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Dear Chump Lady, What’s age-appropriate disclosure with kids?

daddycheaterDear Chump Lady,

I’m a former chump with 6- and 10-year-old boys, and I am intrigued and heartened by your pro-disclosure/anti-gaslighting advice in favor of age-appropriate truthfulness with kids. That advice feels right to me. But I am uncertain about how/when to change tactics on that issue.

A brief history (a.k.a., pure hell in 100 words or less)…

D-day was a bit less than 2 years ago (summer 2014) after 10 years of marriage. I engaged in the pick-me dance for about 6-7 months until my second D-day (January 2015), at which time I learned that the X was lying about no contact and was continuing his affair, the gaslighting, etc. and all the rest of it. I also opened my eyes and realized he is an alcoholic. Our divorce was final by the end of 2015. Between that January and December, I leveraged my X’s guilt, fed him some fake cake, and managed to secure a very favorable financial settlement and 80 percent custody. As soon as that was done, I immediately asserted firmer boundaries and went no contact. Early days yet, but so far, so good… He was a shitty spouse, but is doing OK with his co-parenting gig.

Anyway, I have been trying to do what is best for the kids at every step, just like any good chump would. So, I have toed the line as recommended by our co-parenting coach to not be fully truthful with the kids when they ask, “Why divorce?”

“Mom & Dad don’t love each other the way that husband and wife are supposed to… blah blah blah.”

“We have realized that while we are good as a mom-dad team, we can’t be a husband-wife team anymore… blah blah.”

“When someone doesn’t get the kind of love they are *supposed* to get, it can make them sick.”

On my own, I’ve added: “To some extent, you’re just going to have to trust me. We found ourselves in a really bad situation, and I’m making the best of it that I can. Divorce is not what I had planned or hoped for… but it will be good enough and probably even better than that.” “Yes, I’m sad about it… but I didn’t have another reasonable option, so I don’t regret my decision.”

More or less true, all of it. But.

I share your opinion about it. It bothers me that it’s a big effing mystery to my kids why the marriage and family ended. That has to be confusing and unsettling to them. I certainly know what it feels like to gaslighted, and I don’t think it’s good for my kids, either. So, I am resolved to tell them the age-appropriate truth at some point.

But when? And why do I hesitate?

#1. The X and his ho-worker honey are still operating in secret. My kids have no idea of her existence. If I introduce the idea of her to my kids, then perhaps the X will introduce the reality of her to them sooner than he would have done otherwise. The longer that introduction gets delayed, the better.

On the other hand, does it matter if they get the age-appropriate truth before they meet her (versus after)? He could surprise me by introducing her without telling me first.

#2. Young kids self-identify with their parents. “I have Dad’s blue eyes.” “I’m good at math, like Dad.” Will knowing that Dad is a fuckwit make them feel bad about themselves? Perhaps it would be better to continue dodging the whole truth until they’re a little older, a little more individuated, and a little less reliant on their high opinions of their own parents for their own self-esteem.

#3. Once I do it, I can’t undo it.

#4. The X is going to be pissed when I do this. He cares about his image rather a lot. Perhaps I should worry about being accused of “alienation of affection”.

I’d appreciate your thoughts.

Kindly yours,

Wearing the Big Girl Panties

Dear WTBGP,

This is a tough one. I’m opening the floor to Chump Nation to share how they told their kids (or the kids found out, as is often the case).

I stand by my advice not to gaslight children with the We Grew Apart narrative or Divorce Just Happens. I think it is far more terrifying to hear love is a nebulous vapor that just mysteriously disappears, versus life has deal breakers and consequences. And I don’t think it’s okay to gaslight children even with the best of intentions — that the truth will hurt them, that they can’t handle it. Children aren’t stupid and they usually suss out far more than we give them credit for. Yes, the truth does hurt. But truth isn’t the problem — being an alcoholic cheater is the problem.

As for children handling the truth? I think we have to model resiliency. We must shelf our own pain and be the Sane Parents — present for our kids, helping them through this nightmare. We need to be the rocks, because cheating, drinking parents are checked out. There’s no spackling over that shit.

If we do not tell the truth, if chumps maintain the image, if we gaslight and spackle — we teach our children to react to crisis and betrayal in these ways too. Oh, it’s Not What You Think. My strong feelings about this situation are invalid! It’s just a trifle!

Let’s take your concerns one by one.

#1. The X and his ho-worker honey are still operating in secret. My kids have no idea of her existence. If I introduce the idea of her to my kids, then perhaps the X will introduce the reality of her to them sooner than he would have done otherwise. The longer that introduction gets delayed, the better.

On the other hand, does it matter if they get the age-appropriate truth before they meet her (versus after)? He could surprise me by introducing her without telling me first.

He’s your ex. You don’t control when he introduces his “girlfriend” — unless you have a specific court order on that. Oh and hey, you know what? Even if you have a specific court order on that? You STILL don’t control this. Ask a thousand chumps how they know. Guess who gets to enforce that shit? You do. Guess how expensive it is? Exorbitant. Guess how much it matters to the majority of courts? Not one whit.

People move on. (And people cheat.) And the courts really don’t care about ANYTHING except the welfare of the child. It better rise to the standard of imminent harm to the kids, if you’re bringing it up in court. Unless the OW is a crack-smoking, white slaver and she’s taking the boys to the dog track, I doubt the court cares.

You care (of course you do, you’re a chump). Welcome to co-parenting with fuckwits! You’ll care about a lot of things your ex doesn’t care about.

In short, you don’t control these introductions. Telling the kids before or after is not going to change what their father does. It might change how they perceive the OW — but again, that’s not on you. It’s simply the truth. This person was an affair partner. If she wanted to be thought of fondly, perhaps she should have behaved better.

#2. Young kids self-identify with their parents. “I have Dad’s blue eyes.” “I’m good at math, like Dad.” Will knowing that Dad is a fuckwit make them feel bad about themselves? Perhaps it would be better to continue dodging the whole truth until they’re a little older, a little more individuated, and a little less reliant on their high opinions of their own parents for their own self-esteem.

Dad IS a fuckwit. I’m sure he has some other fine qualities, but the guy is, in point of fact, an alcoholic cheater. It’s your kids’ right to love him — fuckwit warts and all. I’d tell them (and keep telling them) Dad’s behavior is NO reflection on them. He didn’t cheat or drink because of something lacking in them, but because of something lacking in himself.

Is it a hard lesson for kids? Yes. But what’s worse is growing up with secrecy, wondering why things are a certain fucked up way and devising theories that It’s All Your Fault. And no one ever disabuses you of those notions, because the subject is Not Talked About.

Children are self centered. Not in a Third World dictator way, but in an Everything Is My Fault kind of way. Their centrality is a burden. Relieve them of that burden and tell the truth age-appropriately.

This is how I explained infidelity to a 9 year old: “When you get married, you promise to be each other’s Special Person. That means no other boyfriends or girlfriends. X broke that promise. You know how you feel when someone lies to you? That’s why mommy’s been so upset.”

Life has deal breakers. Grade school kids understand if you break rules there are painful consequences. Does it suck? Yes. But at least it’s not a mystery why the family broke up.

#3. Once I do it, I can’t undo it.

Well, your ex can’t undo being a cheating, alcoholic who caused his marriage to fail.

Why are you assuming the burden of responsibility for this? The truth is not an offense. It’s simply the truth.

#4. The X is going to be pissed when I do this. He cares about his image rather a lot. Perhaps I should worry about being accused of “alienation of affection.”

Bingo. Impression management.

Let’s be clear on what “poisoning the children” looks like, okay? The truth is “Daddy wouldn’t stop cheating on me, and sadly we had to divorce.” Poisoning the children is “He’s a cheating piece of shit and I’ll NEVER LET YOU SEE HIM AGAIN!”

I understand that many people confuse the truth with poison, because it’s a very ugly truth. But if you can speak about it, without editorializing (“Daddy is a man whore”) and answer their questions honestly, I think that’s far healthier than having a conversational no-fly zone over the biggest, most traumatic event in their young lives. Call me crazy…

Your job is to be the sane parent. Provide for your kids. Do the majority of parenting. Do it well. And abide by the court order. Respect his visitation schedule and let go of the rest. (Including PR Spackle duties.)

Let’s assume the worst — you’re back in court. He’s accusing you of alienation. He’s not in the best position here — an alcoholic cheater with 20 percent parenting time. The law is based on evidence. Maintain records of everything you do for your kids. Every expense. Every activity. Every obligation. Always be civil in your email communications with him.

If it comes to a fight and he cries, “She told the kids I am a CHEATER! Wah! And that was the reason for the divorce! Wah!” — I am truly baffled how that’s going to hold a lot of weight. The courts hardly care about infidelity, so why would they care if you mentioned it? Especially when you’ve always obeyed the custody schedule and kept such good records of your parenting obligations?

I was in this position once, only it was mental illness and not infidelity. I was accused of bad-mouthing my ex, because I told my son (I’ve told him this since he was four), that his father has an untreated mental illness. It’s simply the truth.

I told the court that disclosure was a balancing act — I’ve always had to weigh how much to tell my son, age-appropriately, versus his right to have a relationship with his father, despite his issues.

The fact that I had considered this, that I struggled with it, and I showed up every day and did my damn parenting job, impressed the court, my lawyer said. (I won the case. But then again, that’s not hard, the guy is unwell, just like yours.)

Will your ex be mad that you told the truth? Of course. He cares about his image rather a lot. Because that’s all he has — image. You’ve got substance. Have faith in that. Speak your truth.

Ask Chump Lady

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  • “Speak your truth” is great advice. Speak the truth in an age appropriate way is respectful to the emotional needs of your children. I consider my role as a parent is to raise small people into healthy adults. Cheating in any form is not healthy. Deceit and thievery is not healthy either. You must find a way to tell your kids Why the family is no longer intact. As the sane parent, stay committed to raising healthy adults. This crap usually is generational and our job is to shatter this cycle because it is WRONG.

  • People ask me about this all the time. I tell them exactly what you’ve said, CL. Don’t lie, but don’t add opinions.

    My kids found out on their own. One of them came upon some hidden photos of daddy with “some girl” on his lap (gag) and another one overheard daddy’s “friend” telling a group of people allll about their love story which included, unfortunately, “him ending his miserable marriage”. My daughter, by the way, was 11 when she heard this.

    Sometimes you really don’t have to say anything.

  • “X is going to be pissed”. That is your super power right there. Tell your kids in advance that that will be his reaction, tell the kids that the truth, and tell your kids about how people use anger to manipulate others so they keep quiet. The earlier your kids figure out their father the better it will be for them. It’s when you deny the truth you get hurt. Same goes for kids.

    • // , Truly, fore-warned is fore-armed.

      I wish I had had someone to talk about this with me as a child.

      It would have explained much of the otherwise confusing behavior of people I later met.

      Given the letter’s writing style, this woman has some wit to her. Her children likely do, as well.

      Consider the lesson they will learn about their mother, and the adult world in general, if fear of causing offense to the ignorant and manipulative keeps women who know the truth quiet and “in their place”.

      One day, one of them may the knower.

      With their parents’ behavior regarding the truth, the image, and which wins out written in their hearts, what would they do?

  • My ex is not with Schmoopie. She was married with kids too.I did tell them that we are divorced because daddy was dating and you aren’t supposed to date while married. I am not sorry I said it. Because I don’t speak ill of their father. I don’t call him names. We coparent 50/50 and I’m totally at meh now and I’ m happily remarried and he’s happily remarried and they see us talk civilly about homework and school sports . He lives up the street from me and they ride their bike from his house to mine. We are also seven years divorced now. I don’t think I could have told them when I was full of anger and hurt and pain but now that I’m safe emotionally, I told them when they asked. My parents were divorced for the same reason. My grandparents for the same reason. So I just told them that my mom and my grandmother and I are strong women who demand to be treated respectfully in their marriages and I expect the same from them

    • NoWire, invoking your mom and grandmother is actually a very good idea – I haven’t dealt with cheating in my family as far as I know, but my mom often reminds me that I come from a family of women with backbones and that I should act accordingly.

      • My grandmother’s wedding advice to me was simply, “Don’t take any shit off of him.” Haha. I’m sorry I disobeyed her for so long. I’m glad I finally obeyed her in the end. Hell yes, Grandma. Hell yes.

        • Haha Great Grandma! That was my response to my daughter when she wanted to know why she should continue her education.
          “If and when your husband/boyfriend treats you with abuse or disrespect, you can afford to change the locks and take care of any kids you might have.”

  • Kids always know more than we think they do, it seems. Your concerns are super valid.

    I like how you already added candor to the conversation by saying it was a bad situation and you didn’t have any other choice. I also like CL’s idea of explaining it in kid-appropriate terms without editorializing.

    You don’t have to tell the entire truth in its raw form to tell the truth, I don’t think, and I think it’s possible to do that without gaslighting the kids. Even something relatively vague like “Your dad loves you, and so do I. You didn’t do anything that caused this. Not one thing. He wanted other things in his life that don’t fit into a healthy marriage, so the marriage had to end.” may be enough to get the point across for now.

    When I was 10, there were mulitple kids in my class having sex with each other, and that was a few decades ago! Your 10 year old will probably need more.

    I think it would even be fair to say that you’re sensitive to the idea of putting them in the middle by saying anything about their dad that could seem mean, and it’s hard for you to know how to answer their questions completelt without it feeling like that to them. You could tell them about things you believe are critical to a healthy marriage, like honesty and fidelity and trust and communication, and say that when you got married you believed you and their dad were agreeing to those things in the same ways, but it turned out that you and their dad didn’t have the same understanding of the agreements, so much so that the marriage couldn’t work.

    These are just ideas. Your own voice is important, so you will have to make this your own, obviously. I am just thinking that sometimes explaining honestly why you can’t be totally candid/include details can suffice in the short term.

  • Lying to children is commonly dressed-up as ‘for the good of the kids’ but FFS c’mon — this isn’t about Christmas fun, Santa Claus, and his 12 flying reindeer. Tucking ’em up in bed each night while reciting some kind of counselling-approved ‘Twas The Night Before Divorce-mas’ fairytale is neither sane nor healthy.

    Since when is piling more schemes and lies and bullshittery on top of what’s already a stinking landfill site of schemes and lies and bullshittery somehow going to tamp-down the steaming, festering mess and re-shape it into something more socially acceptable? Nope. It just turns the chump into a co-conspirator of cover-ups and makes a mockery of the kids’ own developing intelligence and judgement. As CL says, something along the factual lines of ‘X broke the rules and this is a very very serious thing for grownups, which meant that we could not be married any more’ is well within the cognitive landscape of almost any child throughout early, middle, and into late childhood.

