What Details Do My Kids Need To Know?


Happy New Year,

Did you know that most people – about 92% do not keep their New Years Resolutions? Yep, and the top three resolutions are:

1. I’m going to exercise more.
2. I’m going to eat healthy food.  
3. I’m going to save more money.

Can you relate? Do you make New Years Resolutions and have you been able to keep them? If so, what’s your secret?

Last year I picked one of those three. I had picked it for years but never followed through. I was like the 92%. This past year I decided I would be like the 8%. I decided I would eat more healthy and cut out gluten and sugar from my diet. The previous year I had gained 10 pounds eating Talenti Sea Salt Carmel Gelato every night. After all, “I worked hard, I deserved a treat.” But the consequences of my “self-care” were not pretty.

I went cold turkey. New Years Day 2018, no more gelato. No more ice cream period. I haven’t had even a taste all year. I was pretty strict with no sugar for the first 6 months of 2018. I found it easier to say no to all of those things than trying to decide how much was “a little bit.”

But I lost 20 pounds and feel much better. I’m inspired to continue my healthy eating journey in this New Year. How about you? What are your resolutions for this New Year?


This Week's Question: I was married 32 years to a man with many narcissistic traits. We had 5 children who are all young adults-18-23 years old. He was controlling and some of the kids and I endured emotional, financial, verbal and spiritual abuse.

We had counseling and our church worked appropriately (after learning through your resources) with us and with him. He never listened and as expected everything was blamed on me. As “the heat” was applied he withdrew, began socializing in another city. I found evidence of other women, which of course he denied.

Because he was such a manipulative liar, about a year ago I arranged my move out quickly and quietly, surprising him by the move. The 2 children still at home came along (17 1/2 and 19). Our kids did not know many details, just that it was bad and their father spent many nights out. I soon filed and we are now divorced. He has never admitted to any wrongdoing or anything about other women. He has lost the respect of the kids, moved to another city and started an entirely single life. The kids rarely see him.

He is of late giving them big money gifts. One of the women he was involved with filed sexual assault charges against him but did not press the charges. I was told by her that he threatened my life on several occasions if I ever showed up on his front porch.

I will admit that I can imagine him assaulting her as well as threatening me. He was very bizarre acting after I left, and I have gone no contact.

My question is how much do you tell young adult children when they ask details? How much do you tell them if they don't ask? I have no wish to be anywhere near him, he is mentally unstable.

Answer: I’m so glad that you are safe and have chosen to go no contact with a clearly dangerous man. I’m also extremely grateful that your church believed you and exerted appropriate boundaries and authority over him so he could not continue to pretend and fool everyone. That’s why he left town. He could not maintain his image any longer.

As for your question about the kids, who are now all adults. How much do you tell them?

The answer to this question isn’t always the same for everyone so let me share some criteria that you as well as other people reading this blog may find helpful in discerning how much of the details to disclose.

1. A good parent always makes decisions with the best interests of her/his child in mind. Click To Tweet

Generally, it is best for kids (even adult kids) to love and be loved by both parents. Obviously, in your situation, your children have seen plenty of your husband’s poor behaviors, both towards you and towards them. They may ask questions and if so be truthful with the facts.

Maybe now he’s trying to “buy” their love back with large monetary gifts. Can you trust your kids to understand that money does not buy good relationships? Try not to be discouraged or angry if they do accept and enjoy his lavish money gifts. Most adult children like to get monetary gifts from their parents even if they personally don’t like or approve of the parent giving it.

However, if you notice that the money always comes with stress and strings attached, perhaps you can give a gentle reminder that money doesn’t fix broken relationships. You can ask them, “Do you want to have to pay the emotional cost of a trip to Hawaii with your dad?” It’s something they can ponder.

2. Sometimes it’s necessary to share age-appropriate details, even if they don’t ask. You would do this when:

a. You as a parent are the target of untrue and malignant criticism by your spouse and your child doesn’t know what to believe or who is telling the truth. It is your job as a parent to teach your children to interpret reality truthfully as well as to tell him or her the truth. You can do this without disparaging their father by simply saying, “That’s not true. The facts are……….. and if you need more proof of that let me know.”

