Mummy doesn't love Daddy
July 21, 2008 8:46 PM   Subscribe

It's over. Is it possible to be dumped, have your child taken away and avoid descending into acrimony and bitterness?

This is all raw as hell so some gentleness in the replies would be much appreciated.

My girlfriend of many years and the mother of my wonderful 5yr old daughter has decided she doesn't love me any more, feels trapped and wants to "try being on her own".

After the last few weeks of trying to persuade her to communicate and suggesting we seek counselling it turns out she's had a bit of a head start in trying out the single life, even to the extent of my daughter meeting one of the men she wishes to be "on her own" with.

It's not entirely her fault, I've been taking her for granted for a while. But the more the denial subsides the less I am coping.

How do I deal with the anger and fear whilst living with them both until they move out? (this may take months) How do I avoid enabling destructive behaviour by her when I'd do anything for them and take them back in a second?

How do I tell my daughter?

How do you break your own child's heart?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ok. I'm sorry that all of this is happening - if you can afford it, I suggest you find a therapist to help you with the emotional issues here. I also strongly suggest, because you cannot afford not to, that you find an attorney who specializes in family law, who will arrange things such that you can continue to be a father to your daughter. That's what matters here, and that's what you stand to lose, so that's where I'd focus my energies, were I you.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:04 PM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Try to talk to her about the situation of both of yours daughter, if you can't have your girlfriend back that doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to see your daughter. If your girlfriend is in any way empathetic (unless she's off the deep end or you've messed this up further than what you have told us here) she should show some concern for her daughters upbringing (she is a mother after all).

Keep the lines of communication open at all costs.
posted by symbollocks at 9:08 PM on July 21, 2008

Well, if you ask me the fact that your daughter has already met one of "the men she wishes to be "on her own" with" then there's a good chance your girlfriend has already told your daughter. So that part might be done, for better or for worse.

Counseling for you personally is still something to look into. Be it an actual therapist or a good friend who you can trust, it sounds like you need someone who can listen well.
posted by theichibun at 9:11 PM on July 21, 2008

You must get a counselor for you, and an attorney for you.

I know from experience how hard it can be to think that way, but you must.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:32 PM on July 21, 2008

I don't have answers for all of these, but I have been through a fairly similar situation (breakup and divorce with 5yo girl), so I want to tell you that in time things can and will be better.

I notice that you assume that your daughter will be taken away. It is perfectly possible to negotiate joint custody. The situation we ended up in for many years was living in close proximity to daughter's school and having her live with each parent on alternate weeks. This worked very well.

Personally I moved out as soon as I could once it was obvious we were not going to reconcile for the good of my mental health. If you can do so without prejudicing your claim to any joint assets (you are going to need a lawyer) then find somewhere new that you want to be in and where you can lick your wounds.

As for being bitter and angry:

a) I tried hard to keep my eye on the prize, which was finding the best possible solution for my daughter. You can't do this if you have an acrimonious relationship with your ex, so you have to suck it up, which leads me to ...
b) suck it up and pretend when dealing with your ex. Practice or feign forgiveness, in time it will become real and ...
c) realise that you WILL feel angry and bitter, acknowledge that, and then resolve not to let your anger drive your behaviour and decisions. See my old answer here.

How do I avoid enabling destructive behaviour by her when I'd do anything for them and take them back in a second?

Perhaps I'm wrong, but I'm afraid it sounds like your ex has well and truly moved on already. Maintaining fantasies that you can take her back in a second is going to prolong your agony. I am not sure what you mean by "enabling destructive behaviour by her", but if it means "stop her from shagging other people" the answer is, you can't. The best you can do is to not be vindictive and focus on your daughter's interests.

We made it a rule not to criticise each other in front of our daughter - she deserved to be able to respect both parents. I suggest you propose this to your ex, and in any event observe it yourself, even if she doesn't.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:33 PM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Its terrible that this is happening - you and especially your daughter have my sympathies. My two best friends are going through almost this exact same thing right now and its terrible to see.

I second the suggestion for therapy if you can - professional help is always better than people typing over the internet. If I could give you any advice from what I've seen others go through, and assuming you are past the point of no return in the relationship, you need to be civil but firm, especially if you are still living with her. Try to focus on doing things for yourself now and be sure to communicate with her about setting boundaries. It will be hard, but you have to land somewhere in between a devoted lover who would do anything for her and a jilted lover who wants to get back at her. "Friend" may seem too much like giving her a victory, but in the end it may be better for moving on with your life and better for your daughter.