    • Narcissists/Cheaters are disordered, unfortunately as Chumps we trusted someone unworthy of our love and trust, we made a poor choice. If Cheaters had any respect for their children or families they wouldn’t be Cheating and we wouldn’t be put into this position of explaining the cheater’s poor choice. Cheater made a promise to stay married and love his family, but he loves himself more. Why should Chumps be left with the burden of awkwardly explaining to our children the truth of why Daddy and Mommy don’t live in the same house. If Daddy decided he wanted someone different other than Mommy why should Mommy lie to cover Daddy’s ass? It’s sad that anyone adult or child has to face this ugly act and watch their world implode.
      Cheaters make enough excuses for their poor choices
      Simple age appropriate explanations children understand. If they have questions, short answers. I’m not advocating name calling or graphics but it is what it is. Covering up, sugar coating or making the facts sound like a fairy tale only make things more confusing. Children will use their imaginations to fill in the blanks which is dangerous and could back fire on you.
      Just as we know the feeling of doubt when tells us something that in your heart you know isn’t the truth. As hard as we try to believe the lie we can’t shake the doubt. Children sense when they aren’t being told the truth and it isn’t a good feeling. We didn’t make the decision to cheat. CL has great explanations.
      Trust that they suck, cheaters will never tell the truth and dare tarnish their image it’s much easier and more resourceful for them to make up stories and blame the chump.

      • Thank you HopeandGloria! Very well put. As a chump dad still struggling with this issue, your post helps put it in perspective.

        • Thank you too, and I’m glad. You know, this may be my psychopathic-awareness talking, but when the sum total of the sitch is that the Chump becomes expected to do a bit of a wink-wink got-yer-back with the Cheater — get in cahoots with them — and develop a talent for what the Cheater did best (spin a story, bury a lie, dodge a truth, weave a fairytale, aimed to deceive those you’re meant to care for the most)? Shit no. No no no. Just — just no. It’s flipping sociopathic.

    • “Since when is piling more schemes and lies and bullshittery on top of what’s already a stinking landfill site of schemes and lies and bullshittery somehow going to tamp-down the steaming, festering mess and re-shape it into something more socially acceptable?”

      YES, perfect, HopeandGloria!

      (but…there are 12 flying reindeer? I only memorized 8)

      • Haha Tempest! I think you are right about the 8 reindeer, but who cares how many reindeer there are when they are make believe anyhow? Probably need a dozen now because of the lazy, entitled ones. (Maybe there are 4 illegitimate reindeer who are not on the record?)
        One lie always leads to another, and where it leads is not where anyone wants to end up. Cheaters Curve is no place to play, Cheaters Curve you can hear them say, won’t come back from Cheaters Curve!

        • OMG you’re right, 8! I think 12 came out in a gush of emotion as I bashed that out and it seemed as if a dozen or so reindeer should suffice (if they were all on zero-hours contracts).

          • HopeandGloria; Forget about the reindeer, you make some very good points in your post. Just have to laugh when CN goes off the tracks here and there to consider reindeer numbers for instance. It takes the edge off what are always painful realities and gives a little comic relief.
            Shit is only good for growing plants. Thankfully there is some use for it.
            Tell your ex to go crap on a bush, lies are not your or your kids fertilizer.
            Best to you and your kids.

  • I was a wounded bird. Had to leave our home because it’s a rectory and his office was in it. Belongs to the church.

    Anyway – his “just a friend” had been around for the last 3 years and I was not handling things well.

    My son was 9. I did not tell him the whole truth at this time and he blamed himself for my moving into an apparent.

    Much worse than telling him the truth.
    After he explained his fears I have him the age appropriate version of the separation.

    Breaks my heart to even think of the pain he suffered while I was protecting him from the truth!

  • My parents were divorced when I was in elementary school. I never knew why until I got a little older. We just went with our mom, the more stable and caring parent. Found out much later in life that there was infidelity in both of their lives. To much drinking and partying and fooling around. Won’t ever work!

    Fast forward to almost 34 years of marriage to what I thought was a really good Christian marriage. Major signs of cheating here with it all being denied. The lies and deceit are like none other. Young adult kids who work, go to school and still live here watching this and who are in major denial and can’t fathom that their Dad could ever do this. Not to down play but I think in some ways it’s easier when they’re little. Some ways it’s easier when they’re older. It’s just Never pretty!

    I am seriously considering leaving him but still have the youngest in high school. He’s denying it all and just telling me he’s guilty of lying. There are just to many of them that make no sense. Heading to marriage counseling tomorrow night. Lots of good advice on here!

    • I think you already know what the solution is. Unicorns are great but so very, very rare. Good luck and my thoughts are with you!

    • If you wait until the kids are 1) out of high school, 2) out of college, 3) married (etc.), what you are teaching them is that cheating, lying and deceit should be denied and covered up. Be careful about marriage counseling. Often the counselor sees the task as “saving the marriage” rather than protecting the faithful spouse and kids from the abuse of infidelity and living in an environment based on lies.

      • Yes, this was my experience. The marriage counselor cared more about “saving the marriage” than facilitating what was right for the kids and me. When I told her we were talking about separating, she freaked out and insisted that we needed to go on a vacation together without the kids to fix things. WTF? It took me another three months to realize she was way too invested in “saving the marriage” and not the people in it.

    • I had a marriage counselor tell me, with pure contempt in his eyes, that if I didn’t get over it & stop asking for honesty from my cheater that I would prevent us from EVER moving past this. (This was 5 minutes into session #3. I walked out, and the counselor told my cheater that he would agree to continue seeing us if I changed my mind, otherwise I could call someone else. He then gave him a badly-xeroxed pamphlet for a high school student suicide prevention initiative…. we were 34 at the time… What a joke.)

      I spent a while on Google, but in my state misogyny and shitty attitude are not license-revoking offenses. So all I could do was leave bad reviews online.

      In all honesty, if my husband had sought out another marriage counselor & invited me, I would’ve absolutely gone and worked in good faith. Instead, I got my own individual counselor. (In slightly more polite language, his responses to me over our first session were “omg, wtf, how are you keeping your shit together, yes I can help you but no I don’t think you need to waste one more moment waiting on that cheater.”)

      Trust your gut- you mentioned Christianity. In my own faith, I’m confident that our “gut feelings” do not always come from us alone. Trust your gut, and if any “50/50” crap starts to come out of your counselor’s mouth, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

      • I can only echo the above cautions about marriage counseling! If you haven’t already, please see an individual counselor first, one with experience in understanding personality disorders. You need to have an objective assessment of what you’re dealing with before you give your husband the opportunity to lie, gaslight, and blameshift during MC.

        Marriage counseling with a disordered spouse is a minefield–the threat of having their image management undermined is a huge one for them and most will do anything to protect their self-image as a good person who is the victim of an untrusting, crazy spouse. Then on top of it, MC is the perfect stage on which to be the center of attention, making the opportunity to spin more lies and blame in your direction that much more alluring.

        Good luck, but please proceed with caution!

      • When you call marital counselors, ask how they approach infidelity, and whether their goal is to keep the marriage together or whether they are more inclined toward working through what is the most healthy decision for the marriage.

        There’s no way to avoid a bad counselor, but this will help avoid time & money with the worst of them.

      • Oh Heather your first ‘marriage counselor’ experience was just like out of an alternative-comedy sketch! What the hell?! Stop asking Cheater to tell the truth or-or-or-else we’ll have to spend the rest of our lives sitting here listening to his pathetic lying and won’t get to talk about something more interesting like where he’d like to go on holiday this summer with his hangaround-hag?

  • Tracy, as always your advice is spot on and applies no matter what age your kids are. My ex and I separated when my youngest was getting ready to leave for her freshman year of college. At the time, I believed with all my chumpy heart that our great love would overcome this glitch in our road so I told my kids only that we had some things to work through and that it was a mutual decision and no other person was involved. As time passed and it became clear that only one of us felt that “great love,” I came clean with my kids and told them the truth or as much of it as I thought they could stomach (I told them about multiple affair partners but didn’t get into the fact that most if not all of them were sex trade workers). Even though my kids are adults, it is still important to me that I model for them how to be a good human being and that always includes honesty and good faith. As difficult as it was, the truth has literally set us all free. I don’t have to say much at this point. They see a mom who is always there for them and tells them the truth and a dad who hasn’t supported them emotionally or financially for years and is living with a woman who (you can’t make this shit up) lists her occupation on LinkedIn as a Fluffer (look it up, it’s an actual thing).

    • Wow, I didn’t realize that porn actors set up LinkedIn profiles. Good Lord, I hope your kids don’t spend too much time around her…. would hate to hear the details of her day.

      • She actually worked (or works) at a strip club. I didn’t know they used fluffers there too but who am I to argue with her career path?! 😉 I know from experience that she will need all her fluffing skills to keep the ex going. Bahahaha Thankfully my kids want nothing to do with her or their dad.

  • I’m sorry you’re going through this, and it’s definitely harder when there are kids involved because you not only have to look after their own emotional and physical well-being, but try to find time for yours as well. And it seems like every D Day and events leading up to it can be quite different but here’s my thoughts on the questions you’ve raised. My kids were one, eight and twelve when this happened.

    1. It is not your job to keep their secret. In fact, keeping the affair a secret only feeds into the fun and sexiness of it all, which affair types just love. They don’t want the judgement, particularly since it will likely be mostly unfavorable, and they want the cake of things staying as close to how they were as possible, especially if they get lots of lovely cake from your kids.

    But this isn’t realistic. Eventually it will come out. In my case, it had to because the OW was a very close friend of the family. But the family dynamic is going to change dramatically. I wasn’t as concerned about ex’s feelings and made him sit the kids down and do the dirty work of telling them he did something horrible to their Mama that can’t be fixed, and because of what he did, we weren’t going to be married any longer. He tried to leave it at that, but my kids are very smart and knew things were especially rough for the last couple weeks so he told them he’d done something you aren’t ever supposed to do when married. I went up to my room to cry and my older daughter followed me, and she was able to put it all together because of the facts. OW was always here, OW hadn’t been here in two weeks, her dad was always texting/on the phone with OW and I was often left alone to take care of the kids. After that, she told my sons and it went on from there.

    I also (with a bit of pleasure, admittedly) called ex’s boss to try and get his last job back despite the affair going on at work as well, and spilled the beans as justification for why he’d need his job. He was going to pay alamony at the very least, or that plus child support at the very most. So instant uncomfortable working situation for OW, since their boss is very religious, supported ex and I through a very difficult pregnancy and premature delivery and otherwise had been quite understanding and supportive of our family. Yeah, it felt good even though it didn’t get ex his job back, which I kind of figured anyway. 😉

    When narcs hurt people, they depend on our shame, embarrassment and being dumb struck so they can keep on doing what they do. Ex was far more pissed that I “got to” all our friends and most of the family before he could with his spin, “we just weren’t in love any more” and whatever else bullshit he and OW concocted. To this day, both of them firmly believe whenever anyone found out or finds out, that I am still somehow involved and apparently have Svengali-like persuasion tactics, even if I’ve never met the party in question. Far easier to blame me than see that most people have morals and are disgusted at the both of them when they find out what happened.

    Point is your kids will figure it out either by the custody arrangement, when they meet the OW and your ex slips up about the length of the relationship or just because they have good intuition. My older daughter knew our marriage wasn’t right for at least two years prior to D Day. In fact, I wonder if she knew more than I did, or wasn’t as invested in pretending everything was all right because she wasn’t trying to hold her family together.

    And yes, he will introduce the OW. They gain sadistic pleasure in forcing their new definition of love and family on to anyone and everyone, whether they want it or not. This has been the last stand in our custody relationship, that waiting for the other shoe to drop. And since he knows I hate the idea so much, he’s having a great time building up how good OW is and how much she loves and misses my kids. It will happen, you can’t stop it even if OW has a horrible history and all you can do is be there for your kids if there’s fallout from it.

    2. Kids identify with both parents if they’ve been around both parents, and this is probably never going to change. And yes, it breaks my heart when they’ve said things like they wish ex wasn’t their dad or that they wish they didn’t have half his genes, especially in the beginning. I think it’s quite the mind fuck to know someone you love hurt someone else you love so badly, but I tell them that kids come from all sorts of parents and backgrounds and grow up to do amazing things. It’s all about who you are, and you wouldn’t be just who you are if your dad and I hadn’t made you. It’s okay to be angry or sad, and there will be times they wish I wasn’t their mom. That’s natural. Just remind them that they are here for a reason and you love them just the way they are, and take the focus off the dad bit if they get down on themselves about it, though they’re young enough this may not be an issue for a couple more years.

    3. Yes well, he did it, not you. And I always want bad news to come from me so I can be there to comfort them afterward. You can’t keep this from them forever, and all it will do is cause them more confusion and worry about what’s truly happening.

    4. Pardon me, but fuck him. Who cares? You gave up responsibility for his feelings the moment he stuck it in someone else. That is no longer your problem.

    While it sucks to see our kids hurting, I was not going to keep it a secret, gloss it over or wish ex and ow well in their new endeavor at the expense of myself and my children. They’d taken up enough of my thoughts, heart and tears. And I wasn’t going to let them carry on like nothing’d hhappened after shoving me out of the way to start their new life together. Like it or not, I was his first wife, an the mother of his children and he’ll be involved with me one way or another for the indefinite future unless he walks away from our kids or the court mandates otherwise, so again, he should have thought of that before he fucked our closest friend and abandoned us to be with that so very special love of his life. I only hope the kids can see how much I care about them by trying to keep my side of the parenting as normal, predictable and calm as possible. I’m not happy right now, but my love for them and the knowledge that I’d do anything for them has never been in any doubt, and I think they know it so that’s all that matters.

    You don’t have to be his cheerleader any longer. In fact, if you try to do so, it’s only modeling the idea that it’s okay to treat you like a doormat rather than that it’s okay and important to stand up for yourself when you’ve been hurt or wronged in one of the worst ways possible. You want your kids to understand consequences, have self-respect and most importantly, know what is and is not acceptible treatment of people we love, so stand up for you and your kids and stop worrying about what your ex thinks. Mine knew he didn’t have a leg to stand on as far as the courts were concerned, because unless you’re hooking for meth in a truck stop parking lot, I doubt there’s much you could do in the court’s eyes that’s worse than walking away from your family, children and responsibilities where divorce is concerned. So get feisty, mom, be the lioness who does what you have to do to keep your kids safe and well and leave him to the mess he’s made. I firmly believe it will all be balanced at some point in time, but you just need to do the mom thing, love yourself and your kids and don’t look back.

  • DDay showed me that I was married to a selfish, lying, coward. The cheating was only the tip of the iceberg, an extremely painful piece of evidence that my husband had a deeply flawed character that made it impossible for me to feel safe with his as my husband.

