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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

What Do You Hide From Your Kids?

“Did you ever get divorced?” 6-yo Kai recently asked my wife, as we three sat on the couch munching white-cheddar popcorn. “No, that was Daddy. He was married once before.” Jodi glanced over at me, smiled and continued,”I’ve only been married to one person.” My son turned his earnest gaze my way. “Who did you marry, Daddy?” “Her name was Kim,” I told him. Kai grabbed a fistful of popcorn and asked no more questions. 

My divorce was a dark and sad chapter of my life, as it is for anyone. While I’m not eager to discuss it with my children, I certainly see no reason to mask any of it from them. If they ask, I’ll tell them whatever they want to know.

Yet, I know a couple with a nearly 30-yo son who have purposely kept from him the fact that the father was married once (no kids.) I can’t, for the life of me, understand their motivation. I find this a slap in the face to their son on several levels:

  1.  When that child learns the truth, and he will, I can only imagine his sense of betrayal. By lying to him (by omission) his whole life, his parents are teaching him to be deceitful. And, they add insult to injury by hiding from him something which, in our 50%-marriage-success-rate society, is regrettably commonplace. I can see holding back a past murder or child molestation … but a divorce? Instead of using this sad affair to teach their son that life is complex and we all make mistakes, they’ve chosen a ridiculous, head-in-the-sand approach predicated, I assume, on the naive notion that their son might lose respect for his father. The underlying message to the kid – you are pathetically weak and unable to deal with the facts of life. If I was that son, I’d be furious and deeply hurt.

  1. Kids are resilient. I was 4 when my folks split. Did I have issues? Sure. But those issues informed my creativity, my sensitivity and my worldview. My struggles, emotional and otherwise, are who I am, for better or worse, and I dealt (and deal) with them as best I can. I’m a wiser person for having been through the fire. Bottom line – I turned out alright.

The couple above have done their son no favors by trying to “protect” him from the “sins” of the father.

I have known the divorce-hiding couple for decades. I knew the man’s first wife. She was a nice enough lady. As I understand it, the marriage-killing issue was that she changed her mind on wanting kids. Ouch … that’s a tough one. Unresolvable, in this case. But, what a teachable moment for father and son. A chance, at the right moment, to sit by the sea with his boy and share some deep wisdom. Through his heartache, that dad could help his son understand that people change. That relationships are moving targets requiring rigorous effort. And that, sometimes, all our hard work still results in failure. Choosing instead to divert the narratives of their lives from their only child is futile, insulting and just plain dumb.

Darkness on the Edge of Town, acrylic on panel, 23"x20", 2002, Stuart Sheldon

Darkness on the Edge of Town, acrylic on panel, 23″x20″, 2002, Stuart Sheldon

Divorce is no joke. The shame and guilt I felt are unmatched to this day. But, it was what it was, a best effort that went awry. Two people not meant to be together. No shame in that, I now realize. Certainly nothing to conceal from the kids. In fact, my divorce made me a better husband today and thus, a better father.

It is hard enough to build bonds and trust with our kids. Especially, when they are older and think they know better than we do. One of these days, my kids will learn from my own mouth that I spent a night in jail, that I drove drunk, that I ran naked to the girls’ side of summer camp … and that I asked a nice person to marry me and then to unmarry me a mere two years later, because I was too weak to see that it was wrong before it started.

Instead of keeping our pasts from our children, let’s utilize our train-wrecks and missteps to help them avoid the same ones.

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