I often get asked how do you tell the children of the marriage about the child of the affair?
This is a hard questions to answer, as with everything related to the situation of a child of an affair there are no right or wrong answers – there is not a right way to react and a wrong way to react. Everyone needs to think this through for themselves. But here I share with you what we did and how it turned out and what I have learned along the way – just one story of many that I have been shared with me since then.
As adults we get quite anxious thinking of all the things that could go wrong; or what to say; or how to do it; or what they will think; or how they will react etc…but we do all of this through our own adult filters, stories and experiences of the world. Our young children are beautifully free of much of these stories so usually our worst fears do not eventuate.
Of course this varies with the age of the child and their situation. You might expect a child whose parents have separated as a result of the affair, to react differently from a child whose life has gone on as usual after the affair. Adult children will have their own stories. Some forethought and planning is helpful so it goes as smoothly as possible.
For me the key elements are:
Honesty above all else
to say it together as a team supporting each other with love if possible or at the very least with the respect each other deserves as the other parent of your child(ren).
Be prepared to answer questions honestly.
Listen to what your child(ren) have to say about the situation even if it wasn’t what you wanted to hear – validate them and understand that first reactions may not last but particularly older children may find it as hard to hear at first as the betrayed spouse did.
All children regardless of age (and even adult children) are likely to wonder how this affects them so have those answers and reassurance where possible. If you don’t know say that too.
There was nothing to guide us when we did this back at the end of 2008. We made our kid’s favourite lunch (chicken nuggets at the time!) and sat down with them and told them together. We did it after the paternity test came back as we wanted to be sure and concrete - not talk in hypotheticals with children so young. I also wanted them to know, for what it was worth, that I had told them as soon as I knew for sure. I personally did not want to be involved in the lies and deception that had caused so much pain so far.
Brett was far more anxious about it than I was. He was worried that it would somehow change the way they saw him. While this may be a consideration with older children, I was confident that as long as we assured them together this would be unlikely with children our kid’s ages. He also knew this was the end of the secrecy as we both agreed we would not be asking our children to keep it a secret – Brett’s actions were not their shame. Our friends and broader community would now know what he had done. It was time to face the music.
Below is an email I found (unedited except for names) that I wrote to our families after we had told the children back in December 2008. It was getting close to Christmas and we would see a lot of them over the break and I wanted to be sure they all supported Brett and I and that our kids were getting a consistent and loving message from all. I also told the parents of the kids closest friends (particularly the girls as they were older). I knew that I could not control what others said about the situation but I could at least let them know what we had chosen to do so they would understand.
We just wanted to let you all know that today we told Miss nearly 8, Miss 6 and Master 3 that they have another brother - a half brother, Master 2 who they remember from the many times he had been to our house in the first half of this year. Brett explained that a half brother meant that they all shared the same daddy but Master 2 had a different mother.
We told them that our family has so much love in it that we have enough love to share with another brother and that we were thinking of ways in which Master 2 could become part of our family (and we asked them for their ideas). We said that he would never live with us full time as (someone our children already knew) was his mummy and he would stay with her but that we hoped he would share some time with all of us.
Miss nearly 8 asked how this happened and Brett explained that a long time ago he had a special relationship with Master 2’s mother and she decided to make a baby with him. We told them that we only knew for sure from yesterday and wanted to share the news with them as soon as possible. Master 3 asked if he could have more yogurt and Miss 6 didn't say much but looked thoughtful and then asked if she could watch TV.
We thought you all should know this so that you can be prepared for any questions, particularly as so many of you are coming up over the next few weeks.
That was nearly 6 years ago – they have been living this reality for a long time now and I doubt they can remember a time when their half brother was not part of their lives. Some questions have come out over the years (I remember the 6 year old asking about how you know whether someone is your brother or sister or not – fair question when 2 year olds seem to appear on your doorstep and become your brother!). We have always answered questions honestly and clearly and they seem to be satisfied. Master 2 is now Master 8 and spends a third of his time with us on weekends and in school vacations. It is all working as well as we could have hoped, for all four of our children.
This is a situation that I never could have dreamt up being a part of and at times, going through it, it has seemed impossible to navigate, but we have been through the worst of the storm and while no one can guarantee smooth sailing from now on, in this moment the water is calm.