“My Kids’ Dad is in Jail and I Don’t Want Him in Their Life”

I was married for seven years. I married young, and I am 29 now. My ex-husband is an addict who was on-and-off the wagon during our whole marriage. It would start with drinking and end with a needle in his arm. I knew he had issues when we got together, but I assumed they wouldn’t last long. I lost count of how many times he relapsed after the 20th time. He would vanish for days at a time and then would pop back up and be so sorry.

Well, two kids later, he did meth at our house while I was sleeping and both of our babies – ages 3 and 1 – were home. My dad was in prison when I was a little kid for this exact same thing and I always told myself that my kids would never know that life. I packed up everything in that house and moved my babies and me about an hour away, closer to my job. A few months later, the begging, pleading, and apologizing started. The kids would cry for their dad, and my heart ached. I let him come back.

Although sober now, before long he was saying the same stuff he did when he was high: I’m a narcissist, selfish, a liar, controlling, and have an ugly heart snd he can find someone better than me. I doubted him, but he knew me better than anyone and I wanted to be a good person, so I started therapy. My therapist told me that I’m not who he says I am and that the real narcissist is… him.

I filed for divorce and divorced him. I gave him visitation and phone calls and, honestly, he could get the kids whenever he wanted; he was a good dad when he wasn’t upset. I had one stipulation on the divorce papers – if I ever thought he was high, I could make him take a drug test and, if he refused, he didn’t get to take the kids anywhere. He showed up a few times but then stopped. The kids struggled, getting kicked out of daycare, having tantrums, not sleeping, wetting the bed, all of those things.

My ex got back on drugs, lost his job and his car, robbed his friends, and ended up in jail. My kids were barely 2 and 4-1/2 when this all happened. It’s been over a year now, and I’ve met someone new. He is the most patient, kind, caring man I’ve ever met. He loves my kids and they love him, and we are getting married this year. My youngest just started calling him “daddy.” I felt horrible, but that’s the dad he knows so I didn’t stop it.

My ex still calls my phone from jail; I tried to let the oldest talk to him, but he started acting out just like before so I shut it down. I’ve quit answering his calls; I wrote him a letter explaining that the kids don’t understand and we would revisit things when he was out of jail and rehab.

I hate him, but this is my kids’ dad; they loved him when they remembered him, but I know my children and something is off when they speak to him or if he’s brought up. Help me! I would love to never deal with him again, but I struggle with whether that will be better for my boys. Will it end up hurting them? Will they feel abandoned? They are 3-1/2 and 6 now, and I want my kids to have the best chance at being great men. — A Stressed-Out Mama

I think you already know what the answer is here. Your kids’ father is an addict who has not yet proven his ability or interest in staying sober and emotionally and physically available to your children. It’s your job to protect them, including from the kind of life you had as a child of an addict who was in and out of jail. The best way to do that is to protect them from being too close to their father before he’s able to actually be a dad to them.

What that looks like exactly depends on a lot of things, and a therapist, a family attorney, a social worker, your family, your friends, and your partner can all guide you to creating an arrangement and boundaries that work best. Maybe it means no visits at all for a certain amount of time after rehab, and then only with certain stipulations (like the presence of a mediator, meeting in public, a short visit, negative drug tests, etc.). Maybe it means only letters and no phone calls. Maybe it means no contact at all for a certain length of time. These details are important, and they should be specific to your family, but what’s most important is that you understand and believe that protecting your kids may mean keeping them from their father indefinitely, and that makes you a good mother, not a bad one.

If you are having doubts about your own judgment, please continue with therapy. After what you went through as a child and in your marriage, your self-doubt is understandable. You’ve been conditioned for a long time to believe certain things – things that are not true. And it could take years of therapy and internal work to unlearn the wrong things you were taught. None of this is your fault, but the work is still yours to do; no one else can do it for you.

Related: Are you positive this is the best time to get married to a new partner? It sounds like this relationship has moved pretty quickly, from meeting each other shortly after your very traumatic marriage and messy divorce to planning marriage. It would be relatively fast for anyone to meet and get married within a year, but with very young kids and the personal history you have, I’m concerned.

What would be the harm in waiting one more year to make it official? As you continue your path of disentangling yourself from your previous marriage and healing from your past trauma, you may find that you and your partner stand on a stronger foundation on which to build a long, happy marriage if you wait a bit. If you’re committed to getting married this year, please at least discuss with a family attorney how best to protect yourself financially and legally so that you can exit the situation as seamlessly as possible in the event that you need to. Please also give yourself a little more time with this man before you have a child with him, if that’s something you’re considering, and use birth control in the meantime.


  1. I really wish the LW understood that their childhood was so messed up that the hard line she drew was doing meth instead of “I will not have any relationship with an addict much less have children with an addict.”

    LW please please do more therapy. Your kids need literally NO exposure to their “father” unless he has been verifiably clean for 5+ years. Also like Wendy said, I am afraid your barometer for what a good nice guy is … is set WAY WAY too low. You need to finish up therapy before you even consider getting into another relationship.

  2. Just a girl says:

    Adult children of addicts; especially narcissistic addicts; make internal excuses for the behavior of others. They tend to doubt their own decisions, discard their own emotional needs, and don’t rock the boat. It takes a lot of self worth before such people can recognize scapegoating, manipulation, or the other tools of the trade for narcissists.

    If this is the future you want for your children, don’t get a counselor to help you work through it. Because even if you aren’t a narcissist yourself, we carry traits of the parents who raised us. We occasionally may mirror their behavior or continue to dismiss huge waving red flags others would see.

    Also, consider whether you are trauma bonding in your relationships. Did your ex or your fiancé have parents like yours? If so, be very cautious.

    Best wishes

  3. Anonymous says:

    Self work, not worth…
    Sorry for the typos

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *