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Dear Chump Lady, The kids are starting to ask questions

Dear Chump Lady,

I recently “commented on a comment” to one of your posts The commenter said, “Get rid of your husband, he has no self respect or integrity. Do you want your son around someone like that? He’s using him and your son will pay the price in the end.”

I certainly understand and agree with the sentiment. But I imagine most of us with young children cannot control the fact that our kids WILL be with their other parent. I’m almost 4 months since my STBX finallly moved out after a year and a half of torture. She was on her fourth (that I know of) boyfriend and living in our family home with me and our twins while we went through the legal divorce process.

Now that she’s gone, I have the best my lawyer said I could hope for — equal joint custody. Our kids have been handling it very well but are now starting to ask questions. They haven’t come right out and asked why mommy and daddy are divorcing. I think it may be because they know and don’t want to hear the answer. Your advice and that of many on your site is to tell them the truth, so for me that means to tell them that mommy cheated. Of course, they will get a different answer from me than from their mother! She will never admit that is the reason for the divorce and will say I’m badmouthing her and going against what we heard in the parenting class that everyone divorcing in Maryland has to take. This class, BTW, says to never badmouth the other parent to the children (I NEVER have) but doesn’t address this issue at all.

I still, after reading all of CL’s great posts and the great responses don’t know if telling them is the right thing to do for my kids. So I wish I could somehow not have my kids around her, but it just doesn’t work that way. They will be around her 1/2 the time and there is nothing I can do to change that. My family and friends are mixed when I ask for their advice. Some say tell them, some say no but that they will find out on their own eventually. I don’t want my kids to resent me later in life if I don’t tell them! I’m really struggling with this and absolutely HATE my STBX for putting our children and me in this position.

I really appreciate what you’ve done to create and help so many chumps like me.



Dear Twinsdad,

I’m pretty consistent on this answer, but it bears repeating — TELL. Tell in an age appropriate way without editorializing. (i.e., “Mom’s a whore.”) Why is it important to tell? Because consider the alternative — children grow up with the scary, nebulous sense that people just “fall out of love.” (Could mom or dad fall out of love with me? Will I be abandoned?)

Compare that to the truth — some actions have consequences. Four boyfriends during marriage means you will find yourself divorced, with all the attendant pain and chaos.

Children of the youngest ages understand actions and consequences. There is safety in this — if I conduct myself well, I won’t hurt other people. If other people hurt me, I can enforce consequences.

Cheaters want you to protect their image and agree with their narrative. Who does that favor? The cheater. It doesn’t favor Twinsdad, who eats the shit sandwich in the name of harmony. And it doesn’t favor the children who wonder what the hell happened to my family? It favors the cheater.

Implied in the “don’t badmouth me” (with the truth) is a threat. If you don’t maintain my image, I won’t cooperate on this co-parenting thing.

Well, surprise, Twinsdad — she isn’t going to cooperate with you on this co-parenting thing any more than she co-operated with you on the marriage thing. You don’t want me seeing four men while I’m married to you? Fuck you.

But! But! Surely she will be her better self for the children! If there is no “acrimony” (i.e., you keep your mouth shut), she’ll do the right thing for the kids!

She won’t Twinsdad. She’ll do whatever the fuck she wants to because that is who she is. That is who she has demonstrated that she is. All you control is YOU. You just get to be the best parent you can be and let go of what happens at mom’s house unless it is endangering your children. (And I don’t mean in the too much video game sense, I mean in the sense that mommy’s boyfriend is a violent, drug offender.)

The flip side of this is true too. You don’t control what she says about you. I was reading somewhere on the boards where someone said — oh you need to keep your kids away from the vicious manipulation of the cheater. Ye-ah. Good luck with that. They have a court-ordered right to see their kids. I’ve lived this chumps — I’ve endured 12 years of childrearing thus far with a man the court’s found mentally unfit who has sued me for custody multiple times. You think that guy says sweet things about me? I’m the Great Satan.

Funny thing, my kid still loves me. (He’s a teenager, I’m the one who buys his athletic shoes and Hot Pockets. I don’t kid myself.) He has figured it out over the years who the sane parent is. Who has his back, who comes through for him, who shows up. That’s me.

If I could control crazy, do you think I would’ve divorced twice? If I could make people not be abusive to me or my kid, don’t you think I would’ve exercised that super power?

You don’t control your ex — you can’t manage her behavior through what you do (telling) or don’t do (not telling). You just control you. And that extends to your narrative. What she did to ruin the marriage is the truth — she cheated. Those actions had consequences.

If the parenting class of the state of Maryland gives you shit, I would ask them — if mommy was an alcoholic and we divorced because she’s a fall-down drunk, could I tell that truth? Mommy won’t stop drinking. If mommy was a heroin addict? A gambler? Perhaps they would answer: Oh those things are OBVIOUS. No need to tell. But infidelity? That can be a secret! It’s terrifically damaging, but let’s not speak of it. How healthy is THAT?

Tell your kids, but keep in mind they have no idea how to process this information yet. They don’t know what it is to marry and invest a life in someone. Look how long it took you to figure out who your ex really is — they’re just kids. They will love their mom anyway. Don’t let that hurt you. It’s their right to love her. And it’s your right to tell the truth. Just be the best parent you can be in the face of your ex’s fuckupedness. (I guarantee that’s not going away.) Your kids will understand in time. Be the sane parent. You get to control that.

Oh, and if your ex is really pissed off that you told the truth? Not. Your. Problem. In fact, I would argue she might be a little cowed by you in the future when she realizes you aren’t her chump any more.

Ask Chump Lady

Got a question for the Chump Lady? Or a submission for the Universal Bullshit Translator? Write to me at Read more about submission guidelines.
  • Thank you CL for making this so clear. I’ve decided I am ready to tell my girls the truth and stop playing into his narrative. Now I’m trying to decide when. Do I wait for them to ask about it again (they asked over a year ago but I changed the subject) or do I bring it up?

    • They haven’t mentioned it in over a YEAR? Wow! I’d ask them why their father says you’re divorcing, and go from there. The sooner, the better.

      An acquaintance’s parents divorced when she was 13. Because no one would tell her why, she concluded it was HER fault, because she was an only child and NOT the boy her father wanted. She could think of no other reason. Twenty years, a bout with anorexia, and thousands of dollars in therapy later, she FINALLY learned the truth: her father had cheated, and her mother had thrown him out. She was furious – because she’d punished HERSELF for HIS mistake. Had she known, it would have saved YEARS of heartache.

      That was the story that finally convinced me to tell my kids, as D14 (then age 10) had started missing lots of school because “her head hurt.” Turns out, she was also blaming herself for XH leaving – they had been very close, and he left without saying her why – and it manifested itself as chronic migraines. Today, she rarely gets them.

      Yes, the news pretty much ended the girls’ relationship with their father, and yes, he blames me for it. But he’s the one who cheated, not me, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let my kids think for one minute that they’re the reason he left.

      • I think it is very important not to underestimate a child’s inclination to blame themselves for their parents’ relationship problems. My kids have seen my husband being abusive to me, they know that he had an affair, he told them that he was in love with another woman, on and on, yet my daughter still told me she thought it was her fault that I was kicking him out.

        • Quicksilver, my heart goes out to you and your children. Any spouse, child, friend or coworker of a Narcissist should expect conditioning (real or attempted) to believe that when things go wrong it’s their fault, not the MSDS (my sh*t don’t stink) Narcissists’.

      • Yes Red, over a year. My DD was 3 years ago and I’ve been divorced for just over one. About a year and a half ago the house was sold, everything divided, so that’s when all the questions were raised. I tended to change the subject back then (before I found this site and didn’t know what to say), so my girls really have no idea why their dad moved out. Three years ago when it happened they were so little and telling them that “it was best” seemed to work. I’m ready now for them to know the truth (age appropriate of course). I just don’t know how to bring it up…or if I should let them. Being that they are more settled now and the questions have stopped I don’t know that they will bring it up though.

      • Fear of my children blaming themselves was my largest motivation in telling them the truth. A simple “Daddy broke the rules of marriage” and the subsequent brief discussion answering my kids’ questions (they were 7 and 10 at the time) worked just fine. It also ensured lines of communication on all topics were kept open, something I believe is very important in the divorce process and continuing through their tween and teen years, and beyond.

        TwinsDad, just do your best to state facts, not editorialize or name-call. And don’t be surprised when she gaslights, editorializes and name-calls you; them cheaters get ANGRY when you won’t spackle any more! (My children came home from their dad’s one day, telling me dad had told them they should call me a bitch). She’s disordered; you are fine. One sane parent and all that. Hugs.

  • Twinsdad,

    So sorry you are going through this hell, and so happy you’ve found this site so early in your journey.

    My exH left when our children were 2 and 5; they are 8 and 11 and have not seen him since. After a few months of trying to figure out “the truth”, he did finally tell me he’d had a girlfriend the entire 10 years of our marriage. For my then-5-year old, telling her that her daddy left because he had a girlfriend in Europe was somehow easier – it lessened the sense that she (or I) might have done something wrong to make him leave – it was simpler – he just picked someone else. There was no easier “spin” to put on it.

