I don’t know why people who cheat tend to think their infidelity doesn’t affect anyone else. Even if they admit that it's hurtful to their spouse, they don’t seem to realize it has a negative effect on the kids, too.
Kids aren’t stupid, and it doesn’t take long for them to figure out what’s going on. You don’t even have to say anything—they overhear arguments, they put clues together, and they figure it out.
You Did What?
My kids didn’t even have to figure it out. For some stupid reason, known only to him, the ex woke my 16-year-old up at 3AM the night I tossed him out. He woke my son up to tell him that he’d cheated on me and made the biggest mistake of his life. He then left the house and proceeded over to my eldest child’s house, where he told her the same thing. By that afternoon, all of the kids knew what had happened because the news was in the “big family grapevine”. I never said a word.
Even more interesting—when he introduced the woman he'd cheated on me with to the kids, he expected them to embrace her into the family. Despite already informing them she was the biggest mistake of his life.
Talk about crazy.
It creeped them out. After the meeting, one of the kids looked at another and rolled his eyes. “If she is such a huge mistake why is he bringing her here?”
There are a lot of things I learned about how infidelity affects kids, just from talking to mine.
Insecurity about Their Relationship
It didn’t matter how many times I told them their dad loved them, or how many times he told them he loved them—they were skeptical. It seems my kids have this idea that, while I am not perfect, I am beautiful and wonderful. They had heard their father tell me he loved me, and then they had heard him say he was moving in with the woman he’d called the biggest mistake of his life.
If he could lie about being in love with me, his promises of undying loyalty and love towards them were suspect. He hadn’t just cheated on me—he’d cheated on all of us. The only thing I knew to do was continue reassuring them that I wasn’t going anywhere. I also made sure that I was honest with them, and I told them that he loved them, which I think he does in his own way.
We were very involved with our church, and my ex had been in leadership at various times. Adultery was (obviously) openly preached against, and my ex had even been very no-nonsense in his opinions of other men who had fooled around on their wives. A church can be like a small town, and many times it thrives on gossip, spread in the form of we need to pray for so-and-so, and did you hear what happened?
As the gossip spread, my kids were humiliated that their dad would commit that kind of sin.
There were insensitive comments made by kids, and by adults, too. One of the adult idiots at our church even told one of my kids that he was probably just like his father. Kids don’t want to think about parents having sex, let alone be slapped in the face by something as icky as infidelity!
We talked about it. They shared that it was embarrassing, degrading, and weird for them. I listened and then I admitted I was embarrassed, too. After all, I was the one who was so unappealing her husband went after someone else, right? Talking about our feelings, and realizing we weren't the ones that had to be embarrassed, helped all of us.
The anger was the hardest thing for me to handle, because it was not only directed at him—it was directed at me, too. After all, if he had strayed, surely it must have been partially my fault? Couldn’t I have worked harder at my marriage? Couldn’t I have been more loving?
Not all of the kids were angry at me, but one in particular was—one afternoon it came to a head. He lashed out at me, unloaded his pain on me for what seemed like hours (but was probably less than 30 minutes). He was too young to understand a lot about what had happened—only that his older siblings had told him that their dad was in love with someone else.
I let him lash out, apologized to him, held him, and that was that.
Let Them Talk
I know that there are those who dislike how I parent. All I can say in my defense is that I have four children that are successful adults on their own, and four that are still living at home but seem to be following in the footsteps of their successful siblings. What’s my magical mom secret?
I let them talk.
I am less concerned that they sound respectful or say the “right” things than I am with them continuing to feel safe in sharing their feelings with me—whatever direction that takes. I’ve found that, by allowing them to say what they need to say while I just listen, I end up with all of the love, honor, and respect a mom could want.
That doesn’t mean I don’t correct misconceptions or don’t call them out on exaggerations or pure drama—I do. It’s just that they know they can tell me anything, and I’ll listen, I’ll be fair, and I won’t lecture. I give them the same treatment that I want from others when I need to pour my heart out.
And it works.
Infidelity Affects Everyone
Secrets are rarely a good thing in families, and they rarely are as secret as we think they are. I’ve known people who’ve had their lives torn to shreds when the family secret, whatever it was, was finally exposed. If there is infidelity involved in your divorce, and your kids are older than five, there’s a good chance they know what’s going on at some level. Don’t discuss it with them, but do answer questions as honestly and succinctly as possible.
You aren’t the only one that’s dealt with this, you know. Join First Wives World and talk to others who understand just where you are.
Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, User : Amy Humphries