    I did not disclose the affair to my kiddo who was in elementary school when I found out. What is far more damaging to kids when they have a character-defective parent is to build their self-esteem. We chump need to be the sane parent so our kids have a better change to develop a sense of self-respect despite their selfish parent’s inability to put their kid’s needs before their own.

    What I decided to do was to explain to my kiddo that I divorced her dad because he lied to me a lot, and disrespected me in ways no husband should ever do to his wife. Divorcing her dad was the saddest and most difficult thing I had to do, and I understand that it is hardest on her, but it was the only option I had as it is unacceptable for a wife to be lied to and disrespected to this degree by her husband. This really helped my kiddo see that the divorce was not her fault.

    So she spends half her time with her dad, reports back on the fun things she does with him and AP, and I keep my boundaries up. I don’t concur with the narrative to tell my kiddo that he dad “loves” her. I tell her that Mommy-love and Daddy-loves are very different things, and that mommy-love is special and super strong because she came out of my very body. I leave out any mention of her dad’s love because I know that in time, she will find out, just like I did, that her dad’s definition of love is more along the lines of “you make me look good.”

    Yes, the cheating (and any ongoing presence of the AP in our kids’ lives) is extremely painful to us chumps, but the most important part of being the sane parent is to teach our kids that the deal breaker was our cheater’s character, that lies and selfishness are unacceptable behavior in any relationships, especially with one’s spouse and kids.

    • “…the most important part of being the sane parent is to teach our kids that…lies and selfishness are unacceptable behavior in any relationships”

      This is exactly how I feel as well, and your story about how you handled things with your daughter gave me hope.

      I left my ex when my child was very young, and he hasn’t reached a point yet where he is curious about the reasons behind the divorce. I’ve been advised by multiple counselors to gaslight him for the same reasons listed in the question to CL. I did the smile and nod and disregarded that advice.

      • NotTodaySatan – Thank you for your comment, having kids with a cheater is the most delicate dance… Especially given the current limited understanding and training of court staff/judges when it comes to high conflict personalities.

        And yep, given the current state of society’s opinion on adultery and no-fault non-sense, I wholeheartedly agree that it is often best to “smile and nod and disregarded that advice.”

      • An entire book could be written on bad advice from medical doctors and psychologists through the ages. Many positions they take are NOT based on research evidence; not telling the kids about when cheating is the cause of a divorce is one such position. While there is no empirical research on the benefits of telling children about the infidelity (yet), there are more good arguments to tell them than to not tell them.

  • Truth is far better for the children and ourselves. Being the good Chump, I took what I thought was the high road and didn’t say anything to our son. During this time I was also smoking the Hopium pipe and wasn’t in my right mind. Afraid if I said the wrong thing I’d blow any chance of reconciliation so I was careful not to upset X.
    Meanwhile without my knowledge X was telling our son I’m mentally ill, an alcoholic and a pathological liar. X forewarned our son with my mental illness I might say X has a GF but promised he wasn’t like that. X played the victim well, X had no other choice but to end our marriage, X claimed he had tried everything to make things work, I wasn’t interested in MC and he couldn’t take it anymore.
    I begged for X to go to MC, X wasn’t intersted. When I found out all these lies were being said behind my back it was too late.
    At the time I thought honesty would eventually prevail and our son would mature and see through the lies.
    Sadly this has yet to happen. Perhaps there will be some revelation for my son but truthfully I doubt it.
    Protect yourself and your children by being upfront and honest. Trust that they’re disordered. Covering for them does nothing but soften the seriousness of their betrayal. Clearly excusing them and setting ourselves up for more disrespect and in an odd way accepting some blame that we must have done something for the Cheater to stray.

    • it is sick how they set the scene behind your back long before the truth comes out. alot of planning and scheming goes into this. sigh, if only they would use their powers for good instead of evil.

    • What I’ve mentioned I found in an e-mail X had sent to our son, in the same e-mail X apologized that he didn’t have the opportunity to live the “charmed” childhood he had.

      I’ve never met a more dysfunctional, miserable family in my life. X described their family life as dark, he would dread when his father came home from work, his mother locked all her children out of the house until dinner time so she could watch her soap operas. His mom didn’t like to cook, she only made three dishes, 1) heated frozen fried chicken in the oven 2) canned baked beans sometimes heated, on Christmas she would add ketchup to her canned baked beans. 3) boiled pasta. mixed with a can of tomatoes. They didn’t celebrate birthdays, no one in the family besides his father was allowed to speak at the dinner table. He was surprised that my family would have fun together and asked me once if we had always had fun like this.. He told me his family never laughed together. I noticed they only laughed when they humiliated or hurt someone. His sisters enjoyed “putting people in their place” by making a scene in stores or over the phone to someone. Growing up his father made fun of him. yes, sounds charming. There’s much more, I wouldn’t consider charmed.
      I remember there were a few times x would tell me I wasn’t June Cleaver, that would render me speechless, I never quite understood that and wasn’t sure I wanted to. A couple of times I came back with and you’re not Father knows Best, just for something to say.
      While I would be having a glass of wine with dinner, X would say so our son could hear him, that he never seen his mom drink or drunk .. that’s too bad, who cares?
      “Charmed childhood,” so far from the truth it makes me laugh.

  • My daughter’s therapist recommended talking about it in terms of what parents are good at and what they aren’t good at. “Dad’s good at fixing computers.” “Dad’s a good singer.” “Dad’s not good at romantic relationships because he needs to keep finding new people and starting over.”

    I’ve learned over the years that it’s important for chumps to get their story out there, but to do it in ways that don’t require the kids to pick sides. Because you better believe that narcs are telling their sad sausage stories, no matter what the court order might say. Mine says the parties aren’t allowed to disparage each other, but the ex is really good at going right up to the line, maybe even putting a toe across, but not openly running me down in a way that a judge might recognize as disparagement. (He disparages me to my face, and in emails and texts.) After taking the high road for too long, here’s some things I’ve had to correct with the kids:

    1. “Dad didn’t know he was polyamorous when he got married, so that’s why you had to get divorced later.” Not true: he swore to be monogamous, but then cheated the entire time.
    2. “Dad’s so rich he doesn’t have to work, he just likes to.” “Dad’s really poor because he has to give Mom all his money.” Younger kids aren’t good at reconciling contradictions – they want to believe what their parents tell them, even if it doesn’t make sense. I just told them, “Your dad pays what the court said he should pay, and he agreed to it.”
    3. “Dad chose to be with other people for a while, but he wants more custody now because he’s changed his mind!” This one broke my heart. My response was, “I never changed my mind. I never chose anybody else over you.”
    4. “Dad has so many girlfriends because he’s so romantic!” People can be romantic with just one person, like your aunts and uncles and grandparents are.

    • Ughhhhhhhh this is too real. Where’s a sea witch we can harangue into stealing these narcissists’ voices so they can finally quit spewing their lies even to little kids?

    • This is great: “Dad’s not good at romantic relationships because he needs to keep finding new people and starting over.”

  • I kept it simple for a 9yo as well. I explained that when two people are married they make a promise to only love each other, they don’t date other people. Daddy told a lie and broke that promise to Mommy. (We have a ‘promises made, promises kept’ rule since he was about 5… so he understands that idea). I left it at that. I don’t bad mouth Mr. Sparkles, but I don’t spackle when he lies anymore. My son is almost 10 1/2 now and can already see through his Dad.

    I’ve also encouraged my son to not get too attached to the AP because Daddy is already dating other people behind her back too.

    I do think the blow was softened because he grew up with older half-siblings… so he knew his Dad had a habit of leaving families/kids.

    Mr. Sparkles tried to say that “we were taking a break” to my stepkids, but having already lived through it with him before with their Mom’s, they basically told him to f-off. Boy did the Narc in him hate that… but they’re 18 and up now, so you can’t spackle for them.

    As my son ages, I’ll discuss more age appropriate details with him… but more than likely, Mr. Sparkles will continue repeating his lovebomb/devalue/discard pattern and I’ll not need to say a word.

  • Sadly, I never had to tell my kids about it. They saw it all first hand. He would bring her to the house when I was at work and the kids were home. He told them he was in love with Mrs Kindergarten Teacher. They heard him screaming and threatening me and saw him break things. When it came to the divorce, I told them I would answer any questions honestly, but they didn’t want to know any more.

    • I had the same experience! My EX dragged our child into his affairs, made the kid lie to me about the OW starting in the third grade. What a POS!

      • How awful! My kids were in elementary school too – 7 and 9 at the time. He had the sickest rationalizations, that the kids would be so happy with two mothers to “love” them, that the kids should see how two people act when they are in love… Yeah he fooled me. That’s what I thought our marriage had been. Now my kids are suffering from PTSD from all the abuse.

  • There’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t run through scenarios in my head about questions my daughter might ask, and after several years, I’m still no closer to figuring out a good answer, and most of the advice that I’ve received doesn’t sit well.

    My daughter was too young to understand what was going on when her mother and I divorced. But some day, she is going to want to make sense of why her family is the way it is, and I still don’t know what to tell her.

    It’s not as simple as telling the truth. Sure, I know the truth, but to her, it’s just one version of the story. Her mother has a different version. How is she to tell the difference? She wasn’t privy to any of it. To make it more complicated, I wasn’t the one who ended the marriage. I (regrettably) danced the pick-me dance until she ended it herself. So while many folks have the task of explaining to their children why they are divorcing their spouse, I have the opposite problem.

    The biggest fear I have is that if I say anything about it, I’m inviting my ex to contradict me, to begin spewing to my daughter the kind of substanceless slander that she spread to her friends behind my back before she made her move. And instead of making sense of her family, my daughter is going to be caught between two competing narratives with no way to sort out who is telling the truth.

    And the truth is that it really is all my ex’s fault. Not to say that I didn’t contribute to anything that was wrong in the marriage, but she is the one who blew it up in spectacular fashion. But I feel like I can’t really say that in any way to my daughter because all she’ll here is, “Dad says my family is broken because Mom…” and then she’ll go to her mother, and she’ll tell her, “Your family is broken because Dad…” She gets caught in the middle of the blame game.

    It helps nothing. But I don’t like the comfortable fictions either.

    So really, I wish I had good advice for the writer. I’m still waiting for some good advice for myself.

    • If you think your X will spew lies if you tell the truth, consider that she can do that whether you talk with your daughter or not. Don’t base what you do on what she might or might not do. Do what is right for you and your daughter.

      If she asks, say that the most important thing in your life was your family, your wife and daughter. That you were not perfect but a faithful husband and father and fought to keep the family intact. But it takes two people to keep a marriage together.

    • I’m sorry about this, Mike. I pick-me danced too, but ultimately asked him to leave after he continued to cheat. But I understand what you mean about having to explain that you actively tried as hard as possible NOT to have this happen. It think it’s ultimately the same thing though. All of us are now single parenting because of their actions, whether they made the final decision to leave or we did.

      I too have an ex who’s very wily with impression management and had been laying the groundwork for a long time beforehand, unbeknownst to me. It doesn’t matter how sparkly your ex’s story is…you still need to give the truth. Keep speaking it whenever asked, no matter how much less shiny and more unpleasant your story is. I believe that over time, most children grow to find out which version is true, on their own. I’ve been told by several people who grew up with divorce, that as a little kid they didn’t really know or care what happened, but as they got older and knew the character of their parents, it was obvious who had done wrong. This heartens me whenever I get that “but how can I compete with his lifelong, well-honed career at being a GREAT storyteller when all I have is the boring old truth?” feeling.

      • I can say that first-hand. My parents never divorced but I grew up hearing my mother bad-mouth my father, including talking about his cheating. I grew up feeling responsible for her unhappiness and spent the first 40 or so years of my life trying to make her happy, since taking responsibility for her own life was beyond her. My father abused alcohol, was a workaholic, and essentially directed his interests outside the home (perhaps to other women, although I will never know). What I do know is I have a lot more empathy for my father as I grew to understand my mother’s narcissism and destructiveness. It took me years in therapy to get (mostly) past the damage my mother did. I respect my father, in spite of his shortcomings, for never crossing those emotional boundaries with me. I still have no idea about what was true and not true from my childhood, but in learning to live with that, I have come to believe that living authentically is the best path.

        So I say: Tell the truth. You can initiate that discussion if you are actually separating and divorcing. If you are pick-me dancing, “saving the marriage,” or sucking the hopium pipe, leave the kids out of it unless they ask if the Cheater is cheating. Putting the kids in a position to live authentically is one of the best arguments for separation, even if the goal is to save the marriage. The pain of D-Day should have taught us all the price of living a lie. A year apart in which everyone knows exactly what is going on would be a powerful reset, as well as an opportunity to test the duration and sincerity of cheater remorse.

    • I don’t think it’s all about the words, Mike B. Your actions as the stable parent speak, too. Though my kids love their father, I’m the one who rides herd on homework assignments, attends the parent-teacher conferences, volunteers as a field trip chaperone, buys the new shoes, treats the wounds, puts together the costumes, bakes the cookies, makes the orthodontist/doctor appointments, teaches how to do laundry, keeps a clean, good-smelling house, plans trips to museums/plays/waterparks/festivals/libraries, hosts family parties, and on and on. They subconsciously know he’s not available for those things — they automatically reach for me when something important needs to be done.

    • Mike B.,

      My kids were both adults, 20 & 25 at the first D-day. With that being said, they have always known that their dad tended to “exaggerate” aka lie. I spackled over this but should have known that if he lies about the little stuff, he will always lie, big or small. My boys know that if they come to me with questions that I will always tell them the truth, no matter what. If they asked their father something and he didn’t know the answer, he would make it up. In the same situation with me, I would simply say that I didn’t know but I would find out the answer or help them find out the answer. I was the parent that talked to them about respecting women, sex, and birth control. As they matured I saw their faces when their dad would tell them something, it was doubt. They have never given me that look. About four months ago my oldest broke off his relationship with his fiance. I told him to come to my house and I sat down and had a conversation with him. I questioned him about the reason he ended the relationship and I wanted to make sure that it was not because he had done the same thing his father had done. The conversation lasted an hour and I was assured that he broke it off honestly because he felt he was simply too young for the responsibility of a life-long commitment. At the same time I left him no doubt on my opinion of cheating and dishonesty. My youngest has brought his friends to me to get my opinion on what they are doing. He has told them that if you don’t want to know the truth, don’t ask mom. She wont spare your feelings when she tells it like it is.

      With all that as a backstory, my opinion is that if you deal with your daughter honestly at all times, you will build a lifetime of trust for her in you. As others have said, don’t editorialize, but when she has questions and begins to doubt her mother’s version, she will come to you and ask. If there are two opposing views, she will trust in the parent who has never lied to her.

      I was raised by my dad and step-mom. Speaking from personal experience, it’s sometimes the moms that eat their young. Dads can be awesome parents.

