I only discovered your site a few days ago and you have made me feel SO MUCH BETTER about what I’m going through.
By way of background — I am a Chump Daughter. My parents are currently going through a divorce. The marriage was for 25 years and has always been dysfunctional. Without going into too much detail, my Mum is the Chumpiest of Chumps and despite indisputable evidence before the marriage that my Dad was willing to a) physically harm her; b) emotionally manipulate/gaslight her; and c) spend money they didn’t have indulging his gambling addiction she went ahead and did it anyway. As a child I had to endure years of secrecy and knowing that my family wasn’t “normal”. I couldn’t have friends over, I was told that his abuse was “my fault” if I would just stop “provoking” him all the while knowing that my Mum would never, ever leave him.
In September 2012, my sister discovered evidence my father was having an affair with a co-worker (including emails detailing overnight hotel stays etc). We had suspected something was going on long before then as we were getting a large number of prank calls and my Dad became bizarrely aggressive if anyone so much as approached his phone.
My sister and I held an ‘intervention’ in November and we confronted my Dad about the affair and a number of other things, including that our family home was about to be re-possessed due to his gambling habits. He lied, and when presented with proof, confessed it had only been “a few weeks” and “the marriage had been long over, anyway”.
Since then, he has moved in with the AP, mentioned off-handedly that we may have a step brother/sister on the way(??) and that by the by, he thinks the AP is repulsive but he “can’t be on his own”.
This is a very, very modest catalogue of my Dad’s offences (he is an addict and, arguably, has a NPD) but these alone are certainly sufficient for me to think my Mum should kick his ass to the curb, but she is stalling. She really struggles with NC despite the fact it upsets her more, my Dad is a pathological liar but bizarrely, she still believes him when he says things like ‘I’ve moved out of the AP’s house!’ only to find actually, he was hedging his bets and was waiting to see if my Mum would come a runnin’ before he made any hasty decisions. I have tried to reason with her, using variations of your explanation of the ‘pick me’ dance, pointing out his various shitty behaviours (of which there are many, I’m spoilt for choice) yet she is terrified of being alone. She has so much support (which she acknowledges) but she still seems to be running to this asshole. She now contacts my Dad in secret as she knows it upsets my sister and I.
Anyway, this was a long way of saying your last few articles on kids being resilient really resounded with me. What I wouldn’t have given for my Mum to have been strong enough to leave my Dad before the situation became dire – my siblings and I always felt like we were doing our own version of the “pick me” dance as picking us would have meant leaving him, but she always picked him despite his obvious shortcomings.
I actually do have a question for you — how, as a Chump Daughter, can I support my Mum and give her advice without pushing her too hard? I know that divorce is difficult, but I feel like she is not helping herself and I’m beginning to resent her. I know that sounds awfully unsympathetic, but as I say, this has been going on for years and I am now offering to support her financially by purchasing her a house to live in with me (we lost the family home early this year, and most of the equity had been spent by my Dad, so she has none of her own money) but my condition is that she must go through with the divorce. I am unwilling to be linked to my Dad’s financial irresponsibility but, more pressingly, I have made it clear he is not welcome in my life and therefore not in my home. My Mum says I am being “unfair” by asking her to make this decision. Is she right?
Thank you again for such a fantastic resource.
Wow. What a great kid you are. Just goes to show that great kids can come from even the crappiest of parenting situations. Before I wade too deep into any advice, I hope you’re getting some therapy, Melissa. Because you’ve really been dealt a giant plate of shit sandwiches at a young age and I would hate for you to sink into chumpitude yourself, given that both of your parents seem to avoid acting like grown ups. You and your sister have taken on the Herculean task of staging an intervention and bringing the affair to light. You’re trying hard to drag these people into reality, and they’re resisting you mightily. That’s a very hard situation.
I say “chumpitude” because you’re filling a role chumps often fill — trying to be the reasonable person in an unreasonable situation. Gosh, I’ll just pester them long enough and we’ll come to some sort of consensus about this Crazy Thing they’re doing! Oh, I’ll just shoulder more the burden here, because things are hideously chaotic and if I don’t take on more, well, it won’t get done. Or, I’ll do this generous thing, and they’ll see the value in that!