    In terms of how to tell, I read a great book called “The Hiding Place” – in the book, the wise father is trying to figure out how to explain something to his child. He has her try to pick up a heavy satchel (it’s too heavy for the child) and then explains that some knowlege is like a heavy satchel. It’s too heavy for a child to carry, so he asks his daughter to let HIM carry it for her until she’s older, and ready to bear that burden. I have used that wonderful analogy with both my children. I have been honest with them that there are things about their father that are “too heavy” for them now. But someday, when they are older, I may choose to share that information (that their father is a criminal; that he was a terribly abused child; that he was abusive to me) with them at the right time, to somehow further explain why their dad left and has no contact.

    Do not lie to your kids. They need to know they have one parent they can trust. You may choose to tell them things later – at the right time. Best wishes to you and yours. RDM

    • ReDeFining Me,

      Your ex hasn’t ever seen his children? Wow. I’m glad he’s gone. He does pay child support, I hope.

      I find it amazing that he can turn his back on his own children. That is truly a statement of his total lack of character, lack of anything. Does he even communicate with them?

      I just find that amazing and sad. Thank God the kids have you.

      Chump Son

      • David,

        No, he has not seen them in almost 6 years – they were 2 and 5; now 8 and 11. Four plus years of that was his choice completely – he went to Europe, and wouldn’t share his address – and kept changing his phone number.

        Last summer he came back to the states. He called to say he was back, and I asked that he respect the protection order I’d obtained (when I wouldn’t file for divorce, he threatened to kidnap them overseas…). I told him that if he truly wanted to rebuild a relationship with them, I would consider that if he was able to NOT lie to me, pay child support (no, he didn’t pay at all the first 5 years; he’s only paid $2500 in the past year and owes over $80,000) to the best of his ability, and not attempt to see them without my permssion. So, he’s paid 1 full and 4 partial payments in 19 months; lied about almost everything (including claiming he’s “indigent” to avoid prosecution for the support issue and also telling his family and co-workers that he “sees his kids all the time”). Still no contact – and that’s a good thing.

        He really did just walk away – the first year or so, he wouldn’t even take our calls. I called once, frantic on the way to the hospital when the 2 year old had a concussion – he was begging for his daddy. He didn’t even call back until 4 days later – and left a message. He’s maybe talked with them 10 times in six years – and only because our family’s counselor advised that if the kids really wanted to talk to him, I should let them try to call. Most calls went unanswered and unreturned. The 11 year old doesn’t even try anymore – she thinks her dad is a “loser”. The 8 year old has requested a “new daddy” from Santa the past 2 years.

        I really think what others have said on here about Narcs and parenting is spot on – he liked being a dad when it was fun and made him look good. Our younger child is adopted, and he was VERY into letting people know that he was somehow “saving” an orphan. I found that disgusting – and when the little guy had a hard time attaching to his dad (he was “traveling” ten months of his first year with us) he totally rejected him – I think once I figured that he spent a total of 4 days with him – ever. Total.

        I’ve told the kids that their dad loved them as much as he could – he just really didn’t know how to love people – including himself. He was never taught, and he never really did the work it would take to learn. I try to treat the “missing dad” issue with both kids the same way I was taught to handle my adopted child’s future relationship with his birthparents. Someday, he will likely want to meet them, and possibly establish a relationship with them. As his primary parent, I will have some input into the right timing for that (not when he’s 14 and mad because he’s grounded and wants a “new” mom 🙂 ). I will never try to poison his feelings toward a “birthparent” because that person is part of him. But as his mom, I WILL protect him until he is strong enough; I will always tell the truth in love; and then hold him when he discovers the sad truths, or when he is hurt by the answers that he may get – or never get. My children are stronger and wiser then their years, and although that’s sad, there is some benefit to it in this sad and crazy world.

        • The youngest one requesting a “new daddy’ from Santa makes me so very sad. I am so sorry that you and they are going through all this.

          • My daughter, now 12, told me she’d like me to meet a great guy and fall in love, because she wants a good step-dad. She says she needs a good step-father because she doesn’t miss HER dad (who she now refuses to see except for a couple of hours once a month), but she misses having a dad.


        • Dear ReDefining,

          You. Are. Precious!

          And, you have a mind and you know how to use it!! 🙂

          Forge on, friend…..

        • Thanks to Chump Nation – we really are a Mighty force of good in this world!

          Oh, and about asking Santa for a new daddy? I sure wouldn’t mind if he dropped Liam Neeson on my porch on Christmas day…and my son would like that too – after all, he is a Jedi 🙂

    • Thank you ReDefiningMe!

      The analogy is indeed beautiful. My twins are 11 years old, so I may be able to tell them in a more straightforward way and still be age-appropriate. I’ve read all the comments and one below said that many people in his life think it is wrong to tell. I’m still a bit worried about this and that, somehow, my STBX will twist things around like she always did to favor her and her narrative. I won’t allow my children to be lied to and made to feel responsible for the divorce though. Thank you for your kind support.

      • TwinsDad,

        Thank you for your kindness. The “truth-twisting” is tricky – and our kids have been raised on it. The good news is that as you find your way and model healthier communication and honesty, your 11 years olds will begin to see the difference between truth and “untruth”. 11 is a great age, and they have such unfiltered observations. Listen a bunch – and let them work through the answers. Your job isn’t always to identify the lies, but to LIVE the truth. LIVE honesty; LIVE putting your children’s needs above dating (for now); LIVE laughter and healthy relationships with friends and family; open your home to your kids’ friends…it will all set the stage for their learning about healthy families and good people.

        My daughter is pretty good now at sniffing out crappy people. The cute little boy in her class that flirts with her? She’s nice to him, but “doesn’t want to be his girlfriend, because he has LOTS of girls, just like dad did.” The mean girls in class? She doesn’t like them because “they lie and use people…like dad” She does remember some good things about her dad, and we do discuss those too – so she’s learned that people aren’t ALL good or ALL bad – but she gets to pick what kind of people to let close to her heart. So, at their ages, be prepared to answer questions at their level – but be prepared with some thoughtful answers as they seek to “untangle the skein” that’s been spun by their mom. Best wishes…RDM

  • It’s so annoying that telling the truth about what the EX did causing the marriage to fail and the family unit to be broken apart is perceived as “bad mouthing”. It’s the truth. It doesn’t need to be embellished by bad feelings and vulgar name calling, but it is simply the truth. It’s not fair to have the children think that one parent just tossed the other one out making the victim look like the villain. I truly feel that for anything to be made “right” by me is for my EX to tell my son someday as soon as possible in terms he can understand that, “I did something very bad to hurt mommy and I had to leave. I’m very sorry and wish I hadn’t done it and wish things could be different but it was bad enough that sorry couldn’t fix things. I regret what I did”. That’s fair. People fuck up and ARE fucked up. It’s fair to admit that and everyone moves on. I don’t want my son thinking I didn’t try. He is 6. Loves his dad. But I did tell him daddy had a girlfriend when I was under duress. I regret how I said it, but later I approached him with a more age appropriate answer. I told him when people are married they promise they are the only ones for each other and daddy broke that promise to me and hurt my feelings very badly. Daddy didn’t want to keep that promise so I couldn’t stay with him. You should never let someone hurt you so badly and I wanted daddy to stay and work things out but he continued to hurt me so he left. I think that was fair as well.

    • Michelle – “It’s so annoying that telling the truth about what the EX did causing the marriage to fail and the family unit to be broken apart is perceived as “bad mouthing”. It’s the truth.” – EXACTLY!

      In my world, I’m dealing with an EX to whom truth telling is “psychological abuse”! Yup, me telling my then-H that he may not call his children “idiot”, “moron” and “Knucklehead”? That is “psychological abuse”! Telling my then-H that it is not appropriate to denigrate a homeless person in front of his children (“OMG, what is she WEARING?”) is “psychological abuse”. Me telling my step-daughters that it is inappropriate behavior for my EX to make them lie about the fact he has a girlfriend is me now “psychologically abusing” THEM. Yup, he’s a winner.

      I will continue to calmly speak the truth, without denigration, and the girls will figure it out.

      • Mine called it “character assassination” that I told friends and family that I had asked him to leave when I discovered he was cheating. Yet over sixteen years he called me every four letter name in the book, called my family “crazy” and “liars” and during the breakup, and my best friend the c word. Yet he wanted ME to parrot the line that he and I had simply “decided to go our separate ways.”

      • I always think the kids figure it out more than we give them credit for. I’m still getting my son into therapy for learning how to deal with a narcissistic parent though. I feel that if I had stayed in the marriage my son would have a tendency to follow in his fathers footsteps seeing the appeal of doing what you want without any consequences, but now I’m afraid my son might fall into filling MY ROLL in his fathers life. I don’t want him to become the co dependent that I’m trying to stop being. I don’t want him to feel responsible for anyone else’s happiness but his own. It’s time to break the cycles now. Good luck with everything! This blog has been so helpful in so many ways!

