5 different scenario’s to help you decide,
plus my own personal story.
Should the children know you’ve had an affair?
“What do I tell them? What will they think of me? Will they ever forgive me?””
These were questions I eventually had to ask myself.
Our marriage had deteriorated to the point where it looked inevitable-
and my boys needed to know.
I have to be honest with you, from the outset of this post,
this is one of my most difficult ones to write.
To push past the shame enough, to write about my biggest regret in a blog like this, is one thing.
However, writing about the question of whether children should know, or not know,
about a parents affair;
and how infidelity affects children, is another thing entirely.
It’s hits too close to home and my heart.
Honestly, I just didn’t want to write it.
I never really wanted to go there.
But when I had a few of my readers ask for a post on this, in recent months;
and personally witnessing how hard it is for many unfaithful spouse’s to completely see
the effects their affairs are having on their kids, I knew God was calling me to write about it.
Read a first had account from my own son of how the affair affected him, here.
Yet, this is not to cause shame or condemnation.
My hope for you is two-fold:
1. If you’re playing with fire; in an emotional affair, and about to have a physical affair,
that you’d stop and get out as fast as possible.
2. If you’re in an affair now, that you’d hear my heart in this- I was you!
So, I’m not here to condemn or throw stones at you,
but to challenge you to reconsider the lie you’ve likely believed that your kids won’t get hurt.
Or, that they won’t find out; or, thinking:
‘they’re resilient and will get over it’, if you’re trying to decide upon ending up with your affair partner, or not.
Don’t underestimate the pain they feel and the potential impact upon your relationship
with them that your decision will have.
Even though I knew God wanted me to write it, I’ve been sitting on the information in this post,
procrastinating about writing it.
Especially with my next post in this series-how infidelity affects kids,
my most important post I’ve ever written-of my son’s perspective of my affair.
Truth is, there’s no easy, one size fits all, answer.
- This is not one of my “how to….” posts. I’m not going to sit here and tell
you what you should, or shouldn’t do, because it’s such a personal decision.
You’re vulnerable enough right now, and nobody should be swaying your decision for you.
- Think of me as a friend, sitting down with you to talk about my the options you have to tell them or not tell them.
Then I’ll share more personally my own experience, and why I ended up telling them,
and my thoughts on it now, 12 years later.
- There’s an old saying in recovery ‘we’re only as sick as our secrets’ and that can certainly apply
to the family secrets within a child’s home. Knowing about a parents affair, but nobody addressing it,
could create an undue burden upon them, if everyone in the family is just pretending nothing’s wrong.
So let’s look at age categories of kiddo’s and what they’re able to take in:
A. School age children, have a real sense of what’s right and wrong, limits and rules.
They’re also usually wise enough to know when Mommy and Daddy have been yelling more.
It’s also been shown that even very small children (toddlers) feel tension and stress in the home.
Toddlers can react in different ways to this tension like regressing with potty training, needing pacifiers more, acting out, etc..
B. By middle school, kids usually have a good idea where babies come from, and many understand what adultery is.
They most definitely can sense tension and arguments between Mom and Dad,
no matter how carefully you think you’re hiding it (ask me how I know).
At a time when they’re entering their tumultuous teenage years, a parent’s affair can have a huge devastating impact
upon all they knew was right and true.
That’s not to make you feel terrible, but it’s true, and I lived it with my own kids.
C. By high school, kids may likely put the pieces together themselves of what’s going on with their parents;
or they may have seen clues in the unfaithful parents behavior to surmise what was going on.
Their imagination might even be worse than reality, so it’s probably important to address the situation directly with them,
without too much detail or putting them in the middle of the tension in the marriage.
Also, if you’re the betrayed spouse, please do not use this opportunity to trash your unfaithful spouse.
That’s never a good or loving thing to do with a child, no matter their age,
and can really backfire if you decide to work it out with your spouse.
Although challenging, there are ways to talk about it while being brief and to the point,
and not degrade the child’s opinion of their parent, any more than they’ll already be dealing with.
So, Should the children know you’ve had an affair?
To make it easier to understand, I broke the options up into:
Maybe Yes, Maybe, or Maybe Not.
1. Maybe Yes: If they’re old enough to understand, and they see Mom and Dad have been arguing,
and there’s clearly tension in the household, with the unfaithful parent choosing to continue in the affair, probably yes.
You owe it to your kids to explain what’s happening (remember, age appropriate with how much to say).
Especially if there’s a separation occurring, or if divorce imminent, they should understand why.
Most kids blame themselves for their parents divorce, and knowing the real reason frees them up from that
heavy burden and false belief, somewhat.
Huff post reports “there are about one million kids who experience parental divorce each year,
and infidelity likely played a part in many of those splits; it’s among the top factors for divorce.”
2. Maybe Yes: If the affair has been exposed publicly, and people around them know about it,
(family, friends, schoolmates, neighbor, church etc..).
