Dear Dr. Meeker,
I am a father of three kids, ages 11, 8 and 6. I have just come through an awful, ugly divorce. We have been separated for close to 4 years now. I left my wife for another woman. I now regret that choice and the pain and suffering I have caused my family, friends and most of all my children.
I’m up to having my kids almost half the time now and am working through the steps of AA, slowly rebuilding my entire life after destroying it. Single parenting can be very tough. One of the things I am most afraid of is my kids resenting me one day for the divorce and for the choice I made to leave my wife and split our family.
How do I best approach this? I want to own the fact that I made some very poor choices, and I am doing all I can to be a better man and father as a result.
Thanks so much for being there in my earbuds when I need you.
You have learned a terribly painful lesson. Being unfaithful to your wife led you down a path that I’m sure you never anticipated. Most spouses who do this find out the exact same thing. I’m so glad to hear that you are working hard to make reparations in your life and for your family.
Regarding your children resenting you, yes, they likely will. They will be angry at you for being selfish, for hurting their mother and for hurting them. But the damage is done and now you must work hard to allow them to feel their anger, hurt and disappointment.
Simply because you regret your decisions doesn’t make their feelings disappear. Their feelings are something you can’t control. However, you can help them heal those feelings. Here are a few ways to do that.
First, be sincere and contrite.
Sit down with each of them, one at a time, and tell them that you really messed up. Tell them that your decisions were wrong and that you ask their forgiveness for the hurt you brought on them.
Then, ask them to forgive you for the hurt you put on their mom.
At first, they may refuse to talk with you or accept your apology. That’s okay, they’re in pain. When they cry or get mad at you, accept it but tell them that even in anger, there are rules. They can’t call you certain names or hit you. Just never tell them they shouldn’t be angry or sad.
As time goes by, continue to reach out to them and let them know you are working hard to change and improve your relationships with them. Make them your first priority and whatever you do, no dating! Period. The last thing these kids need is to deal with another woman. It will only fuel their distrust of you.
Tell them that their mother did not deserve to be treated the way you treated her.
Regardless of what your relationship with their mother was like, nothing justifies infidelity. So do NOT talk about what was wrong with the relationship, or what your ex-wife did or didn’t give you. For their emotional health, they must be left out of your relationship with their mother.
Like it or not, your kids will be examining you closely over the next five or so years to see if you are trustworthy and if you’re really going to change, so don’t disappoint them.
Always take the high road and don’t give them any further reason to be angry with you. I know you can do this, and if you do, don’t worry, eventually, they’ll come around. But let them do it in their time.