  • Twinsdad- Tell your kids in an age appropriate way as CL advised. Whether you realize it or not, it will take a great burden off their shoulders. Likely, they have internalized a lot of the blame and needless guilt already. Like “…why is Daddy/Mommy so moody and mean to me? ….why does Daddy/Mommy leave the house so much? …why does Daddy/Mommy get drunk or cry so much? …what did I do wrong?, etc….” Without the facts. they could take on compensating behaviors in the future. If at all possible, don’t extend the mind-fuckery into the next generation.

    • Thank you SeeTheLight!

      After reading CL’s response and all the comments I’m fairly convinced that telling them the truth is the right thing to do for them. I don’t think it is right for me to bring it up and tell them, but when they come out and finally ask I will. The fallout from STBX is going to be scary though. I can only imagine what she will tell them to “counter” the truth. I’ll just keep on trying to be the calm parent to is honest with my children and will NOT extend the mind-fuckery to them. Thanks for your kind support.

      • My kids thanked me for telling them the truth. They told me that they were glad that they could trust one of us to be honest.

        • I hope it is the same for mine. I’m just so worried that their mother will somehow convince them that she was justified (like she did me for so long).

          • Your wife sounds as if she projects her internal problems onto others.

            She has problems with bonding and you were to blame.

            She focuses on blaming others as the cause of her problems rather than herself.

          • TwinsDad, she might be successful in the short-term, but it is a guaranteed long-term fail. I completely understand where you are. Our cheaters are great spin masters. As Chump Lady has pointed out time again on this blog, they worked their narcissist magic on us successfully and our children have even fewer tools to deal with their selfishness. However, our children have US. We tell them the truth, we parent them sanely, we show them with ACTIONS and WORDS that they are valued. You and your daughters will get through this!

        • I had not told my children about the cheating because I didn’t want to destroy their relationship with their father. Unfortunately, one emotionally charged day I did blurt it out to our 17 yr. old daughter after I discovered she had been deleting texts from her father under his direction. I then began to spackle what I knew to be the truth thinking I was protecting her.

          Well on my children’s next visit with stbx, he had the OW AND her children over for pizza and games. I got very upset and my ass of a stbx asked our daughter why. She then told him what I had told her.

          When she returned from that visit, she was very angry with me and as I tried to calmly talk to her, she blurted out “You lie to me, Dad lies to me. I don’t know what’s true. I feel like I’m going crazy”. It was at that moment I realized that he was conducting his mindfuckery games on her too. (I had suspected it, but hoped he wasn’t).

          In that instant, I promised her that I always had and always would tell her the truth. I explained that I COMPLETELY understand how she is feeling, and that I would answer all questions honestly and provide proof to her in anyway I could. But what I also realized is that by trying to protect her, I was causing more problems. I was still spackling him to the children and it allowed him to carry on his mindfuckery unmitigated.

          I still don’t know exactly how to approach our 8 year old son. He doesn’t ask questions and is eating up the extra time with his father. He sees him more now than he’s seen him in the last 8 years of his life.

          I agree with whoever said they HATE the ex for doing this to the kids. I would have just walked and said fuck it to all the shit if not for the kids. I can deal with the shit he dealt me, but he’s fucking with the kids mental health and that I CANNOT endure.

          God help us all to raise our children to see and value truth and discern the difference between the sane parent and the tricks of the cheater.

  • From Dr. Simon’s blog
    “Loving, supportive, and nurturing relationships have a certain character to them. And of course, the character of the individuals comprising a relationship has a lot to do with what the character of any particular relationship will be. That’s why it’s good to have the tools and skills to make adequate character assessments before entering into a relationship.”

    Telling a child the truth about the character of the parent that cheated helps them gain the tools and skills for making adequate character assessments.

  • ChumpLady, I agree with you, but what about the courts? If the attitude is that parents should not bad mouth each other no matter what, are you allowed to tell the truth? Could you be accused of alienating the children from the other parent?

    • I think there is a BIG difference between ‘bad mouthing’ the other parent (she’s a slut, he’s an asshole, he/she never cared about us or you, she/he is a moron!’) and calmly stating a reality in an age-appropriate way. I love how people here have framed it for their kids.

      And it’s interesting, many of the same people who say we shouldn’t bad-mouth the other parent ALSO say it’s really bad to have big nasty secrets in families, so damaging. Can’t have it both ways, folks!

      State the reality, calmly and clearly, and move on. If the child has questions such as ‘why did daddy cheat?’, you can say something fairly non-committal like ‘I’m not sure why he cheated. But it’s the wrong thing to do.’ If the cheating parent lies to the kids and they ask about it or express confusion, you just re-affirm your truth, and move on. If it gets too bad, get them a good therapist! An outside person can be a big help in their dealing with the emotional ship-wreck their cheating parent has created.

      Kids do figure out who’s reliable and honest and trustworthy over time.

      • Yes, they do figure it out! And most of them sooner than later…….

        I did not have to call my husband a moron…..My son does!

        And other assorted things…..My son is an adult & married himself (and was cheated on by his first wife!), so I love it when he calls it what it is! Just this Monday, he commented to his workmates in front of me: “Yeah, I always thought my Mom was a bit crazy, but now I KNOW WHY!”

        They figure it out, but you must be simple and honest as well as simply honest.

        So much excellent advice from all you chumps! True, honest, precious people!

        Forge on, friends…..

    • And parental alienation takes a LOT more than a simple statement about why the marriage ended. As long as the other parent has their planned access to the kids, and you’re not lying about the other parent or constantly putting them down, or interfering in their relationship with the kids in other ways, a court can’t say anything.

    • This is a problem, IMHO. I do think that some judges view this as bad mouthing .
      Some people, in general, do, too.
      My sister in law has kept her XH’s cheating a secret for 25 years and is so proud of it. She and one of my own sisters have criticized me for telling my kids the truth. They act superior about this but I think they are way off base.

      • Arnold – I am concerned about this. It really should be her that tells them. She would never do it, but I also think it would help her relationship with our kids in the long run if she were to be honest with them.

        • Dear TwinsDad, please be careful here… “It really should be her that tells them. She would never do it, but I also think it would help her relationship with our kids in the long run if she were to be honest with them.” … your focus is on her, you still want her to “do the right thing”. At some point you are going to have to release your expectations or need or hope that she will do the right thing. She won’t. Or, she might actually do one small thing right, and it will give you hope that she is “getting better”, and that you might be able to count on her for ______. TwinsDad – she will continue to disappoint you. Just keep the focus on you and what you can do. As CL always says, you ben the sane parent. That’s really all you can do.
          Best of luck and Big Hug.

          • Thank you FLBright. I know you are right! I’m still holding onto hope that she will put our children first before her own selfishness. It’s just so unfair to them. They didn’t ask for any of this.

            • Hang tough, TwinsDad!

              A book that has been highly recommended is “Joint Custody With A Jerk”, by Julie A. Ross & Judy Corcoran.

              I finally bought a copy (even though our child was grown when we finally split) and it is everything I heard it to be. I do know a number of chumps facing this and am recommending it to all. (even the grandparents of the children involved in these situations can benefit)

              All the info so far is right in line with Dr. Simon’s advice, as well as CL’s advice.

              Hope you (and others) will check it out.

              Forge on, friends……

            • Hi TwinsDad,

              “I’m still holding onto hope that she will put our children first before her own selfishness.”

              If she would have put your children first, she would not have cheated in the first place.

        • TwinsDad, of COURSE it would be better for the kids and for their relationship with their mom if she told them herself. But if she were that kind of person (one who takes responsibility for her choices, who puts her kids well-being ahead of her own momentary discomfort), she wouldn’t have done what she did, would she?

          It’s OK, your delusional moments of thinking she might do the right thing and act like a reasonable, caring person, those will pass with time, as she keeps showing you who she is.

          If I were you, I wouldn’t wait until the kids ask again, before telling them the truth. Kids OFTEN worry, fret, feel guilty and confused, without telling or showing us – especially when they realize it’s a sensitive topic or one we feel uncomfortable discussing.

          You could just sit them down and say “I’ve been thinking about what we said to you to explain the divorce, and decided there’s something else I think you should know”. Then tell them, answer any questions they have as well as you can, and let them know you want to continue to answer their questions or talk about how everybody’s feeling, any time.

          How much can be going on in our kids’ heads, and hearts, was really brought home to me with how my kids, D11 and S12 at the time of the separation, dealt with this question of ‘why?’ I, too, didn’t want to ‘badmouth’ my ex, didn’t want to undermine his relationship with them. So I decided that I would only tell the kids about his (repeated) cheating if they asked why we had separated. When we announced the separation, there was no ‘why’ expressed. I think the kids just assumed that I had finally had enough of their dad’s negativity and general all-around nasty no-fun-ness. Later I had to clarify that the separation had been their dad’s choice, not mine, but they still didn’t ask why.

          About a year after the separation, our daughter came home from a weekend at her dad’s, so angry. She had figured out he had a girlfriend and asked him about it. He had denied it (unclear to me why – at that point she thought it natural he should have a girlfriend). She had waited two weeks, asked him again, he had lied again. I confirmed that he did have a girlfriend, and told her I didn’t know why he’d lied about it. (Later reminded him that lying to his kids was a bad idea.)

