didn’t pursue it. We both shared how he could give people the impression that he was interested in his family, & a good husband/father. She is a research psychologist now, and I am summarizing our entire weekend of talking. I am not an eloquent writer. I wish I could describe her confusion, her memories, and her thoughts in a more heartfelt way.

    I don’t ask the kids about their dad. So I don’t know all that the XH has done to try to get them to interact with him. What I observe is that none, except the oldest, who had the most time with a “normal” appearing dad, do anything with him. And that son is out of state also, so it has been a visit about once a year. When that son & his family came to see me for a week they spent 1 day with his dad.

    The kids do like being with each other. We share vacations together when we can. We have not had to navigate any weddings yet.

    • This is my FW all the way, except for the arrest. Helpful insight about your daughter, mine’s 18 and I’m figuring out what to tell her as FW and I are doing separation agreement/Post-nup here 2 months after D-Day. “Used money to do things a married man shouldn’t do” is perfect, thank you

  • At 14, I asked my mum why she did not divorce my dad. She thought and still thinks divorce simply is not done. My FOO is very snob. Very much described in the Bridgerton Chronicle, currently on netflix. So my mum stayed. And told us to be nice and quiet, and shut up (the repetition is intended). She also told us that after raising 3 kids, she had no intention to help with the grand-kids. Forty years later, I am a divorced chump. My FW is a typical narcissist, just like dad. We were in couple therapy during Covid (good times 🙄). I left after 8 months of CT, at first bruise, three years ago. Around that time, my mum decided to live separately from my dad (one hour apart). She comes back to the family house for ‘grand occasions’, for the sake of appearances. I wished she did not excuse my dad’s behavior. I still wish she had divorced him forty years ago. Unfortunately, I have since realised that she was not a co-dependent but a full-fledged narcissist herself. So much to unpack, I am still working on it. My little sister is also on full narcissist behavior, married to a guy very attached to appearances – including appearing to be nice, so that’s that. My little brother decided to ‘bury the line’, Basset style, and for the same reason – dad kept saying he was not worthy. Both our parents are very sad that he refuses to produce a heir. So, 3 kids, 3 very differerent outcomes

  • If my adult kids were to answer this, I suspect they would say the following (which is based on things they’ve actually said):

    We wish our mom had left our dad when we were young, and we resent her a bit for not doing so.
    We wish we’d had a better dad.
    We want nothing to do with him because he’s “toxic.” Our decision to have nothing to do with him after D-Day is based on years of emotional abuse, not simply because of his affair.

    This is probably one of the most sensitive topics for me. I feel guilty for having stayed. I made excuses for his behavior. I spackled. Too often, I said, “He means well.”

    Although I’ve told my kids that their relationship (or lack thereof) with their dad is between them and him, I have to confess that I’m pleased that they want nothing to do with him. Of course, because of this, I worry that I’m a vindictive bitch.

    In October, all of us will have been NC for 4 years. Of course, that may change for them at some point in the future. I know I will accept whatever they choose to do. I also know that I might struggle if they resume contact. What’s my fear? I think I’m worried that he will turn on the charm, and they (FW, wifetress, kids and grandkids) will be one big happy family. Of course, this is delusional thinking on my part. He is who he is. The kids never had a good relationship with their dad. He hasn’t changed. I need to trust that he sucks and know that the kids will do what’s best for themselves, whatever that might be. They have their own families to worry about. I’ll stay out of it.

    One last point: I think my “mirage” (thanks, VH) serves a sort of cautionary tale for my kids; so there’s that.

  • Dad was a damaged man. Too bad he decided he needed more than one family, since he failed to create his perfect family. His one perfect family was one that wasn’t even legal or recognized. A terminal prostate cancer ended his shenanigans. And in the wake we discovered the other perfect family. The only reaction was “For THIS you throw us up away?”. A very diplomatic description would be if someone made a bad xerox copy of a sepia photo. And the sads, oh the sads. For the money, mind you. And then the revelation of the monkeys (so much monkeys). Then, the other lady wanted to “talk privately over coffee”. And the only answer “No, thanks. There is nothing to talk”. Just one thing though, all the “you have to be this or that” from Dad… was because in his damage, he didn’t even try to distinguish us from them, too tired, too bored to. And after that… discovering how much better life was. How skilled we were, because, there was no one to be compared to. The cherry to that poopsicle? He want us to “accept and love” his also “family”. The response? “Not in this house”. Trust that they suck? Oh yes. Something to remember every monday.

