I treat it the way I do because I’ve seen enough from the other board where I used to read that I know it does more harm than good to try to convince a kid that a neglectful and/or abusive parent loves and cares about them. I’m not accusing Cousinfucker of being abusive. I guess he is neglectful in the sense that he hasn’t seen his own son in almost 3 years now. He’s neglectful in the sense that he walked away from his two kids and that he didn’t give a shit when we were barely keeping our heads above water. He’s neglectful in the sense that he doesn’t communicate with them regularly and he makes up bullshit stories about not knowing how to get in contact with his son. Really, I think he’s just self-centered. It’s all about him and what he wants. No one else matters and he’s always the poor picked upon victim. Not exactly the kind of person you would want in your life, huh?
I don’t even care for: He/she loves you in the only way he/she knows how (or the best that they can). What kind of bullshit is that? Seriously? We’re really going to try to justify an adult walking away from their kids and then playing the pouty brat because those kids are upset with them? Or try to convince a kid that the best their parent has to offer is subpar and they should embrace that?
I believe kids can sometimes see with a clarity that escapes adults. It was my 13 year old nephew that saw something in Cousinfucker’s eyes when we came back from our family vacation in Florida. CF had opted out of the family vacation, choosing instead to go first to Tennessee and then to Kentucky so that he could participate in a mini family reunion that excluded his actual immediate family, and then turn around and fuck his cousin. I do believe he said he could see evil in his eyes.
I still remember the mom who was realizing as her son turned 16 that he would have been so much better off if she had never pushed for a relationship between father and son.
The story was this: They had been friends with benefits (maybe had even dated at one point). She got pregnant, kept the baby. They didn’t marry. He paid support but didn’t have much of a relationship with his son although he did have visitation and she supported them having a relationship. He went on to marry another woman a few years later, had two kids with her. He was supposedly a great dad to the two kids he had with his wife, but remained a largely disinterested father to his eldest. He basically went through the motions and did the bare minimum. I remember a story about the father giving him a special dice set for his 16th birthday. I think that was it. Nothing else. The straw that finally broke the camel’s back was a family trip that was planned for DisneyLand. It was to be Dad, his wife, their two kids, and this boy. He broke his ankle so wouldn’t be able to get around easily. Instead of trying to reschedule (and I believe the younger kids were not yet in school) Dad was practically giddy at the thought of going on this “family trip” with his wife and two kids, leaving the oldest son behind. It was quite obvious to the boy that his father really didn’t care about him. In the end he (the son) chose to cut off all contact.
I recall the mom who eagerly advocated 50/50 custody. She had offered it to her ex and constantly talked it up as the gold standard. Her daughter had both parents in her life and there weren’t too many transitions compared to a child seeing a parent every other weekend. Her daughter had no problems with it. She had four parents. She would never force her ex to be a peripheral part of his daughter’s life. Life’s a funny thing. Stepmom had a child of her own and no longer had time for her stepchild. The daughter got older, had her own teenage life, and wanted to spend more time with friends. Despite the 50/50 custody Dad was not willing to accommodate her. The relationship broke down because Dad was more concerned with his own needs than his daughter’s. That child is now 18, hates her father and has an eating disorder. There is some suspicion of sexual abuse and stepmom definitely contributed to the eating disorder. The mom now says if she knew then what she knows now she never would have agreed to 50/50 custody and she would have fought to end 50/50 custody long before she did, which was when her daughter was somewhere between 14 and 16.
Yet another mom dealt with an alcoholic ex who, by her description, makes CF seem absolutely delightful. He was entitled, rude, weird, and unreasonable. Mom worried about what a judge would say if it got to court so she was always, as she said, busy keeping her halo shiny for court. She didn’t think she could support her daughter in not visiting her father because that might cause him to take her back to court. She went along, hoping for the best. Yet another situation where the mom now says if she could she would do things completely different, because the father was extremely toxic to her child, once again to the point that there was some abuse involved. I think it was mainly emotional abuse; I don’t think he beat his daughter. But she was asked to keep a lot of secrets and he laid a lot of guilt trips on her. That poor girl ended up with severe mental health issues and has no relationship with her father.
Another mom worked hard to support her son’s relationship with his dad only to watch it disintegrate once the son turned 18. Once her son became an adult Mom left them alone to manage their own relationship. Left to their own devices and without having her there to guide them, the relationship crumbled.
So many of these women look back as their children grow up and are only now realizing the damage that was done.
It wasn’t always a case of telling the kid Daddy loved them when he didn’t. Many of the situations came down to them either believing having a dad in their life was very important, or not knowing how to keep a kid from a toxic parent.
I prefer Chump Lady’s motto: You only need one sane parent. That parent can be a mom or a dad (hello, Mobster!), and while it’s always nice to have both parents be sane, you can raise a perfectly functional and fabulous human being with only one sane parent.
I will never forget the woman from the first story saying that her son’s therapist had told her to stop telling him that his father loved him/cared about him whenever he would say his dad didn’t. As the therapist explained every time she told him that she was reinforcing this idea that he couldn’t trust his own feelings. She was basically telling him that he didn’t know the truth. The therapist went on to say that he was eventually going to be pissed at her because she kept lying to him. He was also relying on her to be a safe space. That safe space should be helping you navigate painful truths and validating your feelings, not encouraging you to believe lies.
