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Not telling the children about the affair

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josiep posted 6/4/2019 12:38 PM

I really think about this question a lot and thought I'd toss it out here.

Several members here are adamant that the affair should be kept between the parents (adults) and the kids not be told. And so I try to think of things to tell the children that doesn't include mention that one of the parents is having a relationship outside of the marriage. But I can't think of any way to do that and I guess I'm really curious about what that should be.

Everything I can think of that you might tell them is a lie and I have such a hard time thinking the kids are better off being lied to. I have a hard time thinking the kids are better off viewing both of their parents as not being able to make a marriage work. I have a hard time with kids being pretty much led to believe that both of their parents are at fault and are equally guilty. I have a hard time with kids being allowed to believe that Daddy left because Mommy wasn't a good wife rather than that Daddy left because he did something wrong.

And if the old "we don't love each other anymore" line gets used, why would the child believe that parents won't quit loving their children just as they quit loving each other?

And when one parent leaves and starts going to parties and on vacations and seen living the high life and the other one is crying and sad, how is that explained to the child? Are they led to believe that the WS got over it quicker and found it easier to move on?

I really and truly want to try to understand this point of view because it's so foreign to everything I believe about life and being truthful and allowing people the natural consequences of their actions. And it also goes against my believe system for the BS to be forced to live a lie to prevent the truth about the WS from being told.

Do children who get told this kind of stuff grow up to believe that infidelity is no big deal? That you still deserve everything good even if you do something evil? It goes so against my grain that I truly need to have it explained to me because I'm obviously really missing something.

KingRat posted 6/4/2019 12:54 PM

I think its an age-appropriate decision. Also, time, place, and manner are important in the discussion. I also think it is important to ask yourself what is your motivation to tell them about the affair.

No infidelity, however, my mom divorced my dad. But she never bad-mouthed him and always told me that I needed to respect him as my father. After, I grew up, I was able to come to my own conclusion based on knowing him as an adult. But I am forever grateful that my mom never tried to turn me against him to satisfy her own desire to get retribution for what he put her through.

[This message edited by KingRat at 12:54 PM, June 4th (Tuesday)]

lettingo posted 6/4/2019 13:02 PM


I struggle with this one too. My kids probably know more than I think they do. They don't really want to know at this point. I think there will be a time and a place where I do sit them down and tell them why their family fell apart. But I think it will be when I am finally at meh, and they are ready to hear it.

[This message edited by lettingo at 1:03 PM, June 4th (Tuesday)]

hikingout posted 6/4/2019 13:12 PM

We did not decide to tell our adult children. They do not live with or near us, and all are embarking on periods of their life where H felt they should just be left to focus on that.

H's main reason for not wanting to tell was that he did not want to disrupt their narrative of us, our marriage, or our family over a short term situation. Those were his words. He felt if we decided to D we would say why, but until we figured it all out, why add the anxiety for them? He also felt they were at crucial stages where they lean on me a lot, would not choose or be able to lean on him the same ways and he did not want to disrupt the relationship at this point in time. I don't know if we will choose a time down the road to tell them, or if we will leave it out permanently.

I don't think there is a one size fits all answer to this question. You have to know your children, your situation, and I think it's ultimately up to the BS to decide. I don't think the WS is able to be impartial because it directly effects their relationship with the children. In my situation, I actually wanted to tell them but it was coming from my place of shame and self punishment. I felt that I deserved the wrath that would have ensued.

Getting out of those stages, I look at it now as we spared them the pain of it. It was hard to accept not telling them, and now I feel it probably was the right path for our family. Not really because I saved face, in many ways I experience what I feel what a WS feels when they don't tell their BS - pangs of guilt when they say certain things. But, overall, I feel our marriage has been a good model for them and confusing that model at the impressionable ages they are in their early adulthood probably is not in their best interests.

If we had divorced, I would feel differently. They should know how that happened. If they had been younger, I might have spared them details that I might share with an older child. You can grow the story and their understanding of it as they get older. It's a deeply personal decision and there are consequences to whatever it is that you choose to do about it. I think you have to do what you always try to do as parents and that is do what is in their best interests. Marital secrets are an intimacy that they do not have to be privy to unless the situation warrants it.

I do think if they can find out through other sources, that's a situation you also have to be sensitive to.

[This message edited by hikingout at 1:23 PM, June 4th (Tuesday)]

Dragonfly123 posted 6/4/2019 13:20 PM

I struggle with this POV too (in situations of separation and divorce). When my dday occurred I was absolutely straight up with my children (age appropriately). I had no intention of lying to my children, I don’t believe withholding what is happening protects them at all, I believed it would add to their confusion. Worst case scenario would be blaming themselves for mummy and daddy’s separation.

I have since spoken at length (anxious to do the right thing by my babies) to friends who work in child psychology and other professionals who work with children and they categorically state that more damage is done to children by lying to them, or obscuring the truth, than telling them the truth age appropriately.

However, although I told my children that their daddy had broken very important promises to mummy and hurt me very much, I didn’t criticise him as I recognised it was important for them to have a good relationship with him. I cried openly with them and expressed my emotions. They held me when I was sad and I did the same for them. We helped each other through.

They’ve both done really well through the most traumatic year of their little lives and are emotionally articulate individuals, I’m really proud of them. They’re both as open and honest about their feelings, as I am with them and long may that last!

[This message edited by Dragonfly123 at 3:44 PM, June 4th (Tuesday)]

hurthumiliated3 posted 6/4/2019 13:31 PM

My kids were 11 and under and there was no hiding that something was going on, I couldn't stop crying and we were up all hours of the night whisper arguing at each other. I don't like to lie to my kids, so WH told them that he broke a promise and hurt my feelings very badly and that he was apologizing and trying to fix it. I felt that was developmentally appropriate without lying.

crazyblindsided posted 6/4/2019 13:51 PM

My kids found out about the A our D-Day was traumatic for everyone. I was in a fit of rage at 5:00am in the morning after looking at WS phone and finding the info. There was no shielding anything they heard and saw everything for that whole year he was lying and TT'ing me. I was hospitalized for suicide attempt. There was no hiding this from the kids. Explanations were necessary for all of it. Plus my daughter intercepted texts from MOW on my WS's phone before I found out about A. She was 9 years old at that time. Son found out from daughter.

[This message edited by crazyblindsided at 4:53 PM, June 4th (Tuesday)]

J707 posted 6/4/2019 13:54 PM

Since my DD11 told me about the AP, we seperated then found out about AP, DD and DS17 already knew. Stbx was so far gone in la la land that she wasn't thinking right. Still isn't. I talked to my kids and told them that you don't have a BF and be married at the same time, that is why we are D'ing. I let them know that it has nothing to do with them, that they are not at fault for any of it. I also never bad mouth their mother in front of them. She is in charge of her relationship with her kids just as I am, they see everything. I just focus on being a good father!

northeasternarea posted 6/4/2019 15:24 PM

When we separated, and it looked like we were headed toward divorce, I told our adult child why as well as the name of the AP.

Phoenix1 posted 6/4/2019 15:45 PM

Josie, you know I'm in the "tell the age appropriate truth" camp, and I told my kids the truth. I did not bash their father, just gave them the facts. But what I will focus on here is the discussions with the kids AFTER I told them. The two that didn't know (oldest already knew about the cheating) both told me essentially the same thing, without me asking, and on separate occasions. They appreciated not being treated like little kids (teenager/young adult), not being left in the dark, and not fed some "we grew apart" nonsense. They both told me that, in fact, if I had not been honest with them they would have resented me for that once they did find out the truth, and their ability to trust in me to tell them the truth going forward would be questionable. It was that last sentence that really told me I did the right thing and brought me internal peace for doing so. I promised them, from the very beginning, that I would ALWAYS be honest with them, and I had no intention of breaking that promise. Their father is a pathological liar, and they know it. They needed the stability of one honest parent to keep their world somewhat on its axis as we went through the D. I have NO regrets.

[This message edited by Phoenix1 at 4:07 PM, June 4th (Tuesday)]

Thissucks5678 posted 6/4/2019 15:50 PM

If we had divorced or separated, I would have told the kids why. The ages that my children were allowed us to shield them from knowing there was an issue in our marriage. I’ll be honest I wasn’t the best mom for about a year. My kids know I was really sick that summer after dday, but the youngest don’t even remember it and my oldest was pretty self absorbed at the time and I doubt she would even remember it unless someone reminded her.

My kids all know how I felt about about cheating. They would’ve lost a ton of respect for me for staying. I had such a hardline stance on it being a dealbreaker. I feel like if I would’ve told them, I almost would’ve had to leave and not give him a chance. They would’ve hated their dad. It would’ve destroyed them.

So, I chose not to tell. They are all oblivious and think that the only disagreements we have ever had are “who gets to do the dishes.” Not because we are pissy about one of us always doing the dishes, but because we are both always volunteering to do them.

Once they are older and in serious relationships, we may tell them. For now, I don’t see a reason for them to know.

OwningItNow posted 6/4/2019 15:59 PM

I think this comes down to the "good spouse" wanting to make sure that the "misbehaving spouse" gets the blame. They want justice. They want people to see what a good person they are. When my H and I were actively divorcing and coexisting, I found myself fighting my need to blame and bad mouth my H to the kids. I blamed him, I had a long list, and I wanted them to hear it.

