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Helping Our Kids Through Betrayal

Just this month I heard from a mom who saw me speak at the Braveheart’s Virtual Summit. Her question was both real and heartfelt. She inspired me to share a few thoughts that I believe might be helpful to many of us, and especially our kids.

“I am going to get your book. Thank you so much for your bravery, and for returning to help the rest of us cross the mine field. I have seven children and so healing is taking me such a long time because I have to stop and take care of them in the middle of what I am dealing with. Do you have any suggestions for when children are involved?”  – Jennifer

First off, I want to give you a purple heart for making your way through all the twists and turns of betrayal as a mom. Walking through the layers of pain can be extraordinarily overwhelming when it comes to our children.

I’m not sure how long it’s been since you’ve stepped into the cockpit of an airplane, but one thing’s for sure – the pilot and staff are aimed at keeping everyone safe and alive. Before you know it, you’re buckled in and a flight attendant is dangling a yellow mask, plastic air bag and a long dangling tube as they explain what’s most important in case there’s a change in cabin pressure. I gotta be honest, when they say put the mask over your mouth and “breath normally,” it’s everything I can do not to choke on my peanuts.

When betrayal happens, we’re afraid and panicked. That’s normal. We don’t breathe normally, and it takes every chromosome in our body to stay grounded. So, here’s the clincher. There’s no mistake when they ask us to put our oxygen mask on first, before helping our children. They have to tell us that each time we fly because it’s counter intuitive to put ourselves first when faced with an unexpected tragedy. We’re prone to think of our kids first. In the case of betrayal, you are the priority and we have to put our oxygen mask on first. So, you’ve got to make sure that you’re getting enough sleep, eating healthy, staying away from using alcohol or drugs to cope, and reaching out to a friend or two that can safely hold your heart with confidentiality.

Here are 7 tips for how to care for your kids in the midst of betrayal.

  1. Give Them Lots of Hugs – I was recently talking to a woman who, as a teenager, found porn on her dad’s computer. She bravely shared her discovery with her mom – and she said from that point on everything changed. Her mom used to sit in her room once in a while and talk, help her get ready for school dances, and make her cappuccinos on the weekends. She noticed her mom was more preoccupied, irritable and short-tempered. She said what she missed most was her mom’s hugs. It’s incredibly difficult going through all of this. Unfortunately, our pain can disconnect us from the best parts of ourselves. Give yourself grace, take a big breath, and remember that our kids need a little reassurance or hug every now and then.
  2. Don’t Triangulate Your Kids – Triangulating your children is never a good plan, it’s harmful. Kids feel caught up in a tug of war between mom and dad and feel helpless to do anything about it. They ultimately feel responsible for either taking sides or taking care of someone. It’s not their job. Triangulation happens when one person is trying to get power over another, or when it comes to our children, when attempts are being made to be seen in a good light (in order to cover the persons’ shame). Having direct and honest conversations with our significant other around the damage triangulating causes our children is a must. If they will not hear you, reach out to a professional counselor in your area to broach the conversation with them. If you’re not seeing a counselor, I suggest you do so for your children’s sake. In situations like this it can help to have a third party’s input to help us, and our kids.
  3. Remember They’re Listening – It’s important to protect your children from overhearing tense conversations about discoveries, porn, and affairs. Out of all people in your home they have the least power to change anything. It’s important that you and your significant other reach out for help. It might be helpful for both of you to tell them together that “Mom and dad are going through some challenges right now but we’re getting help to get through it”. So, if they see that either one of you is sad, tearful or upset you’ll want to assure them that it has nothing to do with them.
  4. Find A Safe Place To Take Your Anger – Anger, much like a stop sign, is a signal to our hearts and minds that something is wrong. I’ve spoken to many betrayed partners over the years that are shocked by their level of anger after learning of their significant others sexual betrayal. To be angry about what they’ve done is normal. But it’s important to realize what’s going on under the anger. Anger is a secondary emotion. What’s often underneath is fear, hurt or sadness. You’ve been through a trauma, something no one should have to experience. It wrecks us to our very core. We feel weak, helpless and powerless over what’s been done to us. Anger often makes us feel powerful, like we’re in a one up position and in control for a brief moment. Anger’s not a bad thing, but what we choose to do with that anger can sometimes be a different story. Many of us don’t like who we become when anger turns to rage or when we hurt or offend others. Let me encourage you to start asking yourself the question, “what emotion is underneath my anger?” One of the steps to healing is looking beyond our anger to see what’s underneath it.
  5. Don’t Use Your Children As Confidants – I spoke to a woman this week who’s mom shared some secrets about her dad’s betrayal when she was just 9 years old. As an adult daughter who grew up in a home with infidelity she shared how burdensome it was to know the secret. She couldn’t tell anyone and she felt absolutely at a loss for what to do with it. She found herself asking her dad when he’d be home and making sure she went with him when he’d run an errand. It exhausted her and filled her heart with anxiety. Please protect your children by reaching out to a friend, professional or clergy for support.
  6. Remember To Play – Spending time with our children in activities that require something hands on or tactile can bring refreshment and needed laughter to both of you. Playdough, card games, nature, giving pets baths, scrabble, or coloring helps them feel settled in their heart and offers a vacation away from tension in the home.
  7. Tell Them That You Love Them – Betrayal turns our world upside down and wipes us out. Remember simple reassurances like telling your kids you love them goes a long way in bringing stability to their soul. Tucking them in at night can be a place to check in, remind them of your love, and hem them in before they go to sleep.

Please don’t let these tips overwhelm you. You can do a couple, one or all of them. It’s just meant to be a reminder of some things that can help keep your kids feet on solid ground while you’re going through all this. If you have an idea that you’ve done with your kids and would like to share with all of us, please do. I’m in your corner! Remember to take one day at a time and brave on.

Warmly,

Dr. Sheri

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. What about when your children are older teenagers and they are finding the evidence themselves, and are aware of the lying and cover up? Do you still suggest not talking to them about the betrayal at all? I am not triangulating, but my kids certainly are choosing sides based on what they have found and only having minimal contact with their father. I’m torn whether to force that relationship, as they need a father, or whether to honor their feelings and not make them spend time with him

    1. Hi Noelle,

      Great questions. If your teenagers have found evidence themselves, like their dad’s porn hub, or sexualized videos that belong to their father, it’s confusing if we don’t talk about it. It creates more confusion, more secrets. It actually creates an opportunity for a healthy conversation as you listen to what they think. The challenge comes in not vilifying the betraying spouse, as it’s still their dad. EVERY, and I mean, every situation is unique and different. This is were I definitely recommend talking to a therapist trained in sexual issues: IITAP.com or APSATS.org. It would also be appropriate to offer counseling to your kids if they would like to process what they’ve found as well. It’s not a time to force your kids. They have to process their own betrayal story. They’re hurting too. I’m sorry this is so painful and layered Noelle. Please be kind to yourself, and your family. Reach out for counsel and support now. Don’t wait. Great advice from therapists who “get it” is worth it’s weight in gold.

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