  • Hi Walkbymyself, another chump kid here. Get divorced for the children is my motto 😀 Just a quick comment about the anger. I was super grateful and proud of my mother for gathering the strength to get divorced, but, in a weird way, I started to get increasingly mad at her. For enduring the mindfuck for so long. For letting my father gaslight me and then telling me the truth after years. For breaking in a milion pieces and for needing me so much. Even when you completely understand how abuse works and you’re absolutely on your mother’s side, it feels like someone has put you in that situation without your consent. I personally felt like I had one fuckwit parent and another fragile parent that I had to take care of. That puts a huge burden on you. Of course, the difference between a fuckwit and a sane parent is that the sane parent absolutely can admit their mistakes and learn from them. I cannot imagine if they were still together and seeing through my father’s bullshit was the only way for me to move on, although I think that on some level, it never stops hurting. So maybe your daughter gets angry at you not only because she has to process all those feelings and set boundaries, but because it is safer to argue with you that with her father. My topics with my father, whenever I see him (which is not often)? The weather, the food, an occasional rant about the state of the world – absolutely nothing personal. Keep rocking being the sane parent and modeling strength – even though it might feel late, it is a hundred times better than staying in an abusive marriage ❤️

    • Thank you Amanda for fresh incentive to stay tough not fragile and the signposts on how daughter may feel when I tell her — still got some paperwork to do with FW

    • Chump kid here. Mom was the chump damsel in distress. I had to protect her. Still doing it today!!! She’s 80s and I’m 50s. When a parent is a chump it puts pressure on kids to “rescue” chump parent from their own Hopium. Be mighty so your kids don’t have to rescue you. Rescue yourself and be your own queen. I finally “got it” and kicked out FW. Now, I wake up alone and feel PEACE!!! I have an Honest life with MYSELF. Not trying to hang on to a FW or prove my value to him. But it took many years and lots of therapy to reach that point. I don’t deserve to be abused. And neither do you! And neither do your kids!!

  • Thank you so, so much for addressing this. I think the prevailing narrative is pretty one-sided.

  • I don’t really want to get into events that happened in the 50 and 60’s, but just to say that every time my sibs and I get together, we discuss this. Whether it’s by joking or asking ‘do you remember?’ or wondering how we’re not all psychopathic killers … we discuss the awful marriage and how much we wished there had been a divorce.

  • OK so…long long arch. My husband left a few days after my daughter was born to move in with AP. He lived with her 5 years then married her. My 6 year old son and his newborn sister went every other weekend and my former in laws moved from NYC to KC to help my XH on weekends. So i had a whole family and Ap/ wife talking about me and what I was doing wrong as the sane parent. Weekend dad and former inlaws ran the show and got my son in on it too. Talking about my new husband and all his issues. My kids were turned into spies and my son was responsible for making sure things went Dads way in my house. My daughter was doted on and got so many things at dad’s. She was the reining princess. She pushed away from me at 19, still talking like a little girl on the phone with her dad at 22. She would tell me what the real real story was from her dads point of view and say i didn’t know the real story like her dad did.
    I was wrong, dad was right. I drove him to leave!!Incredible brain washing and child abuse to continue to blame me as the worthless woman he had an affair on, pregnant and scared. Chumped in the delivery room. My daughter is 35 now and has three children under 3. Her husband is a dry alcoholic with shifting moods. She is getting my story slowly as i just am divorcing her cheating step dad after 32 years. We are talking more than ever. I have no doubt she is understanding now what happened to me. Leaving my second cheater she called me the strongest woman she knows. This was on her card on mother’s day. I.may be dead and gone but she will see my legacy one day. My son gets it but he was brained washed by the Family too. It is sad and I don’t think anyone wins. But my pride, my spirit my life had meaning and I could give courage to my children that cheating is wrong andI have worth and value. I did my best and I am free in my heart and now in my body too.

  • My Mother dated a married man when I was a teen. It disgusted me even though he was kind to me . Having divorced twice , I also stayed far to long in fist marriage . He was not a cheater but other undesirable treated. Then after 20 yr second marriage learned I married a serial cheater and divorced after giving him a second chance. My Daughters raised by him were discarded and they are sickened by him. Son will not talk about it but was disgusted knowing he cheated. I’ve never tried to get my kids on my side. It is up to them and they should have an opportunity to know their Father if they choose. I only hope my Son is not alike in honesty and is faithful in relationships.

