Today’s question is a sticky one and depends on circumstances greatly. I do not claim to have all the answers, and these are really just my opinions on the matter. However, I will pass along some advice I received from a seasoned evangelical pastor early in the dissolution of my first marriage. He told me about his experience of confronting a cheating spouse’s parents with clear evidence of adultery, and those parents still siding with their cheating child. This pastor then cited the well-known saying:
Blood is thicker than water.
We see this saying play out in Scripture with King David still bemoaning the death of his son, Absalom even after his son slept in public with David’s concubines and tried to kill David to take his throne! Yet the father in David still grieved Absalom’s death (2 Samuel 18:33).
Blood is thicker than water.
For me, deciding what to do with the former in-laws was an easy problem following the divorce. I had no children with my first wife, and so, I was able to cut ties with them as the divorce became complete. In fact, the role my ex-in-laws played in helping destroy my marriage, in my opinion, made me more than happy to no longer have them in my life.
Honestly, I had to work through a lot of anger towards my former father-in-law, in particular. I was more angry at him than I was ever at my ex-wife. This anger, with a degree of fleshly anger, was predominantly righteous anger. I will leave it at that. Today, I am not controlled by that anger as I have forgiven them handing them over to God. And I do not envy my former in-laws’ position now living with the consequences of what they and their daughter did.
Now, what to do if you have children and must deal with your former in-laws? I have not dealt with the quandary as I have just stated. So, forgive me if I miss the mark.
Dealing with former in-laws can become particularly challenging if old-saying holds true–blood is thicker than water–and the former in-laws become cheater proxies for justifying adultery plus blaming you for the divorce (my own experience is along those lines). (Chump Lady had a related story recently). Some former in-laws might be godly and recognize that the choices of their child destroyed the marriage via adultery. They may even intentionally maintain a healthy and supportive relationship with the faithful spouse. That’s great. And I commend those sort of former in-laws. It is not easy to accept that one’s child made some big mistakes. (I say “mistakes” as all adultery includes choosing to lie as well as the sex).
Part of loving your child means loving them through their mistakes. That is what parenting is about. God loves us in that way. I am by no means saying that the former in-laws should abandon their son/daughter. The message to their child should be clear: adultery is not okay. You are 100% responsible. I still love you. You now have to pick up the pieces and learn from your mistakes so this doesn’t happen again. The message to the faithful spouse should be clear: (child’s) actions are not okay. You are not responsible. What support do you need from us? How can we support you?
Healthy boundaries are key if the former in-laws react poorly and decide to defend their child regardless of the ugly, adulterous truth. Just as you do not editorialize about your former spouse’s behavior in front of the kids but label the actions appropriately, I suggest the same course of action here:
“Your son cheated on me with prostitutes, and that’s why I cannot stay married to him.”
“Your daughter and I cannot be friends right now as she has not accepted full responsibility for committing adultery against me and God. I reserve my friendships for people who do not betray me or, at least, care if they hurt me. If your life is more difficult it is a result of your child’s poor choices.”
“My failings as a spouse are not the issue. Nothing justifies adultery. God did not provide an escape clause in the Ten Commandments.”
Do not hide the truth if asked. Use the Golden Rule: How would you like to be told the truth in this situation if you were a parent of a cheater?
I know of a recently published book in evangelical circles on infidelity that encourages faithful spouses not to mention the adultery to the former in-laws or to set any such boundaries I suggest above. Furthermore, the author encourages her readers to do everything to facilitate the relationship between the children and their grandparents. This is done in the name of “protecting” the children.
I do not agree with this advice. Protection comes in walking in the light (I John 1:7). Marriages end when unrepentant adultery happens. That’s clear. And it reinforces solid-Biblical teaching on the matter. By not talking about the adultery (appropriately) or not setting healthy boundaries with the former in-laws, you teach your children not to have healthy boundaries by your actions–as you have failed to demonstrate those with the grandparents. This is not good.
Walking in the truth is more important than walking in comfort.
Comfort is sandy, swampy ground.
Truth is a rock.
Don’t surrender your boundaries for the sake of the children. It really is just setting them up for building their own future relationships on sandy land.