To Tell or Not to Tell Our Children?


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I know this title presents a divisive question, which is why I’ve chosen to avoid it over the years. Even my colleagues disagree on the answer. For that reason, I typically tell women it’s a question each of us needs to answer for ourselves. But recently an email from a former client changed my personal beliefs on the topic. Reading it broke my heart for what she and her family are now going through. So knowing her well enough to know she has good enough boundaries to tell me “No,” I asked her how she would feel about sharing with our readership on this topic. Her response is below. You can hear her heart as you read it:

“Yes, you can use my experience in your article. If it will help someone else prevent this from happening to them, it will be a blessing to me.” Her story follows.

“Life has a strange way of bringing me around to things. It’s a long story, so I’ll try to summarize it. Basically, my oldest daughter, who is a young adult, found a letter that I’d written to my husband. There were some very specific details in it that I would never have shared with her or my other children. When she started to read the letter, she didn’t know what she was reading. But she soon figured out it was written by me, and it was written to my husband. She was shocked because we have not shared my husband’s sex addiction (or our recovery story) with any of our grown children. Her reaction was to send it to her siblings, attaching my letter to a text message to them. And it was—and remains—a disaster. They all say that they never want to talk to or see my husband again. It’s all really, really sad.
“In hindsight, I wish we'd told our children. It doesn't mean they wouldn't have found the letter, but if they had been told about our recovery journey, they definitely wouldn't have had the shock they got when they read it unprepared.

“My letter was written from a place of anger, and included horrible details of things that hurt me. And it expressed the despair I'd felt back then. If we had told them, our discussion would have come from a place of compassion with facts, not my angry emotion.

“I asked our therapists several times if I should tell them. I always got the answer that it's an individual decision and everyone is different. I made my decision based on me being able to control the situation. But as we know, life happens and there are just some things that are out of our control.

“I now think my control should have come from a dialogue with them. Now they are angry at him for betraying me; angry with me for staying with him; and angry at both of us because we hid it from them. I was trying to protect my adult children from this ugly fact because I didn't want them to feel the hurt & betrayal I felt. But I now view that as codependent. They are responsible for their own feelings.

“Now I can only be here for them to answer any questions and support them through this horrible time in their lives. That being said, I'm glad you will be writing an article on this topic.”

So it is in the hope that this story may somehow help you as you grapple with the same question: to tell or not to tell your children? Clearly there is no "right" or "wrong" way to handle this, but her email is full of the wisdom that can only come from experience.

Over the many years I’ve been doing this work, I've heard both positives and negatives about telling our children, though more positives than negatives. Reading my former client’s email has convinced me that my personal position is that telling our children is best. I believe it needs to be well thought out and planned, the timing needs to be perfect, and what we tell them needs to be age-appropriate information, but I think the feelings of betrayal in teens and young adults is lessened when parents shoot straight with them. And as you’ve read above, this woman has come to that conclusion as well.

Yet I do not have a God-complex; I am not the holder of “truth.” This will continue to be seen as a very personal decision that each of us must make for ourselves. But it is my hope that as you grapple with this difficult question, this woman’s experience will help you think it through—and find your own best answer.

If you have personal experience with this topic that you would like to share, please feel free to comment or send us a private message on our Facebook Page! We can all continue to learn as we share with one another.

With your healing at heart,