With that in mind I don’t tell my kids their father loves them. Truthfully I don’t think he’s capable of it. Perhaps I should say I don’t excuse his behavior by assuring them that he loves them very much or that he loves them but he’s just broken and can’t express it very well. I do, however, share stories with them. They’re usually sappy stories which paint him in a good light. I may not think he’s capable of putting them first but at one point in time he did do nice things. Plus, I have always said I will give him credit when it is due. Like the time he came home from work and Picasso asked him to take him to the new Star Wars animated movie on opening day. Mama doesn’t do opening day crowds; however, I suggested he ask his dad and his dad did indeed put his stuff up and take him directly to the movies.
I do admit I don’t know why he does the things he does. I have offered to pay for counseling. Rock Star went for a few weeks. Picasso has no desire to ever go. As he says, he has nothing to discuss. He’s fine with his father’s disappearance. It’s just the way it is. No use crying over something you don’t have; it’s not going to change it. I don’t push. I’ve heard that’s not a good thing to do.
In a similar vein I don’t push a relationship between the kids and their father. He’s their father; if they wish to have a relationship I can accept that. I don’t find it odd to think that they may want that at some point. But I’m also not forcing it down their throats. We don’t have conversations that revolve around me telling them they need to call their dad or give him a chance. I have told them both they need to text him and thank him for the Christmas money. I’ve also asked if they’re interested in seeing him again. On a few occasions I’ve asked some “What if” questions. One time I did ask Picasso if he would see his dad if he showed up on our doorstep (I was curious because CF says one of the reasons he doesn’t drive to see his kids is because they would refuse to see him). I may have even asked once what it would take for them to develop a relationship with him again. But that’s as far as it goes. I let them lead. If they say, “No,” then no it is.
I do my best to validate their feelings. When Rock Star says that her dad is always playing the victim I sympathize and usually agree. When Picasso says his dad is scum I don’t admonish him; I listen and sympathize. Hell, sometimes I even say, “Do better than what he did.”
I think we do our kids a disservice when we push an unwanted relationship on them. Look, we ate a shit sundae for years in our quest to keep a relationship going. Shouldn’t that stop with our kids? Why lie to them and tell them someone who is actively hurting them loves them and cares about them? Again, I’m not saying that you vomit up all of your ex’s bad behavior. But I am saying that you reinforce this fucked up version of love when you try to convince your kids that someone who does such shitty things really, really loves them. Stop it! I think kids tend to have better boundaries and better instincts when it comes to things like this, and we as parents are doing them no favors when we teach them to ignore their guts.
That goes for the stupid affair partner as well. I believe in naming them and letting your kids set boundaries. Hell, I believe in telling your kids that they can have boundaries when it comes to their parent’s affair partner.
Why do some people insist upon torturing themselves by insisting that the kids get along with or meet the AP? I realize that when you’re dealing with very young children they don’t have much of a choice. But as teens or older? They absolutely have free agency. I have no problem admitting that I told both of my kids that they didn’t have to meet Harley if they didn’t want to. They are both at ages where they can decide that for themselves. I’m not going to lie to them and tell them they have to!
I also most certainly told them her name. I was not going to let him pass her off as some new love when the reality was he had been cheating on me and draining our bank accounts to do so. His kids did without so that she and her kids could have even more. He more than likely moved us across the damn country and took us away from everything and everyone we loved to get closer to her. I think they have a right to know all of that. I think they deserve to know what kind of a person she is.
I remember a relative telling me I couldn’t expect my kids to not have anything to do with Harley but think they would develop a relationship with the mobster. I assured her that I certainly could because the mobster had not been the reason my marriage ended. He had absolutely nothing to do with it. I met him almost two years later. She, on the other hand, had stepped right into the middle of it. She was perfectly aware of what she was doing and she didn’t care.
My kids like the mobster. He is good to them. He cares about them. Harley has never done a single thing to show my kids she even realizes they exist. Unless you count when she blocked Rock Star on Facebook because Rock Star saw her idiotic post whining about missing the comfort of her married lover in her bed, and confronted her father over it.
I have even gone so far as to tell both of my kids that they are perfectly within their rights to insist that if they see their dad that he meet them alone. There is nothing wrong with wanting to spend time with your parent and not have the person who directly contributed to your life imploding tag along.
I find the argument that they can’t have a relationship with the parent unless they have a relationship with the AP to be ridiculous. Of course they can! If the parent is any kind of parent at all they will meet their kid at their comfort level. And if the parent says, “Love me, love my AP,”? Well, then your kid has all the information they need about pursuing a relationship with that parent. You as the sane parent are doing them a disservice by teaching them to accept such shitty treatment.
Admittedly most of my research comes from my circle of friends and commenters on Chump Lady, but those commenters on Chump Lady are a chatty bunch. It seems that the majority of the time these cheating parents weren’t very good parents when they were married to the child’s other parent. Usually they are painted in a very selfish, unflattering light. A lot of times the cheating parent abandons the kids, or they just don’t put the kids first. It’s all about them and what they want, what makes them happy. The kids are given any leftover scraps. My question then is why on earth are we painting them as these amazing parents, half saint/half god, that are going to leave deep, festering wounds if they are not around to dote on the children? Chances are they haven’t been around much anyway! Stop rewriting history! Stop shoving the shit sundae laden spoon down their throats!
If the kid’s boundary is, “I don’t want to meet that whore,” or “I will not be around that whore so if you want to have a relationship with me leave it at home,” then respect that. Stop teaching your kids to make their needs smaller to keep somebody that doesn’t give a shit about them in their lives. Stop teaching them that their boundaries aren’t important.
We got into our situations by telling ourselves that our needs didn’t matter. We were taught that the only thing that mattered was that lying cheater. Keep him or her happy at all times and at any expense. Look where that got us.
Help your kids break that cycle.