How do I explain an affair to my kids?

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Advice from therapists and a family who’s been through it

Basic Dad advice column
MEL Magazine

May 2, 2019

Overall, I like to be pretty honest with my kid, but when it comes to this subject, I wonder if I should say anything at all, much less tell him the whole story. About a year ago I had an affair. I don’t want to get into the whole thing, but it was a huge mistake, and now, months after my wife found out, we’re still trying to repair our marriage and get back to some sense of normal. I don’t know that we will, but I hope so.

In the middle of all this is my son — just 12 years old — and the poor kid has seen his home life turned upside down for the better part of a year now. I moved out for a few weeks at first, and after coming back, it’s been varying between tense and combative with little else to lighten the load. My kid knows something is going on — it’s impossible for him not to — but neither my wife or I have told him exactly what, and although he’s a sharp kid, I’m not sure really how much he knows already or how much he suspects. Overall both my wife and I have tried to shield him from this shit, but it’s his life too, and part of me feels like he should have some idea of what the hell is going on.

So, should I tell him about it? If I do, how much should I say? How do I deal with his reaction?

Basically: How do I explain an affair to my kid?

Kimberly Bell, clinical director of the Hanna Perkins Center for Child DevelopmentHonestly, I can’t think of a good reason why you’d want to tell your child voluntarily about an affair. There may be very unique situations where you may tell them as an adult, but it’s rare that it would benefit them to know this at all.

The cases I run across most often are when a teenage child has caught one of the parents. If that happens, there can be nothing but honesty about what’s going on. I don’t mean all of the details, but you can’t try to deny the perception of a teenager by trying to explain things away — it’s extremely damaging and selfish. To do that isn’t protecting the child, it’s protecting yourself and it can damage a child’s sense of reality to know they’re being lied to by someone they love. It destroys the relationship.

Instead, the cheating parent who has been caught should …

READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE at the MEL.

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