One day I said something snarky about him, and I could see my kids' faces: they did not want to hear it. Our need for justice is not more important than their need for peace in their lives. It's our cross to bear, not theirs.

I finally settled on this truth. "He was a jerk that disrespected me, and I am the idiot that chose that jerk to be their father. Looks like it's just as much my fault as his." And that is the fact of the matter. Many kids blame the "good spouse" for choosing the bad spouse or staying with the bad spouse, so as far as kids are concerned, we all have crap to own.

I am honest with my kids in an age related way that does not seek to blame my H or myself for what the family has been through, and yet I own where we have gone wrong. My kids are now very level-headed and mature teenagers that understand the complexities of relationships and life. They are entitled to their own thoughts on the matter, but I never try to win them over with "my truth." It hurts them. I leave the bashing and snark out and share the unbiased basics. They seem to appreciate that.

I am not sure that showing kids why they should hate a parent ever does them any favors.

[This message edited by OwningItNow at 4:02 PM, June 4th (Tuesday)]

josiep posted 6/4/2019 17:33 PM

Thanks for all the answers. For the record, I didn't think I had to actually say it but of course the BS should never talk badly about the WS and of course whatever the child is told should be done in age appropriate manner.

But what I'm still trying to figure out is what do divorcing parents tell their children when the D is caused by cheating but they don't want their kids to know that? What do they say is the cause of the divorce? How do they explain that Daddy is going to live with another lady and her 3 children and from now on, they'll go visit him over at that house.

My kids were both age 40+ so this isn't about me or my kids. I just truly don't get what people think they should tell the kids rather than the truth.

But I am forever grateful that my mom never tried to turn me against him to satisfy her own desire to get retribution for what he put her through.

If your mother shielded you from the reasons for the divorce, how did you find out what he put her through?

I finally settled on this truth. "He was a jerk that disrespected me, and I am the idiot that chose that jerk to be their father. Looks like it's just as much my fault as his."

I'd consider calling him a jerk to be badmouthing him. But I'm really surprised that your kids aren't more curious about what that disrespect entailed.

Anyway, maybe someone else will chime in and explain what they told their kids rather than the truth (in an age appropriate manner coupled with not badmouthing either parent) that satisfied the child's desire to know why their world has been turned upside down and yet didn't leave them in a position to blame themselves. Because that's my biggest fear for children - that the "reasons" given are so vague, they end up thinking it's their fault but no one wants to tell them that.

deephurt posted 6/5/2019 07:29 AM

I told our son. We are in r but our son was an adult at the time and he knew something was up. There was no way to keep it a secret, nor would I. He deserved to know why his mom was so upset and why his dad was a mess too.

The relationship between dad and son had been strained but they have rebuilt it and put the a in the past. Our son loves his dad and while dad was knocked off the pedestal, they both love each other very much.

ChamomileTea posted 6/5/2019 08:07 AM

I told my adult children. I don't lie to them and I don't treat them like they don't have minds of their own. It's not like they didn't already know something was up, each having brought me some tidbit of information which didn't look right to them. They are ALWAYS in my inner circle, never locked out. I did, however, admonish each of them that their relationship with their father was a personal one, distinctly separate from any other and most especially, different and separate from my relationship with him as a spouse. IOW, I didn't need or want them to take sides, and I told them that in direct terms.

As young adults, they've been able to observe us as we put it back together and they would have been able to observe us if we had gone the other way. But even if they had been younger, my policy regarding the inner circle would have been the same. I have always been honest with my kids... and I learned that from having the exact opposite modeled to me in childhood and seeing firsthand the damage it does.

My parents, before their divorce, were always at each other, always fighting. Both cheated, both were controlling; neither ever admitted to it or talked about it. I could never count on my mother to tell the truth if a lie would suit, and while my father couldn't be bothered to lie to your face, he was the king of the stonewallers. My equation became simple. Dishonesty = Disrespect, and not just their disrespect of me, but eventually, mine for them.

KingRat posted 6/5/2019 13:45 PM

If your mother shielded you from the reasons for the divorce, how did you find out what he put her through?

She didn't shield me. She was honest with me. However, she took an approach Chamomile Tea described. She emphasized he was my father and my relationship with him should not be affected by what happened between them. I was to show my father the respect that a child should show his/her parent. If my father wanted to build a relationship with me (which he did), I must make the same effort.