With the addition of social media, there’s a good chance the child can discover it,
or it will be revealed to them. I think it’s always best to head that off and find out about the infidelity from a parent(s)
3. Maybe: There’s ongoing emotional turmoil and tension in the home,
even while they’re still together and trying to work on the marriage, but may still be in the worst of it.
I think it’s good to address the tension that they feel, without pretending it’s not happening, but that doesn’t mean
you need to tell them about the infidelity.
At the very least, saying Mom and Dad are disagreeing about something if they’re too young to understand why.
4. Maybe: The Parents are deciding to stay together, but the affair partner was someone the child knew well,
or a family friend who suddenly will not be around. They might need to understand why not, but that’s usually only
in very specific situations. There’s many excuses a parent can give to spare the kids details.
5. Maybe Not: The couple decided to stay in the marriage and are living together with no separation;
and the affair partner is no longer in their lives, then telling the kids is probably not necessary.
In that situation, it’s a private issue between the parents and their marriage.
If they’re staying together, knowing about the affair,
will only cause bad feelings and stir up emotions in the kids that they’ll have to work through.
Hopefully this helps you sort through the various scenarios and options,
as you decide to tell or not tell your kids about the infidelity.
My experience dealing with the question “Should the children know you’ve had an affair”.
- About a year after my own D-Day, and we’d been separated off and on for a few months of that time,
I went to a women’s recovery center for love addiction in another state for a few days.
I was desperate for answers!A series of things transpired while I was there,
and my husband had just about reached the end of the line of hope,
doubting that our marriage could survive this.
So, just as I felt like I was getting help and the tools to break free of my affair,
he was understandably tired, and giving up hope (even though he really didn’t want to).
- After a break down on my part, thinking my marriage was really over, the leaders strongly suggested
we tell our boys what was really going on finally, and that I’d had an affair.
They were 16, 13, and 8 years old at the time.
- Even writing these words cuts me to my core, and makes me nauseous,
to think about how far I’d fallen from the Mom they knew.I spent all my mothering days trying to be the best Mommy I could,
making the choice to stay home with them when my first son was born,
protecting them as much as I could from dangers, accidents, predators and even bullies.
(Yea, my boys each have their own stories of how Mom had their back,
and why nobody bullies my kid- kind of embarrassing).
Yet, at my own hands, I caused them the most pain they likely ever felt before or since then,
and I have to live with that.
- Although I was feeling very guilty, and in shame, over my infidelity; I was still deep in the thick of affair fog,
and reasoned to myself that nobody would get hurt because they wouldn’t find out.Like Eve in the garden, as Satan deceived her with the question of what did God really say and mean,
I was deceived into thinking they wouldn’t get hurt by this, and reasoning away my sin, and God’s standards for marriage.
(I’ve since come to realize many unfaithful spouse’s believe this lie too.)
- I’d somehow managed to convince myself, even before I had the affair, that they didn’t need me as much as their Dad, anyway.
My role as Mom had shifted, as it should, but I didn’t feel necessary in their lives anymore; this was quite a lie.
This likely contributed to me justifying why it wouldn’t matter.
Irregardless of what I first believed,
my kids knew something was very wrong before we even told them precisely what it was.
- When I came home from my love addictions workshop, divorce appeared inevitable; and so we sat them down to tell them.
It was the worst day of my life.
And, as I heard from my kids about it later; it was the worst day of theirs too.
- I’ll spare you the details here, but it certainly looked hopeless for our family staying together.
Now my kids were able to put the chaotic pieces of the puzzle together from the last 12 months,
to understand why it had been so tense; and it confirmed my oldest son’s suspicions.
- If you know my story, and follow my blog, you know the miracle of our marriage story–
because we did NOT get divorced, and God restored us little by little, until it now seems like
I’m talking about totally different people.
We are fully healed and our family has the testimony of not being torn apart from the devastation of infidelity.
- That’s what God can do. I can’t take credit for it.
If you’re in this situation today, my friend,
my hope is that you’ll recognize the power of God to change your life and your heart.
Do I regret telling them? There’s been many days I have.
But given the situation at the time, and thinking we were headed toward divorce,
we did what we thought we needed to do. I still wish I could have protected them from it though.
Also, knowing this post was coming soon,
I talked to each of my sons separately in person recently, and apologized again for hurting them.
They each said it was so long ago, and although it was incredibly hard, they see how our family overcame it together.
They each graciously expressed their forgiveness for me, which I’m so grateful for. I’m aware- it could have gone so differently.
In my next very important post, I’m going to share the answers my 25-year old son Greg
wrote to the questions about his perspective, and experience, living through that season in our family.
I hesitated asking him, but he’s got such a generous heart and his desire is
that his story helps even one couple, family or kids going through the same thing.
If you’re a wayward wife looking for more posts and answers, click here.
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