Tamra Judge has firsthand knowledge of the heartbreak associated with divorce, but she believes that reconciliation for families is possible if love is the priority.
On Monday’s Real Housewives of Orange County, the mother of four opens up about the three divorces she’s lived through — her parents’ and two of her own — and the personal aftermath of those splits, including her estrangement from eldest daughter, Sidney.
“Being erased from your child’s life? You instantly feel like a bad parent,” Judge, 49, says in a PEOPLE exclusive sneak peek. “People don’t realize it’s happening to 22 million people in the world.”
Following her split from ex-husband Simon Barney — with whom she shares Sidney, 18, Spencer, 17, and youngest daughter Sophia — Judge revealed in the season 10 reunion that Sidney had been living with Simon, and hadn’t seen her mother in two years, while son Spencer, on the other hand, had been living with Judge full time and didn’t speak to Simon.
Now, in an effort to help fellow divorced parents who are navigating their way through similar familial struggles, Judge reached out to Ginger Gentile, the director of the film Erasing Family — a documentary aimed at young adults to encourage them to reunite with their erased families — and is sharing her story while encouraging exes to focus on loving their children above everything else.
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Reflecting on her own childhood, Judge admits to two attendees at the event, “I wasn’t alienated, but when my parents got divorced, I chose sides. I chose my mom’s side. I just kind of walked away from my dad. My dad was my hero.”
But in the years since Judge admittedly “walked away” from her father, the two have reconciled. “My dad drove 10 hours to be here — and my mom didn’t show up,” a tearful Judge shares. “It hurts my feelings that my mom didn’t think it was important enough to show up.”
With her father, son Ryan Vieth and brother by her side, Judge opens up to attendees — including husband Eddie — about her painful past in a speech about child alienation during the dinner.
“I divorced Ryan’s dad, my mom and dad divorced. Divorce does horrible things to families,” she tells the room. “Every single day it hurts. And the only thing that I can do to get through it is to try to help other people so they don’t have to feel the same pain.”
In her speech, Judge admits that she has “lived the past three-and-a-half years in what I call silent pain.”
“People tell you all the time, ‘Don’t worry. She’ll be back. She’ll figure it out,’ ” Judge says of her strained relationship with Sidney. “Every time someone tells me that I want to punch them in the throat and say, ‘Don’t worry. It won’t hurt long.’ And then I gotta punch them again.”
“I do believe that my daughter will be back one day, just like I believe your children will all be back one day,” a hopeful Judge says as she concludes. “Love your children more than you hate your ex. Kids deserve to have both parents in their life.”
Ahead of the dinner, Judge spent with time her eldest son, and the two discussed her previous marriage to Barney, whom Vieth had a fractured relationship with.
“My past with Simon has been bad,” Judge confesses to viewers on the episode. “But now, my relationship with Simon is so much better.
“He realizes and I realize that we need to come together because the way that we’re living right now is not good,” she tells Vieth, who reveals that he was “talking to Sidney the other day.”
“We were talking about coming around more. And I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re missing so much s—. You’re missing everything, ‘ ” he tells his mother.
“When I saw her at your house the other day, I mean obviously it wasn’t planned,” Judge says of previously running into her daughter at Vieth’s house. “It was awkward, I’m not going to lie. And it was awkward for her. But you know I hugged her? Do you understand that’s the first time that I freakin’ have hugged my daughter without being in court or at a counselor’s office?”
According to Vieth, it was the first time that he had seen her in four years. “I just looked at her and I’m like, ‘I don’t even know you,’ ” Judge recalls.
“For us to be in the same room for 20 or 30 minutes without her running out or me running out, I knew that it was the first step to our future,” she shares.
Although Vieth and Barney’s past relationship was strained, he now understands why his stepfather pushed him to get a job and take responsibility as a young adult.
“I do relate to [Simon] in my current situation. And I even spoke highly of him the other day, which is a trip,” says Vieth, whose relationship with the mother of his child has been up and down. “We didn’t get along, but I do thank the guy,” he admits as he wipes away tears.
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Recently, Judge’s relationship with her daughter seems to have taken a turn for the better.
“We’ve had a long journey and we’re making progress, which is good,” she said, and added, “And if I can just help other people — I think the worst thing is, most people think they’re the only ones going through it. People don’t want to talk about it. People don’t share it. I’ve had neighbors come up to me and say, ‘I’m going through the same thing.’ ”
The Real Housewives of Orange County airs Mondays (9 p.m. ET) on Bravo.