Newsflash, Melissa — chump tactics don’t work. They make you a nice person, but they’re shit for effectiveness.
Per your question — are you being unfair by insisting that if you provide a home for your mother, that you pay for, that you can make your own boundaries about who is allowed inside YOUR home?
(See how I rephrased that for you?) NO, you are NOT being unreasonable.
Now, I do not think you can say to your mom — divorce him or you’re homeless. Because, hey, she’s fucked either way really. Stay married to him — homeless. Divorce him — homeless. Melissa, you have the power here, you just need to realize it and leverage it. Your mom needs a home, and you can provide that. Otherwise it’s going to get very Sister Wives over at cheater dad’s place, what with living with a pregnant mistress. I would think she’d be inclined to want to live with you.
But she’s wants it on her terms. She wants to continue her addiction to your lousy dad (more on that in a moment) AND she wants the safety net you provide. She cannot have both. That’s your boundary. And you need to enforce that boundary, something you’re probably not very experienced at given your upbringing.
So what I think you need to do in the short term is DETACH. With love, of course, but detach from your mom. Stop trying to rescue her from that bad marriage. You’re a grown up, with your own life and resources. Put your energies there. You made your offer to your mom — a very generous, kind offer that no young person should ever have to be put in the position of offering, by the way — now you need to stand back and let make her choice.
Horrible, I know. You’d rather control this outcome by hovering around trying to reason with her to avert disaster. That’s probably not going to happen. Your mom is pretty immune to threats of disaster by the sounds of it. But detaching is what you need to do. Let those horrible consequences rain on her head — no place to live, her husband has a child with another woman, the endless “pick me” dance your father is goading her to perform. Let it happen. Because you MUST let it happen. You don’t control it. You only get to control YOU.
And Melissa was very clear on Melissa’s portion of this mess — I will generously save you, mom, from homelessness if you end this toxic relationship and don’t bring this man in my house. That is what YOU control. That offer. Nothing more. You’re the goalie guarding that one boundary.
Now to the other question you didn’t ask, but you must be wondering — what keeps your mom locked in this crazy dance with your father? Why on earth won’t she leave him? Surely, it’s not for the kids, because you and your sister seem united in your desire to get her away from him. To me, your mom sounds like an addict herself — hooked on Hopium. Hope that he’s going to change. Hope that he really does love her (despite all flaming evidence to the contrary). Hope that their years of shared history mean something to him (they mean cake to him). You’ve probably read Five Things That Keep You Stuck With a Cheater
, some of the reasons are outlined there.
I would guess that your mom felt (delusionally) that she was protecting you from your father’s abuse. If she only did this one thing more to please him, or danced the “pick me” dance really well, then she could keep the family together. Gee, I wonder where you got your idea that you could protect people from their lousy behavior if you just tried harder? Huh. Head scratcher that one.
You know how you escape abuse? Well, first you recognize it as abuse. That’s harder than it sounds. I commend you for being ahead on that score. You’re very clear on who your dad is. The second way you escape abuse is you just freaking ESCAPE. You get away. You put a ton of distance between you and the toxic person. You go no contact. You untangle your life from their life.
Your mother is trying to drag you back into that relationship with your father. She’s made it clear through her actions that any relationship with her means a relationship with him. Which sadly means you need to escape both her and him. Unless you are prepared to walk away, I don’t think you can help your mom. She’s not ready to leave him. She refuses to recognize who he really is — an abuser who has hurt her children, gambled away their home, and disrespected her with an affair.
I know it is counterintuitive, but the best hope you have at saving your mom is detaching from your mom. When she see’s that you mean it, she might come around. But as long as you’re contorting yourself into knots trying to save her AND let her maintain her relationship with your dad — this shit is doomed. Save yourself, Melissa. It’s totally okay to do that — essential really. It doesn’t make you a bad daughter. It makes you a sane daughter, and a strong person who can help your mom some day when she’s ready for it. Big (((HUGS))) to you.