My point was to emphasize that you can and should be objective and not persuasive in regards to the truth. A parent should be honest but do not weaponize the child(ren) to hurt the other parent. Nor should a parent ever--whether expressly or implicitly make a child(ren) feel that he/she should or must take a side, i.e. having fun with dad would hurt or be an affront against mom.

My views line up with most experts. You should communicate objectively and in an age appropriate manner, avoid discussing in the immediate aftermath until you have made a firm decision on a path you pursuing, do not use children as your confidant, and check your motivation for revealing information that is not necessary to understanding the situation or answering any question(s).

The thing is, some parents do this without even realizing. It's hard when you are hurt to speak objectively about the person that hurt you. But it is very important to make sure that you are the strong and clear when you communicate. Do not speak in uncertain terms and language.

Dave Chappelle does a stand up act where he brings up this point in regards to how a leader should conduct him or herself:

"Holy shit, man, you ain’t supposed to tell us that, bro! That’s bad leadership. Even as a parent, you think I’m going to sit my kids down, “Hey, little man, let me holla at you for a second. Yo, I am three months behind on the rent, and I am worried. Very worried. Go on, go to school and have a productive day, I was just thinking out loud, just getting shit off my chest.” What are you doing, bro?

ETA: If the couple decides to R, I think not telling is a personal choice that is in the purview of the couple. If both think it is not appropriate to tell, then it must be presumed they are acting in what they believe is their child(ren)'s best interest considering the facts and circumstances of their situation. Not telling the a child(ren) is not lying by omission because a child(ren) does not have a right to be informed of the intimate details of their parents' relationship. If asked, I think a parent should be honest and inform in a manner as described above.

[This message edited by KingRat at 2:12 PM, June 5th (Wednesday)]

RedRaven6500 posted 6/5/2019 14:09 PM

I told my kids (17 and 18 at the time), I had to, in order for them to be safe. I told them what I found out and what I was going to do. OP was a crazy bipolar mess that threatened me, my kids, my fWS and tried to exhort money for a fake pregnancy. Stalked my dd at her new university. We had to come up with a plan to deal with the fallout of fWS poor choices. They both had a long conversation with their dad about what he did. They had questions, and we both answered them. What they didn’t want to know, we didn’t discuss. And of course we left out the gory details. My relationship with their father isn’t their relationship with him. My dd and ds relationship with me has nothing to do with our marriage and has everything to do with how we parent. My kids know and respect this, which I so appreciate. I would have told my kids regardless, I’ve never tried to keep uncomfortable situations from them. I told the truth, and will always do so. But every situation and relationship is different, so you have to do what’s best for you and your kids.

josiep posted 6/5/2019 14:22 PM

If your mother shielded you from the reasons for the divorce, how did you find out what he put her through?

She didn't shield me. She was honest with me. However, she took an approach Chamomile Tea described. She emphasized he was my father and my relationship with him should not be affected by what happened between them. I was to show my father the respect that a child should show his/her parent. If my father wanted to build a relationship with me (which he did), I must make the same effort.

Thanks for the clarification. But I was specifically asking the people who don't believe children should be told there has been infidelity that led to the divorce what it is they DO tell them that works.

Cheatee posted 6/5/2019 14:25 PM

In my first infidelity catalyzed divorce, we didn't tell the children (2 and 5) that Mommy loved someone else. Those kids are now 34 and 38 and still don't know. They think their mother is a saint.

In my second infidelity catalyzed divorce, 16 yo daughter found out by eavesdropping on Mom. Oddly enough, DD turned her anger toward me (well, not so odd when XWW threatened suicide to her face, blaming DD) and we've been rebuilding our father/daughter relationship ever since. Not sure how XWW and DD get along, since i don't pry.

From my tiny sample size, I would say that it's been far easier on the kids who never knew, although the age they were at the divorce likely had a larger bearing on that outcome.

ChewedMeUp posted 6/5/2019 15:51 PM

I didn't need to tell my kids - their father moved right in with his current OW from our house (kids were 14, 18). I haven't bothered to go back and explain how long I'd been dealing with the nonsense either, but that's because they haven't asked. If they ask, I try to give plain facts without feelings, but both seem to understand their father's issues, without me saying much.

When I started HS, my parents split up and they gave us "growing apart" crap. My senior year, my dad married what I later learned for sure was the OW. He died when I started college, so I never got the chance to confront him. My mom never intended to confirm the affair, but has let some hints slip in the last ten years, and dealing with my own aftermath has painted those flags from the past bright red. My relationship with my mom is fine, but not particularly close. Because I don't really trust her because she never told me the truth. She didn't want to talk badly about him, which I appreciated. But she didn't talk honestly about him either, even after he was dead and my stepmother vanished on the wind. I'm still a little angry about it.

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