Writer and broadcaster

Since their split my mother has been in pieces while my father flaunts his new girlfriend. The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

I am 24 and my parents, who have been married for 25 years, split up earlier this year. I started to suspect that my dad was seeing somebody else (he had an extramarital affair some years ago). A few weeks after the split, I asked to meet him with the intention of questioning him until he admitted what I already knew.

I was right. He was seeing somebody else. He was – and still is – adamant that he had not cheated on my mother. He claims to have met this woman just days after the breakup. I was devastated and heartbroken that he had not allowed my mother or his children the time to come to terms with the dissolution of their marriage.

We are a very close family who have a lot of fun together, so not only were we having to deal with the sadness and heartbreak that the tight-knit unit had come to an end, but had to come to terms with my father caring more about himself than anyone else.

My mother is in pieces and reminds me on a weekly basis that she is lonely and has been left alone. I try to see her as often as I can but it is taking its toll. I am trying to build a career, save to get on the property ladder, maintain a relationship with my partner and still have some time for a social life. I feel guilty every day that she feels so alone while my father flaunts his new girlfriend in front of her – sending my mother texts clearly meant for his new girlfriend and boasting about their most recent holiday together.

If he is telling the truth and has only been with his girlfriend since a few months ago, he has committed his entire life savings to a relationship of only just under six months! They are moving into a house together (paid for out of the divorce) despite knowing each other for such a short time. I am hurt that he is throwing the money he earned with my mother at somebody who doesn’t deserve it at all.  

I cut your longer letter, which was full of sadness and anger. I really feel for you, to have your family broken up like that when you felt you were “very close” is hard.

However, you have the narrative already in your head: your poor mother, your bad father, the evil new girlfriend. To move you on from this position, you need to re-evaluate what you think you know.

If you read back your language, talking about your father, it’s quite telling: “I asked to meet him with the intention of questioning him until he admitted what I already knew.” If you only determine to find out what you already know, you learn nothing new.

Your parents’ marriage did not dissolve overnight. I know it must seem like that, but it didn’t. You seem (in your longer letter) quite fixated on the timings of things: when your mum told you, when your dad met his girlfriend etc. This grasping at a time-line is what we do when we are trying to make sense of something we find unfathomable. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. What does is what you are left with now and how you move on.

You can be as angry with your dad as you like but you may want to question why all the anger is aimed at him. It is very easy to demonise the one who left, who had the affair, but your mother would have played her part in the marriage and its demise. To think anything else is really rendering your mother down to just a passenger in her own life with no thoughts or actions. Is that fair?

You can rebuild your relationship with your imperfect dad. Out of everything you’ve told me he’s done, the one detail I found hardest to understand was that he had sent texts in error to your mum that were meant for his girlfriend (I wondered also how you know this). That seems really cruel and if I were your mum, I would just block his number for a while and ask him to only communicate via phone call or letter for the time being.

You are not responsible for your mum’s current loneliness. Try not to feel guilty that she feels so alone: it’s not down to you. Sure, tell her about things that are going on, invite her to events, but ultimately she has to move herself on and fill her own life. You can’t do it for her.

Is your mum allowed a new boyfriend? How would you feel when/if she meets someone else and why is it different for your dad? Is it because you don’t believe he met his girlfriend after the split? Is it that you wanted him to be single for longer?

Your life sounds full, which is great. So often when children are overinvolved in their parents’ lives it is because their own hasn’t developed fully, but your life sounds busy and fulfilling.

I would take a step back at this point. Let your parents get on with things and allow yourself the luxury of dealing with just your own feelings for a while.

And no, you don’t have to forge a new relationship with your dad’s new girlfriend yet. But do get to know her in time as the person she is, not what she represents.

This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 3 September 2016.