Care and Feeding

My Son Is Holding a Grudge Against His Dad … for Something I Did!

He should be taking it out on me.

Older man in a stand off with a young boy.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Photodisc/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding, 

I have not always had the easiest relationship with my husband. The issue I’m writing about though is with my son, “Dylan.” He’s 17, and he should be making college preparations. Unfortunately, things have been strained with his father for about a year.

A bit of back story: I’ve cheated on my husband in the past, not once, but several times. I’ve had my reasons and justifications for it, but the fact is that I did go there. We’ve been to marriage counseling, and it was tremendously helpful and repaired what I thought was irreparable. Our dynamic might not be the most conventional, but it works for us.

Dylan isn’t taking it as well. A girl he asked out turned him down because she thought he’d inherited my characteristics and would cheat on her. So, I would understand if he was mad at me, but he doesn’t seem to be. He’s not the most polite teenager, but he’s at least willing to talk to me and listen to the advice I give him.

With his father though, he’s completely rude and disrespectful. When my husband offered to help him draw a list of colleges he’d want to visit, Dylan told him to shut up and that he wasn’t interested in his opinion. And he just laughed off my husband’s attempts to ground him. If he wants to take it out on me, fine, he can take things out on me. I cheated. I deserve it. My husband doesn’t, but the blame seems to have gotten all transferred, and I don’t know what I can do to fix things. Is there anything at all?

—Destroyed My Whole Family

Dear Destroyed My Family,

Look, I’m obviously not a cheating stan. I’ve been on both sides of it and overall, do not recommend it. But at least some of the time, when someone cheats, they are trying to meet a need that is no longer being fulfilled in their relationship, like emotional intimacy or a willingness to do butt stuff. (Kidding—that’s an issue for a different column.) I don’t know the whole situation, but I’m wondering if Dylan might be picking up on some aspect of your relationship that he sees as a reason to blame your husband for what happened. Or maybe he’s just generally angry and feels safer expressing it toward your husband, for any variety of reasons.

I assume you’ve tried to talk to Dylan about what’s behind his anger. But if he won’t open up to you, it might not hurt for him to talk to a therapist, since it sounds like your family has been through a lot and that Dylan has, unfortunately, been privy to the details. (As well as some girl Dylan wanted to go out with? You all live in a small town or what?)

I also think it might be time to put down the baseball bat and stop beating yourself up for what you did. You made mistakes, you and your husband have worked through your issues, and it’s a new day. You can continue to make living amends to your family by not repeating the behavior, but you don’t need to self-flagellate forever.


More Advice From Slate

Our 19-year-old daughter decided to ghost us. She goes to college eight hours away from our home. We set her up in a dorm, paid her tuition, sent her money, and talked to her almost every day. After she complained about her roommates, we agreed she could move to a more independent-style dorm the next year. She then told us she was staying at school for a summer internship (turning down a good internship in our hometown to do so). When we traveled with her siblings to surprise her for her birthday, we were shocked to find out that she did not live at the address she gave us.