    • Hi MikeB-

      Your love for your daughter is apparent and I commend you on that. I hope my advice can help you.

      You might be looking into this a bit too much. I think you are forgetting that the “truth” is on your side. By having the truth on your side you should try to use the truth to empower yourself to take on ANY questions that your daughter might have. Yes there will be 2 sides to every story but you must keep focus on the story that only you can control – your story – the truth. Don’t be fearful of what your ex-wife’s rebuttal might be to the truth – you can’t control that.

      What I did when I felt exactly like you (divorced 3 yrs ago) was I started with small conversations with my kiddos– baby steps. I asked my kids (now 12, 13, 15) what are their thoughts and feelings about Mom and I being divorced. My goal wasn’t to tell them what happened but just to listen and I mean really hear what they had to say. I just wanted them to know that they can trust me and for them to feel completely comfortable and safe talking to me about it.

      Because of us having these dialogues over a period of years it allowed me to build an even stronger emotional connection with my kids. My kids trust me and they know that they can come to me – for anything – anytime. I have mentioned to them on how marriage is a lifelong commitment and I don’t believe in divorce unless there is ANY abuse which includes cheating. I also explained that if a marriage is to have a chance that it has to only involve 2 people and not 3. They know mom cheated on me. They picked up on it.

      Quite honestly, I don’t know exactly what the ex-wife has spewed to the kids (and I don’t care) but what I do know is because I have been invested into the bond with my kids – and the truth is on my side – that this shall trump any of her justification she tells them. Kids are intelligent when deciphering between right and wrong.

      Start with small conversations Mike and work your way up to the bigger ones. Do this at your own comfort pace. I feel this will make it easier on you and your daughter when the bigger questions come. Good luck and live strong Mike.

  • i vote for telling the truth age appropriately. your xh is counting on your concern for your kids, knowing you won’t tell them. he will use that against you. and he will tell them his version. and it will make you look bad because he doesn’t care about hurting them.

  • I called my daughter who lives out of state right now and just told her father got a girlfriend and i just threw him out. I cried she cried. It was a mess. I told asswipe to call her himself. It took him a month to finally answer her phone calls and he proceeded with a boatload of lies. Grew apart moms gone crazy love at first site dont have to worry about money anymore. She told me what he said and she knew most of it was lies. And picked up right away about the money. He picked my son up from jail and spit out i live someplace else now deal with it and nothing else. My son came to me for answers and saw first hand how dad was acting. Both scolded me for thriwing him out instead of fighting for him. I explained the inevitable. And i couldnt live like that anymore with the lies and deceit. They backed off me knowing i was the more sane parent. They are both grown. He just threw them both in the fire expected both to just accept everything no questions fall in love with whore juice and jump on their side. My kids didnt. They act ok in front of that bitch but made it clear she better not be on them and she better not say anything about me. They are both dissapointed what dad did and he really still ignors them mostly to this day. Only does you know the important stuff. Asshole. When the kids are with me and hes around he acts normal like he used to. When he is with them and the bitch they better adore and wait on him like she makes her kids do. My kids will drift ftom dad as both are doing now they see how unimportant they are to him compared to her family and saw first hand how he has changed. My daughter said mom dad was never emotionally available to me ever and that wont ever change. She was hoping as he got older he would want to be closer to them. He moans and groans he misses them wants them close by and when they are here spends almost zero time with them but brags to everyone how much he misses and love them poured it on for that bitchs family. And apparently everyone at whores house doesnt care. All of them including the sperm donor all talk no action. It sure the hell aint easy. The truth should always be told age appropriate.

  • My daughter and I no longer talk about it because she is aware of the story which helps her see things more clearly.

    My initial way of explaining it to my daughter when she asked me was to say that her mother is seeing another man (whom my daughter already met) and that a lot of the crazy things going on right now (at the time I told her this) was because her mother was trying to keep it a secret. Regardless of what your mother did it does not change the fact she is still your mother and she will always try and make decisions she feels are best for you just as I will always try and make decisions I feel are best for you. Always remember that this issue is between your mother and I and has nothing to do with you or how much we both love you.

    Fast Forward to a few years later after my X tried to gas light my daughters memories

    – My daughter complains about her mother constantly lying to her
    – My daughter complains her mother is now so paranoid that she restricts who she can have friends with to the point she tells her friends are not to be trusted and most will use you.
    – My daughter (although she thinks the OM is a nice guy) she realizes there are two broken families (he was married with a daughter to) and tries her best to navigate the maze

    Because of the first two items on the list above she is thinking heavily of living with me full time. She feels I am more stable and calmer and she is more relaxed with me. I also let her make her own decisions (within reason).

    So IMO if they ask try to explain it in the simplest terms.

    Another example, right now I cut my X off of Alimony and filed papers to terminate Alimony because she is living with the OM and they purchased a home together (under both their names). My X’s first reaction was to tell our daughter about it and to tell her she needed to pick who to live with right away.

    When my daughter asked me about this the way I explained it to her was the following:
    What is going on between your mother and I right now has nothing to do with you and honestly I am surprised she told you. I (me) gives two types of money to your mother, one set of money is to take care of you when she has you and the other set of money is so that your mother can start a new life. However your mother has already started a new life with this OM and they are not only living together but bought a home together. I am very happy for your mother and hope that this relationship works out for her but it is no longer my responsibility to help her start a new life since she is now with this OM and living together. The custody schedule of 50/50 is not changing and will remain exactly the same so I am not sure why your mother told you that you needed to pick. In fact this has nothing to do with you and you can try your best to ignore it all and focus on your school and playing with your friends.

    Hope this gives you an idea on how to approach the kids. It has worked for me so far.

    • My vote is for telling the truth in an age appropriate way — and in a way that keeps opinions or character bashing out of it.

      Lothos, your advice is so good. The gaslighting/lying will continue from EXs — so it is important to be able to provide clarity — which then offers reassurance to kids. Also, this helps them build good boundaries and emotional intelligence.

      As a kid of divorced parents, my advice is to not tell your kids everything about how you are feeling/processing/etc. regardless of how mature they are. You can do that with close friends or therapist but never ever to your kids.

      • I agree. “What is going on has nothing to do with you” is a perfect lead-in to all discussions. The ins and outs of child support and alimony can be used to manipulate the kids, so responding to such manipulation by clarifying the facts of the matter (e.g., what it means that you are stopping alimony, custody arrangement isn’t changing) will in time help kids negotiate that manipulation.

  • I told my then eight year old daughter , he can’t live with us because “Daddy has a girlfriend. He goes on dates with her “. If you don’t think children understand this, think again. She looked mortified.

    I have watched a lot of the children’s TV programs, and they are harsh on cheaters. You get dumped, exposed, and usually dumped by the op as well.

    I guess only adults buy into the myth that whoring is OK.

  • And him and the whore were so concerned what i would tell people. I told asswipe i would tell the truth if asked unlike him and his lies. His comment wow kar marie thats cold. I said not my job to keep up your image as a good honest guy of integrity. Anyone who asked me what happened i always asked first what did he tell you?

    We drifted apart, decided to seperate, divorce nicely, nothing in common any more (ive never known anyone else ive had more in common with) he moved out later on met whore and thats the story and hes sticking to it. Most of the people knew he was lying and asked me. I tell the truth. And asswipe knows this just wanted me to cover up for him and whore juice for effect and image. Fuck him. He cant handle the truth!

  • I told my kids, 13 & 15, the truth. “You asked where your dad was. He’s in KY with his girlfriend.” I should add for months he had been claiming PTSD and that he was barely even able to drive. For the last 3 weeks before they found out the truth he was leaving every weekend (and making a 6 hour drive). My son thought I must have meant an ex-girlfriend. I told him no, current girlfriend, and then told them both he was having an affair. My daughter wanted to know if his family knew what he was doing. I said yes. Then she asked in amazement, “And they’re ok with it?” Again I said yes and probably went a little too far by adding that my MIL was the one who encouraged the whore to call him. She knew the two of them had had a long distance fling 2 years prior.

    I looked at it like this and still feel no regrets: He moved us 2000 miles across the country, made my daughter give up gymnastics and any hope of a scholarship, made my son give up hockey, tore us all away from our friends for this promise of a better life and because he was so miserable where we were. I was NOT going to fall upon my sword for him. Furthermore, my kids are too damn old and much too smart for me to be able to keep up his lies. If he didn’t want his kids to know he was a lying cheater then he shouldn’t have cheated and lied. Besides that if I had covered for him then what was I supposed to tell them when he up and moved out of the state less than 6 months later without saying a word to them?

    • I hear ya! I am here picking up the broken pieces of the life snow globe. I do not fall into the camp of “kids are resilient” and “they need both parents” and blah, blah blah. I think each situation is different. Thinking that kids don’t know. Think back to when you were that age, whatever it is. You know. You want to know. You want to know that what is left of your world is safe.

      So we hide the truth or water it down and we sow the seeds for the next generation. And the therapist that only talks about the good qualities. Nope. Yes, he/she robs, lies, abuses. But they bake a great cake. Oh, and they pet the dog. Maybe if more people were called on this stuff and it wasn’t so accepted there wouldn’t be so much easy pain. My kids’ say now: there are no consequences any more. And when you see it in one place you realize it is prevalent everywhere. That is so very sad. My kids have learned a very valuable lesson. Find the gem/chump people and hold on to them. Be one to them and hopefully model the behavior you expect. Some sort of complacency prevails and it seems to be degrading even a little faster these days. We need a little more prudence and in order to do that you need the truth or as much as you can get. Kids, too, with all that age appropriateness.

  • I am giving my 2 cents on #2 (kids see part of the ex in themselves still). I look them in the eyes and say,
    “There are two things I still love about your Mom: [child 1] and [child 2].”
    It isn’t perfect, but I am still sorting out the giant lump in my throat about deeper topics.

    • One of the things I like best about the new person in my life is that he says his (cheater) ex gave him the greatest gift: his child.

    • Someone on CL posted a quip about the best decisions (the children) arising from the worst decision (marriage to cheater). I borrowed it in conversation with my daughters (thanks, whomever that was!).

  • I have not yet divorced said cheater but I do know that CL is right. Cheating and Alcholics don’t = good parenting. Not one or both. Binge drinking in front of kids is poor rolemodeling. Texting ow or om while at kids sporting events not good either. My a*hole husband introducing ap to my kids would devestate me. There is no win in the game of infidelity.

  • This is an important topic for me. I did NOT tell the kids right away that their father had a girlfriend; and I regret that. Later I told them he had girlfriends while we were married.

    My experience: An acquaintance whose research is children of divorce suggested I NOT tell the kids about the infidelity as it would hurt their relationship with their father. In my post DDay haze I agreed to it, but told my ex I would tell them if asked in the future. I also told my ex it was my “gift” to him. I worried about he said-she said, but I do have two email messages where he admits to the OW. Also, I have texts and email messages from the same time period where he professed love to me, etc. Evidence for the future, if needed.

    I will not go into my situation in depth, but I will say it has taken my daughter longer to heal emotionally because I waited to tell her. Part of that is because my ex attempted damage control and talked to her way too much which confused her. Here is one example:
    I told her that her father and OWife were boyfriend/girlfriend before we divorced. Also, there had been at least one other GF before she was born. You do not do that, you get divorced first. Period.
    He told her on different occasions: marriage long over, your mom was angry and bitter re: Grandma and I tried to reach her and couldn’t, and over time realized we were not in love anymore.
    Then he told her, yes, I had a GF before you were born, but I loved her. When you do what others WANT YOU to do, and now what you want to do, you feel like you are drowning.

    Daughter is NC with my ex. Son, however, is still in contact, and I worry what versions his father is telling him. My son has a very open heart and sees the good in people. I admit I was the same, and am the only one of my siblings in contact with our cheater father.

    To those in the midst of all this, my experience with a grain of salt:
    tell from Day 1, in an age appropriate way.

  • This letter, commentary from CL, and comments below are all so great. I’m so glad I have this community.

    My child is still a toddler, and I don’t think she actually realizes that her dad used to live with us and that we were married. He made himself so scarce back then, that I think she just thought he was a friend who would come and visit sometimes. And well, he basically was. Except the opposite of a friend.

    Anyway, she has only said anything about this once. We were at a playground and there was a family playing nearby. Looking at them, she said “I wish I had a family like that. With a mommy AND a daddy.” My heart broke. I immediately teared up. But then I smiled and said, “I know honey, sometimes I do too. But your dad didn’t want to live with us anymore, and we can’t do anything about that. But we do our best and we have a great time together anyway, don’t we?” She looked up and me and said “Yeah!” And that was it.

    I’m so grateful to read all these stories because it helps me anticipate the questions that will come later. I feel as prepared for them as anybody could be. Thanks everybody.

  • When my ex was aghast that I went public with his infidelity and got mad at me about it I looked at him confused and said “It’s not my job to be your PR agent.” It’s been a line I repeat over and over. I’m not your PR agent. If you didn’t want to look bad, then maybe you shouldn’t do shitty things.

    • I know! If they’re man enough to do the actions, then they’re man enough to suffer the consequences. What do they think this is, a circus, where they can act like fools and get away with it? Life doesn’t work like that, you do the crime, you do the time. Too bad, so sad.

  • When my kids and I left cheater ex, my youngest son was 12 and my oldest was 16. My youngest referred to cheater ex as the froot loop, and my 16 year old was sleeping with a knife under his pillow. My explanation to them was a relief to them actually. I was honest with them about the threat to our lives cheater ex had made. They knew the level of crazy was off the charts at home, and they were delighted to get away from him. He was just as abusive to them as he was to me.

    The news that he had a girlfriend was sort of anticlimactic actually as far as my boy’s were concerned. They were just glad to be living with me in a sane, peaceful household. I did take great care to tell them that they in no way were responsible for any of the chaos in our former household. The culprit made that easy to see by his behavior, and my teens were far from stupid.

    I’m all for honesty in an age appropriate way. My remaining son loves me, trusts me, and we have a great relationship today.

  • My ex-wife and I told the kids we were divorcing with words straight from my her therapist lips: “mummy and daddy love you very much, but we don’t love each other like husband and wife anymore, and we will be happier being separate”

    My son took the news badly and a few times afterwards kept asking me why — I said I would tell him when he was older. He straight-out asked me if his mum had cheated on me, and I repeated the mantra.

    Then I found CL about a year later, and when he asked me again I said “Mummy started dating AP when we were still married at that’s not OK, and that’s why we got divorced” I told my daughter (then aged 8) at the same time, so they both knew. I think they got it, to the extent that their ages allowed them to. Three months post separation my ex-Wife had already introduced AP to my kids.

