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Telling the Children?
by Peggy Vaughan

The question of "telling the children" about a parent's affair is a common concern. In general, when kids know there's something wrong and don't know what it is, they tend to imagine that it has something to do with them. So they need to be given some kind of explanation for whatever emotional upheaval they may be sensing between their parents. But there is no simple guide to follow. Each parent must make their own decisions about telling the children.

In our own case, our children were 11 and 13 when we told them about my husband's affairs. We did it together, reassuring them that we would work it out. Our kids are now grown, and the strongest lesson they gained from "knowing" was learning to appreciate the importance of honesty. Children can best learn honesty by seeing it in their own families. So as to whether/when/how to tell the children, it's probably not so much a question of whether as of when and how.

Of course, this needs to be part of a larger effort to talk honestly with our kids about a variety of sexual issues—at levels that are appropriate for the age of the child. By teaching (and practicing) honesty with our children, we increase the chances that they will develop into sexually responsible adults and avoid the kind of deception inherent in having affairs.

In fact, the secrecy and deception we learn as teenagers (hiding our sexual activity from our parents) is the same kind of secrecy and deception used by people having affairs in hiding it from their spouse. So "telling the children" may be seen as part of the larger responsibility of preparing them to cope with (or avoid) the difficulties inherent in any future intimate relationship, especially the pain of extramarital affairs.

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