For your daughter, you shouldn't be the one who has to tell her, or at least not alone. There's no good way of going about it, but the last thing she needs is to be used as a weapon against one another. Talk with the mother, come up with something consistent to tell her. If you each have to tell her something on your own, the likelihood of either one of you painting the other as a villain increases and this isn't good (even if you end up feeling the mother is the villain). If the mother won't cooperate with this... I just don't know. Having been used as a weapon in my own parent's divorce, I can tell you that it isn't a good feeling.

I wish I could be of more help, but its just a bad situation all the way through. I hope the best for you, your daughter and everyone involved.
posted by cimbrog at 9:36 PM on July 21, 2008

Is it possible to avoid descending into acrimony and bitterness?
Yes, but I feel that it will take time and a lot of tears. You are going through a huge loss. Divorce/separation is right up there with death of a loved one. It's natural to feel hurt and angry, but it's your choice to let it make you bitter and acrimonious. I hope I don't sound too flippant with that, it is just to point out that it can be a difficult road not to fall into all of the nastiness of bad separations/divorces . Especially if there is a lot of blame and victimizing going on.
However, with the support of family, friends and a perhaps good therapist you it can be overcome.

At the risk of sounding too preachy,too late maybe, I would like to post a favorite quote from Helen Keller...
Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.
posted by MiggySawdust at 10:04 PM on July 21, 2008

First of all, you are the child's father. You won't have her taken away from you. The rules will change, but hopefully, the agreement reached with you and your daughter's mom will be reasonable. I don't know the rules about child support and visitation where you live, but, most places, those get decided by a judge, regardless of the marriage/divorce situation.

Get a lawyer! Find out your rights and responsibilities!

My most important advice is to not say anything ugly about the mom, to stay involved with your daughter, and to be a good dad. Oh wait, those are all parts of the same thing, really.

I divorced my ex-husband in 2000, when my children turned 3 and 2. Our situation seems pretty different from yours. Still, he has pretty standard visitation during the school year (every other weekend) and liberal visitation (we have totally swapped it around this summer, but summers are at our discretion, and this summer has gone really well) in the summer.

When the kids have asked us about why we aren't still married, our agreement is to say that we just weren't a good couple together, which is the basic truth. We've talked to them about this both together and separately, when they've asked. We've both also since remarried; my new marriage was just this past June, and the children were active participants.

Please don't say ugly things about your kid's mom, no matter what the circumstances or your feelings. It's a good example to set.

My best to you and your little girl. Please MeMail if you think it might help somehow.
posted by lilywing13 at 10:18 PM on July 21, 2008

Sorry to hear it dude. I went through the same situation a while back, with my wife deciding she wanted to "be on her own" with another guy and principally because, yes, I had been taking her for granted. She refused counselling and I guess I don't blame her, and I just thank the heavens that there was no child involved. With that in mind, I can only speak from my personal experience, with no offspring, so you should adjust to taste. Others will be able to speak with greater expertise on that subject, I am certain.

(In advance, please forgive me if I am being way off-mark and presumptuous.)

First of all, you need to get the hell out of there. I mean get right out of that house. It will fuck you up even more if you stay. Trying to live your life as though everything is the same as it always way when it quite plainly isn't is not a recipe for mental or emotional self-preservation. Seeing her every day and sharing the same space while constantly reminding yourself that she, and that space, are no longer "yours" (I don't mean that as in property) will whittle you away. Such a situation will only serve to multiply the acrimony and bitterness to come, and it will come, believe me, no matter how much you fight it and no matter how much more stable or intelligent you are than I am.

I mean this. You need to get out.

Collect what you need and stay where you can. Friends, relatives, a sharehouse, whatever you can find and/or afford. If the old place (I suggest you start thinking of it as the "old place" rather than "home") has a spare room, move all your possessions into it. Everything. Take your posters down off the wall and your favourite mug out of the cupboard and put them away in a single area.

Once this is done, as soon as you can, go to a GP, explain the situation, ask for some Valium, and request a referral to a psychiatrist. If you are prone to depression, get on something right now, because antidepressants can take months to kick in.

You may be tempted to drink. Don't.

You may be tempted to completely shed your old image. Do. If you have long hair, get a haircut. If you have short hair, dye it. If you have a beard, shave it off. If you don't, grow one. Get a piercing, or take it out. That shirt she used to say you looked nice in? It's a piece of shit, fit only as a rag for polishing shoes: buy a new wardrobe. Stop smoking, or start. Your old aftershave, the one she used to say smelled good? It smells like cat piss. Throw it.

