“Mum… Can I ask you something? Is Dad having another affair?”
Oldest Daughter was pale, her face was haunted.
I was momentarily stunned. I had no idea that she remembered the first affair. She’d been only-just eight at the time. I didn’t know that she remembered. I knew that at the time I’d been honest about why her dad wasn’t there (when I first found out I’d asked him to leave and give me some space to get my head around what had happened), but she’d been so young. Over the last ten years she’d never mentioned anything about it, so I wondered if she’d forgotten. Obviously not.
Over the last year or so, we’d had several conversations about her Dad’s behaviour. At the back of my mind during all of these chats was the worry that he was seeing someone else, I didn’t realise that it was at the back of hers too.
In fact, when we’d talked, I’d been trying to reassure her (and myself) that all was ok, that E was stressed and possibly depressed because of pressure at work, that he was still struggling to settle back into UK life after three years in Singapore (the kids and I were still ‘homesick’ for Singapore and really missed the life we’d had there), that he was so busy that he couldn’t engage properly with family life at the moment.
The truth was that E had been distant, disengaged and, frankly, deeply unpleasant to live with since he’d returned from Singapore in June 2013. Since coming home he’d shown little or no interest in the kids; family outings never happened, even walks to the park were rare. He rarely joined us to watch TV or just sit in the living room and chat – he spent all of him time at home on his phone, or on his laptop, in the dining room. He seemed to have no sense of humour anymore – the little jokes and jibes that had always bee a normal part of family life (like the kids teasing him about his bald patch or his wine consumption) seemed to deeply offend him and he seemed to be creating a sort of ‘them’ and ‘me’ scenario, where he was alone and didn’t fit in with the kids and I. It wasn’t true – I desparately kept trying to involve him – I’d be rich if I had a pound coin for every time I suggested we put aside day a month for a family day. Whereas, before we’d moved to Singpaore, he was always happy to drive the kids to and pick them up from events, now he seemed to resent every demand they made on his time. He was determined to create a scenario where his family were somehow separate from him. The kids all noticed this, and all spoke to me about it, and I tried to reassure them that it was just because he was under so much stress.
On top of this increasingly distant (and frequently self pitying) behaviour, the time he was getting home at night was getting later and later. He’s an Accountancy Tutor, which means he did evening and weekend courses, so I was very used to him not being there for ‘normal hours’, but he was usually home by 10pm. The time he was getting home was gradually creeping up and up. I normally went to bed by 10pm, so, at first, I wasn’t too worried, I just assumed he’d be home within the next hour or so. But, as the months went on, I’d be woken up by his car pulling up at 2 and 3 or even 4am.
However, he was in the middle of trying to sort out a legal matter at work. When I asked, he told me that the increasingly late nights were due to meeting collegues to discuss the legal situation and what they needed to do.
Whilst an affair might seem the obvious reason for the lateness and the moodiness, he was actually making me feel as if it was me and my behaviour that was causing his unhappiness. I felt that I was responsible for making him moody. I felt that I wasn’t being loving enough, or caring enough, that it was my fault we weren’t as close as before, that I wasn’t considerate enough, that my teasing (what I’d thought was normal family humour) was over-the-top and insulting. I felt guilty. I felt like I was the problem. I blamed myself. I knew things weren’t perfect and I wanted to fix them. I wanted to make things better, but it was increasingly difficult to talk to him – it felt like he’d put up an invisible, impenetrable, barrier and I just couldn’t get through.
I knew his behaviour could indicate an affair, but I also knew (hoped) that it could indicate so many more things. It was actually because he was so horrible to the kids, as well as to me, that I thought he might have depression and tried to put off thoughts of another affair.
But, ever perceptive and always beautifully clear headed, Oldest Daughter had worked out what had happened.
My instinct was to protect her, both from the inevitable hurt of a parental break up and from the fact of what her Dad had done – she is passionately honest and truthful and knowing that the father she loved so much was a liar would be devastating to her – but I knew it would be insulting her intelligence to lie, so I decided to tell her the truth.
In the moment that I made that decision I realised afresh how much this would hurt my children. As a mother I’d always done everything I could to protect my kids from hurt, I’d felt their pain when friends betrayed them and I’d helped them deal with their sadness and disappointment when things went wrong. Looking at my daughter’s stricken face, I realised that rightly or wrongly, in the inevitable ending of my relationship with their Dad that I would be going against every protective instinct I’d ever had and be the person inflicting the worst hurt on them that they’d ever felt.