    I’m 2.5 years out from D-Day, and they don’t ask anymore. I don’t think they care or perhaps it’s painful to reconcile their image of their mum, with what she did to the family.

    When I was 7, my mother left my dad, and my father told us outright that my mum was a whore and all the details of her affair, and did so for years. I didn’t hate my mother. I didn’t really understand my father’s pain. And if anything I missed her, as I only saw her once or twice a year for the rest of my childhood.

    So imagine how I crumbled, when my ex-wife cheated on me, and history repeated itself. And I finally understood my father’s hurt. And imagine my determination not to make the same mistake as my father — in being truthful with my kids, but not burdening them with my pain and anger. I don’t always get it right, but I try.

    • Wow, NorthLondon, things really came full circle for you. It certainly sounds like handled telling the kids well. Knowing how it felt from your own perspective as a child is probably helpful, too.

    • This is my story too, except my Mom stayed. For years my father berated her and was angry and hurt. He told us everything, and that she was a whore. She had an affair with his best friend, and he was devastated, but didn’t divorce right away “for the kids.” It was not a fun house to live in, in the time between the affair and divorce. I thought my mother didn’t care about us, and I hated my father for being so mean to her and cranky with us. It was complicated. So it was very difficult for me to tell my daughters the truth about what happened with their Dad and me. I didn’t tell them everything, just enough for them to understand that none of it was their fault. It is a fine line between truth and candor. Their Dad is livid, and I didn’t even tell them about the years of lies and prostitutes. He lies to them and tells them he met his new wife after the divorce. They’re very confused. There doesn’t seem to be a perfect way to do this. You just take it step by step, I guess.

      • Me three. Dad moved the Schmoopie (same graduating class as my sister) in after Mom caught him cheating, and he chucked HER out. I had known for years about Dad’s ‘habits’. Really cooked my noodle. As soon as I caught Mr Fab, I suddenly understood my Mom’s positions and actions. She made a great life for herself. Dad…..welllll….Schmoopie cheated and swindled him, and he died ayear or so back. I was not present, though we had made a sort of peace.

        Fast Forward to Mr Fab, living it up while I raise his kid solo half a world away. I made him tell her to her face. Yes, it broke her world, but she has never questioned my kicking him out. Our moving away was after a couple of years of coming second fiddle to the Downgrade.

        History repeats-I got set ip for Chumpitude by my FOO, but I am doubledamned if I would ever lie-or even prevaricate-to my beloved Kiddo.

        Our kids, I hope, will all be able to never step on the Chump Merry-Go-Round.

        x-Meh

  • I kept the secret from my youngest daughter as long as possible. I didn’t really tell my older daughter either, unfortunately she overheard her dad and I having a fight over the OW. I was seeing a therapist while we were trying to reconcile and we talked about my youngest not knowing the truth. She told me that that was going to bite me in the ass in time. My exhusband and I were trying to reconcile and I didn’t want to ruin the relationship between he and our youngest, so I kept quiet. BIG MISTAKE!

    Once I experienced more ddays than I care to admit, I finally pulled the plug on our marriage and we divorced. My youngest came right out and asked me whether or not her dad had an affair. I told her she should speak to him about that. She did. He told the truth. She was MAD at me for not telling her. She found out that her sister knew and assumed that I shared the information with her sister but not her and she was hurt. Still a huge problem between us to this day!

    The youngest also said that he father told her that he wanted to work it out and I did not. Gotta LOVE that! I took her to lunch and calmly explained that his behavior was killing me emotionally and spiritually. I was unhappy with his lack of respect, his inability to be truthful to me and his lack of dedication to our family and to me as his partner. I explained that in order to be a very good mom to them I had to be a happy woman and the current situation was not helping me do that. I told her that explained what I needed to her father and he was not able to meet those simple basic needs.

    In the end…………..over time spent alone with him (and his OW) she came to understand what I was dealing with and she has recently told me she is glad that I ended it. But she is still pissed I didn’t tell her about the affair. In my opinion………….telling the truth is always the best!

    • Totally agree, Kimmy. You can’t really go wrong with the truth, unembellished, and age-appropriate.

      My X tried to control the narrative with older daughter, but she saw through his bullshit (even though she sat quietly while he talked). Oldest daughter is the one who told me to “file, already,” and “he doesn’t get it and is never going to get it,” and “he lied to you for 8 years.” X, on the other hand (because of her silence) said, “She gets me.” I was furious with this statement, and railed during therapy about how he was such a narcissist to think that she approved of his behavior, when oldest D was the first one to label X a sociopath. My therapist said, “See, she gets him.”

  • I never considered not telling the kids the truth about why we were getting divorced. They were 10, 9, and 1 (the baby will be told age-appropriately as she grows). We were all completely blindsided by a man who had been telling us he was the happiest he’d ever been in his life, who told the kids their mom is his princess, who was very openly affectionate towards me and said loving things to me often. (He later admitted to me that it was all to keep me from getting suspicious, but I digress). All they saw was a happy marriage between their parents. So when Dday happened and I knew I couldn’t stay married to this fraud, I knew the kids would need the truth. They had been subject to such crippling dishonesty that to continue it was not an option for me. They need to be able to trust at least one of their parents. I made STBX go with me to a counselor for advice on how to tell them. We had been reading the bible together with them, and just the night before Dday there was a verse about adultery, and my daughter had asked what that was. STBX explained it was “when you run around on your wife”. So we used that as an opening in telling them. He told them he had committed adultery, had a girlfriend and did things with her that should only be done with a wife. We left out the nasty details that she was only one of many massage parlor prostitutes. I told them that a marriage cannot survive without trust and that I would never be able to trust him again. I made it about broken trust because I didn’t want to tell them I think their father is an awful person. They cried and asked a lot of questions, all slept with me that night, and the next day seemed ok. They both told him that night that they forgive him. Neither of them has shown much anger towards him or me. We took them to a therapist a couple of months later and she said they are handling it well and seem to be adjusting healthily. I answer every question they have honestly, but sometimes I have to say “that is an adult topic that we can talk about when you’re older” when they ask for too many details, or too much about their father’s character.

  • I told my daughter that “daddy broke a really, really big promise to mommy, and that’s why we can’t be married any more. When you’re married, you’re supposed to keep promises.”

  • I left my ex when our daughter we under 2 so she knows only a life with parents living apart. Obviously I told her nothing at the time and have often wondered what to say to her 7 years down the track. So I decided I’d tell her things as they came up – once she came back from a weekend at her father’s and when I was tucking her into bed that night she said that daddy had told her that he’d been not very nice to mum because he was sick. A very whitewashed version lacking in any detail but essentially it had truth. So I agreed with that but also told her that people can be unwell and still be nice but that Dad had made bad choices (cheating was for me the least of his crimes). A couple of years later my daughter asked why daddy had so many girlfriends (he introduces our daughter to women all the time, basically as soon as he meets someone, he brings them home and my daughter has to spend entire weekends with them – drives me nuts). So I told her that her dad also had girlfriends while we were married and that was not what you could do when you’re married. Having experienced the girlfriends herself, it was something she then understood.
    I’m not sure whether this is right or wrong but it was child-driven and age appropriate. And I sure as hell don’t want her thinking that it’s a normal thing having a parade of new partners through the house every couple of months (I have about 90% care of our daughter and haven’t repartnered so she definitely doesn’t have lots of men coming through her main home). I guess you need to do what’s best for your own child at a time that feels right for you, but perhaps take time to think about this carefully before doing it.

  • I haven’t read the responses yet, but my situation is a little unique.

    I found Chump Lady on a Google search about Narcisstic husbands. My ex was emotionally and verbally abusive. I took it for 30 years. Our teenager did too. Ex wound up with 0% custody and our kid refuses to see or talk to him (and the court mandated that our teen will be the first to make contact).

    My ex had an EA about 12 years ago, and, did a LOT of internet porn (this is what I know as fact – there could have been more, like a PA).

    During the divorce and child abuse hearings, my attorney instructed me to always tell our kid that his father loved him(!) So I tried to be the good guy and tell my son that his dad loved him even though it didn’t seem like it. My son thought I had rocks in my head, and basically told me so.

    The EA and porn-watching are the least of my ex’s problems with our son, so I will not be making the EA story a priority until it happens to come up in conversation.

    But for those folks whose primary reason for divorcing was a blatant affair; if it were me, I would gauge my divulging the details when I felt their maturity could handle it. The challenge is to not project how mature *you* were, or were not, at their age. You have a good idea where they stand. Kids are smarter than we think. You’ll know when the time is right. And like CL said, you can just tell them the plain truth – without the emotional embellishing. The truth here is VERY clear … Maybe you could say something like: “I have proof that Dad consistently cheated on me and put my health – and your health – at serious risk. He is also an abuser of alcohol. I do not wish to have you kids grow up thinking this type of behavior is OK. If I continued to turn a blind eye, and ‘give him chances’, I am enabling him to carry on like he is. Hopefully he will someday realize the damage he causes himself, and others. I don’t want you to get sucked in anymore, living a life you might feel is normal.”

    • This is nuts: “During the divorce and child abuse hearings, my attorney instructed me to always tell our kid that his father loved him(!)” That was one wacky attorney. I would say it’s always a mistake to try to manage one person’s relationship with another. It is up to the father, in your case, to say that he loves your kid. I’m sure you tell your kids every day for yourself, either in words or deeds. It makes me crazy that professionals direct their clients to do things that actually harm everyone involved. Your ex had to learn how to manage his own relationships. Better advice would be “Don’t badmouth the other parent of your children.”

      • LdJ, so true.

        My late mother-in-law was cheated on by my XH’s father. She spent the last 25 years of her life trying to manage his image in the eyes of his sons. I think she was afraid to divorce, and hoping that her cheater, who had massive health problems, would drop dead and leaver her with his military pension. Sadly, she pre-deceased him by 5 years.

        But both her sons grew into cheaters. Both hero-worshipped their father. My XH had a complicated relationship that probably would need a lot of therapy to deal with, as he hated his father for abandoning his family, but respected his father as the font of all wisdom–which is what his mother conveyed.

        His family never talked about the hard truths. When I broke the news to XH that his mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, his parents were livid. I told them he had a right to know, and that I wasn’t going to lie to him. However, both parents treated their sons as if they were small children unable to handle the tough truths that adults must face.

        Tell the age-appropriate truth, and answer the child’s question, no more and no less. Your child learns that you are the dependable parent. Eventually, they’ll respect that.

  • As a child of divorce (I was 12) I distinctly remember the agony of not knowing what was going on was way worse than any truth I finally got out of my mom.

    • I agree Rokqueen. The truth is very healing and it’s harder to be kept in the dark, than to be told the truth.

    • Totally agree. That makes a kid feel very suspicious, very lonely, and very paranoid. If the parents are keeping up a united front and AGREEING with each other about some abstract decision they made which completely shatters your world and breaks your heart and hurts more than anything ever, what other conclusion can a child come to other than ‘It’s me. I caused this. They’re not telling me as such, but if it’s not his fault and not her fault, and they agree on that point, then obviously the unspoken truth is that there’s only one final option left — it’s my fault. I did this somehow. It’s because of me.’

  • My son knows the details of what happened, but he was 13 at Dday and is 19 now. Although I am not at all sorry for telling the truth, I wish I had been more careful about exposing my hurt to son. Son knows firsthand that his dad is a liar and a narcissist and rather crazy, but still chooses to have a relationship with him. Unfortunately, what this is doing is teaching son that a relationship means keeping your mouth shut and nodding and smiling while your partner (or parent in this case) lies to you, or manipulates you or rambles on and on about crazy stuff that you know is delusional. Son has painfully learned that to speak up or be honest with his dad means a barrage of manipulative, guilt-tripping and raging text messages, phone calls and emails is sure to follow. Ex gets his whole family in on this. So now son just smiles and nods at whatever his dad says.

    This reinforces ex’s belief that he did nothing wrong and allows him to use son as a prop for image control. It also has trained son to accept abuse in a relationship, and I have already seen how son chooses girls who aren’t very nice to him.

    The whole thing breaks my heart, but son is old enough to make his own decisions and he chooses to be close with his dad. My biggest fear is ex will eventually turn son against me, or son will turn out like his dad.

    • I too worry that son will turn out like dad. He learned some of his gaslighting, lyung, manipulative tricks, and uses them on his sister. I don’t know how much is typical 10 year old boy behavior vs red flags. I had him in therapy but it wasn’t helping, so I am trying to use his connection with me to teach him how to treat people. I wish I could find some help guiding me through this.

      • Quicksilver, I’m right there with you. A little over a year out from DDay, 5 months post divorce. D12 and S9 are with me most of the time, and I have the same concerns about S as you do. The minute I start to dismiss some of S9’s behavior as typical boy behavior for that age, I immediately wonder whether I’m spackling? I’ve decided that even if it is typical behavior, i still have to teach him what’s healthy and appropriate and what’s not. He’s in weekly play therapy, and I usually go in with him and the counselor – I think I learn more in the sessions than he does! I also get feedback from my therapist on appropriate boundaries with the kids, and that has helped immensely.

        I know from CN that there are many crappy therapists out there, but mine have really helped me – and CL and CN, of course! Unfortunately, although my extended family is very supportive, they are not really the best source for advice on healthy behavior!

    • Glad, I hope your son has a good therapist. Maybe they could help him. I grew up much the same way as you describe your son, kept my thoughts to myself and stuffed my feelings to deal with my emotionally ill mother. Many times I would tell people that speaking the truth to my Mom just wasn’t worth the cutting off and hysteria that resulted from disagreeing with her. Boy, did that affect my ability to communicate in close relationships after I grew up! In fact, one of the reasons my ex appealed to me was that he seemed so emotionally steady, which was a nice contrast from the roller coaster I grew up in. What I didn’t realize was that he was emotionally stunted, and couldn’t express his true emotions.

      • “Many times I would tell people that speaking the truth to my Mom just wasn’t worth the cutting off and hysteria that resulted from disagreeing with her. ”
        Lyn, this is exactly what my son says… that it’s just not worth the hassle to speak his mind to his dad, because son doesn’t want to deal with the barrage of text messages and phone calls that will follow.

        Son does not want therapy at this point, so I just keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best.

  • My daughter was 3 and I told her, “when mommies and daddies are married, daddies are only supposed to take mommies out on dates. Daddy took another lady out on dates and it hurt mommy’s feelings so badly that she couldn’t live with him anymore. That’s why we live in the new house. It’s called divorce. Mommy and daddy won’t live together anymore.”

    And that was it. She understood. She said, “It wasn’t nice of daddy to do that to you. I’m sorry mommy.” And then she changed the subject. She is 4 now and she has mentioned it a couple of times, but I never bring it up. I NEVER, ever talk to him (I have an intermediary who passes along only need to know messages about her schedule), so things are peaceful for her and me overall. She understands that we don’t talk and hardly ever brings up her happens on her visits with him and I’d ask.