          A few weeks later she again comes home furiously angry – this time at both him and me. She had figured out that he had cheated, that the current girlfriend was the OW. She had confronted him about it – again twice. He had changed the subject both times.

          So we had the straight conversation, including the fact that this was his second affair. We had, over the following months, several very rough talks about why I hadn’t told them immediately what the real reason for my kicking him out was. Our son was chill, as is his nature, but our daughter was so angry that I had led her to keep investing in her relationship with her father, while hiding important information about not only what he’d done, but who he was. Eventually she understood that I had done what I thought best in a very difficult and confusing time, but she made it VERY clear that she needed to be able to depend on at least one parent to be honest with her, so she could live in reality.

          And all the time that she was thinking and worrying about this stuff, the evidence that he had a girlfriend, then that he had cheated, confronting him, getting lied to? The knowledge that I hadn’t been straight with her? She had said nothing to me, her brother, or her friends about it, and showed no worrying changes in her behavior. There was SO much going on for her, in her head and heart, and I had no idea.

          Sigh. It’s very difficult to deal with our kids’ pain and confusion. But they do need to have one reality-based parent. And that’s your job – part of the unending punishment of breeding with a fucktard.

  • TwinsDad,
    Please tell. I regret waiting the year until I told my children, if only because I think it would have made things easier for them. They spent that year thinking who knows what, just that sometimes things do not work out? Maybe they were to blame as to why their father was away for a year in DC for work… and then did not return to the family.

    Stating the facts is not badmouthing. I told mine that their father and Ms. EZ were boyfriend and girlfriend before we decided to divorce. Period.
    In a later conversation, I simply pointed out, Ms EZ was not the first. Period.
    I felt it important to mention that as exH started blameshifting/re writing history. It was not cheating since the marriage was long over, etc. But by indicating that there were other affairs indicates the story is more complex, and that this one affair wasn’t special (meant to be, etc).

    Badmouthing is stating the facts but also adding lots of verbs and adjectives to the statements, constantly bringing it up, etc.
    In the 18 months since my children found out their parents were divorcing, the topic has only come up 3-4 times.

    Do you have any proof of the affairs? In my case, I have the email messages and letters exH wrote to me declaring his love, etc., and at the same time I have the email message when he told me he was in love with OW. The kids will not see any of it at this point, and maybe never, but I think it important to have evidence to support my “version” of events.

    You are in a tough spot… I hated the thought of my children meeting OW, and was resentful that I had to spend time away from my children due to the selfishness of my Ex and his selfish AP (now wife).

    You are clearly an amazing parent.
    Chin up, and stay strong.

    • Thank you zyx321 for your kind support! Does a deposition of their mother and her boyfriend count as evidence? In it she had to admit to the previous affairs because the statute of limitations had run out on those (over a year old) and she could not assert her 5th amendment rights like she did to questions about the ongoing affair. The boyfriend just answered “I do not recall” to everything, including going sailing with my inlaws the day before the deposition. To questions about his relationship with my wife he asserted his 5th amendment rights.

      I suspect that my kids haven’t asked the question because they know the answer. She met with her boyfriend and his kids (yes, and he is still married too! Has a set of twins two years older than mine and another one the same age) several times before I even knew about him. Pretending they have a little Brady Bunch. I could go on but the anger starts to build up when I do.

      • If you think they suspect or know already, it’s DOUBLY important to speak openly about this! They NEED to know that these are not unspeakable topics, that their doubts, questions and feelings will be dealt with in a healthy, open, way, by their one sane parent!

  • @Diana L. –I’d talk with your lawyer, but in my own opinion, just telling the child that the divorce occurred because married people promise not to have special boyfriends/girlfriends except for their husband/wife, and mommy/daddy has a special boyfriend/girlfriend and didn’t want to stop is not “bad mouthing.” It’s the truth. You could add in that mommy/daddy just didn’t love the other spouse enough to stop, but that’s about it. You can say it’s an issue between the two of you, but both of you love the child, even if it’s the case of your narcissistic asshole loving the child as much as a disordered person is capable of loving anyone.

    Anyway, this post resonated with me today. I am starting to let some people know that I’m going to divorce, that my STBX is really going to be a STBX because he is cheating on my. I told my hairdresser. Her reaction? “I just don’t understand that. I have a client who told me that he’s having an affair, but his wife is his best friend. I told him that’s bullshit. You don’t lie to your best friend and betray your best friend. That’s the person you promised to be faithful to. If the marriage isn’t working, then get a divorce. That’s what I did. Anything else is just bullshit. You don’t treat your best friend like that.”

    Also interestingly enough, she said that from where she stands, since people tell their stylists a lot of stuff–and this is what’s relevant to today’s post–she has clients who’ve come from abusive, dysfunctional backgrounds. For her, infidelity is also a way of acting out the disrespect you had for the parent whom you perceived as weak, even if that parent were a victim. They didn’t stand up for you or themselves, and there’s a lot of resentment built up.

    I think that in my STBX’s case, this hits it on the head, as well as the stuff I’ve read about BPDs. His father had an affair. Everyone knew it; no one talked about it. His parents lived in different cities, but his father came home every weekend and slept on the Lazy-Boy in front of the television. Interaction was limited to television shows. She made his meals and put them out for him, and he ate them according to whatever he wanted his schedule to be. I remember telling him early on that I didn’t want his parents’ marriage.

    But I think that for him, that’s the normal and now that he has an AP, it’s even more so.

    Thus, I think it’s really important for children to know why their parents divorced. It’s possible to stick to the facts without badmouthing the other parent. If the other parent is a total shit, the kids will soon see it. Also, the fact that the sane parent lets the child know the reason for the divorce was grounded in the behavior of the cheater, then when the cheater treats his or her kid like crap, the child can see that the treatment is because the parent is disordered, not because there’s something wrong with the child.

  • I caused more anxiety in my two oldest by saying we divorced over “grown-up problems” than I did by finally telling the simple, unvarnished truth. I told them that their now-stepmother was dating their dad secretly while we were still married, and when I found out, we had to get divorced because their dad broke one of the most important promises of our marriage, and I knew that I couldn’t trust him anymore. By the way, I did this with the blessing of the kids’ counselor; she said the same thing CL did. As long as you don’t editorialize or tell them more than they need to know (like I didn’t tell my kids that they met on Ashley Madison… my three little kids couldn’t possibly wrap their minds around a site that promotes such selfish, disgusting behavior, and telling the kids that XWH met the AP “online” was all they needed to know, and they were satisfied with that response), telling the simple truth is the healthiest and easiest way of dealing with the cheater parent’s infidelity when it comes to the kids.

    And CL is right about something else– whether you tell the truth or not, your XWW is still going to act like an ass. My XWH has been uncooperative and difficult in many ways, so at least I’m dealing with him without lying to our kids instead of dealing with him AND helping him to keep up his facade.

  • Kids — just like you and all human beings — deserve to be told the truth. You can tailor it to be age appropriate, of course, but never give them anything but the truth.

    Also, the suggestion to keep supporting evidence is a great one because …. surprise! Your cheating ex will lie her/his ass off about anything that paints her/him in a bad light.

  • Family courts are way too busy and backed up to waste much time policing simple facts stated to children in age-appropriate ways.

    I can’t imagine that saying something like, “When people are married, they promise to be each others best friend. Mommy/Daddy found a new best friend, so we can’t be married anymore,” would be considered parental alienation. A fucktard cheater might very well TRY to make a big deal out of it, because they hate the truth and only care about their image, but I doubt a judge is going to see it that way.

    I say tell your children the truth in an age-appropriate way, without adding judgement. Kids need to know that actions have consequences, and that people do things for reasons, not just out of thin air.

  • Twinsdad, let me share something with you that’s a little different experience, but may shed some light on how your children think and experience bad things in life:

    When my kids were young (15, 10, 9, 7) their dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer 3 weeks before Christmas. Obviously devastating, and obviously we were going to have to tell the kids, but we desperately wanted to give them one last normal Christmas, knowing he wouldn’t be there for the next one.

    A week later, my youngest son’s teacher called and told me that he’d been visibly upset in school, even cried a couple of times, not his normal demeanor at all. She gently asked me if there was anything she should know to help him, careful to state that she did not mean to pry into our personal lives, but that she just wanted to be able to support our little guy. I realized that she (and likely my son) thought there might be an impending divorce. No matter how bad the situation WAS, he was imagining it as something worse, as of course he wouldn’t be able to fathom his father dying. I shared the news with her, and told her we’d hoped we could wait until after Christmas to tell, but that it was obvious that the NOT telling was creating an even larger void in his heart.

    I told them all that evening, after our regular book reading before bed. Not the whole truth all at once, but enough. I remarked that of course they knew their dad had been sick, and that we’d found out it was a disease called cancer, and that meant he was sicker than we thought. I told them what sorts of things might happen soon, like chemo, and dad throwing up alot. I also told them that we were probably all going to be sad, but that I wanted them to know they could count on me to be strong for them, that they could talk to me, ask me anything they wanted, and I would tell them the truth.

