Family Life: I feel ashamed that I am a separated mother of three
Q My husband deserted me and my three boys (ages 13, 10 and 8) six months ago.
I discovered he was cheating by reading his texts. Thanks to social networking sites and a job which involved travel, he probably was able to conduct many an affair while I was at home with the boys. If he had shown any remorse and apologised, I would have taken him back for their sake but he has refused and blamed me saying I was "cold". As the months roll on he is contacting his sons less often and they complain that he never goes to see them play football. He makes the odd visit to watch them play. I recently told the eldest boy (it just came out) that his dad had left home and that he had been cheating. He responded by hiding in the garden and deleting his dad's number and saying he doesn't have a dad anymore. How do I tell the 10 year old (diabetic) who is suspicious already? He asked me recently was dad going to be here for Christmas and the next day the eight year old said the same thing. They think their dad is away working and, on the whole, his name is never mentioned at home. It has taken me six months to realise that I have to rear three boys on my own. The thought of the future fills me with dread. I have told nobody at work or my neighbours. I feel ashamed that I am a separated mother. I can't sleep at night, have lost weight and constantly have headaches. Where do I go from here? Will the boys suffer from having no male figure around?
A It sounds like it has been a shocking and traumatic experience for you to discover your husband's betrayal of your trust and to be left with the full responsibility for rearing your three boys.
The shame, sleeplessness, dread of the future, weight-loss and headaches all sound like very understandable reactions given the extent of his betrayal and the stress you must feel.
Before worrying about the boys, however, you must worry about yourself. You will be best able to mind them when you feel minded and supported by other adults. I think you should risk sharing your distress with a trusted friend or family member.
It is so helpful to have other people around you who can offer both the emotional support you might need as you come to terms with the reality of your situation and also the practical support you might need on occasion with caring for the boys.
Don't isolate yourself within your community; reach out to others who can be there practically and emotionally for you. You have done nothing wrong and you don't deserve the feelings of shame that you have.
Since you have already told the eldest boy you should probably also tell the other two the reality of the separation. You are not trying to poison them against their father so don't focus on the cheating aspect; they may not even be concerned with the reason why you have split.
Most children who are caught up in their parents' separation feel very torn in their allegiances. No matter how badly your sons may feel treated by their dad (e.g. abandoned by him) he still remains their dad.
Your eldest son's reaction probably reflects protective feelings he has for you and his anger at his dad's betrayal of the whole family. As time passes, however, his feelings about his dad may, indeed probably will, change.
Children can fear losing a relationship with either parent if they are forced to take sides. This means that whatever your feelings about your husband and his actions you can't dictate how the boys must feel about him.
If their dad doesn't step up to the mark and try to continue in his role as an active father then you may find that other men can take up some of that role. Your father, brothers or male friends of the family can be strong male role-models for them, and could prove to be enough of a substitute for their dad.
Mostly, however, you can provide what they need in the short term. Right now they need time, understanding, love and emotional support as they try to come to terms with the fact that their dad probably won't be around much in the future.
You will be better able to help them make sense of the many (and possibly confused) feelings that they will have when you feel you have support to make sense of your own feelings.
Don't suffer it in silence or alone. You are not the only person to find yourself in this situation and I think you will be comforted to learn that other people will not judge you; they will just want to help and support you.