Marcy’s husband was at a “friends” house when he was supposed to be at home with the kids after they got off of school.
Ellen’s husband was “working late” too many times for the kids (ages 8 & 11) to not ask the basic question: “When will dad be home?”
Eventually, Marcy and Ellen both moved on and the children were devastated. How could the family break up? Who would be able to help Matt with his woodshop projects? This seems to have come out of nowhere. Maddie was really close with her father; she loved him tucking her in.
At this point in the movie called “Life,” the legal separations are still very fresh and the questions aplenty. One stands out for me, however. Should Marcy and Ellen eventually tell their kids that their father had an affair? As a self-proclaimed cheater hater, my first inclination would be yes. After all, why shouldn’t the children know what ruined the marriage and subsequently, the family unit? Besides, Marcy and Ellen have already been through enough, so why should they be left holding the explanatory bag?
On the other hand, a few (hundred) words of caution:
1. Always Begin With the End in Mind: If the desired end-state is a strong relationship between the children and their father, disclosing the affair is a certain detour to said end-state. It is hard to resist the urge to tell the children, especially if they begin suspecting that an affair occurred. But ultimately, you are protecting them by not disclosing the affair.
2. Don’t Shoot the Messenger: If and when the children find out about the infidelity, they will be sour, and so they should be. The question is, who, if anyone, should they be sour towards? Certainly not the victim of the infidelity. There may come a time when Maddie begins recollecting the oddity of their dad’s constant nights working late and begin asking questions. I never condone lying to a child, but I do condone directing the conversation to the person that owns the behavior. Thus, the father should be man enough to have that discussion with them, and if the sour comes his way as a result, so be it.
3. Remember Their Naivety and Developing Sense of Self-Worth: For children, cheating can be a very confusing affair, no pun intended. They do not fully understand what it is until they hit age twelve and even then they have a really hard time understanding why it occurred. Telling them that their father had an affair may do a number of things to them and their psyche.
Will they question what they did wrong? It’s possible. Children already blame themselves when a divorce occurs, and if there is infidelity, they might feel even more blame.
Will they blame mommy? What did mommy do that made daddy cheat? This is less likely, unless of course they talk to their father, and he is less than mature in his words.
Might they even wonder if cheating is a normal part of relationships?
A child’s response, both internal and external, is hard to predict. Not disclosing the affair may be hard as well. But again, if we begin with the end in mind and think about some basic realities of kids and communication, we will end up resisting the temptation and being the adult.
Marcy ended up telling her children about the affair, though the circumstances essentially demanded it. You see, her daughter Paige walked in on her dad having sex with a friend; Paige’s best friend’s mom. And so it goes, Marcy started the conversation, and her (ex) husband Allan refused to finish it. To this day, Paige will not talk to her father. It has been three and a half years.
What’s more, Allan thinks that Marcy has poisoned Paige and holds it over her head as often as he can. I think it’s fair to say that Allan has consistently resisted the temptation of being the adult.