Used to take your coffee with two lumps of sugar and plenty of cream? Now you take it black, or drink tea. Liked your steak rare? No you want it well done. Take up yoga. Work longer and harder or, if it's at all possible, find a new job entirely. You are no longer your old life and for as long as you cling to who you were while you were with that woman, you will see yourself in the mirror every day and your heart will tear a little more. You are no longer who you were. Right now, today, you need to reinvent yourself. And this may sound callous and completely inappropriate and insensitive, but another good way to overcome problems is by fucking your way through them.

Your mind is going to start processing a lot of stuff. Things long forgotten, horrific events from your past, will come flooding back and you will spend a lot of time convincing yourself that you deserved them and possibly even seeking out more. You can't let this happen. You need to distract yourself constantly, incessantly, but not with anything that lets you sit there quietly and use your mind. Reading is out. Watch movies. Loud, brash, brainless movies. Stay in crowds. Hassle your friends to take you places. In these early days, you need as much distraction as you can while your emotions ebb and flow and gradually, painfully commence to correct themselves. When your emotions are more or less in check, then, sure, think as much as you want. Sit in the dark and listen to the saddest song you know and sob for hours and hours. But later, because if you let it happen now, you're going to turn into a zombie. You will wreck yourself. Your health will suffer. You will go crazy. There's no shame in covering yourself in flame retardant before you walk through the fire.
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:18 PM on July 21, 2008 [20 favorites]

(I meant to say "overcome problems of this nature".)
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:21 PM on July 21, 2008

Can't say I disagree with turgid dahlia's advice (especially the not taking to drink), and notice that you need a place of your own to follow it.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:34 PM on July 21, 2008

Google up some "father's rights" websites. I'm not familiar with them myself so I can't recommend specifics, but I know they exist and you'll find a lot of free advice and support, and maybe even lawyer recommendations for your area. Agree that you need a lawyer to help you negotiate custody and support.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:37 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

A therapist told me that the best thing to damage your relationship with your kids is to speak ill of your ex-partner. It's true, it happened to me. Be strong if your ex-wife speaks badly of you. Your daughter might believe it for a while, but she'll realize the truth soon or later, I promise. Beat up a pillow or your bed if you need to, but don't say anything ugly about her mother.
posted by clearlydemon at 10:50 PM on July 21, 2008

> How do I deal with the anger and fear whilst living with them both until they move out?

Well, I hope you have more friends than me to turn to. But run and get the book "Nonviolent Communication" by Marshall Rosenberg. It's short and teaches powerful skills/concepts you need at a time of crisis and conflict. If you get joint custody or whatever other access rights you can, the court will expect you to have skills in parenting after separation -- just be aware there are courses, resources and people out there who know all about this, and you can follow their lead.
posted by Listener at 11:35 PM on July 21, 2008

I would be most concerned, at this point, that your ex is introducing your daughter to the new man/men she's seeing. I think that most reasonable people keep new flames away from the kids until they are sure that the relationship is serious, mainly because it's confusing and it can set the children up for strings of failed relationships in the future, but also because (as sad as it is) there are dangerous people out there who prey on single mothers in order to get access to the kids. I know several people who were sexually abused as children, and in every case, it was the stepfather or the mother's boyfriend. I absolutely don't think you should panic, chances are your daughter is perfectly safe, but just make sure you keep the lines of communication open and watch carefully for any changes in your daughter's personality or behaviour.

You should also let your ex know in a non-confrontational, non-threatening way that you will have no qualms in seeking primary custody if you feel that your daughter is unsafe or unhappy, or if she tries to deny you access. If your nose isn't clean already, clean it up! No partying, no drugs, steady work, and if you date, do it discreetly (show the ex how it should be done!). Not only will these things help if you need to access the legal system in the future to gain access to your daughter, they will also help you keep your shit together so you come out on the other side of this happy, healthy, and sane.

Finally, avoid those Father's Rights websites. They are full of bitter, self-righteous assholes who are more interested in moaning about what whores their exes are than in actually being good fathers to their children. Definitely not what you need right now.
posted by F.Jasmine Addams at 12:56 AM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

"even to the extent of my daughter meeting one of the men she wishes to be "on her own" with."

This could be a neighbour, a co-worker, etc. You have absolutely no idea, so stop jumping to conclusions.
posted by k8t at 1:38 AM on July 22, 2008

I think k8t was a little harsh, but yeah, if you're not sure that she's seeing someone new and you're just assuming that she is because your daughter mentioned a man's name in passing, you should be careful. You could make yourself crazy.

