Affairs and its aftermath will affect our children, regardless of the age of the children. How it affects them and to what extent depends for the largest amount on us; the parents.
Small children will feel the icy atmosphere and although they might not understand the content, they pick up on body language, facial expressions and mood. They also will think that they did something wrong, when one or both of the parents have less time for them and appear angry or sad. With kids you talk on their level and in particular when they ask questions and when you see that something is bothering them.
Older children will know what is going on, even when they do not know the details, they expect often the worse and think immediately about divorce when they pick up on issues between their parents. Unfortunately, they very often do not say anything and when you ask, they may even deny that they think this, as they cannot handle to discuss the topic at the time being. Talking about it “makes it real” and they do not want that. It can be years before a 10-12 year-old tells you how they experienced the stress and tension and the grief. Kids at this age often express themselves in their behaviour rather than verbally.
Young adult children know, and they often want to know. Mostly they do not want any gory details, but they want the facts. When they ask you, it is important that you tell them as much as they want to know. They cannot be your support. It is your job as a parent to support and protect them. That is hard when you are in such a mess yourself.
The clouds need to empty sooner or later and kids no matter what age need time and an opportunity before they disclose their pain and anger. With older children (older teenagers) and young adults, it would be great if both parents can talk to them together. Individual talks might be less effective, but if one parent is not wanting to talk…or if one parent is still denying the affair…..it is up to you to take it on.
As parents who are dealing with the affair, the faithful spouse and the adulterer, we can do as well as expected, but it is simply not possible to keep “your cool” and not to show openly or partly covered how you feel. Hiding it and faking it, is probably the worst you can do…kids will know anyway. Screaming fights, with name-calling etc…that is unacceptable too…..and we all know it….but we are no saints….and I still have to meet the couple who did not go in the wrong…It is as having a sick child in the home, the entire home is ill. When there is pain in the home, everyone feels it….and all suffer.
Trying not to fight when the kids are around is often practically impossible, as you can not send your kids away for 2 years…and our homes are not sound proof…we can tell ourselves that they have not heard it..but of course they did!
Pretending that all is well…is absolutely not a good idea…kids will know anyway and know you are hiding stuff…As there has been enough secrets already…faking, lying and hiding is never a solution.
You can only do your best by trying to find a compromise between being yourself, and being as good a parent as you can be. The kids did nothing to deserve all this. Telling that you are hurting, but that it is not because of them is important. Doing fun things with your kids to distract yourself and to be with them in a positive way is healing and can help to heal you as a couple when that is what you both want.
I have heard from adults who tell me that they wished their parents had been honest as they were scared and did not understand what was going on. I have heard about adults (married themselves now) who said that they wished their parents had separated sooner and they hated it that their parents stayed together for them. I have talked to adults who say that they never forgave the parent who had the affair and I have heard from adults who stated that they blame both parents….Thank goodness, I also heard stories that are positive, of young adults who say that they hated what happened but that they are feeling good about how the situation between their parents is currently. If however, the couple is not doing well and there is no happiness, separation might be the only option and when done well, it takes tension and issues away and as a result relationships with adult kids will improve.
Every story is different, but the pain is the same….we all have the find a way to deal with it and in such a way that we minimise the pain to our children.