Parenting with a former partner or spouse who dislikes you is extremely difficult. Especially if they have primary custody.
Unfortunately, Apprehensive_Sale_97 found himself at the receiving end of an incredibly difficult situation with his kids—and years later is had to make some tough choices. He went to the popular subReddit “Am I The A**hole?” or “AITA” for feedback.
“AITA For not wanting to have any contact with my children anymore?”
He started with the beginning of the relationship problems.
“My ex cheated on me when my two kids were 6 and 5 years old. We got divorced.”
“She got weekdays, I got weekends. We are all in the same city.”
But then shortly after, it all came crashing down.
“For a while there it seemed to work, I thought we could be civil enough to co-parent the two kids. But she got together with the man she’d cheated with and slowly started to turn the kids against me.”
“Suddenly every time I’d have my time with the kids little trips and picnics would be organized. Of course, if I’d insist on my time with them I’d be turned into a bad guy.”
“She started telling them lies about me too, and it slowly but surely made them hate me bit by bit. I tried to sue her for parental alienation and to have the custody agreement properly enforced but it didn’t go anywhere, and she used the lawsuit to breed further resentment.”
After awhile, the kids stopped coming over to the Original Poster’s (OP’s) house.
“It got so bad that they stopped wanting to see me at all. Many weekends I’d drive to her house only to be turned away at the door.”
“Maybe I should have forced them to come with me or something, I don’t know. Maybe it was a mistake to not have done that.”
And the lies grew and grew.
“I even ended up breaking up with my girlfriend for them. And it was the last serious relationship I had.”
“Their mom told them lies about her, said that I was going to start a new family with her and they’ll be pushed aside, which was ironic because that was exactly what was happening to me.”
“On the rare occasions that they did come visit me they’d get into fights with her and flat out told me they are not going to come at all if she’s around. They forced me to choose.”
“I chose them (big mistake, I know). I ended up being ignored anyway.”
According to the OP, his kids continued to hurt him deeply.
“The last time I met them was on my son’s 16th birthday. He said he was sick of me and just wished that I would leave them alone.”
“I asked my daughter if she felt the same. She said yes.”
“I told them that I wouldn’t force them to come anymore but if they wanted to get in touch with me I’d be there.”
“They didn’t even so much as call me. For years. It broke me.”
But now, the lies have come to light and the kids feel bad.
“Well now they’re in their twenties and their mom got divorced again (he cheated – what a surprise) and she turned to the bottle. They’ve started to figure out the lies they were fed by her and now want to get back in touch.”
But dad doesn’t know if he can make nice.
“…I just can’t anymore. I had them late in life and now I’m close to retirement.”
“The last two decades of my life were just full of anxiety and despair. I don’t want that for the last stage of my life.”
“I’ve grown to live without them. I’m finally feeling some semblance of happiness again.”
“I don’t want to try to fix things – the very thought makes my heart sink in my chest. I want nothing to do with them.”
And the despair and the difficult situation is haunting him.
“My friends think I’m being an a**hole. Said that it wasn’t their fault and that I should try and fix things. I just can’t.”
“I can’t. So. AITA?”
Anonymous strangers on the internet weighed in by declaring:
- NTA – Not The A**hole
- YTA – You’re The A**hole
- ESH – Everyone Sucks Here
- NAH – No A**holes Here
Reddit knows a tough situation when they see one, and this is REALLY tough.
“NAH. This is really tough. The kids are not at fault here.”
“Many kids that have been alienated from a parent start to figure it out in their early 20’s. I also understand the heartache you must have experienced while they were growing up and wanting to avoid going through that again.”
“However, I think a relationship with your adult children can be very different. I think fear of getting rejected is preventing you from trying again. I think that would be a mistake.”~easterwest
“I agree with this from experience. My husband was estranged from his father this way.”
“Met him when he was about 24 and started pointing out some things that didn’t add up from his mom. We sat down with his dad and he told his dad why he was angry and his dad could dispute everything he had ever been told.”
“He had proof of child support. He had police reports of trying to see his son.”
“He could name toys my husband got for holidays that he could not possibly have known about. (His mom was putting her name on them).”
“It has been 10 years since this talk and I cannot imagine life without my FIL. They talk almost daily.”
“I’m not saying it will turn out exactly like this, but I am hoping it can give you a measure of hope to try.”~smalls419
“NAH, get thee to therapy ASAP.”
“Your kids were manipulated from a young age and essentially had no functional parenting. This is not your fault, but not theirs either.”
“You have an opportunity to rebuild that relationship and I think you should take it.”~enitsirhcbcwds
“NAH. Im in the same situation as your kids. I was fed lies about my father, and believed them.”
“I had 0 contact growing up and believed he was bad. Shortly before cutting contact with my mother, i began to realize she was lying to me about him.”
