According to Dr. Frank Pittman, author of Private Lies: Infidelity and Betrayal of Intimacy. "Children who experience secrecy and lies cannot trust what they are told, they become insecure and dependent. When the framework of the family finally collapses, there may be no honest relationships to fall back on. The children feel cast adrift."
Now that is a statement to ponder, especially if you are divorcing because your spouse fell in love with someone else. We want to protect our children and fear that too much information can be harmful but, according to experts, too little information can be even more harmful.
What does a child need more than anything when a family comes apart? They need two loving parents they can trust. Some will say that affairs are “grown up” problems but so are honesty, trustworthiness and security and those are all things children need.
If a child is to be able to feel secure in a relationship with a parent that is engaged in an affair then there must be a discussion about this “grown up” matter. It is the reality of the situation and sooner or later your child will learn about the affair. Wouldn’t you rather the news come from you than a second or third party who might be attempting to alienate your child from you?
Also, there is the issue of respect. If you are engaged in an affair you can count on your child losing respect for you. Being honest will help rebuild that lost respect. “Two wrongs don’t make a right” and in such a situation you don’t want to add deception on top of an affair.
If it is at all possible both parents should come to an agreement about what is to be told, and together tell the children without going into inappropriate details about the affair.
For example, you might say to your child:
- “The reason we are divorcing is because I’ve fallen in love with someone else. I’m not proud of what I’ve done but it is important to me that you find out about this from me. I’m sorry that I have created this problem and hope you will come to me with any questions you have. Even though I no longer love your mother, I will always love you.”
I often hear people say, “I didn’t divorce my children, I divorced my spouse.” Usually this is in response to a situation where a child has become angry with a parent and the parent is attempting to justify bad parenting during and after the divorce.
I promise you, if you are not honest with your child about the reasons for the divorce you may end up feeling as if you not only divorced your spouse but, your children also. Admitting to an affair will likely cause problems in your relationship with your child BUT rebuilding and working through the anger your child feels will be easier if you are honest with him/her from the beginning.
So, if you’ve found yourself in this sticky situation you should:
- Decide on when to tell the child and which parent will tell the children.
- Agree on how much detail will be revealed to the child.
- Give your child permission to ask questions and discuss their concerns.
- Assure your child that he/she is your main priority and will always come first.
- Expect your child to be angry, validate their anger and be available to help them work through the anger.
- Not introduce your affair partner to the children until they have worked through any issues the news causes them.
- Focus on creating a conflict free divorce, for the sake of your children.
Although discussing the other man/woman may be an unpleasant prospect, in the long-run it will mean your child retaining trust in you and it is that trust that will help you maintain a loving relationship with your child.