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talking to Skids about biodad's issues

clover63's picture

Hi there

I hope this situation is unique - I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

I have lived in a domestic partnership for over 11 years, helping to raise 3 skids.  Their mother struggled with mental health issues and with substance use/abuse for all of our family life, and our youngest children have been with us full time for almost 3 years as a result.  My partner grew up with a lot of family instability, and an absent and philandering alcoholic father.  He has never really reconciled any of these issues, and over time, he has morphed from a loving, committed partner and father into an angry, anxious, resentful, bitter man.

Our adult relationship has endured many struggles, and I have been in counseling for almost 3 years to help me cope with our complicated family dynamic.  I come from a very stable background, and mistakenly believed that the stability I could offer this family would make a difference - sadly I was wrong. I have a wonderful counselor and she has helped me understand how truly dysfunctional our family system really is, and that I alone am powerless to change it.  My partner and I were in couples counseling for a few months prior to Covid, but stopped going when everything shut down.  The sessions were dominated by our then 18-year-old who was volatile and basically running our household.  I began to suspect that my partner was allowing that issue to fester so that we might never really get to the issues between us, because he felt very threatened by having to be accountable for his own actions.  All this is to say, we were trying in some ways, but over time it became clear that my work in counseling alone was not enough.  He has made every excuse in the book to avoid individual counseling and rejects most suggestions that he speak to his physician about anti-depressants or anxiety meds.

In late August I was brought into awareness by a trusted friend that he appeared to be having an affair.  I confronted him and he deflected and denied, flipping the blame on me.  Over time, he continued to withdraw from me and my 13-year-old DSS, spending more time away from home, traveling more frequently than usual, and drinking more.  By mid-October the evidence of the affair was undeniable, and he was still not willing to own anything, only responding with increasing rage to my confrontations.  With the support of my counselor, I made an internal commitment to start doing the emotional work toward separation, with my main concern being the welfare of our 13-year-old given his father's behavior and poor choices.

Two days after this decision, our children's mother died by suicide.  

I hoped that this would be a wake-up call for my partner, but it has had the opposite effect.  He has continued the affair, even being seen with increasing frequency in public, drinking with her, and coming home impaired to a child grieving the loss of his mother.  This is absolutely inexcusable and unforgivable, and clearly, our relationship is over.  

I have stopped confronting my partner because I have to have the energy to focus on my grieving DSS.  If the violent death of his children's mother isn't enough to motivate him for change, there is nothing that can be done.  I do have an appointment with a family law attorney in a few weeks for legal advice, but I am really struggling with how to deal with this separation with my three stepchildren.  Two are young adult women who are highly codependent with their father - disturbingly so.  I have basically been disengaged with them for several years, but our relationships are friendly and cordial.  I am tightly bonded to my 13-year-old DSS, and I understand how his father's guilt/shame cycle is driving his father's increased absence from the life of my DSS.  Sadly, my partner is modeling the behavior of his own father, and I am fully aware of the damage that can do to a child.

I can fake my way through the holidays for the sake of our grieving children, and won't initiate a conversation with my partner about separation until after I meet with the family law attorney.

My question, after all this sad storytelling, is this:  does anyone have any experience in speaking with stepchildren about their only surviving biological parent's infidelity and/or addiction issues as the justification for separation?  I feel like it should be my partner's responsibility to name his actions, but since he lives in denial, I don't have any faith that he will be honest with them. It feels so bad to have to initiate this separation as they grieve the loss of their mother, but this is the position I am in.  Our family is so fragile - the individuals in it are so fragile, and I feel like the weight of everything is falling on me as the only thoughtful, rational, functioning adult.

Any advice on how to handle this with my stepchildren (ages 22, 20, and 13) would be so appreciated.  

Thank you.


AgedOut's picture

I have no answers that can help you but I wanted to let you know I read this and my heart hurts for you and for the kids. I think it's safe to assume that your spouse will never change and that you will have to make decisions that are best for you. I hope you keep updating this as it unfolds and I promise I will keep reading and offering you support as you live it.


ESMOD's picture

To be honest, I don't think it's necessary for his kids to be privvy to the sordid details of the separation.  A simple "Relationships are complicated and can be difficult and sometimes there are things that happen in relationships that make it impossible to continue. "  Basically the old irreconcileable differences.

Quite frankly, they have lost their mother and they don't need to have their father painted as a philandering alcoholic.. bursting any bubble of him being a good person.  They don't need to be told their father is not the man they think he is.

I know you want to try to justify to these kids that you aren't walking away for some frivolous reason.. that there are some real problems with his actions and that it isn't a matter of not loving him enough.. or not caring.. but that he has been checked out for a long time and you can't fix it or him.  You want them to still like you.. not be angry.. to understand why you had to leave.  But, pushing off the burden of the knowledge of his behavior and treatment of you in the relationship onto them?  they really don't need to take on that emotional toll too.

That doesn't mean that there is no chance of a continuing relationship with your SS.  at 13, he likely has his own independent way to communicate.. and you can tell him you will still be there for him if he needs to talk.  

Maybe.... just maybe when you talk to your partner about the separation he will be open to you continuing to help raise his son.  It might help if you aren't in a "confronting" mode.. but more of a "I have accepted our relationship has run it;s course but I would still like to be part of your son's life because he has lost so much already"  Asking him how you can both navigate the separation with the least amount of upheaval on the kids.. especially SS.  One thing you could offere is to allow SS to continue to live with you so he could finish his school year etc??/

I know it won't be an easy conversation with your SO... and honestly, it may come out that HE goes on a preemptive strike with his kids.. and if he is sharing details.. you would be fine correcting based on what you know too.

