When Kids Are Involved…

Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; And then the Lord‘s wrath be kindled against you…. And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. – Deuteronomy 11:16-17a, 19, KJV


Are you living these words that God gave the nation of Israel?

Teaching your kids His heart on the matter of adultery?

How would you feel if you were a kid learning decades later for the first time that your parents divorced over dad’s serial cheating but mom decided to keep silent with you? Personally, I’d imagine that I would feel doubly betrayed.

My suggestion is not to be that parent. Tell the truth appropriately for their age. This is not about running down the reputation of other parent but being honest with the kids respecting them enough not to lie. It also helps them to grieve knowing the truth.

By letting them know that unrepentant adultery/infidelity is unacceptable in marriage, you are modeling godliness to them (see Jer. 3:8). And you are teaching them that actions have consequences.

They also can learn from your example not to tolerate infidelity in their future relationships. I think that is a lesson worth having–i.e. a redemptive lesson even from the mess of evil that adultery is.

A classic mistake parents make with children when it comes to grief is to “shield” them from it. They do not let them go to the funeral of a beloved grandparent. And they do not cry in front of the kids.

This is not healthy.

Kids need to grieve the loss, too. They need to feel free to be sad and mad as well.

I say this as a professional chaplain who works with grief on nearly a daily basis.

Applying this to adultery and divorce situations, I encourage age-appropriate revelations to kids. Tell them the truth of what happened–i.e. give the actions without editorializing with name-calling. Be willing to be angry and sad in front of them labeling those feelings accordingly.

Don’t shutter your grief away as if it is something to be ashamed of.

To do so is teaching them to do the same.

That said, you do not want to make your child your emotional-caregiver or direct your anger at them. That is unhealthy. But you can err on the other extreme and hide/lie about how you really feel or what really happened. That is not healthy either.

If asked, be honest.

Be real.

9 thoughts on “When Kids Are Involved…”

  1. DM,

    I really appreciate your thoughts, comments and valuable clarity. I believe strongly in truth telling no matter what. Someone I greatly admire Frank Pittman said “There is no truth that is as destructive as any lie.”
    And for me this is especially true for our beloved children. These sorrows will pass into the next generation if not exposed and allowed to heal. But cultural thought encourages us to hide from the truth and collude with secrets and deceit.

    I think of that wonderful bluegrass line in a song:

    “Everybody wants to go to Heaven. But nobody wants to die.”

    Takes faith and courage.

    Thank you for your wisdom

  2. There is a lot of conflicting information out there regarding whether or not to tell the children about their parent’s affair. I was strongly discouraged by my attorneys, both leaders in my state for their knowledge of Family Law, of telling my children and have read enough articles about it to make my head spin. I sometimes feel shamed by other blogs/comments about not telling my children about their father’s affairs. One argument that keeps me from doing so are from psychological studies that suggest kids may relate the bad things their parent did as part of them as well. My dad is bad, I am half of my dad, etc. It irritates me to be considered a ‘liar’ and ‘keeper of secrets’ when there are just as many schools of thought discouraging telling the children as there are to tell them. Believe me, I would love nothing better than to tell them I’m not the bad guy in this; that /I/ didn’t destroy our family. If they ask me outright, I might tell them, but I feel that it is my choice as their parent what they are told and when.

    1. Vicki,

      Honestly, I do not see how you really get around the part of the kids identifying with bad things done by dad/mom. The divorce itself is creating that atmosphere. At least by telling them the reason, they are equipped to know the real cause of this mess. (And telling them what your husband did is not about making him the “bad guy” but helping the kids understand actions have consequences.)

      Also, just because there are experts on the other side of the issue does not necessarily mean going either way is equally valid. I am not a Family Law lawyer, but I am a pastor and a professional chaplain who regularly deals with grief matters. While well-meaning–like a parent who does not want her child to be hurt by the loss of grandma and not letting him attend her funeral–I still think their advice is not the best on this matter. In other words, we disagree.

      Yes, I imagine “complications” will ensue by telling your kids about the infidelity…that’s called grief. It is a normal response to loss. You were not the only one affect by your husband’s infidelity even if you are the only one–besides him–who knows about it. By intentionally withholding the truth (i.e. some would call that a lie of ommission), one is disallowing the children to go through their grief with this important piece of information. Pastorally, I do not think that is either right or kind ultimately.

      As I write in other places, this choice is yours to make either way, of course. So, I whole-heartedly agree with you that it is your “choice as their parent [to decide] what they are told and when.” Like any expert, I am merely giving my perspective on the matter from where I stand.

      Best wishes as you navigate this difficult time,

    2. Vicki,

      I was told the same thing by my Christian family law attorney. So, I kept the truth from my kids for months. However, my gut was telling me it just wasn’t right. I talked to my Christian counselor about this gut feeling and she felt that I needed to listen to it. She also feels that our family courts are failing our kids and families with their well intentioned politically correct lies. I feel my counselor and Divorce Minister are better trained in human relationships than any attorney or judge out there. So I went with my gut and told my 12 and 15 year old sons the truth and I have never regretted it for one second. The truth made them stronger, less confused, calmer and even happier because they now understood why all of this was happening. I also shared the bible verse Ezekiel 18:20 with them that says we do not share the sins of our parents.

      Telling the truth has opened a very honest and real dialogue with my sons and we are closer than ever. I have told my stbx that I told them but I wished he had been the one. He refuses to talk to our sons about anything other than video games and superhero movies and they feel he is being “phony and weird.” Kids are smart and real and tough. I also think they can learn a lot from a really horrible situation. I pray my boys learn from this to not ignore the red flags in their relationships like I did.

      It is definitely your right of what to tell your kids and I think you are doing what you genuinely feel is right. I just want to encourage you to keep doing some soul searching on this and if down the road if you change your mind on this like I did, that is your right too. I think all the advice we are given is so confusing and it can take a while to really discern our way through it.

      Also, I wanted to tell you that even though I went against the advice of my attorney it has never backfired on me. Our court appointed custody evaluator interviewed our sons, me and their dad and ruled that I should have primary custody and that the only way that their dad’s time should be increased is with parenting classes and extensive counseling. This is HUGE in a a dad’s rights state where I live. I send you many hugs during this very difficult time for you and your children.

    3. Vicki-it is your right to decide what and when to tell your children. The post was not saying differently, it was emphasizing that telling the truth in an age appropriate manner is key. The psychological studies are not an end all and are not blanket truths. I have two Master’s in child development/education, I’ve read lots of studies/text books/seen videos etc. You can’t control how they interpret any message they receive, what you can control is how you tell this particular message of what happened with your husband’s affairs and how you respond to your children’s reactions to it and their grief process. If you treat the child like they are bad b/c of their parent’s choices they will likely take that message. If you don’t treat them that way it’s unlikely they’ll take that message. If you find out that they have then conversation is key again to resolve their misunderstanding. Simply stating that your husband had an affair and that’s not allowed won’t cause a negative self worth unless you are sending messages that your kids are bad in what you’re saying/not saying. There’s also the distinction between a person’s being and their actions, which is why editorializing is to be avoided. Keep it action based “daddy had a girlfriend and that’s not allowed when you’re married” and not “daddy is a scumbag.” Children learn their own identity as they grow, they learn they are connected yet also very separate from their parents/family. They understand they are separate beings as early as the toddler years. Your role is to be open to their questions when they arise, make sure they know that your door is open and they can go to you, provide opportunities for conversation, give them honest answers, be real with them, respect their grief as well as yours. It’s usually better to be proactive rather than reactive. They might not ask you questions, especially if they’ve been repeatedly getting the message that the topic is not okay to talk about. Be proactive and ask what they understand of what happened. That will tell you what they know and if any misunderstandings exist. If they’re not ready to talk yet, that’s okay, respect that. Telling them what happened doesn’t mean they won’t see you as the bad guy, they might choose not listen. Their home has just been ripped apart, you all have reason to be angry. Telling your truth puts the truth out there, it helps you and your kids heal.

  3. Vickie,

    I so agree with DM’s response and that there’s mountains of conflicting information out there. I knew I had to follow my gut instead and it’s never let me down. I tell our truth when ever possible and all three of my daughters know what has happened. Of course age appropriately. But there is no spin on anyone’s character in our house.

    There is so much advice and counsel given without in depth (first hand experience and/or) understanding. Our culture colludes more than thinks. One person asked their lawyer if he’d give the same advise to his own daughter as he was giving her? And he got very quiet. She said “Thought so.”

    To date the best information I’ve discovered on children is from a British woman named Kate Figes, “Our Cheating Hearts.” chapter 8 “Impact on the children.” and if you google Susan Berger marriage and family therapist blog role there are personal accounts given by children and adult children destroyed by infidelity, secrets and lies.

    I think it’s very hopeful that you are even considering telling them if they do ask, and pray any of this may help somehow.

  4. Vickie,

    One other thing that I deeply respond to is that “Sometimes I feel ashamed by other blogs/comments about ….” (anything)

    Frequently I find it outrageous that any of us should inflict shame upon fellow people betrayed. ANY OF US. We are all joined in one simple act – The betrayal.

    Each individual/ couple and family is unique and this shattering journey mostly overwhelming. It frankly breaks my heart whenever I hear people feel badly or any shame for staying, leaving, or how to manage children, friends etc..what ever that process may be.

    I’ve had people tell me “Well your husband is this….but mine is that……” isn’t it really all the same?

    We are all in this together and I wish there wasn’t a mini civil war among the vets on the battleground fighting over categories of “Betrayal.

    Sorry I ramble but this makes me incredibly sad……. maybe DM you could speak to this….am I making sense?

  5. I am very grateful for the replies. The actual divorce will be a year old in August and my gut does lead me to tell them at some point. I’m not sure when that point might be. It’s all very confusing and has been through all of this. I don’t feel ready to handle the ex’s blow-up should he find out the kids know. I’m not sure the children are ready to be “hit” again with a new trauma. I want them to know. I think, given their general teen-aged emotional rollercoaster, now just will be too overwhelming.

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