    As the days went by, it was clear that their dad was getting worse, not better, and at a certain point, I shared with them that he wasn’t going to get better. At every opportunity, I told them that I was always there for them, and that I would make sure that they were loved and taken care of, that we were a team, and we were going to get through it together.

    It did not make his death hurt any less, but I can honestly tell you that I saw a noticeable improvement in my youngest’s ability to deal with what was now known. Trust me, no matter how bad something is, kids can imagine worse. They deserve to know what truth they can handle, along with ample reassurances that you will have their backs.

    Many hugs to you all. It sucks that your bad news could have been avoided if only their other parent wasn’t such an asshat, but at least they have you in their corner.

    • I just wanted to give you an internet hug for your bravery in handling the death of your husband with such grace and strength (you made me cry!) And also because you chose to use your experience to help someone else going through a really tough time. Bless you!

      Holy moly, chumps are the best.

      • Thank you, Miss Sunshine…

        On a happy note, that baby of mine is now 26. As further encouragement to all of you struggling with how or whether to tell hard truths, let me share that the reinforcement that we were a TEAM and we were going to love and help each other through the hard times to come was more impactful than I could ever imagine.

        We truly did operate as a team. We are extremely close and supportive of each other to this day. My oldest son (the 3 youngest were all boys), has stepped up to the plate at every opportunity to help his younger brothers. He’s been roommates with both at different times during college, and paid more than his fair share of rent because, “I can afford it, mom.” They’ve shared cars, helped each other with resumes and job searches, and always had each others backs. I am truly blessed to claim them as my own.

    • Wow, Champ, not Chump!, thank you so much for sharing that. It is inspiring. What a pillar you’ve been for your kids. I hope I can be as solid for mine.

  • Twinsdad, I’d like to endorse and reinforce everything that has been said for you here today. I don’t know how old your children are, but I do know that even preschoolers understand the concepts of timeout, and consequences. When my H and I first separated, we gathered our kids together on the evening after I threw him out. I told them: daddy did something that really hurt mommy and now he has to have a time out. My youngest was 6 years old at the time and she totally understood. We talked about it a little, and I made sure that the older kids (then 10 and 12) had IC. They were having difficulty sharing their feelings with me because they wanted to protect me. I loved them for that impulse even more, but I knew that that was not a burden they should have to bear. That’s what led to the IC for each child. Best wishes to you and your children.

    • Thank you Still a Chump for sharing that with me. My kids are 11. They have handled things amazingly well so far but I think that they may need to have IC at some point soon. Certainly when I tell them about their mother cheating, her fallout will be hard for them. Hard to imagine how it will play out. I must admit that it scares me. The one thing that can make me face and overcome my fear is knowing I have to do what is right for my children. Thank you for your support.

  • I was very carefull not to badmouth my ex at the time. I too considered telling them that their father had a girlfriend to possibly be badmouthing. I was in reality protecting his imgae for the kids. I was protecting the kids from reality. I wish I had spoken out at the time, but then again: I was not acquinted with Chumplady and its community and was doing what I could to navigate this divorcedworld….Speaking the truth I now know is not badmouthing. My kids at the time were 13 and 9 year old twins. My X gave them that story line about how people fall out of love etc etc. I asked him to be honest with them so that they could better understand why their world was falling apart, but I guess you can guess that he never did. I did not want to tell them. My eldest however sat down with me one day, asking, pushing looking for answers. Why cant we work on being in love again, why cant we talk about things before divorcing, why don’t we spend more time trying to work things out? At last I informed him that those things can only work if 2 people commit to that and that if one of them has another partner already that they want to be with, nothing is going to work. And so he knew. And I know that he is gratefull and appreciative of me telling the truth. I could however not bear to tell the twins. I could barely see straight and I could not talk about the divorce without crying. And I did not want to come across as badmouthing him. Instead I again asked my ex to speak with the twins and be straight with them. He said you do it if you find it necessary:).
    In the end the twins found out on their own, and how I wish it would have been different. They met the girlfriend and assumed she and my x met after the divorce. Then one of the twins told me one day he knew how long his father and the girlfriend knew each other. The womans daughter had told them how long her mother and their father had been dating/seeing each other. My boy just counted back and he said “but you were still married then and we didn’t know anything was wrong”. He drew his own conclusion and I can’t bear to think of the pain the realization brought him. I wish I could have been there and told him and his twin brother myself. Don’t let your kids guess and try to find the truth. Speak the truth, don’t sugarcoat and don’t make it worse. Just straight truth. They will remember and they will know. Regardless of what the other parent says. Good luck

  • I’m and elementary school teacher, and I completely agree with telling the children the truth in an age-appropriate fashion with no embellishments. The KISS principle applies–keep it short and simple.

    If you are concerned about whether or not it would be considered badmouthing, try this:
    type up what you think you are going to say, and imagine seeing those words in a written complaint against you. Then try taking one or two words away to see if it can be used “out of context”. If you were a judge in court and seeing those words, would you see anything harmful in them?

    I personally liked the wording of “Mommy picked someone else”. Pretty short and hard to twist.

  • In my experience it was so freeing to find out the truth about what was going on with my ex, because the reasons he gave me for suddenly wanting out of our marriage didn’t making sense. Once I found his journal and read all about his love for OW, the puzzle pieces fell into place. Finally I could stop searching because now I knew the truth. It put an end to all the wondering and obsessing that was keeping me from moving forward.

    Kids want to know the truth, and they’ll search until they find it, just like I did. I remember when I was a kid that my cousin and I were playing in my grandmother’s closet. We came across some papers where my cousin discovered her dad had been married before and had two other children, siblings she knew nothing of. I remember her saying “so it’s true…” because she’d heard whisperings, but no one had told her the truth. It would have been a lot better to hear it from her parents so she didn’t have to find out that way.

    IMO kids hear things, but it’s confusing and frustrating when they don’t get the whole picture. I think you should tell the kids in an age appropriate manner for sure. Then they won’t feel like they have to search for all the puzzle pieces.

    My kids were grown when I found an 8 page document my ex unknowingly left on a public server that detailed the truth of his involvement with OW. Before that he’d adamantly denied to them that she had anything to do with it. I debated on whether to show them this paper and finally decided I’d let them make the decision. Both boys said they wanted to read it, and for the one who was having the hardest time it provided closure. In fact, he even had a little fun at a dinner with his dad by asking lots of questions about OW and her husband. My son got to witness firsthand how convincingly his dad lies, and enjoyed making him squirm.

  • CL is spot on here.
    Your ex doesn’t want you to expose the affair to the children simply because she knows its inappropriate behaviour. She wants your twins to look upon her as the perfect mother and is probably scared shitless she will lose their love, trust and closeness.
    Groceries is so pissed that I told the boys the truth but they have made their own decisions and put up their own boundaries. They still love her and see her when ever they can or she allows as long as it doesn’t interfere with chainsaw man.
    If I didn’t tell the boys the truth( and don’t forget our oldest knew about the affair about a year before I discovered. He just didn’t quite understand what it was all about because his mother lied to him about it.) the boys would judge me as not trusting them.
    Just be the best parent you can be. Focus on the twins and be very involved with their lives. Be very cautious introducing new partners. Your ex will want to introduce her OM quickly to justify their relationship and the damage it has caused. Just let them go because they normally fuck it up. It’s hard to witness but just look at it as a out of control train that will eventually crash and burn.
    Tell the truth. Focus on the twins.

    • Thanks Baci. I definitely see that by not telling them they would feel I didn’t trust them with the truth. I will definitely stay focused on them. Believe me, I have no intention of introducing them to any new partners (or having one in the first place)! Given how their mother included our kids in outings with her AP and his kids since before I even knew, I don’t want them to have to deal with anything more.

  • CL is right, you can’t control your ex’s behavior no matter how frustrating and upsetting she is. But don’t underestimate the influence that your modelling will have. I grew up with crazy, but I was lucky enough to have other family members who modeled unconditional love and support for me and that really did save me. Because of them, I developed that capacity for love and knew what right from wrong looked like and eventually figured out how to be a sane, responsible person myself.
    Be honest with your twins in an age appropriate way, then just focus on being a loving, sane dad. Be the guy that loves them and they can rely on. That is more powerful and will have more influence on your kids lives than you perhaps realize right now.

    • Depending upon the age…yes.

      I have worked with children for years (and parented three). They can handle the truth better than they can handle knowing that they know “something bad” but not quite what that “something” is.

      CL is correct about being careful to couch your clarifications in age appropriate terms and also not giving a lot of extra information that the child is not actually asking for nor needs to know in order to understand the concept.

      Over time, children will discern the amplified truth. They will either point blank ask you if they feel secure that they can ask you anything and get a rational response. Or they will absorb it by observing the other parent’s behavior.

      It is best to use this situation as a teaching experience for the values, ethics and morals that you wish to instill in your child. You can even use empathy when explaining….for example…

      … “It is really sad for (Mom, Dad) but (she/he) chose to break the most important promise that (she/he) EVER made to me. This promise was so important that (her,his) consequences are that I am getting a divorce. It is important to be very careful when you make a promise that you do everything in our power to keep it. Because if we don’t keep promises, we can hurt people and cause them not to trust us anymore. So, always think carefully before making a promise and make wise promises.”

