My husband ran off with my 24-year-old niece

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

Group Therapy is a weekly relationship-based advice column that allows readers to contribute their wisdom. Each week, we

offer up a problem for you to weigh in on, then publish the most lively responses, with a final word on the matter delivered by our columnist, Claudia Dey.

A reader writes: I am in my early 40s with four kids ranging from 9 to 17. Three years ago, my spouse of 16 years called it quits and ran off with a younger woman ... my 24-year-old niece. During this period he hasn't spent any time with his children. He keeps insisting that he is too busy working so that they can continue to live in the matrimonial home.

He recently had a child with my niece and told my kids that a baby needs more attention than they do. This has put an emotional strain on their relationship. Now they refuse to have any contact with their father. Personally, I have moved on with my life, being single and raising four kids alone, but I find that my children are missing a father figure in their lives. Should I ignore this issue, since he was the one that caused the problem, or should I try to help recreate their bond?


Mom, you cannot "help recreate their bond." Any bond re-creation must take place between the kids and their dad, and be the product of willingness and commitment on both sides - which, it is abundantly clear, is lacking here. Dad is behaving very badly, and your kids are better off protecting themselves from his neglect and the repeated hurts he causes them.

If at some point your kids want to try to open a channel of communication with their dad, you should support their efforts as best you can - but in the meantime don't badmouth him.

-Elise Moser, Montreal


Your children need to understand that the reason their father called it quits was not their fault, and the reason he doesn't see them any more is all to do with him and nothing to do with them.

In the absence of their father, you must try to introduce other role models for them - a grandfather, an uncle, a brother-in-law, male friends. In fact anyone who - without displaying rancour toward their father - can help establish that they're okay and that still caring for or wanting to see their dad is okay, too.

If you can help make that happen, your kids may, in time, be able to establish a relationship with their father, and they won't repeat his bad example.

-Ray Lindsay, Sidney, B.C.


First and foremost you are to be commended for keeping it together, raising your lovely children and resisting putting his "nibs" into a pine box. Daddy dearest needs to be involved with his first set of children, not just out of duty, but out of love, compassion, honour and integrity.

Maybe he could bring the baby over to your house, without your niece, or perhaps the kids can go over to his house on an agreed-upon basis. They may even bond with the baby. Dad can help with homework, and take his new baby along to your kids' soccer games, band concerts and ballet recitals. Even if nothing works and Dad turns his back on your children, be solid in the knowledge that you have fulfilled your role as an amazing parent.

-Helen Alexander, Surrey, B.C.


Dear WonderMother,

I wish that I could deliver a casserole, a babysitter and a knight to your door.

You are probably too busy shuttling, feeding and washing your children to mourn your own loss. Your former husband is taking the act of abandonment to new heights. He is so exacting - the niece, the baby and his tangled explanations for his absence - that he makes Woody Allen appear a mere apprentice. The difficult news to you now is that on top of the particular toil of the single mother, you have another job: to allow your children to believe that their father still loves them.

Heed the words of Better Off Moser. This is your first super power: no negative utterances about your former husband. He is obviously the cause of terrible hurt, but your children are busy being children. They have suffered enough of a glimpse into the failings of the adult world. Let them construct their own imagined universes without the chatter of your betrayal interrupting them. Let them play.

In practice, estrangement is a death in the family. It is the bleakest place your children could go. Nothing grows in Estrangement. So that's your second super power: Show them other possibilities. Meet with the father. You are the adults in this situation and together share the responsibility for its reparation. Try to decide upon a consistent schedule for visits. Propose it to your children. Allow them to make their own decisions. They must feel empowered. The undercarriage of their life has dissolved. They must know that they have the tools and the opportunity to rebuild it.

In the meantime, as Not Their Fault Lindsay suggests, cultivate new relationships - with both men and women. All figures can be father figures if you look closely enough.

When we are children, our fathers are pin-ups. They are idols. Your children are devastated by their father's sloppy humanity. So, let them pull him from the wall if they must. But, in your gold boots and blue cape, never stand in the way of their righting him again.