5 Things Children Learn When Parents Cheat

Things Children Learn When Parents Cheat

In the first few years of a child’s life, they look up to their parents. But their view might crumble when one of their parents cheat. Here are the effects of infidelity on children. It’s important to have a conversation when your child finds out you cheated. They may start to think that their family isn’t a safe abode, as they thought it to be.

I know that it feels like an affair is between grown-ups and something that kids will never know about but, if they do, the things that your kids learn when you cheat are quite significant and life-changing.

We parents work hard to set a good example for our children. We model kindness and honesty because we want our kids to be healthy and happy. And then we go and cheat, something that most likely goes against everything we have taught them. And, with the discovery of an affair, our parental modeling falls apart.

So, if you are considering having an affair, or are in one and wondering if it’s worth it, considering how it might affect your children is a really good idea.

Effects of Infidelity on Children: Parents Having Affair

Common effects of infidelity on children. Here are 5 things that your kids learn when you cheat on your spouse.

1. That they don’t need to self-soothe.

From almost the moment they are born, we try to teach our children to self-soothe. We let them ‘cry it out’ when they are falling asleep. We teach them how to manage their emotions and how to work through sadness or disappointment. It’s not an easy thing to teach, especially to adults who struggle to do so themselves.

I have a client who was miserable in her marriage. She had been for years and hadn’t been dealing with it because doing so was difficult. And then she met a co-worker who was in the same space and they were able to share their pain with each other. Before they knew it, their intimate conversations led to feelings of love and attraction. And the affair began.

For the first time in a long time, my client wasn’t miserable. For the first time in a long time, she felt joy and hope for the future. And it was intoxicating.

When she was with her man, she felt wonderful and when she wasn’t, she felt desperate. The pain she was dealing with for years came rushing back when she was living her normal life. Not being with her lover became unbearable.

When her affair was discovered, she tried to explain to her kids that she had been unhappy and that’s why the affair happened. What her kids learned there was that, if you are unhappy, it’s okay to reach out to other things to soothe them. Like an affair. Or alcohol or drugs. Not a good lesson, is it?

2. That marriage can be thrown away.

Effects of Infidelity on Children: When Your Child Finds Out You Cheated

Both of my parents had affairs when I was a child. I remember vividly going to the office with my dad and knowing that he was having an affair with a co-worker. A strange man used to call my mom all the time. She told us that ‘he was her lawyer.’

As a result, from a very young age, I knew that my parent’s relationship wasn’t important to either one of them. They might have pretended that it was but my brother and sister and I all knew it wasn’t. And, when they got divorced, we were proven exactly right.

My siblings and I, once we started dating, were notorious for never being able to stay in a relationship. We were always looking out for the next shiny thing. Our parents had not taught us how to have respect for a relationship or how to keep one healthy. So, we just stabbed around in the dark, trying to find a relationship that we might consider committing to.

My brother and my sister and I have all had marriages that ended in divorce. Two of us had affairs. We had all sworn that our marriages would be different from our parents and, yet, we had all, unwittingly, learned from their example and followed suit.

So, don’t kid yourself. Your kids are watching and they are learning from you. Don’t teach them that a marriage is not worth fighting for.

Read: Repeated Infidelity: 5 Questions You Need To Ask Yourself To Survive It

3. That they can’t trust their parents.

My father’s first affair happened when I was 7 years old. I was young but I knew, instinctively, that what my father was doing was wrong. By spending time with another woman he was betraying my mother. And by betraying my mother, he was betraying me.

A child’s relationship with their parents is one based on absolute trust. We need to trust them to learn how to walk, to learn how to interact with others, and to learn how to drive a car. They are the foundation of our path to adulthood. And when that trust is broken, our journey to being an adult can be severely damaged.

After the affair, I could no longer rely on them to tell me the truth. When they went to discipline me, I ignored them, knowing that they had nothing to teach me about right and wrong. As a result, my young adulthood was plagued with depression, alcohol, and toxic relationships.

That foundational relationship of my life, the one with my parents, one not based on trust, was too weak for me to grow into a healthy adult, one who could be in a healthy relationship with anyone, not even myself.

4. That marriages are toxic.

I would say that, almost without exception, affairs happen when relationships are bad. Affairs happen when the disconnect seems insurmountable and leaving seems impossible and the only solace is reaching for someone else.

Having Cheating Parents: How To Have A Healthy Relationship With Parents

And, when kids learn that their parents cheat, they are given a front-row seat to just how toxic marriage can be. The aftermath of the discovery of an affair is MESSY. Mommies are crying. Daddies are angry. No one is talking. Everyone is pretending that everything is ok but nothing is. This can go on for months or even years.

A child develops their view of marriage from watching their parents. I know that I wanted to believe that I could live happily ever after in my marriage but, in retrospect, I was pretty sure that I knew we wouldn’t make it in the long run. And I was right.

I truly believe that if I had lived in a family where the marriage was based on mutual respect and the ability to communicate, I would have known what a happy marriage looked like and known how to bring that into my own marriage. But that didn’t happen. And now my kids have two divorced parents. Just like I did.

Read: Telltale Signs That You are in A Toxic Marriage

5. That their family isn’t safe.

Effects of Infidelity on Children
How Infidelity Affects Children: The Effects of Parents Cheating

I know that I keep coming back to this but it’s important to say – that the health of a child’s family is the number one indicator of whether they will be healthy adults. And when an affair is discovered, that family is sickened, often beyond repair.

Think about back to when you were a kid. Think about family birthdays and holidays and vacations. Do you remember how much fun they were? Do you remember how safe you felt when your dad threw you into the water or your mom set down a cake covered with 10 burning candles? You knew that you could rely on these people. That they would always do the right thing for you.

An affair throws all of that into turmoil and, as a result, children no longer feel safe. If their father was willing to love someone other than their mother, how do they know that he won’t find some other children to love as well? If their mother has turned away from their father, how can they believe that she will always be there for them when they need her?

And, knowing that they don’t have a family to keep them safe makes them feel insecure about their place in the world and their hopes for the future. And with that insecurity they venture out into the world, unsure about their place in it.

Related: Is It Possible To Love Again After an Affair? How To Rebuild Trust After Being Cheated

I know that it’s hard to believe that there are things that you teach your kids when you cheat on your spouse. I mean, they should be separate right? The affair has nothing to do with the kids, after all.

Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. Children watch and they listen and they learn. They don’t miss anything. When something is off, they know. What they don’t know is what to do if something is off. And, so, they flounder and they act out and they suffer.

Studies have shown that children of cheaters are more likely to be cheaters than those whose parents did not cheat. And, knowing now the painful effect that infidelity can have on someone, wouldn’t you do anything to prevent your child from going through that pain? You wouldn’t intentionally hold your child’s hand to a hot fireplace but you put them right on the path to having an affair and suffering greatly!

So, think carefully about the things that you teach your kids when you cheat on your spouse as you make decisions about what the next steps are for you. After all, they should be the priority, right?

Having cheating parents can distort the concept of marriage and love for a child. The effects of parents cheating can be more detrimental than you think. So be careful with how you handle the situation.

If you found this article on the effects of infidelity on children to be interesting, share your thoughts on how does a cheating parent affect a child


Written By: Mitzi Bockmann
Originally Published In: Let Your Dreams Begin
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