It's not for him — it's for them.
Listening to the radio while taking my kids to school earlier this week, I heard an update on the latest in the Olivia Wilde/Jason Sudeikis saga: they’d issued a joint statement in the wake of their former nanny’s blockbuster interview with the Daily Mail, in which she alleged (among other things) that Wilde cheated on Sudeikis. The former couple presented a united front denying all allegations.
It immediately took me back more than a decade, to the day I found out my husband had an affair. After confessing he’d been sleeping with another woman for over a month and it was “eating him alive,” he told me he wanted to stay married and work on our relationship. That was the first time I ever vomited without being sick. I was beside myself with anger and resentment for a long time. But I knew one thing for certain: No matter how angry or upset this affair made me, I’d never tell our three kids.
That took all my strength. Especially on those hard days when I couldn’t get off the couch while I was trying to put the pieces back together. My kids were young, elementary-school age. They often asked me why I was sad, or told me their dad was a lot more fun. Nights when they didn’t like the dinner I made after a long, hard day was that much tougher. Sometimes, I felt like I just didn’t have the strength to be a present mom, and I’d break down and cry.
It would have been so much easier to scream: “Oh your dad is the fun one? Well, do you know what he did to ME?!”
Talking to my friends and family about it was therapeutic, but they weren’t sharing the same four walls with me day in and day out. They couldn’t be there to guide me when I felt like I hated my ex-husband for what he’d done and my kids were demanding everything from me.
I knew I was a vault though. I had to be. Not for me, for my kids.
When my marriage ended six years after that affair, my kids were entering their teen and tween years. They were older and understood that their father and I weren’t in love anymore. Yes, the affair was the beginning of our unraveling, a crucial chapter in that longer story — but they didn’t need to know that.
I didn't hide the story from them to protect their father. I did it to protect my kids' relationship with their father, which is a subtle but massively important distinction. It hasn’t always been easy to do but the long game has been — and will be — worth it. What happened between me and their father happened privately. If my kids found out, it would only cause damage.
I know this because my parents divorced when I was a teenager, and they proceeded to tell me and my siblings about every mistake the other had made: affairs, lying, being careless with money, and throwing wine glasses at each other. I did know my parents weren’t happy. Giving me and my siblings the details made us feel like we had to take sides. Kids aren’t able to take on adult problems and no one should make them feel like they need to. But when you’re airing your dirty laundry to your kids, that’s exactly what happens. They take it on. All of it.
My ex and I made a vow to each other when we married. When that didn’t last, we made another vow: to always have each other’s backs and to put the well-being of our children before anything. That means no bad-mouthing, zero-pointing fingers, and never trying to make the other look like a bad parent. And even when it’s hard, we’ve stuck to it, and I’m so glad.