CajunMom's picture

Telling the SKs will do no good. Probably cause more damage. Get with your DH to begin discussing the separation and that you'd like to stay involved in SS's life. And hope he's open to that along with a civil breakup. And personally, both of you should just go with the "we've grown apart" or something to that affect. Kids, regardless of age, don't need to know specifics of such things. They'll eventually find out on their own. Just my opinion.

My heart hurts for you. What a terrible situation to be in. Sending you a virtual hug.

LittleCloud9's picture

Have you talked about it with your therapist? Is there a chance you could get the 13 year old into see a therapist? While I realize you can't fix this, it's not wrong to want to minimize anymore damage to the child. It might be good for him to learn about coping skills for his own emotional distress. Even going for counseling for awhile before you leave might help him be more stable. I also would not expect you SO to handle your leaving with any grace or maturity, most likely he'll lash out again. Sorry that you are going through this

Rags's picture

Don't initiate discussion with your hopefully STBXDH. Have your divorce attorney smack him with divorce papers and move on with  your life.  Dipshit charter bankrupt POS people like your adulterous prick of a DH are write offs. So write him off.  You cannot save a Skid from  a shallow and polluted gene pool when you are the SParent married to the shallow and polluted end of the Skid's gene pool. Sadly, your Skids have entirely shallow and polluted gene pool.

They are old enough that you can talk with them directly, continue to interface with them ,and let them know that if their adulterous dip shit of a father forbids contact between them and you, that you will be ready when they are after they turn 18.

Your STBXDH is much like my cavern crotched adulterous skank whore of an XW.  She was shopping the pooty to every available swinging Johnson withing reach but the marriage was nearly 100% frigid.  Even our marriage counselor noted her crap and told me that I was a fortunate man the day she walked out of our couples session with a smirking "I do not have a problem with sex" when after 5mos of weekly couple sessions working through everything else needed before addressing the intimacy issues in the marriage.

Good riddance to these people and reek as much destruction as you can as  you start your new life adventure with the toxic polluted dip shit in your rear view mirror.

I feel for your Skids.

Good luck.

Crspyew's picture

Per previous post is a family law attorney.  She needs to tread carefully in divorce proceedings.

clover63's picture

Thank you to everyone for your support and thoughtful advice.  To be clear, I have no intention of using disparaging language in discussing their father's choices, regardless of their age.  I am not a vengeful person, and I do realize that I need to tread lightly with him because he is an expert in family law and child custody.  He uses his knowledge of the law to intimidate and overwhelm... I am very accustomed to this, but it has never affected me in such a personal way until now.

Having just guided my 13-year-old through the initial stages of shock and grief in the loss of his mother, what I have learned is that children expect and deserve honesty from the people they trust.  I spoke with 2 different counselors before personally telling my DSS that his mother took her own life (not surprisingly, his father couldn't get himself together to tell him, and so I had to...)  and the one bit of consistent advice I received was that I should tell him the truth in a loving and gentle way.  I reckon this is why I am really struggling with how to talk to them about our separation.  If they can handle knowing their mother died of a self-inflicted gunshot, it seems reasonable that they should handle a thoughtful discussion of our separation.

The other issue is that I don't really have a lot of faith in my partner as a parent right now, since he has proven that his priority is the relationship with this other woman and not his son.  It is so painful for me to imagine what my stepson's life will be like once he leaves this home, as his father is not functioning as an adult.  In these tender weeks following his mother's death, my DSS seeks me, not his father, for comfort when he is grieving.  It all just sucks.

I do have a wonderful counselor, and have been with her for three years.  There are no easy or correct answers to this dilemma, and for now, I'm just taking one day at a time.

Thank you again.

lieutenant_dad's picture

I am an SK in addition to be a SM.

When I was in my teens, my mom disclosed that part of the reason why she and my dad divorced was because he raped her.

Guess how excited I was to visit my dad after that? And guess what kind of relationship I have had with him since she told me that?

The two worst parts about being told that information was 1) I didn't - and still don't - have any way of proving that what she told me was true, and 2) I was still forced to go on visitation with my dad because I was a minor.

So, from personal experience, my recommendation is to not tell SS. He HAS to live with his dad, and he'll live with him knowing that his dad ruined the one good relationship he had with a parental figure. That's unfair to SS, who is already dealing with the death of his mother and the loss of you. He doesn't need to find out from you that his dad is garbage, too.

I'm not saying he can't or won't find out at some point, but at 13 when he has no control over his situation is not the time. His older siblings? Yeah, maybe you can disclose to them why, though there is certainly no reason to do so right now. If they press you, you can say "your dad and I had issues for a while and he has moved on to someone else."

Additionally, you can let the older kids know that you have concerns about his drinking and let them know you're willing to help them find a counselor or join Al-Anon or whatever else if they need it. While it isn't their role, they can keep an eye on SS and intervene better than you can.

And if SS ends up in a situation where he is struggling, either guide his siblings on how to help him or inform his school or contact CPS. 

You already know that your ex will throw around the law to intimidate and disarm you, so be careful what you say and how you approach this. And don't make SS's life more challenging for the sake of the truth. He is too young to know that his dad cheated on you when he's stuck living with the man for 5 more years.

clover63's picture

Thank you for your unique wisdom in this situation.  I am grateful for your willingness to share your story, and hope you have found healing since that painful time in your life.  I take your words very seriously.  I do.

lieutenant_dad's picture

Reality: no healing. There are certain things that once they're said, you can't undo what it has done. I don't want to imply that telling SS would result in decades-old wounds, but when you have the option to not risk it, don't risk it.

I will go to my grave never knowing if my dad raped my mom or if my mom made it up. I can find a peaceful existence within not knowing, but the person who paid the price for what I was told was me. 

Just keep that in mind. A rung bell cannot be unrung.