Here's a scenario:
You've been married to Mildred for 15 years. You have three children under 18. She has an affair. Perhaps it's many affairs. (You suspect. You don't know. The one is enough.) You are devastated. You lose 20 pounds out of sheer grief. You beg Mildred to end the affair. You pick me dance your heart out. The affair(s) don't end. Mildred never files. Instead, she runs up your credit cards. Humiliated, crushed, and finally angry -- you file for divorce. Mildred fails to understand your hostility.
Here's another scenario:
Bob pretends to be the model husband for 20 years. He has his hobbies that take time away from the family, but you've never begrudged Bob his golf weekends with the guys. Then, one day, you learn in some spectacularly horrific way, that Bob has a double life -- and his latest flame is Roxanne, his secretary. The very secretary you've had to your home for dinner. Hell, you helped organize her baby shower. (Whose baby? OMG.) You confront Bob. Bob abandons you and your four children for Roxanne. You're a part-time school librarian. Bob trusts you'll manage. Within a year, you've filed for bankruptcy.
Boy, Bob and Mildred! What swell people. Wouldn't you love to have them over for dinner? Or host a birthday party with them? For the children?
What? You don't find decorating cupcakes with the architects of your family's destruction fun? I don't think you're very moved on. Don't poison your children with your bitterness! Make some room at your family table for Bob and Mildred. Open presents with them on Christmas for the children. Co-host a bar mitzvah for the children. Heck, don't bother to hand the kids over to them on their weekend, why not let Bob or Mildred visit the children at your place! I hope you stocked up on frozen pizza! Family togetherness is best for the children.
Sure, Bob and Mildred made a few "mistakes." But don't let your jealousy cloud your vision of what is best For The Children.
Hey, putting the sarcasm down for a moment. Could we please stop using "FOR THE CHILDREN" as a cudgel with which to bludgeon divorced people?
There is no more grotesque form of cake-eating than the cake-eating of playing "family" with the person you divorced. If cheaters valued "The Children" they wouldn't abandon them for f*ck buddies. They wouldn't welch out on their financial obligations to raise them. And they wouldn't presume friendship with the exes they humiliated and disrespected.
If you're the chump left doing the custodial Sane Parent gig -- listen to me -- you do not need to feign friendship with your ex for the children. You need to preserve that sanity with no contact. (Or as much that is permitted within the confines of a custody order.)
When chumps allow cake-eating -- letting the cheater waltz into their lives for the fun bits of whatever (child celebrations, impression management as Family Person, holidays) -- it's a form of the pick me dance. You want something out of this person. Tragically, what you're probably trying to achieve is this person giving a flip about your children. You don't control that.
You only control you. Make your own family traditions. Have your children's back and let the ex figure out his or her relationship with the kids. Don't stand in the way of that relationship. Don't editorialize (i.e., "Mom's a slut.") Don't fake friendship and model codependent phoniness. Back off and let go. Your only obligation is to abide by the court order with civility. If your cheating ex fails your kids -- your kids have to figure out that parenting relationship for themselves. Keep being the sane parent.
And don't invite exes to your birthday parties. Thank you.
This column appeared at Chump Lady. Tracy Schorn is the author of the forthcoming "Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life -- The Chump Lady's Survival Guide," (Running Press, 2016), available now for pre-order.