      • Trivia Bit:

        One of the items on the Comprehension Subtest of one of the oldest, most reliable, most well-normed, and most frequently used IQ batteries for children (ages 6 through 16) is:

        “Why should a promise be kept?”

        [A maximum point answer should include direct reference to the fact that breaking promises causes distrust.]

      • Thank you Datdamwuf and notyou for your suggestions about ways to tell that is age-appropriate. My twins are 11 (12 in April). I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

  • I already told my asshat that we were going to tell the kids. All four-19,16, 10 yo twins. Kids are very perceptive. Image control is imperative for NPD’s, but I am not going to let him use me to cover his true character. Our discussion is next month.

    There are consequences for all actions, positive and negative. He DID this. To not tell the kids is just as bad as his lies.

  • My children are all adults and the STBX never attempted to hide his affair from them. He did try to hide with whom he was actually having the affair, stating it was a different person from his past. It was his intention, once we were separated and/or divorced, to then bring around the REAL AP in order not to have our children associate her with the break up and not fully accept her. When he texted me a picture of them in bed (clothed) and another of them kissing and I realized who it REALLY was, that blew that plan out of the water.

    With that said, this past weekend, my eight-year-old niece (the granddaugther of my SIL) asked why Uncle _____ and I were getting a divorce. I said, “Uncle was dating another person while we were married and when you’re married, you’re not supposed to have a boyfriend or a girlfriend. You’re supposed to be each other’s boyfriend and girlfriend.” That seemed to make sense to her as she nodded and we moved on to a different topic.

    I was told long ago that children only want an answer to the question that they ask and you should make it as simple and as truthful as possible. If they want you to elaborate, they will ask additional questions.

    So my advice? Keep it honest and simple, and if possible, allow your response to be a positive teachable moment.


  • “the fact that the sane parent lets the child know the reason for the divorce was grounded in the behavior of the cheater, then when the cheater treats his or her kid like crap, the child can see that the treatment is because the parent is disordered, not because there’s something wrong with the child.”

    This is a great point! Thank you for stating this.

  • “It’s their right to love her. And it’s your right to tell the truth”

    This, 10,000 times! As the child of a divorce as the result of cheating (who then grew up to pick a cheating partner, what a coincidence) my mother would always be hurt when we had a good time with our father, and it made us children sad and guilty. Don’t lay that on them. Let your children love their mother until they can’t anymore. You don’t need to lie to them, or to pretend that their mother didn’t do what she did, but you can’t make them feel that loving her is taking something away from you.

    Good luck!!!

  • When my daughter was little & her father showed little interest in her (saw her twice from age 2 1/2 to 3 & then not at all.) save one attempt to send her to New Mexico that failed because he refused to come get her, or pay me to deliver her (she was 4). He just never called back. I told her that we would do something special instead, and that it was her Daddy that was losing out not seeing her because she was so cute, fun to be with, great, etc. This worked great as she never saw him again. It did come up later when she was 19 or ’20 when she felt abandoned by him and had to go through a tough time with that. As an older teen, the answers weren’t so easy, she just felt his absence. I did tell some truth from the beginning & let her know along the way that he couldn’t be counted on, was someone who lied to get his way, and who probably would have been a source of pain if he was in her life. She is 28 now, still has never been back,.

  • In the last year my daughter found a new boyfriend 15 years younger than she is(she’s 40 and he’s 25) and cheated on her husband and left him for boy toy. She has four little kids and you can not believe the length both have went to NOT telling the kids anything. Even so far as cutting off ALL contact between their kids and a big loving family on both sides so ‘no one slips and lets the kids know that mama is a cheater.’ I have not seen my grandkids in four months and we were as close as we could be. Just proves the NPD’s will hurt their own kids to protect their images. The whole thing breaks my heart. My husband was a cheater (he was my second husband, not my daughter’s father) and my daughter is a cheater. I can hardly stand it.

  • “Implied in the ‘don’t badmouth me’ (with the truth) is a threat. If you don’t maintain my image, I won’t cooperate on this co-parenting thing. Well, surprise, Twinsdad — she isn’t going to cooperate with you on this co-parenting thing any more than she co-operated with you on the marriage thing.”

    I needed to hear this…I keep thinking he’s being a jerk about the co-parenting stuff because I blew his cover and know his secrets. No, he’s just a jerk and he would have been regardless. Still chumpy, blaming myself, but trying to work my way out of that.

    • I didn’t blow my ex’s cover, didn’t tell the kids about his cheating. He was STILL a jerk about the parenting and coparenting. So much so that the kids now refuse to see him more than once a month, for a meal together or a movie. This in a jurisdiction where custody shared 50-50 is absolutely the default and the norm.

      It was the kids who figured out about the cheating. And how they felt about that really made me aware that I should have told them right away. But I didn’t have CL then, and was doing the best I could in a very confused situation. Now I know, and they get calm statements about what is actually happening, when it’s happening, and feel much more secure for that.

      We couldn’t ‘nice’ and ‘cooperate’ these people into being decent partners or parents when we were together. How could we ever ‘nice’ them into it after separation????

  • My parents divorced when I was 12. My father was an alcoholic, and I lived with the rages and the smashing of furniture for years. I saw my mom crying daily. Cheating is not as obvious, but it leaves the same pain and the same shame. Tell your kids exactly what caused your family’s dysfunction. They have to know the truth. They have to know that your partner “metaphorically” smashed your (and your kids’) furniture, self-esteem and your peace with her cheating. They will be stronger for it and they will survive.

  • tell them, let them heal now & move on from it sooner than later.

    no one has really mentioned this so here goes:

    when I finally had the talk with my young teenager, I calmly explained dad’s penchant for dating other women during our marriage. I wasn’t surprised when he burst into tears but what he said next floored me: “Mom, I’ve known since I was eight!”

    It seem Ass Hat was overheard bragging to a coworker by DS. The guilt & pain he put this poor kid thru? UnFUCKINGforgiveable!

    so please just tell them as gently & honestly as you can.

    Never underestimate your ability to be an example of honesty, integrity & character even under these most awful circumstances.

    • My son told me as far back as when he was in middle school (he’s 28 now) that he’d suspected his dad was having an affair. “But I didn’t want to believe that about my dad,” he said.

  • My STBX left me the day after Christmas 2012. My daughter was only 3 at the time. We just said that Daddy was going to live in a new house. Then the asshole introduced the affair partner (who was also married) 4 months later without telling me. What a mess! My divorce should be final soon. Once it is, I’d like to sit down with her and tell her. She’s now 4. She asked about marriage last weekend, and I showed her the 4 pictures I had left from my wedding day. I think I’m going to tell her that we are now no longer married because daddy broke a promise. Any thoughts?

    • At her age, you might want to wait until she asks a question and then stick to what the question is. If she has a counselor, you could talk to them about it.

  • Please help!
    What do you do when the adult kids 20 and 23 are starting to listen to their father’s shit?
    He continues to play the victim. Feel sorry for me, ” I was unhappy for years but stayed because of you kids” “This is just between you and your mother” ” I love your mother I was just not IN love with your mother” “We drifted apart” “I didn’t handle this right”.
    Like so many of us I was completely unaware of his “years of unhappiness” He acts like the divorce was my fault since I took it too far, by telling them the truth as to why we were divorcing. Kids are starting to feel sorry for him. He tells them how he can’t pay for things because their mother has taken everything from him.
    It is killing me to watch his lies are working on them, making them chumps! No matter the age they are my babies!!!
    Honestly hurts me more than I can bare that they are falling for it. I have to keep my mouth shut how he continues to take me to court, how he is refusing to pay me the spousal support owed. I tried to educate them earlier about narcissistic people and how to deal with them. They became angry stating how he was not narcissistic but just selfish so I no longer say a word.
    Do I sit back and watch him use them? He only started working on them when I kept to my NC. He continued to take me to court and each time things got worse for him. After the last court appearance he started texting our daughter from the court room. He was so angry and I think he is doing this to try to make me angry. He just wants to show the world that he is the “good” father.
    I don’t feel like I can say a word because it makes them angry.

    • Wish I had some good advice to share, Jenn, but when I read your post I immediately felt that my wife will do the same kind of things as your husband. Sounds like they are both just so concerned about their image as the “good” parent. I hope some others on this forum have some wisdom to share.

      • This truly is the worst shit. How the kids get the shitty end of the stick.
        My daughter (10) knew about the affair before her dad left so I never had to hide the truth. She knew.She visited him twice a week even though it was upsetting for her. She swallowed the sandwich.
        He continued to lie to her, rewrite history, behaved in a crappy way, introduced AP quickly, standard cheater behavior.
        Eventually she went, I don’t want to go. I won’t go.
        He has taken this to court and we have all been interviewed for final court hearing next week.
        To be told that we have to forgive his behavior, I should tell my daughter her dad loves her, promote his image and other such crap from a social worker left me gobsmacked.
        They are basically wanting chump like behavior from me.
        No. I will not say her dad loves her, that is for him to say and his actions to show.
        I fully expect a court order to recommend contact, even though she has repeatedly told everyone she does not want to go.
        Another round of shit sandwiches forced on her by the experts.
        This will be the final nail in the coffin for their relationship. Forcing her will make it even more of a negative experience.
        She’ll go because she has to, not because she wants to and that’s a massive difference.

