Parenting

When a Mother Sabotages the Father-Son Relationship in Divorce

Photo by Guillaume de Germain on Unsplash

Co-Parenting is tough enough and I am not talking about the parents. It is tough on everyone. When I took on my husbands 2 boys many years back I suddenly was living a co-parenting lifestyle as well as becoming an instant Mom. It’s the most daunting task I am proud I took on. I cannot say I (or even my husband and I) always knew what we were doing, but our intentions were always fair for the boys.

The background

Their Mother lived across town and custody was split 50/50. They are older now, on their own (and my husband and I have a child together in our home). So now we have the adult versions of children who became of our co-parenting woes. This is where I reflect and share because my husband and I were up for challenges back then we did not see coming. Only now we look back and see where we missed subtle manipulation and wedges that were always between my amazing husband and his 2 boys.

The oldest and my husband have always had a special bond. It was just the oldest for 6 years before the next child came along. This has caused great jealousy with his ex. Being very young when my husband and his ex had their first, my husband took on a lot of the nurturing. He married her thinking it was the right thing to do, bought a home for them and began to raise his family. The marriage struggled at times. When struggles started intensifying, she found herself pregnant again and now my husband and her have 2 boys 6 years apart and (again) not the healthiest marriage.

Eventually my husband caught her in an affair and their marriage ended when the boys were 6 and 11. Mom left with that man and my husband stayed in his home, had to heal from being a victim of his wife’s affair and raise 2 boys, find Divorce attorney and schedule custody shares with their Mother. He tried dating a few women to help get back to normal, but he wasn’t ready. Eventually we dated and I was the new Mother figure for his boys when they were in his care. Not the replacement, just the extra Mother love.

I remember weeks into dating my husband I began to worry. I worried about his Ex and how she was treating the boys. Being new and fresh into their lives I saw things very clear and with an open mind. I wanted this perfect co-parenting lifestyle and was always kind and involved, but not admitting perfection. Just always careful for the boys sake. What I saw was very protective attention by Mom on the youngest. I hate to think that a parent can have a favorite child, but clearly I am witnessing this. That youngest boy is indeed a ‘favorite’ over the oldest and she seems to get very unsettled about any time he spends with his Dad. I remember my husband telling me “…she once told me at the second pregnancy, you have the oldest (as in a bond), so this one (youngest) is mine…” and that’s the mentality we were co-parenting with.

All things start with a lie

I realized too late we missed some red flags. I was unaware back then she had those boys convinced that the marriage ended because I was an affair their Dad had on her?! Keep in mind, I was nowhere in the picture. In fact, I was living a very violent DV relationship in Oregon the months these two were splitting and she is very much aware of that. She just changed our dating timeframe back to a convenient date when she talks to her boys so that she can avoid responsibility and trick them away from blaming her, but Dad told them the truth. I had no idea until they were older that for years they saw ME as the one who split this family. You can imagine my respect for her is forever lost just over that among other reasons. Both boys know I am indeed not to blame. That was a lie they were forced to live for some time.

There were so many flags we missed that created a wedge between my husband and his youngest son. I only have space for a few of them because this post is long enough.

My husband is a very involved Dad with discipline, school and household. The oldest child was old enough through everything to really know the truth. When he sees things for what they really are then goes to Mom’s and witnesses her manipulating and twisting stories to his little brother, that has to create a strain between that child and parent that follows into adulthood. So, one child has been made to think Dad is uninterested in him and the oldest is left frustrated with Mom’s games and is punished (emotionally) for not buying into her and all this because of HER actions. Yet because her act is so good, she has so many thinking she is a victim?!

It has me so sad for my husband at times because he will speak his mind about a lot of things, but has a hard time with this topic. My husbands youngest son (Mom’s ‘Golden Child’) is older and still believes my husband just has never connected with him. Why would he think this? Wedges!

