Should you tell your children about the affair? To tell or not to tell is a good question, but before you decide — make sure that your decision to tell, or not tell, is guided by the best interests of your kids. Most experts agree that young children under eight years old do not need not know. All children need to feel safe and loved, and your young kids do not need to be involved in adult disagreement. What about telling older kids about the affair? In counseling we can talk about older children in your family, and what individual circumstances might be at play in your family. As a guiding rule, I strongly urge you – when possible – to keep your kids out of what may become a triangle. You may need to work hard, and hold back from telling, to make sure that your child does not need to take sides in your dispute. Even teenagers and older children should, in many cases, be kept out of the details.
Don’t put your children in a position where they have to choose
When the blame for the divorce is placed squarely on you or your spouse for having an affair, your kids are being asked to blame the guilty parent. Your kids should be able to love both parents. When your children know about the affair, are you setting them up for a loyalty conflict?
Questions to ask before deciding to tell your children about the affair
- Ask yourself why do you need them to know? Is it rooted in blame?
- Are they really old enough to understand the why? Adults themselves may not understand.
- Will this be liberating for the children or frightening that Mom or Dad is not trustworthy?
- Will this become a warning about their own future relationships?
- Can you be clear at this moment about your motivation?
If you aren’t clear about your own motivation, and if you can’t see a clear goal in mind, then silence may be the best recourse. At least for now. It is not always the case that children need to know about the affair.
Have a plan in case your children know about the affair from a third party
No matter what you decide your kids should know, you cannot control all factors. Should your children know about the affair without your telling them, be prepared. Relatives or acquaintances may tell your child, or they just may overhear enough to figure it out for themselves. So, as parents, you need to have a plan. Your plan should be to explain the basics. Keep it simple and let them know there is nothing they need to do. Listen to their feelings and let them know you are still working together as parents.
Need help working together as parents after an affair?
Feel free to reach out and get help in working together as parents, and helping your children. For family therapy in Portland, Maine, call or just fill out the contact form and click Send. Online video appointments are available as well as in-person appointments.