    Kids deserve to know the truth about their own lives. As she gets older and asks questions, I will answer them honestly.

  • CL. This is such an important topic. Everyone with a different story. The balancing act between truth and fiction we feel we must do to avoid even more sorrow in a horrible situation. I can only tell you what worked for me. I recited the marriage vows and told my children their father broke them and I would answer any questions they had when they turned 18. Needless to say, they got all their answers watching the continuous shitty behavior of their dad and had no questions for me when they turned eighteen.

    Except one, “Mom, did you know that dad just used you like the other women in his life?” I answered, yes.

    His response, “I wish you would have told me that when I was 14.”

    I threw his dad out when he was 9.

  • I haven’t read all the comments yet, but will, but wanted to offer my perspective. My sons were 7 and 3 when I told them the truth. Really, it was more my 7 year old, the 3 year old was too young to even sit still for 3 minutes. At the time, my then husband WAS introducing my kids to the AP via Skype. This was PRIOR to my divorce even STARTING (and, I won’t go into it here, but judges HATE that shit, so once I told the court that, I got almost everything I wanted in my divorce in ’14 – early ’15). So, anyway, rewind to spring 2014, divorce hadn’t started, but husband had rented a small house, but would Facetime/Skype with AP who lived 2000 miles away. My kids would go there on weekends and literally would be prisoners there for the weekend. They’d tell me their Dad would put AP on the Facetime and they wouldn’t leave the house FOR THE ENTIRE DAY!!! Literally, she was like this head following them around from room to room, as husband would carry the tablet around to whatever room they were in. They’d have to order delivery for food, as they couldn’t leave the house.

    So, husband was doing the whole, “she’s a friend! Mom and Dad just ‘grew apart’ and that’s why I don’t live there anymore!” bullshit. My older son started not sleeping (he’s been an awesome sleeper his entire life) – nightmares, coming in my room to sleep, etc. Acting out at school, grades slipping. So, I sat him down and explained, “when 2 people get married, they make promises to not date anyone else. Dad broke that promise and started dating AP, the woman who’s a head on your Dad’s tablet on the weekend when you’re at Dad’s house.” My older son looked at me and said, “So, he cheated, right?” (CL is always right – kids know WAY more than we think they do). My older son is very bright and precocious. He knew something was wrong. And in the Occam’s Razor principal “the simplest explanation is usually the correct one”, he could sense IMMEDIATELY what I said was true and correct, and what his Dad was saying was whackadoodle and confusing and didn’t make sense. After I told him the truth ALL of the behaviour problems and sleep issues went away. ALL.

    I won’t lie, the court ordered therapist was not happy once the divorce DID start and found out I told the truth to my son, and said, “you should always lie to your kids to protect the other parent’s image in their eyes” (which, we won’t go into here how screwed up more therapists are), but, I don’t regret my decision for a minute. Not. One. Minute.

    • OK, I can’t let this one go. So if a parent is a murderer or child molester, you should protect his or her image in the kids’ eyes? Call me crazy, but that’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard in a long time, that we should lie to kids to protect the images of adults. “OK, Johnny, Coach Sandusky is a great man…”

      • These therapists are messed up, LAJ. In my case, the therapist’s “opinion” really held no weight, it didn’t give my EH more time with kids or custody, etc. I’m not even really sure how rigorous a therapist’s course of study/education/degrees really ARE to be able to hang a shingle out as “a therapist”. In my book, it’s just an offshoot of the same old, RIC bullshit we’ve all come across. It’s all under the same abusive umbrella.

  • I decided not to lie for a liar, pure and simple. Lying ruins relationships, even with your children. Trust is a basic building block of ANY relationship.
    This is what I told my daughter when she was 4. That after her father did not pick her up as scheduled (lived in another State) I told her that was why Mommy could no longer be with Daddy, he says he is going to do things and does not do them. He says he is going to do things and does not do them. It hurts people like it is hurting you now, and it is not your fault. She understood at 4, and a learning moment for not lying.
    The prevailing wisdom at the time was that it hurts children to say anything “bad” about their other parent.
    Always age appropriate, and no venom in my voice when I told her.
    Later I told her when she wanted to find him and get to know him, that I was concerned that he would hurt her. (He never contacted her again, so left a hole there where a relationship should have been)
    That he did not help us financially or emotionally while she was growing up, and I would be concerned about his motives. I did not try to stop her, but she decided she would pass on knowing him. She is 30 now.
    She also asked me if Santa Claus was real because she heard from older kids that he was not.
    I put her on my lap and told he that no, he wasn’t, but that we can still have fun putting cookies out, etc.
    (I think she was 6 or 7) She surprised me by saying thanks Mom for telling me the truth!
    I believe delivering the age appropriate truth, showing how there are consequences for certain behavior is some of the best teaching we can do at any age. In every other way I did try to protect her of knowing the truths about the world she did not have to be exposed to, which she also thanked me for later.
    But when she asked me a straight question, I found a way to never lie. This is one thing I did right. (I am not as mighty as other here, but when I can contribute, I do)
    I think she listened to me because I never lied.

    • My mother, who lied all the time, did give a great explanation of the Santa thing: that while there is no one human “Santa,” the Santa Claus spirit is what we celebrate with kids at Christmas, believing in giving to others.

  • I would like to address it from the court angle. Yes, “the law is based on evidence” but a more nuanced explanation is that “the law is based on evidence, interpreted by a judge.” And that judge is human, with specific assumptions, biases, and life views.

    In my case, my judge was a Southern, white, conservative, ex-military male. He believed very strongly that sons and fathers should have a relationship and it was my responsibility to facilitate that. Even though Judge Roy Bean issued me and teen son a Protective Order for domestic violence, he also ordered a step-up visitation schedule. No contact for 2 months, then 4 hours a month, then 8 hours a month. Judge Bean declared in court that overnight visits were his ultimate goal and if I didn’t produce reluctant teen son, he would put me in jail.

    XH and I went to court-ordered mediation before the overnight visits started. Desperate is a pale word to describe my feelings. After 15 hours, I had an irrevocable MSA that gave me sole managing conservatorship and kept the visitation at 8 hours per month. I gave up a lot of assets but son was safe.

    Now, XH has buyer’s remorse and is threatening to return to court for a custody/visitation modification. Yes, I have evidence that I am a good mother but I have NO evidence that shows XH would be a danger to our son. XH has behaved himself remarkably well these last six months.

    You think the courts don’t care about your issues with the OW? They really don’t care about your beef with the X. Today’s legal mantra is “children deserve both parents.” The OP states that her XH is “doing OK with his co-parenting gig.” Does she have proof of his alcoholism? Is he neglectful, abusive, absent? Her judge may well see a penitent, reformed father battling against a bitter, vengeful mother.

    My point is that until your last child turns 18, your life is under the control of a judge. “How it’s going to play in court” is always a valid concern. It could be worth the cost to run your disclosure question by your attorney, who knows your XH, your case and your judge.

    • Eve, I agree that we should never feel sanguine about what a judge might or might not do. Everyone has to weight the risks. That said, I refuse to live with a self (or cheater) imposed gag order. We don’t control other people — including judges. All we can do is our best job at this parenting gig, and yes document the HELL out of that — and the ways the other parents fails (if they fail, most of them, from reading my own blog, seem to fuck up quite predictably and without prompting).

      Unless the other parent is demonstrably abusive, mentally ill and/or addicted to the point of being a danger to others, I think we have to accept the other parent in our child’s life and respect that relationship, however much it pains us personally.

      The fact that some idiot judge has his own agenda? It could happen. It could also happen that you get a judge who really hates infidelity.

      I agree, run it by your lawyer. But IMO, the poster has 80 percent custody and is doing the majority of parenting here. I can’t see how telling the truth, factually, without bad-mouthing, would imperil her. But I’m not a lawyer. Just a chump who’s been sued a bunch of times for custody. It’s always good to run things by lawyers.

      • I think it depends on the other party, which is a sucky reality. Is he litigious? Does he want to burn you? Maybe you keep your 80% custody and temper your explanation. Is he happy with the current arrangements and never wants to set foot in a court again? Then explain to your children in age-appropriate language.

        Determine what protects your children the most. Then do it.

  • Would anyone bother to tell a (now) 25yr old son about his father trying to have sex with his (then) 17yr old sister? My X’s first marriage ended shortly after he tried to get his own daughter to have sex with him. At that time, his son was only 15.

    Fast forward, I married him w/o knowing about this gem from the get go…but did notice the “sparks” and inappropriate sexual talk between them and called them on it at a point when she began trying to control our marriage using the “hook” that she KNEW she had in him…she was 21 by that time. After that, she hated me for calling them on their behavior, and continued to talk to him with sexual innuendo’s and continued to dress like a slut around him. Apparently, this was the only way that she could secure her father’s interest and approval of her.

    I found out about it one evening when X was very drunk and disclosed it…I confirmed it when I asked them both about the truth of what happened. He said it was an “inappropriate anomaly”…she said it was “normal” for a father/daughter to have a very close relationship and that I was jealous…and that her dad “repented” (as he told her he had). For me, this answers the reasons why his daughter soon thereafter became extremely promiscuous and rebellious…but she blamed ME for her promiscuous behavior, saying I made her feel “dirty” by my inquiry.

    Now X is gone and his 25yr old son has NO CLUE as to how this unknown family secret impacted trust and brought our marriage down (along with the porn and cheating thereafter). He just believes the narrative that I am nuts and hypersensitive…probably because I had not disclosed this sick part of that relationship to him. I never could bring myself to tell this young man that his father (who he idolizes) “groomed” his sister in such a way as to be his object of lust…and the horror I experienced whenever the two of them were together both in front of me and especially behind my back.

    She is 30yrs old now…and STILL acting like my X’s surrogate “wife” in many many ways (to keep his attention). I had to cut them ALL out of my life…but I am heartsick that his son will live with blurred boundaries as he thinks that that relationship is normal. He also seems to have taken up the same outlook about his sister and women that his father has…this is my only regret for not telling.

    Oh, btw…my X’s ex wife was also sexually abused by HER father for YEARS. It is not a wonder why she was too messed up to not have noticed when her own daughter was being groomed by this man to follow suit. AND, my X’s father sexually molested his own sister when he was growing up as well.

    • Sweetz, that’s a very sick situation! It sounds like this boy is your stepson, do you still see him on a regular basis? I’m wondering if he’d think you are just trying to get back at his dad if he already believes you’re “nuts and hypersensitive?” It sounds like he’s already absorbed the lessons on how to treat women from his dad. Maybe the best you can do is encourage him to find a good counselor if he asks for help.

      My aunt tried to tell her son about some unsavory behavior by his father, and the son believed his dad’s tale that his mother was crazy. After that, her son distanced himself from her for the rest of her life.

      It is a tough situation you’re dealing with.

      • Yes, he is my stepson. And the reasons why I never told him is exactly as you have said. His father, I am sure, has been demonizing me especially since I caught him in his last escapade well over a year ago…I am certain that he saw the handwriting on the wall as I became cold and got my ducks in order. So telling it at this point would only serve to make me appear to my stepson as me being the scorned woman. My stepson is also sharing a business with his dad…so his very lively hood depends on his father and staying on his good side.

        The Ex took his son when he left me (of course). So now they are both living together renting a house. My stepson would never venture to call or visit me…that would make him feel “unfaithful” to his father I am sure. As a matter of fact, one day a few weeks ago, X stopped by my house when he knew that I’d be I at work. He asked my two sons (29 & 24) if they wanted to go over to his house for “dinner”. They both said that it would be too awkward and declined.

        I guess I am just torn about if I “should have” told my stepson long ago before all the deeper shit hit the fan in our marriage. Perhaps I would have been more “believable” then. Given that my stepson’s mother “could have” collaborate the truth since it was her marriage that blew up first, I still somehow believe that she would be too embarrassed for her daughter to confirm and see it as water over the bridge.

  • Your children probably know more than you can imagine, mine knew far more than I ever wanted them to. They found out because their father was not very good at covering his tracks. They were smart, observant children. They had friends who had already been through the divorce experience. They were not afraid of being the children of divorce. They may misinterpret things if you do not tell the truth. Tell them the simplest, most direct way you can without going into lurid detail, let them ask questions if they need additional information. If they guess shocking things, swallow your fear and frustration that they know what those things mean at their tender age, and try to answer, again, as simply as you can.

    Children need information about illness. I was an adult, and had already graduated from college and worked for 10 years before I ever started getting genuine information about alcoholism. I could not believe the extent of detail I did not know. There is a reason the programs exist for families of alcoholics and addicts. They know the problems to expect. I was even older when I found out about Narcissism. I wish I had known about these disorders and addictions earlier — I may have been able to save myself years of grief, who knows?

    I made sure my children learned about alcoholism early. It runs in my family and in their father’s family — so they are at greater risk than the general population. My oldest son also has ADHD. I used his own problem, which he inherited from his father, to educate him and his brother about that and other disorders. We have talked about character disorders, and sociopaths, and psychopaths, and all kinds of scary Monsters who walk among us. The conversations were not usually comfortable. We talked about promiscuity and STD’s. These conversations were not part of a curriculum I developed, but I took advantage of opportunities as they came up and as the children asked questions. Fortunately for me, sex education was taught in 6th grade in our school system, and that class offered many opportunities for extended conversations. My children were 9 and 12 when I finally divorced their Dad. They were old enough and knew enough to have some serious conversations. They were more ready than I was to handle the truth.

    The point is, by providing them with the truth and relating it to things they already knew, I developed the ability to talk about anything with my sons. They felt comfortable asking me things I was not necessarily comfortable answering, but I did it anyway. Because they need to know the truth.

    If you read my posts for the last two days you will know I had a parent who was extremely disordered. I paid a price for the code of silence that was maintained in my family of origin. I swore I would not live my life like an ostrich with her head in the sand, I would not pretend things were fine when they were not fine. Some things are embarrassing, and some things hurt a lot, but that doesn’t make them any less true. Your children already know that life is not like it appears to be on TV and in the movies. Let them know what they need to know when they need to know it. You owe them that, without editorializing, if you are going to try to be a good parent. Chances are, you are the only parent who will be concerned enough to try.

    • Great points, Portia. It sounds like you did a great job talking to your kids. As for kids knowing more than you think they do…my oldest told me after my ex left that as far back as when he was in middle school he suspected his father could be having an affair. He said, “but I didn’t want to believe that of my father,” to which I answered, “and I didn’t want to believe that of my husband.”

  • I was raised in an era when families swept these things under the rug and never talked about them. I watched a few cousins discover truths about their family after they were grown. I was also there when one of my cousins discovered some old letters in a closet that detailed how her father had been married before and had another family. I remember her saying, “So it’s really true…” She was around 15 at the time. Not a great way to find out.

