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Can I contact my kids, 18 years after a really toxic divorce? | Dear Mariella

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You must resolve the conflict you still feel towards your ex first. Then apologise to your children for walking away, says Mariella Frostrup

The dilemma Eighteen years ago my marriage broke up in a disastrous way. She was not the person she led me to believe during our 20 years together. She had been having a relationship with my sister and many other men, both before and during our marriage. She tricked me and others into believing she was an “angel”, the perfect mother, wife and professional. The divorce was horrific, and I decided to step back from trying to see my three children and give them time and space to settle (my ex had done her best to paint me as the “monster”). My ex was, and I believe still is, terrified I will tell my children, now adults, the truth about her. I would never do that. It nearly broke me, I could not risk it damaging them. I want to try to be friends and the good father I have always been. I’ve written letters, sent presents, but never had a reply and don’t know if they ever received anything. Should I attempt to make contact again, or leave well alone? I have no intention of stirring up the old memories. I just want to get to know my children again.

Mariella replies What’s stopping you? It sounds to me like the only mistake you made was to let go of your children in the first place. I appreciate you were involved in the worst of separations and walking away from that distressing scenario must have appeared the only route to self-preservation. No matter how much their fate formed part of your consideration at the time, your children will judge you by your actions and also by your inaction. Appearing uninterested in their fate, or even worse having abandoned them, is the most likely impression they have been left with. No wonder they haven’t responded to cards and presents. When one parent has entirely absented themselves from their lives, such missives will have seemed the easiest of options. Even as children they’ll have had a sense that you can’t send love via the Royal Mail.

Your ex can’t shoulder the blame for your choice to walk away from the kids

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