Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr. Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in three continents, he has been training with Dr. Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer:
I had a great relationship with my daughter. Our relationship became closer when I discovered her mother’s infidelity and threw her out of the house. Her mother begged forgiveness, promising never to do it again. I believed her, but how could I allow someone like that to come back to my house and raise our daughter? Not after she disrespected me.
I devoted every weekend to my daughter. During weekdays, we had dinner together. When she was young enough to enjoy bedtime stories, I read them to her.
She is 18 now. She told me she hated me for not allowing her to experience a happy family. She hated me because it was always only the two of us. She wishes she knew her mother more. I couldn’t tell her that, once it was clear I wouldn’t take her back, her mother went back to the man she was unfaithful to with me.
What can I do now? What can I tell her?
Thank you for your message.
It seems as though, having sacrificed the well-being of your daughter on the altar of righteousness, you are now reaping the rewards of your past decisions.
Don’t misunderstand me. I fully appreciate that in certain circumstances infidelity can constitute a deal breaker from which there is no way back. However, to decide unilaterally that the woman (let’s call her Alma) you chose to be your wife and the mother of your child should be given no chance to redeem herself from a single infidelity, no matter how much remorse she might feel, and on the specific grounds that she “disrespected” you, strikes me as extreme. It is even more so if (as I suspect since you say you couldn’t tell your daughter about her mother’s new life) you have ensured there is no contact between them. Of course, you have not told us if your wife has tried to contact her daughter since the breakup so where responsibility lies for her not knowing her mother better is unclear.
Nevertheless, assuming your message contains what you consider the key elements of your situation, it does seem that your handling of the breakup and subsequent raising of your child is essentially egocentric. Your sense of righteousness is only matched by your pride in your parenting skills (as though spending time together and reading stories represent the zenith of paternal achievement) and this even extends to your decision to isolate your daughter, leading of course to her current negative feelings. Indeed, one wonders whether your attitude towards Alma over the years has contributed to producing an 18-year-old with such a seemingly undeveloped sense of personal agency, at least in respect of her mother.
As for your decision not to reveal that Alma went back to the man she was unfaithful with, ask yourself whether you think this proves you were right to banish her from your life in the first place, or whether there might be some other explanation e.g. he proved to be a much kinder and compassionate man than you.
As to your future relationship with your daughter, you face an uphill task since it is the “story” you have told her since Alma left that has led you to this disastrous situation. Honest and open communication together with an objective reappraisal of your family history would be a good place to start, if you can find it in your heart to try.
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter. While I agree with many (though not all) of the things Mr. Baer said above, I confess I strongly disagree with the manner in which he shared them with you and will, in fact, ask him later: “Self righteous? Kettle and pot, perhaps?”
Dr. Donald Symons is the author of The Evolution of Human Sexuality. He wrote this in the 1970’s but I have so far not read any other research which demolishes his conclusion: “It is ironic that men, who seem hardwired to be more sexually unfaithful than women, are also the people who are hardwired to forgive their wives far less and judge them more harshly than women do.”
Thus, while not condoning your response to Alma’s infidelity, I find it perfectly understandable. Among other reasons, just as it is probable that Alma went back to the man she’d been unfaithful with because he was a much “kinder and compassionate man” than you, it is just as likely that she went back to him because she had (made sure she had?) this option in case you refused her importuning. However, the reason may just as likely be something else entirely.
Secondly, it is true that you probably could have been a better parent, but that is true for most of us. Besides, this “coulda, woulda, shoulda” sort of thinking sometimes focuses our energy on the past, rather than on the present and the future: What can I do NOW to make it up to my daughter or, even better, what can I do now to smoothen that path for my daughter and her mother to meet up? If you knew then what you do now, you might have behaved differently, but then again, this is true for all of us.
Finally, please remember that, if she were not as secure in your love for her, she would not have told you that she hated you for 1. not allowing her to experience a happy family; 2. it was always only the two of us; 3. wishing she knew her mother more.
I am glad you merely listened and did not try to defend yourself. This would have made her feel that you were not listening to her. And perhaps she has not felt that way with you, because you always have. Kudos to you for that.
And, tayo tayo lang (just between the two of us) she may realize: 1. That happy families need not be what is traditionally mom, dad, and kids; and in time she may realize that her childhood with you was as good as it could be; 2. that all this can change, especially now that she is 18; and 3. that too, can change, especially if you have better resources and help her to find her mom.
Please stop berating yourself for what your daughter told you – again, a perfectly natural response. I did too when my child said similar things to me. Try to dust off any hurt feelings, remind yourself this is more about her and not about you or even your ex-wife. And do whatever you can to help her find her mum.
All the best,
Please send any comments, questions, or requests for advice to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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