        • It is a tragedy that the experts, while trying to do good, can actually do more harm. Eve174, what your daughter sees is that you are doing your very best to advocate for her. Your efforts matter even if they do not result in what is best for your child. She will always know that you fought for her. Also, I am very proud of you for resisting the social worker’s brainwashing! We are not grooming future Chumps!

        • As with my daughter, 14, it speaks volumes when a child doesn’t want to see a parent. It started out the same with me, daughter knew when I found out. Then she had twice weekly placement with her dad for a year while OW was being pushed on her. Then having to be with OW and kids too when they moved in one month after divorce-horrible experience for her when she already was still trying to deal with the disordered person that was her dad. She was miserable but I felt like and told her I had to take her because that is what our settlement said. It said right on there that it was a felony to not follow it. All this while the cheaters never being responsible for themselves and what they did (of course). Lies, etc. I really felt like the law (no fault) let me down about that (as well as the finances). I tried to get a social worker to help us early on. I could not believe social worker didn’t just blow ex and his shenanigans out of the water. The timetable he was pushing at that time was absurd, planned at first for OW and her kids coming to live with him 10 weeks after he moved out. The social worker wanted daughter to come around, deal with stuff of course, but oh my isn’t daughter resistant. Ex did slow things down a little then because OW “compromised” and came later than original plan. (Gag.)
          Back to later when ex already living with OW, daughter put up so much resistance and was so miserable (at the same time my heart would break seeing her keep trying to cope with having to be around him) I had to try some mindfuckery with x so he wouldn’t keep accusing me of being so “negative and turning her against him”, tried to put him off for awhile on insisting she be there, that she needed a break, middle school is so tough anyway and he did comply. Had to do this several times just to get her breaks and for her to be able to cope with things. She even did this with him herself. She told me after the fact that she did this with him too, had to try to work around him to get what she needed. It’s unfortunate it had to be like that but there was no other choice really. Now that she’s older she has just refused to go. I tell him I’m not going to carry her to the car to bring her to you. I’m glad I don’t have to think about going to the court about it which I wouldn’t have been able to change anything in our contract about placement for the first two years (which would be over this summer). It’s interesting to read on here also about what CL says about the court would not be interested anyway in something not extreme.

          • Jenn, I’m kind of reading posts backward. So sorry you are going through this. It was my fear that this might happen but daughter realized x was full of crap. Selfishness in these situations IS narcissism. I think it is best to not talk about him to the kids. His crap will catch up with him. Your kids are young adults probably trying to keep some kind of a connection with their dad. Their relationship with him will be what it is. He will mess up with them and they will learn eventually, probably painfully, that they invested wrongly. Just try to concentrate with taking care of yourself moving forward. Maybe just say, “mmm” if they do tell you something absurd instead of even refuting it. They may see as they mature by contrast with your dignity what a fuckup he is.

      • For TwinsDad, Jean, Eve174 and others,

        There is the book “Joint Custody With a Jerk.” (Yes, I have mentioned this one before)

        Also, books by William “Bill” Eddy, who is both a lawyer and a therapist, specializing in Family Practice & in High Conflict Personalities and the legal issues they cause: “High Conflict People in Legal Disputes” and “Don’t Alienate the Kids!”

        Personally, I have down loaded most of these from KOBO as e-books, even though I have seen them elsewhere.

        Also, his web-site, High Conflict Institute, has many resources for families going through this garbage.

        Forge on, friends….

        • Thanks again Forge On! I have read his book, “Splitting: protecting yourself while divorcing someone with borderline or narcissistic personality disorder” by Bill Eddy and Randi Kreger. It has been helpful. I didn’t know about the other book or his website though. Thanks again!

    • Your ex is abusing your adult kids by using them to get to you. Tell your kids that you don’t want them playing messenger or being the go-betweens. Tell them you’re not going to bad-mouth their father and you would appreciate not having to hear the horrible things their father is saying about you. Change the subject to something more positive. You have no need to defend yourself to your kids. Just live your life well and be a good example. They’ll see that you are living a good life, while their father keeps moaning about how ineffective he is. They’ll get sick of the negativity and gravitate to the positivity (you.)

      • The pain is that they don’t see it! They have put me on the defense just like he did for so many years.
        One of the MANY reasons that I went NC and kept to it. He would get so angry and go to the kids stating how incorporative I was being because I REFUSED to answer him when all he was trying to do was “work this out”. I use to tell kids that I have asked their father to only communicate thru the lawyers and then they would tell me how he was trying to be civil and I was refusing. Those were his words btw.
        I don’t understand why with all he did not only to me but to our family and them personally why they would want anything to do with him?? I hear his words in their responses like this was just between the two of us. My son said how his hate for me was greater than his love for them. Thought that comment was very sad… but still seems like it is being thrown on me or maybe I am just too sensitive. They don’t blame me like he does but he spins our marriage and what happened so that they feel sorry for him. He said that my reaction to his affair is what was the final straw for him. REALLY?? OMG How about his affair was the final straw for me?? Always saying because I told people is why he filed for divorce. Acts like he might of tried to work it out when he never had any plans to so such a thing. I threw him out and told kids after he lied to me about ending the affair. I asked him if he had any plans to end affair. When he said not at this time I was done and never looked back. I wanted to show kids how this was a deal breaker.
        Still hurts so much that they have accepted his behavior and still want a relationship with him. He lies to them and they justify that too. He omits so much and then acts like that is not a lie too. It has always been do as I say and not as I do with him and they seem to accept that while they get mad at me for every little thing. I keep thinking how they are feeding him his cake and becoming his chumps.
        VERY painful to watch…

        • NC means no more talking about the kids’ father to the kids or in front of the kids. Don’t contribute to their pain any further. Do not drag your kids into the feud between their coward father and you. That is off-limits.

        • Jenn,

          My situation is very similar to yours. Children (4) are adults, love their Dad, he spins his own narrative, etc. I struggled with this so much initially because, like you, I had finally recognized who and what he was.

          Unfortunately, your children (and mine) have a different relationship with the STBX than we do. They interpret his behavior differently because they have been conditioned to do so, particularly by him. They have lived with him being “Dad” their entire lives and that means certain things to them. It’s not that they don’t know he has exhibited some fucked up from the floor up behavior, but they interpret it through a different lens as they may also be evaluating WHO THEY ARE/MIGHT BE in terms of who he is, unfortunately. They are probably not even aware that they are doing it.

          Like you, I started out explaining to my adult children their father’s behavior and what that meant – and believe me, my STBX is a CLASSIC covert narcissist. But I also had to realize while I see him as a manipulative asshole, they see him as Dad. HE was the one who filed for divorce and just recently told one of our children that the reason why money is tight for him is because I have attorneys involved and he just wanted to work things out between him and me. It’s a blatant lie (Hello! He’s a pathological liar!) but I’ve had to let it go, as this particular child did not bring the information to me, but to another sibling.

          Jenn, I have simply stopped talking to my children about their father. That’s a shit sandwich that I am eating because I care more about them than I do about being right. My boundary is I refuse, for the most part, to talk about him with them. When they mention him, in even the most benign manner, I simply go, “Mmmm-Hmmm,” or “Okay.” I just continue to be the same “Mom” to them that I’ve always been. My oldest daughter, who completely sees through him (she’s a psychologist) and has erected very firm boundaries with him, gave me extremely good advice which I will pass on to you. She said, “Mom, you don’t have to do anything. Just be still and keep being yourself. He will eventually show everyone who he is. He can’t help it.”

          I have the same concerns as you about the pain he will eventually cause my children, one in particular. I can’t save them from that. I’ve accepted that pain may be the price of the truth. None of what I’m telling you to do is easy. When I’m swallowing that shit sandwich I can feel myself choking on it sometimes. However, I do have a certain measure of peace by simply refusing to engage it and recognizing that because they are adults, there are instances in which I am no longer able to protect my children and this may be one of them.

          I am so sorry that you are going through this as well. 1,000 (((HUGS))) to you.

          • CP, your brilliant daughter’s advice is exactly the way things played out in my family! I had to be still because I’d been so emtionally beaten down, and sure enough he showed the kids (then 20 and 21) EXACTLY who he is. So, being still really saved my sanity. Eventually, their dad has become a bit of a joke in terms of whatever hairbrain thing he has going on in his life now. He’s showing everybody who he is because “He just can’t help it!”

        • If they try to tell you to talk to him instead of a lawyer, just stick to the it’s between the two of us theory about it. Your husband used that line, but he’s not doing it. Maybe you can be the one who does!

          Also, don’t take it personally if they say your ex’s hate of you is greater than his love for them. It’s not a reflection on you, it’s a terrible statement about him! You can say, that’s terrible or I hope not.

          Try not to talk to them too much about how is lying to them and they are justifying it. Also remember they may be taking it from him and getting mad at you because they can get mad at you. They can’t trust him enough to argue with him. Give it time and show yourself to be trustworthy.