For example, if a spouse was put in jail because of abuse or non-support, and your ex-husband told your children that “you put him in jail.” You can simply say, “That’s not true.  I have no power to put anyone in jail. Only judges can put someone in jail and only when there is proof that a person broke the law.”

b. Your child or his or her family might be harmed by the sinful unhealthy behaviors and attitudes of your spouse.  

For example, if you knew your husband was viewing child pornography, for your children and grandchildren’s safety this must be disclosed to them so that they can make sure their children are safe if they choose to allow a relationship with their father. Or you knew he was a drug addict and legal consequences might fall on them if he lived with them temporarily and was dealing or using drugs. Or if he made suicidal or homicidal threats, this would be important information for adult children to have.

3. The following questions are helpful in deciding whether it’s best to tell more details or best to stay silent regarding a spouse’s sins and flaws.

a. Is my child or his or her family being harmed by them?  

b. Is my child or his/her family being harmed by not knowing?  

c. Will it help them to know?  

d.  Do the benefits of knowing outweigh the risks of not knowing?

4.  And finally here are some personal self-reflective questions you can ask yourself that help you think through why you might want to share the ugly details of marital distress with your child.

a.  Do I NEED my children to side with me?

b.  Do I NEED their dad to be the bad guy?

c.  Do I NEED their sympathy and support?

d.  Do I want to punish my spouse by making him look bad to my kids?

If your answer is yes to these last four questions, then I would be very cautious about disclosing the ugly details to your children. Remember, a good parent has the best interests of her child in mind even when it costs her. If you NEED something from your kids in order for you to be okay with the decision you made to separate or divorce, then you have your own work to do.  

It sounds like you are a wise, brave, self-aware, and self-reflective woman who does have her children’s best interests in mind. I think by reviewing some of the criteria I’ve given you, the decision of what to tell or how much to tell will become crystal clear.

Friend, what other criteria have you used to decide whether or not to disclose the details of marital wrongs to your children – adult or younger?

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18 Comments

  1. natalie on January 2, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    Such a great answer to a tough question, Leslie! In my case my teenager was the one to uncover the ugly truth and bring it to my attention….gut wrenching for everyone. Despite confronting their dad, and counseling, their father has never admitted wrong doing or apologized. I ALWAYS answer my children’s questions truthfully (with discretion, of course). As teenagers they didn’t want to be treated as “children” and they needed some facts to sort through manipulation and feeling blindsided. I believe that when a child’s world is turned upside down and their family unit it torn apart, honesty and answers and respect will provide some salve to a hurting wound and give them the best chance at healing.

    • Chris on January 22, 2019 at 3:21 am

      I agree completely. My children’s feelings and my response was very similar.

  2. Sally on January 2, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    I will often, with my older children, say things like, “hmmm… what do you think about that, or, why do you think he said or did that?” I find that getting them to process his actions on their own helps them to make their own conclusions about his behavior. I also feel like it takes me out of the equation. At the same time I will point out to them in a completely different context, not about their dad, when I see or don’t see healthy behavior or boundaries, for instance, in movies, or with friends.

  3. M on January 2, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    almost 2 years ago I left the house for a short time in hoping it would wake my husband up to his sinful neglect/abusive anger. When I picked my child from college we talked about many things on the way home and one led to a discussion about his fear of men because of his father’s anger and such. I opted to tell him at that point that I had left the house for a short time to hopefully get his father to repent. My son said ‘I am so glad’. They see so much more than we think. He is full aware that I have my own issues too but he also knows that I try to work with the Lord on my portion. Unfortunately I was given the advice to ‘be careful to not stay away to a point it is punitive’ and as you can imagine living with abusive men since I was a child I am fearful of doing the wrong thing, so while I was sure he wasn’t repentant I went home.