If you do know for certain that she's dating, and if you're going to be living in the same house, you should ask your ex to refrain from allowing your daughter to meet her dates (and you should follow that rule yourself, as well, if it comes up). It's confusing enough when the parents live separately and date other people, if you're all in the same house and dating other people, well, there's no way a teenager could get her head around that, much less a five-year-old. You should also get your own place, or encourage your ex to get her own place, immediately. There are some (rare) couples that can live together and raise children together without being romantically involved, but I don't think the two of you qualify.

And stop being so maudlin. Your daughter isn't leaving you. Your girlfriend is. You can either step up and do everything necessary to be the involved, loving, confident father your daughter needs, or you can feel sorry for yourself and pine after your ex and leave the little girl to fend for herself.
posted by F.Jasmine Addams at 2:43 AM on July 22, 2008

"... How do I deal with the anger and fear whilst living with them both until they move out? (this may take months) How do I avoid enabling destructive behaviour by her when I'd do anything for them and take them back in a second?"
posted by anonymous to human relations

IANAL, but I've been divorced in the U.S. when kids were involved, and I've seen many other men go through the process. The tone and the subject of your questions raise some hairs on the back of my neck, so I'm commenting to suggest a couple of things.

First, ending the co-habitation earlier, rather than later, if there is no chance of reconciliation, is important, for a number of reasons. If you live in many jurisdictions in the U.S., arguments you may have with your girl friend in the common home can be a reasonable pretext for your girlfriend to seek a temporary protective order, to have you temporarily removed from the home, even if you own it, on the basis it is your child's primary residence, pending further court proceedings. In some jurisdictions, you could be served at your place of employment, enjoined from returning to your home, and later permitted only a single return visit to your home, accompanied by a sheriff's deputy, to remove only essential personal belongings. You could be required to continue paying the rent or mortgage on the place, as well as utilities, repairs, insurance and other cost of operating it as a safe home for your child. You could be compelled to pay child support, and have your visitation with your child limited and supervised. You could lose your rights to possess firearms. Family courts take domestic violence allegations by women, especially mothers, very, very seriously, and tend to err on the side of caution.

So, doing everything you can to voluntarily establish separate living arrangements before any kind of allegation can be raised, is hugely important. It can also color your custody and visitation arrangements in the future. You "avoid enabling destructive behaviour by her" by being generous but firm and proactive in seeking a separation, and remaining committed to sensible actions that place the interests of your child first. You avoid arguments at all cost, and provide her with every assistance in finding and setting up a new home, or you find one for yourself, while providing for your child.

Second, if you didn't even know about other guys your girl friend has become interested in seeing, how do you know she hasn't already retained legal counsel, or taken other steps not in your interests? Clearly, there is not only a failure of communication, but a breach of trust large enough that you need to be concerned first about protecting your own interests, and those of your child, before being concerned about reconciliation. You need legal counsel, whether you intend to try to work things out with your girl friend, or not, in order to be sure you are doing the best that you can for your child, and preserving all your options. Secondarily, you may need some relationship counseling, to help you determine whether you should try to reconcile with her, and to suggest processes involving third parties to verify the status of your relationship if you do stay together. If cost and time are issues, seek legal counsel as a higher priority than relationship counseling, and put your money and effort in setting up separate living arrangements, immediately.

I'm sorry you're going through this. Keep a cool, cool head, man, and protect yourself.
posted by paulsc at 4:47 AM on July 22, 2008

This may be somewhat depressing to hear, but always make sure you are honest about the situation and that your kid knows the truth about what happened. Kids are smart. Don't take the high road if your wife starts feeding stories to your daughter. You don't want to end up like my step dad from his first marriage where his ex told their kids that the divorce was all his fault, and they basically hated him until they were in their 20s and old enough to figure out what happened for themselves.
posted by fusinski at 7:13 AM on July 22, 2008

I would try going to a family lawyer. That may seem like a strange response since your question was about how to avoid acrimony. But because you have a kid involved you're going to need a custody agreement. A lot of family lawyers have a new technique called "collaborative divorce" in which both partners work together to reach an amicable agreement. You may want to see if you can find a lawyer who specializes in it.

As far as your kid, the best that you can do is tell her you love her no matter what and keep her away and out of any fights you have with your ex. Also, reach an agreement with your ex that you are not going to disparage each other in front of your daughter.

This will get better with time. Good Luck.
posted by bananafish at 11:07 AM on July 22, 2008

To contradict kalessin and fusinski somewhat: there is no need to burden a 5 year old with a story which she isn't capable of really understanding anyway. Tell her something short and plausible that's true at a five year old level and leave it.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:08 PM on July 22, 2008

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