        • Jenn, how about saying something to them to the effect of

          ‘there is only one person’s behaviour I can control, and that is mine. I choose not to have anything to do with being lied to, manipulated and abused. Can you respect my choice?’


          ‘I loved Dad very much and all I wanted was a happy marriage, but you can’t have a good marriage when you are being lied to, betrayed and used and I was very hurt by this treatment. Now I choose not to have lies and manipulation in my life, I hope you can respect this’.


          ‘Kids, I appreciate what you wish for, but I no longer want to be in power struggles with Dad, please allow me to choose my own responses of not engaging with him’

          How would you feel about these calm and consistent replies? They tell the truth without escalating the situation?

          • Patsy, I think those are really good responses. Thanks for sharing.

            With my own kids (26 and 28) there’s never any mention of their dad, they never say anything about him or what he’s doing. Sometimes this frustrates me because it’s like there’s an elephant in the room and I can’t acknowledge it. I try to bring up happy memories of times our family was together and have told them over and over that I loved their dad. I can’t think of anything worse than kids thinking their parents never loved each other.

            • Lyn, I feel similarly. My daughter (14) wants nothing to do with her dad and at this age he is letting go of forcing her to be with him at his house (and OW and 4 kids) which never worked anyway (tried to get him to slow everything down about that but he wouldn’t listen of course). She realizes he is disordered. This all happened at such a vulnerable age for her (though there is no good time). She now has wondered how I could have even been with him. I try to talk about what I saw as good qualities and how I loved him. She acts tough, a little, and I wonder what this is all doing to her. On the one hand I think she is getting a very clear view of the world and what people, including her father, can be like and on the other I think there is a vulnerable part of her that so wishes she had a better father and what does all this say about who she is. I hope some day she can maybe accept that her dad was only able to love me in his own disordered compartmentalized way, that she’ll be able to recognize that it was because of the difficulties in his own family life growing up.

    • Mostly, I just think you have to wait and have faith. They are adults and will see through things.

      It sounds like your kids are coming to you and telling you what he says. If so, I think you can respond as calmly as possible that you didn’t know he was unhappy and wish he had talked to you instead of having an affair (or affairs). That you would have gone to counseling. That it would have saved you a lot of heartache to know and be able to have moved on in your own life. You could have found someone else. Would it have changed your plans about money or work or where you live? You could mention that – so long as you can be calm and factual.

      A lot of it is about being calm and you might need help getting to that. If someone said they loved me but weren’t in love with me, I’d be furious and hurt, crying and spitting nails. That probably wouldn’t go over well with the kids. On the other hand, you could say something simple and calm about how loving people is about how you treat them. He treated you badly and now you don’t want to be friends with him.

      If he says he didn’t handle it right, you can just say yes and leave it at that.

      If they want more, you can talk about the importance of dealing with problems in a relationship by talking to your partner and seeking counseling. That it’s not enough to stay together for the sake of your children, you need to work on the relationship for them, too. That if you deal with problems in a marriage by having an affair, everyone gets hurt and the divorce is much worse. It’s better to face conflicts than avoid them.

      If he talks to them about money, tell them you think that should be between you and him! I think this is one area where over time, they will simply see the truth. I’m guessing you husband thought he could leave and not lose anything.

      Your kids are grown, but they are still young enough to want you to not have big problems, so they might push you to get over things. It’s probably a good idea to talk to a therapist and friends more than your adult kids.

      Your kids still like him and that may never change.

      You might even want to ask your kids to not tell you all the things he is saying if it’s hurting you too much. It’s fair to say he’s hurt you and you need to have no contact with him to get past that and hearing about him all the time doesn’t help you.

      On the other hand, over time, I think they will understand more. Just hang in there and build a great life for yourself.

      • I agree with asking the kids not to discuss things their father says with you. That way it takes the drama out of seeing how you’re going to react, and forces them to deal with their own feelings about their relationship with their dad.

      • Diana, what you say is so true about keeping calm, letting the kids know “you got this”. Helping them through their other parent leaving, not trashing that parent but being honest about facts, while having to deal with one’s own painful feelings is such an unbelievable position to be put in by the cheater who all the while is accusing you of being a bad parent for telling.

  • I’m new here and would love any advice on how to help my kids! My Dday was just over 2 months ago and not only did he cheat and leave me for the OW after I found out, but I have since found out he is a drug addict. He’s been lying and lying and lying. I have gotten a restraining order which prevents him from having any contact with me or the kids (not that he takes it seriously and still texts and calls trying to manipulate me and make me feel guilty). My question is the same as everyone else’s, how much do I tell my children?
    They are so little and innocent at 7, 5, and 3 yrs. And our world has changed so much, so quickly that they must be confused. Why are Mum and Dad acting like this? Why has dad disappeared completely?
    I have so far told them that Daddy doesn’t love Mummy anymore and he has a girlfriend. Then he told them that he DOES love Mummy and he doesn’t love his girlfriend anymore. And demanded that I come up with some other reason for his absence. (All while breaching the restraining order).
    I wish they were a little older so that I could explain drug addiction to them and maybe they would understand his fuckupedness a bit better. I really need help here, I don’t want to screw them up with my words but I have to tell them something because the judge granted the restraining order stay on until at least September. How do I explain this to my kids? Saying Daddy is not making the right choices is starting to sound really lame even to my own ears.

    • Jodezter,

      I am so sorry for what you’re enduring – my ex left when my kids were 2 and 5; then a couple years later, my sister – their auntie – descended into drug addict hell; robbed our house and grandma’s house, and I got stuck with prosecuting her and sending her to jail for over a year (the family agreed it was the only chance she had to get clean…) My kids saw EVERYTHING from a front row seat. She even stole their Christmas money; their state quarters, and their DVDs.

      Good for the CPO – we have one too on the exH; and had no contact with my sister when she was in jail. You can explain that simply by saying “Mommy’s job is to protect you and teach you – and Daddy needs to have a type of ‘time out’ until he’s making better choices.” I wouldn’t go to the “who daddy loves” things right now – just stick with the “broken promises” route – that’s easier to explain. Love is confusing 🙂

      As far as explaining drugs – there are tons of resources – maybe call a school and ask to talk with the counselor? Addiction is SO common, they have (sadly) so many other kids dealing with this – lots of little books and ideas on how to talk about it. They are taught in school that “drugs are bad” – so it’s already a message they have heard. I had to tell my kids that their Aunt was in lots of pain, and one or two pills can help your body not hurt too much. But if you take too many pills, your body acts funny and your mind doesn’t think the way it should, and you start making really bad choices…like stealing and lying.

      Repeating the “bad choices” mantra may seem redundant, but it’s consistent and clear, and that’s what they need right now. Hugs to you. RDM

    • Your kids need to know that he is a drug addict. They have probably seen some strange behavior. You can call it a sickness and describe it in age appropriate ways. Get them to therapists.

      As far as the love goes, you can use CL’s approach and say people promise not to have other girlfriends when they get married and your ex broke the promise.

      • Thankyou both for your replies RDM and Diana. I got spam filtered so I haven’t been able to comment back. But I’m allowed back now, so I can say thanks. It’s such a hard time and nice to know that there are people out there who understand. And people who are further down the road to meh.
        I have gotten the kids a referral for counselling so that somebody who is more experienced than me can help me out. Kids ask the most direct questions and catch me unprepared.
        The advice about steering away from ‘love’ has been a real blessing. I have switched that to the broken promises and explained about marriage and the important promises people make to each other. It seems to be satisfying them, so big thanks for that.
        It’s like swimming through sludge. I’m not sure if I’m heading in the right direction because I can’t see where I’m going, but I just keep trying to keep my head above water.

  • Age appropriate truth is essential to our children’s mental health. Mine was devastated by the news of divorce. When I finally told her the reason for the divorce, while it shocked her, I saw that it helped her make sense of what was previously baffling. Nebulousness fosters insecurity.

    She still loves her dad. But I have reaffirmed for her that actions have consequences. Her father cheated on me, I divorced him. She also knows that my love for her is unconditional and will not suddenly inexplicably stop. She has developed an understanding of why I don’t want to be around her father and why I have no interest in meeting or interacting with his “special friend”. This give her context, some perspective, which helps her to not take my feelings as a rejection of HER.

    I think I understand the spirit of the philosophy behind not revealing the reasons for divorce. It is a misguided attempt to shield children from feeling bad about themselves and/or their cheating parent. Guess what? It takes a lot to hammer out the innate love a child has for a parent. Guess what? Keeping secrets – not telling the truth when asked – damages trust. It is a form of betrayal. I am NOT betraying my child…EVER.

    My cheater’s family of origin contains serial cheaters. The underlying message of their family system is that cheating is acceptable behavior. They get over the episode, sweep it under the rug, and walk around pretending it never happened. One of the underlying messages of my child’s family system (my child and me), is that cheating is unacceptable behavior. I will continue to teach her my values no matter the messages she is getting from her father and his extended family.

    My compassion to all of you struggling with this issue! It has been the worst part of all of this. It took me some time to recognize that I was trying to minimize bomb damage that happened about a year before I even knew it. We agonize because we are good parents.

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