  • I’ve actually wanted to write in here about this topic, too. I was reading an advice article about what/when to tell kids, particularly because I’ve failed at this big time. The advisor writes:

    “What do I hope my son will gain by having this information [reasons for the divorce]? Will it be helpful to him? Or would I be treating him as an emotional confidante when it would be more appropriate to speak to a peer or mental health professional? In your case, ask yourself if some part of you would be sharing this information to curry favor, get your son “on your side,” or simply because he keeps pressuring you to tell. Is it for you, or for him?”

    Sometimes I think I use my daughter as an ’emotional confidante’ and have definitely tried to get her on my side when I’m particularly angry at her dad for whatever his latest offense is. The problem is I know this is wrong of me. I am the one who told him there should be no bad-mouthing each other. I’m the one who told our daughter it was important that she have some kind of relationship with her dad and she can choose how that looks, while I continually find myself undermining that in little ways.

    I don’t know why I keep doing this! I mean, I know why I want to but sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it. Any advice or books to listen to/read that could help??


    • Therapy can help a lot—an adult who has the training to hear you out, validate your experience, reframe, establish agency. Your kid is not equipped to do that. Can you get yourself a therapist and get one for your kid. You both need a place that is safe to be vulnerable. It’s like two people drowning. Each needs a lifeline. You are pulling on your kid’s lifeline. He/she is not strong enough to save you both. But if you each have a lifeline, you will both have the energy to make it to safety.

      • We do both have therapists. I know what I’m doing wrong but I am so weak. I guess I just have to keep at it and be honest with my daughter when I overstep. I have apologized and admitted when I was wrong. She said thank you because her dad has never apologized to her for anything. At least I’ve got that part right. Sigh.

  • A(nother) book needs to be written about how cheating affects children throughout their lifetimes. The ripple effects that permeate their entire lives-romantic relationships and any marriages; how they navigate friendships and their professional roles.

    I’m piggybacking on yesterday’s post since I got overwhelmed thinking about all the couples that split due to abuse/cheating and wondering how the adult children are faring in their present day lives. One gem I found in my internet search was the death notice of a Swedish woman I met and knew through my grandfather. Her partner and Grandfather shared the same hobby. M. and her husband split after having four children and she decamped to Paris with T. She left her four kids behind in Stockholm and then had a daughter with T. Of her first four, only the oldest (a son) is still married. Her two older daughters are no longer coupled, per her obit, and of course one is a therapist. Her youngest son only married a year after his mother died when he was in his late forties. She lived in Paris between 1981 and 2017 and returned to Sweden to be with all five of her kids for the last few months of her life. The kicker on the death notice was her Edith Piaf quote “Je ne regrette rien” I’m sure her four older children have lots of regrets.

    I haven’t talked to my father in almost twenty years and contrary to what a private investigator hired by Dear Old Dad (DOD) wrote in a letter following a phone call, I won’t regret cutting off all contact with DOD. The only thing I regret is that Chumplady and CN weren’t around to help my mother recognize the abuse and the enabling therapists who took a lot of her money and escape much sooner.

    • “The word is estranged and there is indeed something strange about it:I think of him distantly, as emotionally distant.”

    • Another quote regarding abandonment by a narc parent
      “The only thing I can grieve is that I had so much love to give my parent. And then that love just died and went away.”

  • This is a wonderful thread–thank you, Walkbymyself, for introducing this topic! For myself, my relationship with my daughter is good (though we had some very hard times during her adolescence); but I carry a lot of remorse about the ways in which the depression I experienced for a few years after FW and I separated affected her. (She was six when, a few days after discovery day, FW and I separated.) At the time I was just so flattened by the six years of infidelity and gaslighting, and then FW’s assaultive behavior toward me as we tried to coparent from separate households, that became pretty hollowed out by depression. I know that as a mother I thus wasn’t as present or capable as I would have liked to be, until the depression started to resolve a few years later. Looking back, I feel sad for my daughter that she lost so much at that time, in that her family as she had known it was gone but also her mother went partially into the shadows.

    • I have that guilt too. STBX stayed in the home but emotionally abandoned us 10 years ago. I just woke up 2 years ago and kicked him out. My sons are still home. One is very angry.

