As a mom, you'll do absolutely anything to protect your kids, especially when it comes down to problems between you and your partner. You'll bite your tongue, you'll swallow your pride, and you'll suffer through all the bitter parts of your relationship's turmoil so your kids are none the wiser. But some instances are just too hard to ignore, like wondering what to say to your kid if your partner cheated.
While you're navigating your own heartbreak, you're also thinking about how to let your children know what happened. Studies have shown that a parent's infidelity can affect your child's emotional well-being, their future relationships, and they may have anxiety symptoms, such as thumb-sucking and wetting the bed, as they fear their family being torn apart.
So what do you say to your kid if your partner cheated?
Well, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. Every family is different and no one knows your children better than you. Clinical psychologist Ana Nogales wrote in Psychology Today that while children are able to adapt, they will still feel betrayed by the parent that cheated. Your kids know that being loyal and loving is important in a family and when one of the parents strays, it can be heartbreaking. They may feel angry, guilty, confused, and experience a loss of trust.
And while you want to protect your children from those feelings, can you imagine constantly having to paint their other parent in a good light when they are the reason you two split? The bitterness that would grow each day is no good for anyone, especially you.
But, there's one thing you can say that can offer them an explanation without divulging too much information. Talk to them in an easy, conversational tone and ask:
You know how sometimes you outgrow your toys? Or you have a new friend that you want to spend time with? Sometimes grown-ups do that, too. And your other parent and I just aren't compatible anymore, we just don't work well together, and both of us aren't happy together. But that doesn't mean they don't love you. They will always be happy with you and will always want to be with you, OK?
It's the easiest way to make sure your kids know that their other parent loves them very much and that this is clearly a disagreement between the two of you; it doesn't involve anyone else. You don't have to make your partner out to be a superhero who did nothing wrong, but I don't think you have to give your kids the gory details either. Infidelity is an incredibly scary thing to navigate and to throw young children into the mix can make it all the more confusing. Psychology Today notes that you have to look at your motivation for telling your children. Do you want them to know that your partner cheated because it makes your partner the villain and you the victim? Or do you think your kid is mature enough and emotionally stable enough to handle the information so you aren't keeping secrets from each other?
Remember, your partner may have been sh*tty in relationships, but that doesn't make them a terrible parent. When your children are older and want more details on your divorce, it might be easier to share with them. But a child who has no concept of infidelity, marriage, or betrayal just needs the basics -- you two no longer worked together and it has nothing to do with them. It lets both of you off the hook, making neither one of you the victim or the villain.