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Sex, Lies and Telling the Kids

Sex, Lies and Telling the Kids

Infidelity: How Do You Tell your Children about the Affair? You Shouldn't, Experts Say


    When former presidential nominee John Edwards admitted he'd cheated on his wife, the question on some minds was how someone touted as a family man told his wife -- and his three children about the affair. 

"How do you tell your children about the affair? You don't," said Divorce360 Rosalind Sedacca, author of "How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children -- with Love!" "Unless they are celebrity or politician kids who unfortunately learn about it in the news, this is not a topic to discuss with your children unless they are over 18 or even older. This is adult business of the most complex nature and cannot be assimilated into explanations for children."

Edwards has admitted have a brief affair with Rielle Hunter, a film producer, who was paid more than $100,000 for webisodes about Edwards' run for president. Edwards is accused of being the father of her baby daughter, though both he and she have denied the allegations. She also has refused to take a paternity test to disprove the allegations. 

    TAKE OUR POLL: Should you tell the kids?

Elizabeth Edwards' friend, Hargrave McElroy, told People magazine that she made the decision to stay with her husband after discovering her breast cancer had returned and was terminal.  'She couldn't say, 'Well, maybe we'll work through this for years, or maybe we should separate for two years,' McElroy told the magazine. '[The cancer] forced her to choose whether to move forward.' 

McElroy said her friend made the decision that she didn't want her children, Jack, 8, Emma Claire, 10, and Cate, 26, to be without both of their parents. Elizabeth's brother, Jay Anania, told People magazine that the couple have not discussed the scandal with their children. 'The kids are, to a certain extent, oblivious," he said.

That's not necessarily true, according to Divorce360 expert Dr. Gilda Carle, author of "How to Win when your Mate Cheats."  "The kids already know on some level that mom and dad are not getting along and there is family tension. So it’s just a matter of sitting them down and giving words to their instincts — if they’re old enough." 

Divorce360 expert Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., of Long Beach, Calif., said the couple should work out their personal problems before involving the children. "In Edward's case, the media make it impossible to keep it secret from the kids, but most couples don't have that problem," she said. "The betrayed spouse, of course is upset, but needs to be careful who she tells in her anguish.

In cases where the cheater isn't a public figure, Tessina said, "It's much better to have a confidential and objective support person, like a counselor, to talk to.  I have worked with couples where the angry wife told everyone, and now that the couple have reconciled, her family are making things difficult. Pick a person or two who can be trusted not to tell, and use them for support -- but don't indiscriminately tell a lot of people the gossip will be difficult for you later, and for your children. 

Why does she think this is important? "So many couples recover from this, and decide to stay together; but you can't know at the outset how you're going to feel later," Tessina said.

However, she does think there are some cases, like in the Edwards affair, where the children might learn about it despite a couple's best efforts to keep the matter private. "Older children, like the Edwards' adult daughter, might be told, but younger children should be told only that 'Mommy and Daddy are having a problem, but we're working to fix it.' Your children are not your confidantes," she said.

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