Recently, I binge watched a new British crime drama on Netflix, Marcella.
One of several story lines in this drama is between the main character, Marcella, and her husband. Marcella comes back to work around the time her husband leaves her, and she discovers his mistress who happens to be a young coworker and daughter of his boss. Marcella and her husband have a teenage daughter and a son around ten years old or so. They loss a young child about six years prior.
Initially, Marcella shields the kids from the truth when she breaks the news about the separation to the kids at their boarding school. In fact, her teenage daughter ruthlessly attacks and blames her while Marcella coolly delivers the news and more or less accepts blame saying nothing about her husband’s cheating.
The coworker is killed by the serial killer that the police are hunting. She is discovered to be six to seven months pregnant. Marcella’s husband continues to maintain the relationship was brief to Marcella but admits to the police that he had been cheating with this coworker for three years!
Then comes the moment where I almost cheered:
Marcella is backed into a corner by her teenage daughter, again. This time she spills the beans stating factually how the death of young sibling and the fact that their father had been cheating on her has been a lot to her to handle. The attacks stop.
This story line was a good reminder to me about how important it is to share factual information with children about infidelity. Part of the reason our culture struggles to accept that infidelity and adultery destroys marriages is that we are unwilling to actually to speak up when it actually does do just that.
Instead, we talk in euphemisms–e.g. “these things happen,” “we just grew apart,” etc.–to make people feel comfortable and avoid allowing people–children especially–draw their own conclusions about the cheater’s character. This serves no one well.
A child can grasp why breaking promise hurts. Just consider how upset a child gets if you forget to follow through with a promise made about a favorite activity or treat.
A teenager gets–on some level–the idea of having someone cheat on them. They or either their friends have likely had such an experience in the dating world already and/or they have seen it on TV.
Sharing the fact that promises were broken or that dad/mom cheated is simply describing the action they did. It is not bad-mouthing but helping the child/teenager understand the destruction that comes when solemn promises of fidelity are broken.
While I do not endorse what Marcella does throughout this crime drama–e.g. she cheats back at her husband–I do appreciate the writer providing the viewer a scene where Marcella finally tells her kids the truth in a factual way highlighting how that truth impacts her while not bad-mouthing her husband.
And it is nice to see a show that actually shows how awful it is be an adultery victim for a change.
In sum, tell the kids.
They deserve to know the facts and to start grasping the moral world where actions have real consequences.