  • I have 3 young adult children and the middle child, a son, is really angry. He feels that he was ignored for 10 years. That coincides with the time period that FW decided to treat me with contempt until I finally realized the emotional abuse and asked him to leave. My son says he is angry at me for choosing a bad partner.

  • My mom was a chump and stayed with my dad until he died at age 75. My dad was not perfect. I loved him anyway. He was funny, generous, hardworking. He had many great qualities. But he also set me up for falling for a narc. Except STBX is a covert narc who likes to play a victim.

  • One of my children has GAD which developed in part due to what they saw their father do to me. For a while we were under a child psychiatric team to help him cope because he was far to young for medication. She told me – because they know you love them and will ALWAYS put them first, they feel safe enough to express negative emotion around you or at you. When they dont feel safe they smush it all down so often they would come home from school and rage at me or destroy things.
    Like they pulled a mattress apart with teeth hands and feet. A mattress.
    Its been ten years since seperation and they still put on a front for their father.
    What I am saying is that sometimes the sane parent gets the rage because they are the one who stays.
    Best of luck to you all

    • Yes. My therapist says this too. He rages at you because you’re there and dad has abandoned him. He’s not even there to hear him out.

  • I was so proud of my mom for leaving my dad (even though it took a long time) it gave me the strength to leave my own toxic relationship – even though my FW dad completely abandoned my three siblings my mom and I, my mom re invented herself and has a job and life she loves – that’s not to say we didn’t all suffer a ton of shit before and after the crap hit the fan. I remember 3 things about my dad (who I am almost completely estranged from now at 29)
    1.) that he essentially told me he didn’t know if he loved our family in a car ride with me (he always denied it)
    2.) I would write him letters as a child begging him to love us and care about us and stay at home at night that he never answered
    3.) my mom constantly crying and laying in bed depressed because of his affairs and abuse

    He was and is an awful man but one sane and mighty parent CAN make that difference. It’s not perfect but we made it through and I thank God for that every day ❤️

  • Tell your kids the simple truth, that (Mom/Dad) broke their marriage vows and had a (boyfriend/girlfriend). The truth is our compass for navigting the world and you do your childen a disservice when you give them a broken compass. My parents divorced after my father had an affair and no one told us kids what happened. I wish I had known, because my mother was sad/depressed/short-tempered and Dad was still fun and so we blamed her. It was unfair and I wish I’d known the truth. And maybe I’d have had a working compass and not fallen for a FW myself.

  • “We’re usually so busy throwing ourselves on the grenades of dysfunction.”
    I wish I had a guidebook on how to do this better.

    Fuckwit is a huge fan of toxic humor and calls it love. He will make fun of a person for anything (looks, likes, thoughts, etc.) and call it “joking.” When I have seen my older child do this and stopped it, the response was that it was fine at dad’s house. How can I stop negative behavior patterns and not bring him into it?

  • I really needed to read this. Thank you Walk By Myself for your courage and vulnerability, and to Tracy and the rest of CN for their wisdom.

    I’m in the position of being the boring sane parent, who definitely isn’t as much fun as Disneyland Dad. My boys were so little (2 and a baby) when their dad left. I picked up the pieces and basically sole parented for two years. Then suddenly he discovered that I was right – they are delightful people and now he’s aiming for Father of the Year. Although I’m grateful that my kids aren’t the ones left wondering why their dad doesn’t love them, I still resent that he gets to waltz back in and claim Best Parent status (in their eyes at least).

    I keep reminding myself of Nigel Latta’s words (he’s a well-known child psychologist here in Aotearoa New Zealand). Something like how kids might act like they can be bought, but when they get into therapy in their 30s and 40s they’ll tell you all they wanted was a parent who cared enough to set limits and do the boring stuff.

    Cheers and solidarity to all other sane parents out there. Cleaning up vomit, reminding kids to tidy up after dinner, and making sure the homework gets done.

  • I know I am probably preaching to the choir here, but just in case anyone is still on the fence – speaking as the child of a cheater mother and chumped father, please do not stick around for the sake of the children, line up your financial ducks and leave, and do not as far is possible leave the kids with the cheater, because if they are a cheater there’s a chance they are a manipulative liar as well and my god it’s not fun to deal with, just assume if they act nastily to you they are also acting nastily to the kids. What is also not fun for my brothers and I is to wonder if we are actually our dad’s kids as our mom was such prolific cheater.