    My kids were grown when D-day hit, and I actually feel I told them too much in the beginning. However, I got hold of myself and stopped saying anything negative about their Dad. Then I discovered “The Document” on his laptop that explained exactly how my ex felt about his married Howorker. I told the kids I’d discovered this document and that it had answered a lot of questions for me. I told each child they were welcome to read it if it would help answer questions for them. Both chose to read it, and said they felt better knowing the truth. I don’t believe they’ve mentioned anything about reading the document to their dad, although one child had a lot of fun asking questions about his coworker’s husband and watching his dad squirm. By the way, both kids still love their dad, although they worry about his mental health.

    IMO, it’s so much better to tell the age-appropriate truth than to hide what’s going on. This is what my husband did to me in our marriage, and it’s a horrible thing to live with. If he’d just told me years ago “I’m in love with my married coworker and want out of our marriage,” I’d have let him go. Instead he chose to waffle between treating me nicely and treating me like I didn’t exist, which made me feel crazy. I think kids feel the same way when the truth is hidden.

  • I just had a conversation with my newly turned 18 year old son last weekend. When the stbx and I split up 5 years ago, the kids were 13 and 9. We told them that since mom and dad cannot get along and fight and argue all the time, we were getting divorced.

    A month ago, my son and I had a huge argument. Screaming, yelling, cursing. It was horrible. I felt like I was arguing with the ex all over again. And it took everything in my not to say “You’re just like your dad’.

    I sat him down and told him I wanted to tell him how it feels to be disrespected. I told him that his dad started spending time with Jane from work (who my kids knew because her kids and our kids went to the same school). He was texting her, calling her, sneaking out of the house to see her, taking our kids to her kids’ sporting events, lying to me about her, etc. I told him all that time he spent devoting to her and her family was time he disrespected our family. He disrespected me, especially because he refused to got to marriage counseling with me. He disrespected him and his brother by spending his free time with her and her kids instead of his own. He completely disrespected me by having a sexual relationship with her. You do not do that to the woman you promised to love for life, nor to your own children. I explained how I took care of the family, the house, the chores, the bills, his dad’s medical conditions, how I worked, helped with homework, etc. and how his dad did nothing. I explained how his dad ran through money which hurt us financially. I explained about the emotional, verbal and mental abuse I endured as well as the gaslighting, The walking on eggshells – which my son also endured. I laid it all on the line for him. I told him that I will not be disrespected ever again by his dad, himself, his brother or any one else for that matter. And that he needs to demand respect from others as well as do the same in return. He sat there and shook his head yes. It looked to me like he already knew about Jane and he could see now what was behind all the fighting.

    For the first time since I left that idiot I feel good. Real good. Like a huge weight was lifted from me.

    So my advice would be to tell the kids age appropriate information. Don’t hold it all in trying to protect the children because in reality you’re only protecting the ex. And we all know they don’t deserve that!!

      • Thanks Lyn. I’ve done my best to be the sane, stable parent. It amazes though how two kids in the same family can pick up traits so early on in life. My older son is very similar to his dad. I spend a lot of time correcting him on his behavior – he tends to treat his younger brother as his dad treated me. I also spend a lot of time telling my youngest not to be a chump. That just because he saw me take all that BS from his dad, it is the wrong way to go through life. That he needs to stand up for himself and create boundaries. I think that if all of us chumps can do one thing for our children its to show and teach them how NOT to be treated.

        • Margo, my kids are the opposite of yours. The oldest is more of a chump like me, the youngest is more like his dad. They were different from birth!

  • This is my number one topic. Everyone has a different take on what to tell the kids. My kids were 4 and 6 when we split after Dday and I was pushing to come up with us to tell the kids something together. He picked the kids up from after school and told them before I got there “Daddy did something bad so that is why he cannot live with us anymore”. In a way, it makes it easier for me to tell the kids something later on because after telling them this, it’s hard for him to take it back. The kids remember. I confirmed to them that “Yes, your father did some things that were very bad and that is why we cannot be married anymore.” Even though they are 9 and 11 now, I still don’t think they fully understand adultery, so I’m planning to keep the full truth from them as long as I can. Their father, the coward still has the OW ( an ex-friend) and brings them around the kids, but he hasn’t introduced her as his girlfriend so that is the only reason I have kept quiet. My pastor told me not to push it, once the divorce is made final, he might step out with her and my kids might put it together at this point.
    One point I have to make is that anyone who is willing to do this mess to their spouses, cannot be great parents as that selfishness tends to permeate ALL of their relationships. Be the sane, stable one for your kids. My son told his counselor “If anything happens to me, my mom will take care of it”. They notice that we are doing the heavy lifting and are not fooled for long. We have to give our kids some credit.

  • I’m so grateful for this CL post today about how to explain cheating and divorce in an age appropriate way. I recently posted in the forums about how to tell my 4 year old about divorce. STBX starting his affair right after our son was a year old, and then his Dad moved out for good when he was 2.5. He really knows nothing different other than his parents live apart and he has a steady visitation schedule with his dad. But in the last few months, he’s started asking questions about why Daddy doesn’t live with us, Does Mommy love Daddy, Does Mommy miss Daddy, When will Daddy live with us, etc. And he’s been verbalizing a lot more about missing his Dad very much. The answers here are so helpful, and I’m so grateful for this community. Seeing my little guy sad about missing his Dad, and seeing him start to notice other families have a mommy AND a daddy and then getting sad about it is one of the hardest things about this process. It just breaks my heart. So I really want to do the best I can to answer his questions, as they come, in a truthful, age-appropriate, non-editorializing way…and this forum is so helpful and supportive in my efforts to do that. Thanks CL/CN!!!

  • Wow, thanks for answering my question, CL! I really respect your opinions.
    And thank *you* for the massive discussion thread, CN… This is going to take me awhile to digest.

    These are the main messages I’ve taken away…

    Whatever I do or don’t do is unlikely to affect the timing of the OW’s introduction to my kids–at least not in any predictable way. So, I won’t bother considering that as a factor. (I’ll put that particular hopium pipe down, too.) I will take care of this issue on my own timetable.
    (Aside… BTW, this message is totally consistent with my personal counselor’s advice about trying to anticipate the behavior of an alcoholic–i.e., “All bets are off. Alcoholic brains don’t react or function the way a normal, healthy brains do. So, make your decisions, carry on with your life, without giving any weight to what an alcoholic may or may not do in reaction. His reactions and behavior will be too unpredictable to guess at or try to manage.”
    I guess I was forgetting that.)

    Kids’ tendency to explain a divorce mystery by wrongly adopting fault for themselves could be at least as damaging as letting kids understand an ugly truth about a parent. There’s no clinical evidence one way or the other, so I’ll just have to make my best judgment on that. Also, there is something to be said for positive role modeling… We don’t apply spackle in large quantities, we face the truth, we deal with it, we focus on the positive things we *do* have, and guess what…. We’ll still be OK through all of it and the world won’t come to an end.

    The *X* rang that bell. It is what it is. Stuffing cotton in the kids’ ears is not my responsibility, so I don’t necessarily have to be so very, very cautious and so very, very worried about having perfect judgement all the time.
    It’s stressful anyway. I’d have an easier time dealing in age-appropriate honesty.

    In the view of the court, age-appropriate honesty is not considered to be character assassination, poisoning of the kids’ minds, or interference with the co-parent’s relationship. I will stop worrying about any of those things (after I double-check with my attorney).
    Kindly yours,
    WTBGP

  • The only one who can give the “view of the court,” is the Court, otherwise known as the judge. Your “age-appropriate honesty” can certainly be characterized by opposing counsel as alienating the affection or poisoning the child’s mind against the other parent, which in my state, is grounds for a modification of primary custody.

    I’m not saying any of this is going to happen. You raised the issue of parental alienation as a strategic tactic in a legal fight. Except for family lawyers, very few people spend a lot of time in the family courts. I do. I work there. And every day, I see women and men who are aghast that the judge believes the other party’s lies.

    I know you are a great mom and want to protect your kids! I just wanted to share my professional and personal experience that there are no guarantees in the court room. If you even think it’s headed back there, talk to your attorney.

  • Wearing the Big Girl Panties-

    My kids were adults when my dday occurred but I think the same rules apply. I told the both of them that their dad had an affair without any commentary or hyperbole. Obviously young children wouldn’t understand that but I’ve read a lot of fine examples of how you can tell them age appropriately. I think something along the lines of how CL put it explains it in a way that’s easy for a child to understand.

    I really don’t understand why any counselor would advocate keeping the truth out of the conversation. My sincere hope is that they believe most people can’t speak that particular truth without bonus adjectives like “daddy is a man whore.” I would agree that it’s damaging to use language like that but I don’t think the truth harms children.

    To the contrary, I think it’s much worse to let them believe love just evaporates for no reason. I am guessing that most kids would internalize that fear and believe that if daddy and mommy just woke up one day and stopped loving each other for no good reason, then it’s possible they could stop loving their children too.

    Sorry you have to deal with this but you’ve really done great with setting boundaries and getting out swiftly after your discovery. You are mighty!

  • when we split the reason was “mum and dad don’t love each other any more, and when you don’t love somebody you don’t stay married to them”. she was 9 years old at the time and it was the truth as i knew it. i didn’t discover the affair until quite some time after we’d separated (although i’d long had suspicions).

    this makes things tricky. daughter suspects something is up because she knows that mummy’s “boyfriend” is still married. i’m the one who told her this after she’d confessed to being upset about some of the things her mum was doing (consistently breaking commitments to her, basically). i’ve told her that what her mum is doing is wrong and that it’s not ok to have a girlfriend or boyfriend who is married. she gets this (she’s 12 now).

    she’s missing the vital piece of the puzzle, though, which is that her mum was having an affair with this man whilst she was married to me. it’s not an easy thing to say as she adores her mother. my shrink thinks i shouldn’t say anything and just model honesty and integrity to her. the differences between life with me and life with her mother will become evident over time. basically, the idea is to let her mother dig her own grave.

    part of me likes this idea; but part of me just wants the truth to be out in the open.

    my situation is made a little more difficult by my own family-of-origin’s past. when i was 12, mum had a brief, marriage-ending affair after 15 years of abuse from my dad. the guy ended up becoming my step dad (still is) and has actually been a much better role model for me than my own father. mum was honest with me about meeting someone else right from the start, but although the separation was shocking, it was not surprising. life at home had been pretty horrible for many years. it was a very difficult time for mum and i ended up becoming quite codependent as i tried to support her emotionally. i was afraid that she was going to kill herself and confessed to me that she was feeling that way at times. i was very anxious.

    so a big part of my hesitation is due to me not wanting to burden a 12 year old girl with adult concerns.

    sorry, i don’t really have any advice. sometimes this doesn’t seem like a black and white issue to me.

  • I just wanted to share (rather late!) my experience with this important issue. My kids were 11 and 12 when DDay #2 occurred, and I kicked their father out. We had always fought a lot, for all sorts of reasons (yeah, he’s a narc, so you KNOW what it’s like to live with him). So the kids didn’t really ask why we were splitting. The only thing I said, a few months after separation, when the ex was really depressed, probably drinking heavily, and clearly regretting the consequences his choices had brought upon him, was that the separation had been 100% his choice. In my book it was, since after his previous affair, I had made it extremely clear that I would not put up with it happening again, and since, when I confronted him (oh so gently, I’m such a chump!) about Affair #2, he happily accepted to move out to pursue his twu lurv w/Schmoopie. I requested that he not introduce Schmoopie right away, in an effort to make the transition less difficult for the kids (and sweetened that for him by mentioning it would also make it easier for the kids to accept Schmoopie later).

    About a year later, our daughter, by then 12 ys old, figured out their dad had a girlfriend (evidence in his apartment). She said nothing to me, but asked him. He stupidly denied it, and two weeks later when she asked again, he again lied to her and her brother. She came home furious, asked me, and I confirmed that he had a girlfriend, said that I considered it normal after a year separated, but that I didn’t consider the lying normal, and didn’t know why he’d lied; they’d have to ask him. When he called me, to get me to fix things for him as I always had done, I just told him he would have to deal with his relationship with the kids, but that he shouldn’t lie to them.

    He then admitted that Schmoopie was in his life, talked about her and their relationship, including showing them photos of a trip they had taken together … just a few weeks after I kicked him out. So of course our daughter figured out he had probably cheated, again said nothing to me, and asked him. He didn’t lie this time! He just … changed the subject and refused to talk about it. Again she waited two weeks (next weekend with him), asked again, same thing. When they came home, she asked me straight out, I confirmed what she already knew, and when asked, also confirmed that it was the second time. She became even angrier at him, and VERY VERY angry at me.

    She felt I had withheld important information from her and her brother. She reminded me that I’d always taught them that not telling things that people would want to know and should know was also deception. She felt that she needed to know she could at least trust me to help her deal with REALITY. I explained that I was following best advice in the field at the time (I hadn’t found CL yet!), and that I was trying to help them both have a good relationship with their father. She felt I was deluding her and her brother, by letting them build a trusting relationship with someone who I KNEW was not honest and was perfectly willing to do multiple things that he knew would hurt the people around him, including his own kids. I was essentially encouraging them to trust someone untrustworthy. She felt very betrayed by me, as well as by him. As a matter of fact, more betrayed by me in a way, because she had always known her father wasn’t a very solid parent, but had always thought she could totally count on me.

    This breech of trust between the kids and I took some time, and lots of discussion, arguing, tears and apologies, to repair. Fortunately we had always had an excellent relationship, and could build on that. Their father? Not so much. Well, I don’t think they ever talked about those lies, or that he apologized (until much later, when further really uncaring parenting behaviours had led the kids to stop seeing him entirely). And from there on out, at their request, the kids knew the outlines (not the details sometimes) of all interactions I had with their father that were about them or would impact them. They truly felt they needed to know the reality of who their father was and how he behaved. I think they were also both really relieved to know that, despite a lot of the fights between their dad and I while together having been about how he dealt with the kids, it was in NO way their fault that we fought, or that we separated.

    So when thinking about what to tell kids and how to tell them, keep in mind that NOT telling them can have multiple negative repercussions as well. It can damage YOUR relationship with your kids, as well as opening them up to being manipulated, gas-lighted etc. It can make kids feel like no one is trustworthy or will really have their backs. My kids don’t have the innocence I think they should have at this age, any more, but they are REALLY good now at watching how people act, not how they talk, and at noticing toxic behaviour, and resisting it.