Driving wedges

Here are the red flags (sadly they still happen to this day). Early on it became apparent that if we pre-told his Ex about plans we have coming up with the boys such as take them to a movie, maybe the Fair or ocean, we were giving her the opportunity to get into their heads and especially with the youngest. He would suddenly not want to go to the movie or outing he was excited for days ago because Mom has told him things that would have him upset he has to be with us. We’d drop off boys to her who can’t wait for Dad’s again to go somewhere fun, then on that day we would pick up boys mad we are there because we are interrupting fun Mom said they would have if they weren’t with us. My husband constantly confronted his Ex about why he can’t get the “same boys we drop off when we pick them up. Stop getting into their heads…” About every outing or special day we planned was ruined because of these mind games she played with them so we began to realize we cannot let her or the boys know plans until last minute. Then she doesn’t have time to sabotage.

That didn’t work. She just changed tactics. Now, we go on outings and our phone would constantly ring! Before the boys had their own phones she would call and need to talk to her youngest multiple times, she was “checking in on him”. Keep in mind, she only did this when she knew we were out having fun together. Average days at our home, she was not calling them or checking in. We began to not answer her calls except a good morning and quick good night from the boys and phone off. Then the oldest got his own phone so she’d go through him and once the youngest got his phone we would see his phone ring (still to this day) and he is quick to walk away from everyone and answer his Mom’s call-again. I can honestly say, that youngest child of theirs has NEVER spent 1 quality day with Dad without phone calls, texts and checking in from Mom (inserting herself). The wedge!

Another (not so) subtle thing I never thought about is her use of money to drive a wedge. Anytime we vacation with the boys whether now or in the past she sets them up with lots of spending money. We don’t send them with money on her vacations, why would we? We don’t ask her to give the boys any money because it’s our treat to them and we have it covered. She acts like it’s just her ‘being nice’, but it was her making sure that subconsciously those boys can give her some credit for this trip with Dad. I never saw this as a tactic until later in life when it was exposed. It was another wedge. Again, that child can never say that these special memories were 100% from Dad because Mom ‘contributed’ too. Not trivial, but deliberate.

When the children become teenagers

Then that child became a teenager and she was in her true realm. She never graduated High School and emotionally and mentally never grew up so we began to see that we clearly have a house full of ‘teenagers’ as opposed to a teenager in a Mother’s home and it was horrible. She was clearly now matched at the teenage level of maturity and became his BFF! She is married to her affair man, but he was never active when they were young. When they became teenagers and the games turned up, he ruled from his wallet and won their love with cash only. So, no parenting was happening in that home. It was heaven to a teenager.

Any “no” or rule we gave those boys were held against us. Curfew? Silly how dad gives you a curfew, not here! Grounded? Your Dad is trying to keep me from you. That is mean to Mommy! Family meetings? She would agree with my husband and I over everything, promises of working with us until we leave and then it is “your Dad made me say those things, so don’t tell him I let you…”

Photo by Stefan Spassov on Unsplash

Faulty Filters

So, let’s take this young adult and ask him what special memories he has of Dad? He has a hard time finding them because he never was able to have a Father and son relationship. Mom attaches herself to every one of their moments in one way or another. Again, these are just a few of the many red flags that stand out most.

What lessons did Dad teach him? He can’t think of those either because all of dad’s rules were so ‘unfair’ and ‘mean’. He has been taught to think my husband buys love (absolutely not the case and anyone who knows my husband would never say that). But, anything we bought these boys was a weapon she used against us. She’d convince them we bought (that) to win them over or be a favorite (clearly not). So just buying a new mitt or shoes we are guilty of sabotage, manipulation and loving one child over the other. So, money and love go hand in hand in that boy’s filtered life view of how Dad is ‘unfair’.

Their youngest boys filters on this family are severely distorted and continue to be with no fault to him. He truly does not get why we are so “mean to not respect his Mom”. We have had talks as he aged, but he runs straight to Mom and Mom convinces him we are lying “..see what have I always told you about your Dad…”

What do you do?

You can’t talk to such parents because we have it all wrong according to them. Events and conversations you had with them will suddenly “never have happened”.

Does this sound familiar to you? If any of this sounds familiar I highly recommend a good family attorney and visit the topic of child manipulation by the parent so custody can be limited and the manipulative parent can start counseling. We really wish we had seen these flags back then and had counseling in place. It is my greatest regret!

As the children become adults

It is known to cause such emotional distress on a child when a parent does this that now the research is there that shows they end up needed counseling as adults. Adults of narcissistic and manipulative parents have to actually go through a healing process when they age and it hits them their entire life was manipulated and almost a ‘lie’ due to one parents actions. Thats’ a tough pill to swallow at any age.

