‘I left my wife for another woman and now my eldest children won’t talk to me’
Tell Me About It: I try to stay in touch with them but I get stonewalled most of the time
I think my ex should be doing more to encourage them to spend time with me. Photograph: iStock
Question: A few years ago I left my wife for another woman. At the time I didn’t tell my ex why I left, although she did suspect there was another woman. She now knows I am in another relationship and I think she is using this to turn my children against me.
There was no conflict in our marriage, we just grew apart and were sleeping in separate bedrooms. We were like brother and sister and not husband and wife. It was a difficult decision to leave as I adore my children, but to be honest I thought I could have it all when I left. I love my new partner, but now my eldest children (teenagers) won’t talk to me and the youngest seem to just tolerate me.
Sometimes, I resent my current partner because she left her marriage for me, but her children still live with her. I try to stay in touch with my children by messaging them and trying to meet up, but I get stonewalled most of the time. I think my ex should be doing more to encourage them to spend time with me.
I’m still their dad and I want to be part of their lives. Is there anything I can do to make this happen?
Answer: Separation comes at all kinds of costs and you are in receipt of one of the main ones: the children do not simply adjust to the new arrangements and carry on. For children, the parent who leaves has changed their lives forever and they may feel just as abandoned as the spouse.
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It is likely that the teenagers are trying to give you a sense of what it is like to be them – so they are keeping you out of their loop of care and communication so that you understand the enormity of what has happened to them. It is clear that you love your children but at the moment this love needs to be expressed as patience, understanding and apology. Your children may need to see you suffer somewhat before they feel you have earned the right to their affection.
Children generally thrive when they have an unconscious (or conscious) knowing that they are number one in their parents’ lives. They perhaps feel that this is no longer the case with you and it may take a long time for them to trust that you will put them first again.
Can you talk to your ex-wife about your concerns?
As you have lied to her in the past, it is likely she will be wary of your motives but she will also want what is best for the children. Perhaps some mediation sessions around parenting would be helpful and it would then not be one person’s opinion against another’s. Your best option, to gain your ex’s support in terms of seeing your children, is to be completely honest (as you have been in this letter) as she might feel more obliging towards you if you are upfront and vulnerable. You will need to be consistent and enduring in your determination to be available for your children and thus you will need to take setbacks and rejections as par for the course. If your ex-wife and children see that you are not to be dissuaded from your parenting role, they may soften with time.
Teenagers have very strong opinions about loyalty and so they may need an opportunity to tell you about how they feel. They may struggle with this as they cannot risk you choosing to block them even further (should you be offended) so they may conceal their hurt and abandonment in favour of silence. They need you to listen to them and understand where they are coming from and this will have to be your goal for some time to come.
Being resentful of your new partner is only going to make things more difficult in your new relationship but you may be able to enquire how she, and her ex-partner, manage to share parenting and so you might find some guidance there. All relationships require some sacrifice and usually this is well worth it, eg we have to give up being single to be in a committed relationship. You now exist in a complex set of relationships that will require many things from you including sacrificing your own needs in order to ensure that those close to you thrive and grow.
While this is demanding, love ensures that we have the capacity and potential for the required stretching of our selves. The situation you are in now requires that you reach for your best characteristics: take responsibility for your actions, be honest and apologetic where appropriate and stand solidly over your determination to be the best parent you can be to your children.