Explaining Affairs to Kids
Q: I'm a divorced guy in my 40s whose ex is carrying on a relationship with a married man in front of my 9- and 12-year-old daughters. I think this is setting a bad example. This guy's wife just had a baby and has no idea what's going on. Should I blow their cover? People in town see these two around and tell me about it. I'm embarrassed for my kids. Same reason ended our marriage -- two different guys then. What mental disorder is responsible for this? How do I explain this to my girls in a way that does the least amount of damage? -- Steve
Dr. Susan: I won't try to diagnose your ex's mental disorders. What's certain, though, is that she's got the ethics of a grub worm and the parenting sense of a tricycle. Not that you should broach the subject to her in quite those terms! Seriously, what she's doing is more than embarrassing for your daughters. They'll find out sooner or later and lose all respect for her. Yet they may end up following in her footsteps if they grow up thinking such behavior is okay -- a scary thought.
Sit down with your ex and let her know that you will no longer be a party to her deceit. In a way, by keeping the truth from your daughters, you're colluding with her -- and your daughters may not thank you for that in the future. Honesty is best all around, but let your wife have some time to get her "affairs" in order. If you do end up having to be the one to "explain" your ex-wife's unsavory behavior to your girls, good luck. You might say that sometimes even the best people make mistakes of judgment, and you don't agree with what she's doing. People are bound to get hurt. Reassure your daughters that you both love them regardless, and that they can come to you with any questions. Then just be as honest as you can. Realize that they are on the cusp of adolescence and can't be protected from the ickier realities much longer -- especially if their mom has such poor sense.
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.