As much as I just would love (for my husbands sake) for the youngest of their boys to walk through our door and say “Dad! I get it now. You were always there, always trying. Always being the same Father to me as my oldest (and our youngest) brothers. You never did less for me, you never had bad intentions, I was just made to believe you did. We were robbed! We were robbed of my entire childhood of a healthy father-son relationship and I do not blame you one bit.”

The thing is, I don’t think the Narcissistic parents “Golden Child” has the ability to see the truth. They have been told what to think, how to judge and who to like or dislike their entire life that making decisions for themselves is challenging. Now our son has a GF just like his Mother and for years he has 2 women guiding his every thought and emotion. I can’t help but think such children just walk around in some sort of ‘fog’ when all they know is not the reality. There is no way he could even knows who he is anymore let alone the capability of facing a harsh reality. So many friends and family around him see a very toxic relationship between him and his Mother that cost him a relationship with an amazing Father and all he can do today is get so angry at everyone for being “so mean” to his “poor Mom”.

But, these kids are trapped. On top of it all our son has always been handed the task of being her emotional caretaker. This woman calls and confronts him (from a young child to now) with all of her drama. He would always know Mom is sad, Mom is mad at.. Mom is angry that… Confronting her never worked, she’d deny it and called her son’s liars that she told them her drama.

Unfortunate

This is a very personal story and I wish more than anything that this never was a life factor for any of us, but it is to no fault of my husband and I. I am guilty of calling her out, that’s all. You can imagine how much she dislikes that! However, she is NOT a victim, she creates victims. So, I’ve learned she’ll never emotionally be ready to face her own truth and extent of how she has damaged that boy of hers. My husband is sad because his son’s filters are so faulty he holds the weight of everything his ex has done to drive wedges in this family. So, take my experiences and learn or share them.

Look for the red flags

Look for the young boy who can’t bond with his parent unless the other one is leashed to their moment. Look for the sabotage and the manipulation of truthful stories made to be twisted into lies. Look for the undermining in discipline from the other parent. Look for the teenager who wants nothing to do with your home and begs to be at the other home (where rules are not being applied ). Look for the lies to thicken-lying when it isn’t even necessary to lie.

Look for signs of who your son’s dating (or daughters) when their influence is a manipulative Mother (they will find manipulative mates and actually fall for them). Look for them suddenly avoiding the manipulative parent because that may be them struggling to sort out the lies later on in life. They may need help at that point and more help than we can provide as the caring parent. A child so deprived of a relationship and heavily manipulated needs counseling and needs you to stand your ground and not smother but be available. That’s about all you can do.

And pray for their damaged souls….

And yes, it is totally OK to not want to forgive the other parent. After all, some actions just simply don’t warrant forgiveness. It is abuse, child abuse and inexcusable. You don’t have time for that. You have grown children to heal now!

My wish as the ‘other Mom’

In a perfect world, I would allow forgiveness. My husband would hold his head a little higher. Our oldest would feel less stuck in the middle. The youngest of my bonus son’s would drop his faulty filters and recognize truth. That he would take a time-out and go be himself for a while and peel off the layers of manipulation he’s yet to shed until he get’s back to his true self-that is one kind, strong man hiding underneath. I wish the Ex would truly recognize her lies and games and the damage it has caused. That those games brought out the worst in all of us and to genuinely own it all.

Yet, I am aware that is impossible. I am left with a story I hate to share, but I believe in sharing life stories. Whether stories that life wrote for you or stories someone else in your lives wrote for the family, it is your story and one you have every right to tell. So, if one person recognizes these red flags in their young family perhaps you can be warned and get that help before the kids become adults and form their minds based on all they were dealt. I wish we were warned of the consequences!

Note: I am in no way a Counselor or Professional. I cannot hold any adjectives as a true diagnosis but simply an adjective. This is a personal story told based on my own experience and research as a parent. All names, Author names and dates are hidden for everyones privacy in the story.

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David Hollingsworth

This was really heartbreaking to read. No one really wins in these situation, least of all the children.

Erin Sluka

Beyond sad, isn’t it? To think how amazing a loving relationship everyone could have but for 1 person.