“I moved out and reached out to him, and now we talk every day and we’re repairing the bond that was broken and never able to fully grow.”
“Your kids being fed lies and believing them isn’t their fault. They’re kids and your parents are supposed to be someone you can trust, so they trusted, like kids do.”
“They realize their trust was manipulated, so they want to fix it.”
“At the same time, you don’t have to try to fix it if you really don’t want to. But from what it sounds like to me, you’re putting a lot of blame on them for what happened.”
“They’re not the bad person here, your ex is.”~AconiteAgony
Dad and the kids are both not at fault here, which makes it the worst kind of situation.
Both parties are hurting.
“NTA – no matter what you choose. But…raise the antennae.”
“Whenever ‘family’ makes contact after many years of no contact, they usually want something. It’s pretty much the standard for crappy family members.”
“At its most innocuous, they realize they were in the wrong and want your forgiveness, but for them, not for you. They want to make amends to make themselves feel better.”
“At its most base, they want money or other support. They want or need something from you.”
“If you’re happy, then you don’t really owe them anything anymore. Their relative ages at the time are an explanation, not an excuse or justification for their behavior.”
“At 16, even though they were heavily influenced by a terrible mother, they still knew quite well what they were doing and the hurt they were causing – on purpose.”
“At their current ages, they definitely know and understand what they did and the hurt they caused. If they cannot or will not accept responsibility for their past actions or simply pass it off by blaming their mother, they aren’t really accepting their part in the situation.”
“However, if you’re simply trying to punish them, then you may benefit from having limited contact with them because you’re still not fully recovered from the hurt. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.”
“If you are indifferent to them as you would be to any other people you may have known in your past (former colleges, classmate, etc) with whom you had a minor connection, then there’s really no reason to open old wounds.”
“‘They’ve started to figure out the lies they were fed by her and now want to get back in touch.'”
“You don’t mention an apology. Whatever their reason for making contact, if it hasn’t included an unequivocal apology, don’t bother.”
“A true apology is an act of great compassion and empathy because it requires a person to put themselves into someone else’s shoes. For an apology to be genuine, it must demonstrate true contrition.”
“There are three conditions required to demonstrate remorse:”
“A clear statement of what someone did wrong in order to assess whether they understand the transgression. It cannot include ‘but’ or any other mitigating language, such as the old ‘I’m sorry that you…'”
“A clear statement of how your actions affected and injured the other party. Again, to demonstrate they understand the severity and impact of what they’ve done.”
“A clear statement of what they intend to do to make amends. Words are cheap. Actions, these are what show who you really are. Anyone can say they’re sorry. But, what are you going to do about that?”
“Without an apology, you shouldn’t even consider contact with your children, no matter what other circumstances surround this attempt.”
“Sometimes the pain others cause is too great and forgiveness is not possible. Rather than continuing to hurt yourself, it’s better to simply move forward and leave the past behind.”~Veridical_Perception
“NTA. It wasn’t their fault, your friend is right, but also not yours.”
“You did, however, say you’d be there. You’re well within your right to be unwilling about it, but I wouldn’t recommend going ahead and just turning them away. They were young when they cut you out, and also raised on lies.”~WynterRayne
“NAH. That said, this isn’t about being an a**hole. This is about you and your mental health. I am less worried about what is the right or a**hole move, and more worried about what move you can make without hurting yourself.”
“Having your kids turned against you is one of the worst things that can happen to a person; it’s like the mental health equivalent of getting shot.”
“So to continue that analogy, this question is like asking if you should take the bus or the subway, when you should be asking how do you get up off the ground without bleeding out.”
“IMHO, what you should do is get some therapy. Talk to a counselor about this. Start processing some of those emotions.”
“Then write your kids a letter, long form. Tell them in full detail how what they did hurt you and how it made you feel.”
“Tell them how your heart fell apart when they told you to they were sick of you. Tell them that you are very much not okay, and have not been okay since that day.”
“And tell them that while you’re glad they are realizing how toxic their mom is, that doesn’t change how much they hurt you, or how much time and pain it took for you to mentally even start to let them go.”
“Tell them that perhaps someday you can reconnect with them, when you’re ready. But right now your heart is full of too much pain and bitterness and resentment, to both their mom and to them, for you to be the type of father or the type of person you would have wanted to be to them.”
“If they met you right now they would find a sad and bitter man who’s more like the cold person your ex made you out to be than the loving father you tried to be while they were kids.”
“If they were to see you now, it would only prove their mom right about you. So for right now, you aren’t ready to have any sort of relationship with them. Perhaps someday, but that day is not today.”
