For the woman who has experienced the devastation of betrayal, the pain runs very deep. Her life has been thrown into a tailspin. But as bad as this crisis feels, the anguish is compounded exponentially when children are involved. Seeing their young lives impacted so negatively only adds to the myriad of confused and traumatic feelings swirling in the betrayed woman’s mind.
But pressing the pause button while she works towards healing for herself is simply not an option. In the midst of her heartache, she must find a way to help her children cope with their own pain and confusion. While there are no simple answers, following these three steps can help ensure a bad situation is not made worse for the children who have been affected by one parent’s betrayal of the other.
Powerful tools, like awareness and education, can help you think through making important decisions at a time when your feelings are all over the map and might lead you astray. When my husband and I were separated after his betrayal, I talked to friends and associates who had either experienced their parents’ divorce as children or whose parents went through a difficult time when they were young. I asked what they found both helpful and unhelpful in dealing with their situations. One helpful piece of advice I received was to give my children the freedom to care and love both parents.
Parents need to remember children are genetically bonded to both of their parents. Even when they (or you) think they don’t want to love or spend time with the other parent, they usually do. I have always felt they have enough love in their hearts for everyone.
Another helpful thing was keeping memories alive in the home regardless of where the relationship ends up between the parents. Reminiscing about wonderful memories, birthdays, vacations and silly stories help provide a sense of safety and security for a child.
I was surprised by some of the unhealthy experiences some of my friends and associates endured as children. Some examples of these include making a child choose loyalty to a parent, or being caught in the middle of all the quarreling. A child’s parents will always be his or her parents, and making children choose a side will only affect them negatively in the long run. Even though I had my fair share of personal pain to work through, I was very motivated and determined to not repeat some of these mistakes with my children.
Fight the Urge to Tell All
One of the top five questions I am asked when talking to a woman after betrayal is “What do I tell the kids?” While there is no easy, formulaic answer to this question, I have seen time and time again what happens when women cannot hang onto themselves given all the emotional turmoil and they spill the beans. Let’s just say, it is not pretty. Damage is done, and all for what?
There are basically two ways the facts of betrayal can be communicated. “Daddy lied to mommy and looked at naked women or had sex with another woman who is not his wife,” or “Daddy made a promise to mommy and broke that promise, and we are working some things out.” The first statement paints the father as a terrible person and can be very confusing to the children. Kids need the freedom to love both parents in spite of their parents’ decisions so that it doesn’t negatively impact them. The second statement, on the other hand, is honest and gives children some security in the truth.
I have seen women protect their children and weather the storm of betrayal well, while others have chosen to be the victim and use their children as a tool to hurt the other parent. This never ends well for anyone.
The guiding questions should always be, “What will help the children?” and “What will hurt the children?” I didn’t want to take any aspect of my children’s father away from them. One of the hardest things I had to do was leave out the details of our story until their father was ready to tell them the truth. However, the rewards of that restraint have been great.
Get Healthy Yourself
Walking through betrayal makes us feel like we have been hit by a 2 x 4. And life doesn’t stop for us to take a vacation or go on a retreat and heal. Instead, however, our healing has to take place in the midst of carpool, homework, employment, housework, and the list goes on. Developing and following a plan to work through your healing process is helpful on many levels, but especially when it comes to protecting your children during the confusing and uncertain days ahead.
Find a counselor—preferably one who understands trauma—to help you grieve what you have lost and work through all the resulting emotions so that you can move on without getting stuck. It is excruciating to see our children confused and in pain. But make no mistake—the healthier you are, the healthier your kids will be.
Also find someone for your kids to talk to and help them process their own emotions, whether it is a school counselor, children’s minister, or a play therapist/counselor. If you or your children were sick, you would go to the doctor to get well, and this is no different. It is unrealistic, and even detrimental, to expect yourself to be able to work on your own healing and that of your children without outside help.
Parents must put all their differences aside and work together for the sake of their children. It’s one of the hardest things you will ever do while sorting through all the emotional turmoil, however, so worth it in the end. Children can come through betrayal and be healthy without all the added damage that can come when we choose to create a safe environment to love and protect our children.