Parents may feel that they are dealing with infidelity in a private way that keeps children out of it.
Youngsters are smarter than you think and do notice sobs, tension and discussions in hushed tones.
Their vivid imaginations may conjure up worst case scenarios, such as a dying parent or the collapse of their world. They realize that something is going on between parents, which takes infidelity out of only being in the couple’s realm and enters it into the family arena.
As a school nurse, I can vouch that kids listen to arguments through closed doors and then they compare notes with each other, sometimes forming erroneous conclusions.
While I applaud parents’ motivation to hide issues from children – pretending that all is okay rarely works.
- Particularly with younger kids – let them know that there is a problem between you two. Reassure them that you are working on it as a team and talking it over with a counsellor (if applicable) for the best outcome. Then when they overhear discussions, kids realize parents are seeking a resolution. Reassure children no matter what the outcome will be, that both parents will take care of them and they are loved.
- Teens may demand to know specifically what the problem is, or may ask point blank, “Is Jack more than a friend to mum?” Not answering a direct question regarding an affair can build a wall of distrust when it glaringly is the issue. That said, teens and adult offspring are not entitled to any details whatsoever. A simple “yes and we are dealing with it” will suffice. Do not use adult offspring as confidants or your support system. Do not put children of any age in a tug-of war over loyalty or make them choose sides. Express your sadness and anger to friends or a therapist.
There were three sisters in a primary school where I used to work who regularly came to my office with complaints of stomach or headaches.
During the year when each needed to go home due to vomiting on separate occasions, they begged me not to call a certain person on the approved list for school pick up.
A woman was listed as a “family friend.” The girls each explained that she was “daddy’s girlfriend” and refused to leave school if I called her, even when dad was out of town and mum was doing patient care and had difficulty leaving her job. They became agitated when discussing the “family friend.” This whole situation was not fair to these girls.
At a different primary school, a six year old and his mum arrived home and there was dad having sex with another woman.
Although the lad has had counselling, he is still having behavioural issues at school. When Ben gets antsy, we take a walk or run a few laps around the track. His mum is undecided about getting a divorce and there is much drama going on at home. A child does not need to be in the fall out of his parents’ unfortunate situation.
Children want to see their parents treat each other respectfully.
They do not want one parent to be cast as the villain and the other as the victim. They do not want to be caretakers to someone in a crisis and need to be nurtured instead.
Simple explanations without blame are best with some updates. For example, if it seems as if one parent may be moving out, give an advance warning to the kids. Coming home to a half empty house can be a shock.
If kids need a breather from parents handling infidelity, consider a week at the grandparents’ house or some other place with caring adults.
Wendi Schuller is a nurse, hypnotherapist and is certified in Neuro-linguistic Programing (NLP).
Her most recent book is The Global Guide to Divorce and she has over 200 published articles.
She is a guest on radio programs in the US and UK. Her website is globalguidetodivorce.com.