“That said- I think you should try to work towards being able to see them. Because perhaps if you do, and they realize that their mom really was the a**hole, then that might help the next decade of your life make up for the last one.”~SirEDCaLot
“NTA. But I’m sorry for the situation you find yourself in. Parental alienation is real, but a lot of people don’t believe that and think the alienated parent must have been really bad.”
“Would it be possible for you to have a very limited relationship with them? Meet with them once or twice, explain why you just can’t do it any more? Or are you afraid they’d call you the AH?”~UnsightlyFuzz
Parents can be really, really good at damaging their children.
“I’m speaking from the perspective of watching someone close to me go through this. I will start by saying NAH (this is in reference to you and your children only,) at current.”
“You are not TA for being heart-weary and wanting to protect yourself from experiencing more of the *second worst pain a parent can feel. They are not TA because as much as we expect them to have the emotional and logical reasoning to work out what’s going on it’s just not the case when they’re 16.”
“However…I do believe you should give them a chance. They are adults now, out of the onus of their mother.”
“I’m not saying welcome them with open arms, and—while you certainly shouldn’t play the blame game and should try to avoid accusations—I would be frank with them that you are afraid of being hurt again, and that while you don’t blame them and you know it wasn’t their fault or intent as you were all 3 victims of circumstance it was excruciating to lose them.”
“I would suggest family therapy, which will be painful at times but will give you all a safe space to reestablish a relationship. If that’s not something you’re willing to do, open a line of contact, see what happens.”
“If it goes wrong, yes it will hurt. But if it goes right it will be the best decision you ever make. Worst case, If they revert to the behaviors they were exhibiting at 16, you can sever the contact with a clear conscience.”
“Best case, you get your children back. Either way you don’t have to live without knowing.”~twistednwarped
“NAH- While I agree that there is a good chance that you would be able to mend this now that they are adults, I will say it’s not guaranteed.”
“I had an uncle whose ex alienated him from the four children they had—she wouldn’t follow the visitation order, no matter how often they went to court, she called the cops and filed false reports for times at which (thankfully) he could often prove he was somewhere else, and then when he was arrested she lined the kids up at the window to watch.”
“Eventually he ran out of the funding to keep fighting her in court, and so she won.”
“When the kids grew older, several of them did reach out to him, but it never stuck—they had inherited too much of their mother’s toxicity, or just came looking for money, and no real interest in a relationship for its own sake.”
“It takes time to deprogram from that kind of parental propaganda.”
“If you choose to reconnect, I would recommend starting with a frank conversation about what their beliefs were about the situation, vs. the reality, and seeing if they really are open to discarding all of their mother’s lies, or if they are only open to certain aspects of the situation.”
“I think you’ll be in a much better place to make an informed decision, and will have a lot more peace with yourself with whichever decision you make, if you at least try to clear the air and set the record straight in one discussion. If they’re at all resistant to the truth, then you can close the book and know you gave it every try.”
“If they’re really aware of how much their mother lied, and truly want to make it right, you may find that the healing will be worth the risk. In the end, though, no one in this thread really understands the dynamic or has the information you have, and so in the end you are the only one with the information to make this decision.”~LiLadybug81
“NTA. Whatever decision you make you will 100% not be the a**hole. You have to do what’s best for yourself, and it’s a little suspicious to me that it took until their mid twenties to realize that they’ve been neglecting their father to such a degree. If you want to have a very limited relationship with them that’s perfectly reasonable. If you don’t want a relationship at all with them that’s completely understandable as well.”
“I hate how this sub will tell a 15 year old family isn’t about blood it’s really who you care about’ and tell kids that their parents and family members should be cut off for totally benign reasons, but when a father is neglected and borderline emotionally abused by his ex wife and kids he should try and find a way to forgive them or talk it out and give them a relationship that they want NOW.”
“F*** that. Kids know better. Especially when they’re 18-19. It doesn’t make sense that it took this long and I hope whatever decision you make it gives you some kind of peace.”~CatalinaChang
“I know it’s a bit against the grain here, but gotta go with NAH (Except your ex), especially after reading your comment about having a major stroke, which I think you should include in the post to paint a picture of your mental and physical health.”
“Yeah, they’re your kids, and yeah they might be starting to realize that they were manipulated and acted like little sh**s when they were kids/teens, but they have to come to terms with the fact that for a time, they literally ruined your mental outlook on life and destroyed your one real relationship since their mother left you. It may not have been their fault, but unfortunately the Piper still has to be paid, and you have to come first.”
“If you do end up attempting to reconnect, I’d be very clear with them that while you don’t blame them for the machinations of their mother, it will take a very long time to repair the damage and if they can’t be mature enough to deal with that, then you’d be well within your rights to go NC with a clean conscience.”~GrimCetic
The situation between OP and his kids is tense.
OP is entitled to his own choices. But will he regret not connecting with his kids when he has the chance?