      • Damn. I wish I had read this last year. My 16yo daughter asked me if he was having sex with our sitter and I always thought I shouldn’t speak badly of him so I said “you need to ask your father”. The next day she did and he lied to her (he texted me that night that I was a f** bitch and admitted to me that he lied to her about it). She then yelled at me the next day saying that I was a horrible mom for making her suspicious of him. She hates me now and I have not seen her in months and she won’t return my texts. She lives with him and the 22yr old sitter now and won’t have anything to do with me. I sooo wish I was honest with her and told her the truth – yes, your dad has been having sex with her. When he leaves our house to stay at hers he is choosing to have sex with her rather than staying at home with his kids . That when he took you to her place downtown to sleepover before the st Patrick’s day parade, they were already having sex at her place! Who knows, maybe she would not be estranged from me right now

    • This! The truth is the truth is the truth. This is always the best way to deal with anything. Tell it. Age appropriately. Just the facts. I would gladly state the truth in a family court as well. This is why most people divorce.

  • I’ve also had close contact with two cases that went to court for ‘parental alienation’, and in neither case would ONE situation of saying something critical about the other parent, especially calming stating FACTS, have been accepted as alienation. A consistent pattern of undermining the other parent over long periods of time, in multiple ways, in multiple settings, had to be shown.

    • This too! At one of my earliest hearings I was crying and upset because Cheater was no longer paying our mortgage (that and everything else connected to his family! Lol!) and the judge enlightened me. His exact words were, “Drew, you need a lawyer because your husband has one and can well afford yours! And he is probably spending loads of money on another woman!” So judges aren’t clueless….

      • You are so lucky you had (have?) a good judge.

        My ex (who also had an affair starting in the same month we embarked on 1-1/2 years of intensive marriage therapy, and then started living with the AP within 1-2 months od DDay; we’d raised our kids, then aged 16 (son) and 11 (daughter) as Christians with the knowledge that love, truth, and loyalty are extremely important, AND their dad, 4-5 months before DDay sat them down to explain how much he loved them and me and our family and our business and our lives together, and that he knows he’s been abusive to me for a long time and that he’ll do whatever it takes to change and save our family….while he (unbeknownst to me at the time) was still in his affair) caused $500,000 in legal fees to be spent between the 2 of us.

        Money that should have been preserved for our children…or even for ourselves. But ex is very warlike (as abusers are) and cared more about trying to destroy me (our children vastly primary caretaker) than about our children’s wellbeing.

        $200,000 by me, responding to his predatory and perjury-filled motion after motion after motion – many 24 hour ex parte motions, served on days meaningful to our children’s home life, like 1st day of spring break and 2 days before Christmas – designed to take me away from joy with our children because I had to drop everything to answer his perjuries within 24 hours and then I had to recover from those blows.

        The judge awarded me not 1 penny of legal fees….$190,000 created by my ex….to be reimbursed by my ex.

        I’m happy to hear there’s still some good and moral judges out there. Seems their numbers are dwindling, unfortunately.

  • My Xh was and is all about impression management. When the shit hit the fan, he wanted to give the kids (23 and 25 yrs. old at the time) the “he was unhappy” and “we grew apart” story. He wanted to give this story to kids who grew up in a happy home, had parents who were best friends, and had absolutely no idea that their father would be capable of such deceit. I reminded him that the children were extremely intelligent human beings, they would never believe that story, and there was NO WAY I not let them know the truth. He could man up and tell them the truth or I would. It is such a mindfuck. No matter what the age, I think kids need the age appropriate truth. Lying for liars makes us liars. There was too much of that going on already. Not going to happen!!

  • I was SO desperate to do ANYTHING that might foster a future reconciliation that I practically buried myself under dirt to hide my pain and the Truth from my kids. My daughter was only in 3rd grade and adored her father and telling her anything would have jarred her world

    ….plus he had quite a narrative concocted to deny truth…he didnt LIVE 3000 miles away, he only WORKED 3000 miles away and he was “home all the time” (except not). So if I had told them then, he would have relied on this narrative and everyones urge to believe him and I would have been labeled as a “Bitter Bunny”

    then we Wreckonciled, so that didnt seem time to tell, then he died

    My daughters grief was so intense she developed Bells Palsy…yea, not a time to add “Oh and you dad was a lying cheater” to her processing.

    She did get mad at me when (in prep for my wedding, new H to move in) I removed family pictures from the wall. Truth is I ripped the suckers off the wall when I learned he was a serial cheater.

    So I wish I had told her, but I have no idea when that might have been best.

    She sees me very wrapped up in my angst about him but still has never been told. I did tell her that “there are things I havent told you but I know it would cause you pain and I dont want to cause you pain”

    She confronted me a few weeks ago with my attitude about him and said “Cant you see? he was mentally ill.”
    Wow, I was unsure of where to go with that. Yes, his behavior went past the “ill advised” all the way to “truly pathologic”…how much was chosen and how much was beyond his capacity to control is uncertain to me. Im convinced that self absorption is often the cause of mental illness, not just the result.

    As she grows in her adulthood, if there is a reason to tell her the whole truth, I think I will but there is nothing to be gained right now that I can see.

  • Such a great post.
    My kids are 18, 21 and 23 and none of us had any idea that my husband had been leading a double life for the past two years.
    MC told me never to tell kids about affair, as it would damage them for life.
    However, I ended up telling them a very abbreviated version as I had to ask my husband to leave – he was continuing affair for another year after D-day (he is 55, she is former assistant 28)….and I nearly had a breakdown trying to “fix” him and us on my own.
    I simply said that Dad had been unhappy since selling his company and that he had made some choices that hurt me. That I had stayed with Dad as long as I thought I could help, but that at this point, he needed to sort some things out on his own. I then said he had had a girlfriend, but said nothing about the length of time, current status, intensity etc. I said we were separating and taking things one day at a time.
    I found it liberating to tell the truth about the state of affairs(no pun intended), but was intensely guilty for a few weeks about revealing the girlfriend based on MC’s opinion and everything I had read about damage divorce and affairs cause kids. However, my husband met with them the day after we separated and told him he hadn’t been happy for years – and that he had a girlfriend – so there.
    In the end, I felt that my year of trying to reconcile and protect my kids from the truth came at great cost to my psyche; indeed my “covering up” was part of the cancer/sickness that had invaded our family. Further I knew my kids would ultimately find out and hold me accountable for lying.
    My kids were shocked by separation and revelation of OW, but my oldest son’s exact words were: “We were not raised this way. You shouldn’t accept this.” My youngest son said: “How did you find out? Did he tell you or Did you find out?.” My daughter said: ” I need time to process this and you can do what you want – but I can’t talk to him for a while.”
    I think the small fact of girlfriend provided some rationale for their Dad’s detachment from our family, increased drinking and mood swings, and constant “working late” claims when when his career was winding down – versus thinking it was them.
    My youngest son put it best when my husband wanted to meet and discuss college choices with the school counselor and then all go out to dinner. My son agreed to the meeting but did not want to go out to dinner “as a family.”
    “Mom, this isn’t about you, it’s about all of us. Dad just wants to cherry pick the fun stuff. You were the one who had to wake me up from my nap and fight with me about getting to the college meeting. Dad never wanted to do any of that -ever. But that’s what family is. Dad just wants an “a- la-carte” life.”
    Smart kid.
    All of my kids are in contact with my husband – I’ve encouraged them to listen to him as he is struggling, but I told them it not their job to make their father or me – their mother – HAPPY.!
    It won’t be easy but we will all get through this.

  • I am still waiting for my now 13yr old then 10yr old to ask more questions so I can ‘fess up but she doesn’t. He is no longer with schmoopie so the time seems to have passed for now. I don’t want to withhold and do my best to point out in movies, tv shows etc… what behavior is unacceptable, I have not gone into specifics about his gaslighting and affair. He has never admitted to it either. We are NC and he has never told me not to say anything, but when we told her we were splitting we were vague and she was devastated (as was I). Since then I have managed to tell her that this is not what I wanted but that is the extent. I love the advice about explaining her propensity for alcoholism because of her genetics and also to explain how not to be disrespected. Coming from a line of strong women and being one myself, it is amazing to me how I didn’t get it sooner. I want to make sure my daughter never repeats this pattern!! Any advice on how to bring this up years later (now) would be appreciated! PS So close to Meh I can taste it! Thanks all!

  • For me, a certain amount of pick-me dancing was a necessary part of the process, I guess. Because of it (in part), I walked away knowing that I had done every honorable and reasonable thing that I could to try to save the marriage (for the kids). Also, it gave the X his clearest opportunity to well and truly demonstrate, once and for all, beyond any shadow of doubt, that his character is bankrupt. So, no regrets & no regrets… I did more than my fair share, and I learned for certain that I had nothing to work with–he was not going to be a unicorn.

    The tricky part is not to get stuck too long in the PMD. It *has* to be a one-strike-and-you’re-out type of deal. False ultimatums are counterproductive.

  • I was told by multiple experts NOT to tell my son, who I am very honest with. It FELT wrong of course. When I told my 90 year old father about cheater, and told him how difficult it was for me to keep it from our son, he insisted that didn’t make sense. Kind of a polite “WTF, ???” I told him thats what all the experts say. His first reaction was, what happens when my son turns against me for lying to him? Or blames me for his Dad leaving? He was SO uneasy but respected my ‘enlightened’ choice at the time. Thank God I’ve learned otherwise since. I still felt horrible after I told my son also, but at least I no longer feel like I’m hiding something. This thread helps as a reminder.

    I also talked to my nephew who was 12 when his Mom & cheater Dad sat him down for a ‘big talk’, and he recommended “NO BIG TALK!”. Keep it simple, and he didn’t want details at all. Knowing my sis, she probably went into it a little much. My sis on the other hand said her cheater had been giving the kids a bunch of BS and she had to insist on the talk. An argument for telling them first before cheater tells them otherwise? After the ‘talk’, he STILL LIED to the kids when he was alone with them, but now they knew the truth. The kids are all adults now with kids of their own. They see him a couple of times a year. They are respectFUL of him because he’s their father, but chuckle in private at his ridiculous chaotic, miserable, life with his controlling Smoopie. Yes, cheater and Smoopie stayed together and to put it lightly, no more Wuvy’s and kisses going on there—— We get the update’s once a year, always a source of amusement.

  • This is my first post. I had to tell my 6 year old daughter this morning in very kid-friendly terms that daddy and mommy made promises to each other when they got married that daddy didn’t keep because he wanted a girlfriend instead of being married to mommy. I still don’t know if I made the right choice in telling her. My divorce is not final, still in the 90 day waiting period. We are both attorneys. I don’t want to be accused of parental alienation. I kept it to just the facts. No commentary. I am full of self-doubt about it all because I KNOW he will be PISSED if/when he finds out. Unfortunately, it just happened to come up on the way to school that my daughter had been to the AP house – while he was cheating on me and before DDAY – and WANTED TO GO BACK….and didn’t understand why she couldn’t (we have an agreed order keeping AP away from her). Daughter just started seeing a therapist. This site has literally saved my sanity. I feel so lonely with all of this (yes, I am also in therapy). I don’t know anybody else that has ever been through anything like this. DDAY was 3 days after my 40th birthday and I kicked him out 3 weeks later (2 weeks spent doing to pick me dance).

    • Look, he’s introducing the kid to an affair partner AGAINST the order? And YOU are worried about parental alienation?

      Please hang in there. I’m sure your ex will be pissed about all sorts of consequence-y kinds of things. Just keep a cool head and keep being the sane parent.

      You’re doing really well and it’s early days. Just think of what a strong badass woman you are being for your daughter, what strength and resiliency you are modeling. If it makes you feel any better — I spent my 40th birthday shoveling shit (for REAL, there’s a post about it 9/25 in the archives) and 6 weeks later had my first D-Day. The 40th year D-Day is a Thing.

      ((Hugs)) You’ll make it out alive. Promise.

    • D-Day is where the jigsaw puzzle that was your life, falls to pieces on the floor. You’re dealing with a lot right now. Give yourself a break. Telling the truth in an age-appropriate manner is not parental alienation. And you really shouldn’t care if your STBX will be pissed — he didn’t seem to have a problem f*cking someone else and putting you at risk of a STD, along with all the lies and breaking up your family.

      The jigsaw pieces will come back together in time. It will not be the picture you imagined when you first married, but it will be crafted in manner that is authentically yours, with no cheater and the bullshit that goes with it.

      I’m sorry you’re going through this. Wishing you much strength. This blog/ forum kept me sane too.

  • Dear Chump Lady — This topic really hit home. My daughter was 14 when I found out about her father’s emotional affair (which I think went beyond emotional into sex, but I could never prove that. He’s maintained a tight “trickle truth” policy.) Neither he or I ever specified what the nature of our “marital problems” were to her, except to say that we were going to counseling and getting help. After one session with an incompetent counselor, I despaired, went home and tried to kill myself because I realized I could choose not to continue living with that much pain. I’m glad now that I had the wrong size bullets for the pistol. I ended up taking a 10-day tour of a local psych hospital for haveing that breaking point.

    It still grieves me that my daughter (now 18 and about to head off to college) has it in her head that her mother is mentally/emotionally fragile and that her dad is a lovable goofball who’s always loving and supportive (**puke**) of his cranky wife. I recently found out that she has worried about me and about inheriting my mental issues (grrr), though.

    I don’t want to burder her with knowledge of her daddy’s affair — even if it’s the truth — when she should be focusing on this exciting new stage of her life. But it is really chapping my ass to know that she thinks I’m the broken one and her dad is golden. For her sake, I’ve just lived with it. And we are still married. I have considered leaving him once she enters college or graduates from it, but I probably won’t. And that’s a separate issue from the “should I tell her?” question.

    Advice? I figure at some point she will ask a question and I’ll answer honestly.

  • Unfortunately my three children (8, 11 and 14) at the time, witnessed the whole confrontation when I found the evidence I needed. When me and their lovely mother began arguing the obviously wondered what was going on.

    Without giving them the specific details of what she did exactly, i just told them ‘Mummy has a new boyfriend’. Me and the kids sat together in the living room, I held them tight and we cried together, whilst their mother stood there looking the most pathetic I have ever seen her. When they asked if we were going to split up I answered ‘Probably, yes’.

    I’m glad in a way that they witnessed my fury at their mother and they didn’t get some watered down explanation from their mother, they are old enough to know that what she did was wrong…there is never a good way to tell them, and I know many people who have been through the same as me and their kids don’t know that daddy or mummy is a lying, cheating scumbag. I’m glad mine know.

    Their relationship with their mother now isn’t terrible from what I can see when I pick them up for when they are with me, but I’m sure their mother puts on a ‘Great Show’ of how wonderful everything is. She has to live with the shame of what she’s done to our family, I haven’t once bad mouthed her to my kids since we split, I’ll leave that up to my kids to figure out and if they ever ask..I’ll simply tell them the truth.

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