    Even as adults this has been extremely stressful to deal with. My siblings and I have struggled with relationships, as being treated like garbage feels normal to us. We were not taught to get away from mean people – our mom did not teach us this obviously, as she was the mean one, and our father did not teach us this either – he was too busy putting up with all the rubbish our mom heaped on him. Please teach your kids to stay away from mean people. Fine to be compassionate, but do not teach tolerance of abuse.

  • Recently my son and I were talking about the last decade when dad has been a passive-agressive ghost. Never doing family vacations or even taking us out to dinner. Minimal interaction with his kids. Preferred to go sit in his friend’s basement watching “Insecure.” Yes, a middle-aged white dude with grown children was a rabid devotee of that show and has the social media posts with his many lady friends to prove his fandom.

    (At least that’s his story. In truth we don’t know where he’s been going all these years. He would go “running” and be gone half the day.) He did no housework except cut the grass once in a while.

    My son said it seemed like he was embarrassed to be seen with you. Which makes me so angry. He wasn’t embarrassed to take my cooking or my labor, housecleaning, paying bills, doing taxes, saving for retirement, taking kids to the doctor. FW was ok with living here and acting like he hated me and told my kids “I’m only here for you.” But meanwhile he was living in some fantasy world on his phone and in his social media. I discovered it by accident.

    When I confronted FW he was like, oh yeah I’m waiting for youngest to graduate from high school and then get divorced. Oh, really? When were you going to tell me? So he was the victim who had to stay with me “for his kids,” who he has ignored for most of their lives. Meanwhile he’s on FB posting their photos and acting like a proud single dad. Yeah, makes sense. Delusional!!!!!

  • My son who is now 11 was a year old when his dad started up his office affair with his much younger, married direct report. He was 1.5 on D-Day 1 and 2.5 when I could no longer stand another D-Day (there were 10 to be exact) and filed for divorce. So my son has never really known his parents together. I can remember as a toddler him screaming for me when his dad would come pick him up for his weekends, or for a holiday and often wondered between my own tears how it would later affect him. Son started asking questions at age 4-5 about why his mom and dad were not together, as ex was telling him “mommy is the reason we can’t be married.” (the AP dropped him a few months after I filed for divorce.) I followed CL’s advice on age appropriate honesty and started out with “when 2 people get married, they make important promises to each other and daddy broke a promise many times and it hurt mommy’s feelings, so we can’t be married anymore.” The discussion grew from there as he got older to include the explanation of “daddy had a special friend, daddy had a girlfriend, etc. Daddy was hugging and kissing someone else who wasn’t mommy and it hurt mommy’s heart.” We have had moments over the years where my son didn’t believe me as ex was telling son your mom is lying… but over the last couple years, son (who is pretty emotionally aware, empathetic and intuitive) has started to notice his dad’s sociopathic narcissistic tendencies all on his own, based on his dad’s treatment of him and of me. (some physical abuse and extreme verbal abuse he witnessed and so, so much lying). This year, ex introduced a new girlfriend — lo and behold another much younger, married direct report — and son recognized on his own his dad’s part in ending another marriage. My son goes to Catholic school and struggled this year with religion class during study of the 10 commandments, especially the ones around adultery and coveting the neighbors wife. When my son would come home from school and talk to me about his concerns, I validated them. When he makes observations about his narc dad that are spot on, I validate them. I don’t gaslight him and tell him what he’s seeing and observing isn’t true. I try to tell him he doesn’t have control over his dad’s decisions or behavior but he does have control over how he reacts to them (he’s had some yelling matches and one physical altercation with his dad over catching his dad in lies, calling out hypocritical behavior (dad claims he’s a really good Catholic, while working on adulterous relationship number 2). This last year has been rough but son is really coming to terms on his own that while he loves his dad, his dad is who he is and there isn’t much he can do about it. He tries to focus on what he can enjoy with his dad (sports) and knows that the sane, safe parent who is always there is mom. It’s heartbreaking that my son who is a good, sweet, smart, kind kid, doesn’t get the Dad he deserved and I’ll always beat myself up that I chose poorly and ignored the narc red flags… but I’m focused on the hard, often lonely, but rewarding job of being the sane parent, the safe place to land, the parent that will be honest with him, go to bat for him, make sure he has the things he needs. I’m not sure how this will carry us as we get into the high school years and I suspect this new young girl friend is here to stay for the duration and that may present another set up challenges as ex works on New Family 2.0…. but I’m going to try my best to raise a good human and so far, so good.

  • >
    %d bloggers like this: