Shattering their World – Why We Told our Kids About their Father’s Affairs
I’ve been putting off writing about this part of our story for months. It’s one thing to tell you all about me and my love. We’re both adults who have mutually decided to share our story. But talking about our kids in depth is another thing. Like me, they didn’t ask to be thrown into this story. They’re victims of the terrible decisions of another. I want to protect them as much as possible. Still, deciding how to handle the family dynamics after intimate betrayal is a major problem that everyone in this situation has to navigate, and my readers have asked again and again for more information on why we decided to tell our kids, how we did it, and how they’ve handled it. So, here goes.
(Please understand, if you’re a regular reader, you probably won’t find quite the level of transparency you’re used to here. I’m sorry, but their safety comes first.)
An Idea Built on Lies
For many, many years the idea of telling our kids (or anyone else) about their father’s sexual addiction didn’t even cross my mind. As far as I was concerned, it was a private issue between me, him, and God. At that time, I believed we were navigating the problem. I knew my love had a porn problem, but I believed him when he told me he was actively trying to stop.
Our relationship was good. Maybe even great. (Or so it seemed to me) We had so much fun together, we talked about everything, (or so I thought) we liked each other SO much, and we were great teammates. I loved doing life with him. Whatever problems we had seemed best kept private. We’d just work them out together.
What we both wanted to present to our children was a happy, healthy, loving relationship. We wanted to model a godly marriage to them, believing this was one of the best possible ways to point them toward Christ. Of course, If I had known it was a sham I wouldn’t have felt that way, but I had no idea.
I didn’t know his addiction consumed him to the level it did.
I had no idea he was actively seeking relationships with other women.
I was completely unaware my love was living a double life.
Keeping Up Appearances
Yet, even after the first discovery of infidelity, we still decided to keep our secret from them. “At least for now.”
We talked about it at length, trying to figure out what would be best. Of course, now that I have the benefit of hindsight, I realize everything my love said was simply a frantic attempt to hold on to his secrets.
Once again, I was believing his words instead of looking to his actions for verification. He admitted to the affair, but claimed it was the only one, (it wasn’t) it was over, (it wasn’t) and he was never going back to that again. (He did) There had been extenuating circumstances surrounding that affair. (Not really) It wasn’t a habitual problem. (It was) In my ignorance, I believed we could handle it.
I knew telling the kids would be just as devastating and life shattering to them as it had been for me. If it was at all possible, I wanted to spare them that pain. If this was something we could work through without turning their world upside down, that’s what I wanted to do. So, we put on the masks and kept up the charade.
The Dangers in Secrets
While I believe my intentions were genuinely good when we made that decision, there was still so much about this addiction I didn’t understand at that time. Not to mention, I don’t think I properly sought God on this particular issue. I just did what my own human reasoning told me was best. And that, is always dangerous!
See, in keeping this massive part of our lives a secret, I was forced to live a lie. I was absolutely reeling from the trauma of discovering our marriage had never been what I believed it was. Yet, I had to keep going through the motions in front of everyone else. This was dangerous for everyone and carried serious consequences I had not foreseen:
Keeping up the charade was impossible, and of course, I failed miserably. Everyone, especially our kids, knew something was wrong. But because we had so carefully kept all his issues hidden, no one guessed it had anything to do with my love. They all thought there was something wrong with ME!
I was the one acting crazy. I was the one who looked like an extra fresh off the set of the walking dead. I was the one who now cried uncontrollably, seemingly out of nowhere, and for no reason at least once a day. I was the one who suddenly couldn’t walk into a grocery store without having a full-blown anxiety attack as soon as I saw women in provocative apparel. (So… pretty much the second I got through the door!) I was the one who snapped at the kids for no reason or stared blankly at them while they were trying to talk to me – unable to focus on what they were saying. I was the one who was a mess!
In short, the decision to keep his secret made ME the bad guy.
Not only was it dangerous for me, though, keeping his secret from our children was dangerous for my love too! It allowed him to continue living a double life. It allowed him to keep his place in the eyes of our kids (and frankly, in his own twisted mind) as a man he simply was not.
In short, it allowed him to remain in a place of pride when the thing he needed most was to be humbled! I didn’t understand this yet. I still believed that it was good for him to be made to feel like he wasn’t a failure. I was still trying to protect him. I was still insisting on getting between him and his rock bottom.
FOR OUR KIDS
Here’s the big one though you guys. While my intentions were to protect our kids, what we did actually hurt them. We lied to them. Nothing good ever comes from lying to your children… or, to anyone really.While my intentions were to protect our kids, what we did actually hurt them. We lied to them. Nothing good ever comes from lying to your children… or, to anyone really. Click To Tweet
Our children believed we had an idyllic family. Much of their identity was wrapped up in that belief. Even more, most of their security was built on that foundation. In short, we had carefully crafted a beautiful image and encouraged our children to more or less, worship that (false) idol. Though at least my heart had originally intended for this image to point them toward God, it was not based in truth. And how can anything that is not true point anyone to THE TRUTH? Let me assure you, it won’t!
Instead of finding their identity in the One True God, our kids found their identity in our “perfect Christian family.” Instead of planting their feet on the firm foundation of Scripture, our children were secured to the ever-eroding shores of a ‘stable home.’ In our foolish human wisdom, our attempts to protect them had actually set them up to come crashing down. HARD!Instead of planting their feet on the firm foundation of Scripture, our children were secured to the ever-eroding shores of a stable home. In our foolish human wisdom, our attempts to protect them had actually set them up to come… Click To Tweet
The TRUTH Will Set You Free!
That day finally came. The day when the idols I’d spent my life building were finally smashed to dust.
I discovered another affair, and in the confrontation that followed my love finally hit bottom. He finally realized the only way out of the mess he’d made was to stop trying to “manage” it himself, and just be obedient to God. He had to tell the WHOLE truth. He had to tell me about EVERY. SINGLE. THING. In the telling, I finally came face to face with reality. I finally saw what my marriage really was. And I knew, I couldn’t pretend anymore.
Beyond that, my love finally recognized the damage he’d done to me by asking me to keep his secrets. He realized the people in our life needed an explanation as to why I’d fallen apart. It had to start with our kids.
It was the most agonizing conversation of my life. We sat in our living room. Our three precious children gathered around us. Knowing what we had to say was going to change their whole world. It was going to break them!
And it did!
Rebuilding on Truth
That day broke us all. It shattered our perfect little world into thousands of pieces and scattered them beyond repair.
We made a vow to our kids that day. We apologized for the lies and promised to tell them the truth from that day forward.
As far as exactly what we told them, it was the whole truth but without any unnecessary details. In other words, Dad has been unfaithful with a number of women, he has an addiction, it’s not mom’s fault or your fault, it’s been going on for a long time, stuff like that. If there were questions, we answered them.
In the weeks and months that followed, we had the opportunity to rebuild our family. This time, upon the truth of Scripture. This time, upon the firm foundation of our Solid Rock – Jesus Christ.
I’ll talk more about that process over the next two weeks. Next week, I’ll talk about how we’ve learned to forgive, and the week after that about how God has rebuilt us into something new and beautiful.
***Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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