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Monday, November 22, 2010
What do you tell the kids?
Not only have you discovered your husband is an A-List A-hole, your kids know something is up. Your husband is begging you not to tell them because...well...because it makes him look bad. Like someone who cheats on his wife. Which, incidentally, he is. Or was. Depends who you ask.
And you are still in the stinky robe you put on three days ago, the one that has chicken noodle soup stains and smells like tomorrow's armpits.
But your kids are confused. So you need to muster up as much dignity as you can and tell them... What?
How old are your children?
Young children don't need to know the details. Please, please, PLEASE remember that children are the innocents in all this. They need protection and guidance and are NOT to be made pawns in a game of "make Daddy pay for this pain", however tempting that is.
However, young children (age 9 and under) likely sense a tension in the household. They may have heard fighting. Or know that Mommy is angry or sad or both. It's critical, I believe, to acknowledge what they're sensing. Check in with them and ask them if they're wondering what's up. Confirm what they suspect by being honest...to a point. They don't need to know that Daddy is dating the homewrecking whore at work. But acknowledging that Mommy and Daddy are having a tough time getting along – that even grownups sometimes struggle – is a good place to start. Reassure them that NONE of this is their fault. That Mommy and Daddy aren't angry with them. And, if it's true, reassure them that you're seeking help to learn to get along. And that, no matter what happens, their parents will always love them and spend time with them. At this age, their big concern is "what does this mean for me?" Simply assuring them that they'll be taken care of, and that the adults have matters well in hand (even if that's a bit of a stretch) can go a long way toward reducing their anxiety.
With older kids, it's a bit tougher. In some cases, they already know, thanks to neighborhood gossip. At 12, I spotted my friend's dad with his mistress who was definitely NOT my friend's mom. Long before the marriage finally dissolved in divorce. Again, let children take the lead and ask them what they know. If you can sit down as a couple, that's ideal. If the affair is over, it's important to let them know that. If your husband has taken responsibility for it and is working on ensuring it doesn't happen again, let them know that too. Don't focus on the sex aspect, which can be confusing for kids who are approaching (or immersed in) their own budding sexuality. Besides, affairs are far more frequently about escape than sex. Again, it's critical to assure kids that Mom and Dad are doing what they can to take care of themselves and, if it's true, the marriage. This frees kids to focus on being kids...instead of parenting the parents. If necessary or prudent, seek counselling for the kids. An objective listener can go a long way toward giving kids an outlet for their anxiety.
How honest should you be?
There's honesty. And then there's Too Much Information.
As noted, let them take the lead. Don't give them more information than they want. This can be enormously confusing for kids in part because it means discovering their hero has clay feet. They can feel conflicted about still loving this person who's hurt the other person they love. As much as you can, do NOT get them involved in what's happening between the two of you. Bite your tongue right off if you have to!
As a general rule, listen more than you talk.
Keep yourself okay (or as okay as possible)
Do your very best to keep yourself upright, sober and relatively functional. Watching Mommy fall apart is terrifying to a child – of any age. If you need to sob for a few hours, book a sitter and try to schedule it in. I generally managed to get my kids to school before falling apart. Then I'd wash my face and brush my teeth before picking them up. Scheduling in SOB-time (to sob over the S.O.B.) allowed me to buck up when the kids were around.
Again: This is NOT about picking sides
There's no right way to deal with this as there are so many variables. Is your husband still involved? Have your children met the Other Woman? Have you separated?
Though you can feel such rage toward your spouse, remember that your kids have a right – indeed it's healthy for them – to remain connected to and love your (ex)spouse. Even if he is a cheating bastard. Speak about him with respect, even if he doesn't deserve it. Don't make apologies or excuses for him. There's nothing wrong with letting your kids know that sometimes adults make choices that aren't the smartest, healthiest or kindest. But that, hopefully, we learn from them. Be dignified. Or as dignified as someone in a stinky bathrobe can be.
And finally? You'll all survive this. I promise.
Have you told your children? What did you way? What would you do differently if you had to (God forbid!) do it again? What worked? Or didn't?