Photo by Brett Sayles
Don’t you love it when the kids throw a conversational grenade while you’re driving in the car…and have no way to escape?!
“So Mum, why can’t you just forgive?”
Gulp…. silence…and a million thoughts, memories, emotions and traumas ran through my mind within a two second time span. Urggghhh….not that issue. Since the ‘affair monster’ reared its ugly presence in my world, I had wrestled with these issues on a daily and sometimes minute by minute basis. It was hard enough for me to work out my own feelings, let alone to explain them to my children. It had been the bane of my existence the past few years.
I tried my best to articulate the journey that had changed my boys’ lives, reduced me to a part-time mother, decimated friendships, added a heap of single-parent responsibility, all while still holding my demeanor in check in front of my son. I clenched the steering wheel tighter and strained my jaw.
“Ummm….I have.” I stammered, not at all convincingly.
“No you haven’t…you haven’t forgotten about it.”
“Well…forgiveness and forgetting are different things. I’m doing my best”.
I went blank. How do you explain the complexities of adult relationships to children without scarring the security in their own circumstances?
My other son then joined the intervention.
“Mum, we just don’t get it. Why don’t we see our friends anymore. It’s time you told us.”
I sighed. All those stupid divorce recovery books never touch on all these real life, uncomfortable realities. Where’s the ‘wise counsel’ in this particular situation? Nowhere.
This was one of those moments that was not going to go away and could frame these young men for the rest of their lives. I took a deep breath and mustered up every ounce of energy to come up with a intelligent analogy they could possibly understand.
“You know how much you love your scooter?” I asked son number one.
“How excited you were to buy it from the shop, to choose the colour of the deck, handlebars and wheels. To save up and the upgrade parts to make it look and work better? The fun you have when you ride it at to school and skate park?”
“You know how for months you would look after it, make sure it didn’t get damaged, even put it close to your bed at night to make sure it was right there in the morning when you woke up? Also, how proud you were to show your friends and meet them at the park to ride and do tricks together? Well, imagine if your best friend took it, even though they knew how much you loved your scooter? How would you feel?”
“What if they started riding it to the park in front of you, even though it had been yours? Doing the cool tricks you used to do, changing the parts you added to it, posting photos of it on social media and telling everyone it was their scooter all along and you were no good anyway. Would that be hard? Would you need to forgive him for lots of little things for a long time?”
“I guess so.”
“Well that is kind of how it is for me now. I’m doing my best and God is helping me.”
How do you explain the emotional impact of infidelity to children? I am fully aware of all those parenting resources that stress the need to not talk badly about ex-partners, but seriously how do you do that on a day to day basis? Children do not have the capacity to fully comprehend the emotions you as adult, yet still a vulnerable, hurting human being is feeling? At the risk of possibly reducing my ‘fully-sick-ness’, and getting real (which may contradict some of those ideas from the experts of the family-break-up-world…I mean, have they actually lived this?!), here are my own pieces of wisdom with how I’ve learnt to master this!
Just like grief is a process, so too is forgiveness, especially when you’ve been betrayed. There are stages of denial, despair, anger, isolation, empowerment, steps backwards…forwards…sideways…spiritual peace, then triggers and regressions where you have to work through the messy process all over again. It is not a ‘one and done’ scenario. It is also important to understand that you can’t pressure and hurry people through this process. Proper healing takes time, don’t rush it and don’t let people tell you to hurry up. Be yourself through all the stages of this recovery.
2. Create some edits
Create some G or PG video ‘edits’ or scenes in your mind that you can pull out to explain to your children, as needed and in an age appropriate manner. As much as you may be tempted to blurt the soap-opera-messed-up details that continually haunt you, take a breath, pause and choose your examples wisely and allow the facts to speak for themselves. Children deserve to know the ‘real’ circumstances without badmouthing the other parent. Let them make their own judgments over time. Use them as teachable moments, be honest about your own short-comings, the impact of sin and various life choices and focus on how God is able to restore every situation, not matter how unorthodox.
3. Be wary of the sketchy ones and change your flow
Learn from your journey and make changes to your lifestyle and personal boundaries to model how to cope in adversity. Be discerning about the people in your life and limit unhealthy relationships. If your children are likely to be presented with alternate morals and lifestyles, continue expressing your values and modelling desired actions whenever possible. Be comforted that over time they will observe the differences. Research co-parenting methods, and take out your stress in healthy ways by talking to a trusted friend, family member or counselor, exercise and pursue your own hobbies, interests and career goals.
4. Don’t worry when you ‘bust your cakes’
This one is the most important! Also, the most unlikely you will be told by anyone!
When you stack it in an emotional and parenting sense, don’t be discouraged. Sin sucks. Parents mess up. Nobody’s perfect. Allow yourself to be human.
Apologise, acknowledge your weaknesses to your children, and demonstrate how to get back on track. Practice self-care, be true to yourself and don’t be dismayed. You will get there. Take an emotional day ‘off’ where you don’t try to meet anyone’s needs or have to pretend to be strong. Binge on Netflix, smash stuff at the gym, go for a walk, avoid responsibilities, make yourself comfortable…but set yourself a time or day for when that is over and you are back on the skate ramp of life.
As much as we humans, especially Christians, hate talking about messy stuff like affairs, family break downs and forgiveness, it is time for us to all get real. The ‘let’s not talk about it honestly’ ideal doesn’t work. Children pick up on everything, so it is pointless for us to pretend they shouldn’t understand the issues that ultimately change the course of their day to day lives. The vital part is how we go about it. This will decide how well you all learn to adapt, become resilient, grow in faith and together overcome the adversity.
After all of that, you may well consider yourself ‘totally legit’! Yeah…sorry, it’s so not cool…puns over….