  4. Maria on January 2, 2019 at 7:38 pm

    When I started counseling and my counselor told me my husband was abusive and had narcissistic traits, I broke down in her office and sobbed because I was afraid for my kids. I was scared they would turn out like him, His mom never said a bad word about his dad. I think my husband learned that his dad’s selfish and cruel behavior was ok. I decided then to talk about my husband’s bad behavior. Explain to the kids why that behavior was wrong. My kids are older now and thankfully have not embraced his behavior. They know it is wrong.

  5. CC on January 3, 2019 at 8:02 am

    I (now 65 yo) grew up in the 50s and 60s watching my always angry father yell at, berate, argue with and intimidate my mother often over the smallest infractions. He once threw a glass of milk in her face because the spaghetti sauce wasn’t sweet enough. She did argue back sometimes, but was pretty much a doormat. She was a SAHM with only a high school degree, 3 kids and no money of her own. I don’t recall them being truly happy or loving toward each other or affectionate with each other. So this is what I thought was normal marital interactions.

    After 30 years of marriage my mom divorced my dad. All the kids were gone from home. She NEVER said a bad word about him. When I asked her why she left, her answer was that living with him was like Chinese water torture, just a slow drip at a time did her in. That’s the worst thing she ever said about him.

    Now, looking back as an adult, I believe he was emotionally abusive to her. I’ve mentioned this to her more than once – used the “A” word, but she’s not having it. Still won’t say a bad word about him. I was the oldest child and believe what I saw was abusive behaviors on his part. She says she’s forgiven him and it’s all in the past.

    But here’s the trouble with this mindset, for me at least…

    Thinking this was what all normal marriages looked like, I repeated the pattern and married my very own abuser. What a surprise, huh?

    If, when we were teens, my mom had sat us down and had a talk with us about what a godly marriage should look like or even just how a man should treat a woman (believer or not), how might that have changed my whole life?!?

    Unfortunately, I repeated the pattern with my daughter. When she met her fiancé, all I could think to ask her was did she see any Red Flags. I was only coming out of the FOG myself. I asked her the Red Flag question several times and was always told nothing seemed wrong. They’ve been married 7+ years and I see all kinds of Red Flags. My daughter has so far been silent. She has a house, two kids and is a SAHM, just like me and her grandmother.

    So, my message to you moms with unmarried children is please take the time to talk to your kids about this very important subject. Don’t watch them make the same mistakes over and over.

    I have a very young granddaughter now. If my daughter doesn’t have the talk with her, you can bet I will. I cannot stand to see this pattern repeated any longer.

    I’ve only posted briefly a couple times. I hope you’ll all be kind to me. I read a lot here, but I’m still learning and growing and forgiving, mostly myself. It’s not easy getting your head untwisted after 39 years of marriage.

    • Nancy on January 4, 2019 at 8:49 am

      HI CC,

      I agree with you. It is SO important to communicate with kids.

      In my case, the pretense amidst major ‘earth quake events’ such as multiple affairs on my father’s part, led me , over time, to disregard my own perception. It was like being on a ship that was being heaved and tossed in a storm and everyone behaving as though nothing was happening!

      Every alarm bell inside me was going off but no one validated my experience. In fact the community thought ours was a ‘perfect family’ and I was repeatedly told how lucky I was.

      I would get ‘sea sick’ and everyone would focus on me as though I was the problem. Eventually I learned to pretend well in order to not be scapegoated and ultimately learned not to trust my own perceptions. This has had highly destructive consequences in my life, one of which was a psychotic break from reality as a younger adult ( psychosis is defined as the experience of false perceptions). Any wonder?

      Children feel afraid and insecure easily. It is so important to validate these feelings ( especially if they are highly sensitive) so they can learn to trust their own perceptions of the world.

      • Aly on January 4, 2019 at 1:08 pm

        Nancy,
        I am so sorry for the experience! I can only imagine that having your father be (duplicit in such a harmful sacred way) can bring so much pain and could have fractured your sense of trust in others.. who would blame you…. and on top of that to have a community ‘mirror’ the image they wanted to believe about your family and your family to go along with it must be very painful.

        I’m glad you have come out of it and you are walking your freedom out!💜

    • Aly on January 4, 2019 at 11:22 am

      Hi CC,
      I’m glad you posted your experience and your choices. I’m so sorry for what you went through as a child especially seeing such horrible exchanges between your parents. I can certainly agree these unhealthy relationship issues do seem to play out in generational patterns.
      (Some more obvious than others)
      I think it does link to being an example and modeling our godly values and beliefs. This is why the spiritual twisting and confusion comes into great harm.

      I’m glad you will share and give wisdom and warning to your granddaughter/ grandchildren. I hope and pray that you are supported in this. This is so key and I hope that your extended family will give you the respect to speak into something that you unfortunately have had to go through.
      (Maybe you could write a guest Blog for Leslie?)

      In my FOO… the pattern of women compromising on their (professing) values or settling into relationships with men who had some maturing to do or were functioning addicts was all to the norm and modeled.
      But none of these women really wanted to be honest about what they were going through. Nor did they want to expose anything within their own dissatisfaction or less than perfect marriages.

      For my situation it came down to not just focusing on the unhealthy behavior of the men but the inter woven relationships with the women in my FOO. It was something I couldn’t quite grasp until God allowed so much to get exposed!
      Overall-There was not honesty and it was Not acceptable to be vulnerable because many were emotionally intimately avoidant.
      Somehow, I received all the emotions (or the capacity to feel) of the family/system??
      I was expected to be vulnerable, teachable and compromising, but no one else.
      The rules were different for me than the rest. I guess I had rules but they did not.
      So this created great problems for my marriage and certainly what felt most familiar to ‘marry’.

      The marriage had huge pockets of issues. You can maybe relate what gets played out generationally.

      Anyways, I want to support you in your hearts desire to not see anymore walk a path that can be avoided sometimes if there are willing Truth tellers and truth listeners taking part.

      I hope you will be given the support for doing the right thing, as I was quickly scapegoated and rejected. But this is often the case when dealing with people full of unresolved shame and fear.
      It is sad, but stay in a community that gets it and understands the long term effects.
      Prayers for you and your generational blessing💜

  6. Aly on January 3, 2019 at 10:07 am

    Maria,
    Did you see his Narc traits and his behavior as abusive prior to going into counseling? Or was this a moment of clarity for you being with another person alongside you as you told your experience?

    I was told alongtime ago by a pastoral counselor after he was counseling my h and I for some time that I should pull my children aside and clearly tell them that certain behaviors are not acceptable on a child level nor what so ever on an adult level. He also recommended that I consider other healthy loving godly male mentors to replace my husbands modeling…(exposing them to healthy modeling of an adult leader) especially if my h was going to continue on his destructive path of what was really a simple issue to change in his opinion.
    The issue being: NOT listening and not respecting another person at a core level.
    Obviously this linked to his issue with God.

    I think speaking up is empowering and kids are taught in school to expose the bully, speak up about things and be accused of behaving with virtuous character to others.

    • Maria on January 6, 2019 at 8:16 pm

      Aly,

      Since I was reacting poorly, and he was blaming me I thought it was my fault. After I worked with a counselor to change my reactions, when he kept up it’s the bad behavior, I knew it wasn’t my fault.

      My kids have quite a few good male role models. Thankfully, he hasn’t been interested in being involved with the kids, so that has helped.

  7. Michele L on January 3, 2019 at 2:18 pm

    When I picked up my child from college a couple years ago our conversations about the political climate translated into angry emotionally abusive men, like my husband. My child knows my husband and I both have our own issues, and dont always respond well to the other but does see that I work on changing myself for the better. Anyhow in that conversation I had said that I have left the house for a short time and the response was ‘I am so glad’. They knew the pain I had been going thru, they suffered their own ways under the same man. Sadly, I allowed a comment from a spiritual authority in my life, “make sure you don’t stay gone any longer than absolutely necessary so it doesn’t become punitive”, to push me into going home before I should have. I knew my husband was not repentant but I was afraid to harm things more by being gone longer. I am in agreement, speak the truth, you dont have to be mean, but you can say, calmly, that is not true. Also, they see so much more than you know, they are also being traumatized, so when we know truth we should speak it…even if we choose to stay well we need to be clear that how we are being treated is not honoring to God, to the family, or to us. Somehow God took what little knowledge on how to love and protect those you love and multiplied it greatly in my children. My heart is blessed when I see my oldest caring for, honoring, and being protective of his wife and children.

  8. T.L. on January 4, 2019 at 3:26 am

    Hmmm…I see the wisdom in being discreet with what is said in certain circumstances. If a man is a good father, in general, though a bad husband (although a case can be made that a bad husband is failing to be a good dad as well!) then helping to preserve his good relationship with the kids is probably in their best interest. But when a father has abused his children and his wife, I think that it is important, wise, and right for the mother to censure/condemn the behavior to validate her children’s experiences and help them process it as wrong. To me, this falls under the category of truth-telling and no more pretending.

  9. Y on January 4, 2019 at 6:47 am

    Sorry this post is not about the article. I just wanted to bounce some things off you all. I have some maladaptive coping techniques as a result of my marriage. I had been doing so well, making good decisions and feeling proud of myself. Now I have fallen right back in. I do know what Paul says in Romans 7:19, but I’m just so frustrated with myself. One step forward and two back. It would normally be a question of getting back on the right path, repenting and trying again. This time I’ve caused some damage inadvertently. I don’t want to tell anyone because I’m embarrassed. I’m also afraid to know if what I’ve done is serious. My support system may get really tired of rescuing me. I am trying to be strong by myself so I don’t have to go running back to people who may be really sick of hearing it. I’ve struggled with these things for so long and it never seems to get better for any length of time.

    • Moon Beam on January 5, 2019 at 12:17 am

      Y, can you be more specific? Are you in counseling in addition to having support people?

      I having trouble understanding what you are trying to say. Do you mean you keep returning to your abusive partner or keep selecting a new person that is destructive?

  10. Sunflower on January 4, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    I would like to hear more from the kids. Any teens or young adults able to give their opinion of how they think their parents handled things? What would they have liked to hear.

    I’ll speak for myself. My mother was abusive and had (has) multiple personality disorders. My father was sexually abusive and raged with emotional outburst and workaholic behaviors. So there was no one to offer a reasonable explanation for anything or to help the children in my home.

    Most every other adult in my life was functional and helpful. I survived by joining every community outlet I could find. Whatever got me out of the house was wonderful. The church was a place of protection as was school, the library,various clubs, the neighbor’s house and my grandparents home. Coaches, Girl Scout Leaders, Choir Directors and Camp counselors all modeled healthy adult behavior, which was great. I chose to model myself after the people outside of my home at a very young age.

  11. Mindy on January 5, 2019 at 6:54 am

    My h and I never had children. After a battle with infertility, we started the adoption process but I realized he would make a poor role model. His controlling nature made him dangerous and impossible to reason with. I recognize now that having children would have meant a continued connection to him for life. Even though I have great reasons that we never had kids, a big part of me regrets it. Part of me misses him and wishes there was some path back. Of course having children would have been selfish in my particular situation. I knew at that point what kind of person he was and kids don’t deserve to be brought into that mess. I know it is crazy but I really have a hard time shoving these regretful thoughts out of my mind.

  12. Janice D on January 5, 2019 at 9:02 am

    Hi Mindy, I had 4 miscarriages the first 2 years of my marriage and my husband and I adopted our son after a 2 year process.My son is now grown, a married young man ( age 24) and I am legally separated from my husband.Each of our life paths are unique and while I understand your feelings of loss being childless I don’t think God wants us to live with regrets. My husband was present in body but often distant emotionally and my son suffered.He has expressed himself to his Dad and their relationship is out of my control.I pray that God continues to heal my son and I see evidence that he is less angry and more accepting of his Dads shortcomings.He also understands my decision and he and my precious daughter-in-law have been loving and supportive of me. Trust the decision you made as a sign of Gods leading in your life.It is the enemy of our souls that wants us to be filled with regrets,not our loving Heavenly Father.I appreciate your responses and see evidence of Gods wisdom in your comments that have been helpful to me and I’m sure to others.

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