I didn’t adequately protect the innocence of my children.
I didn’t lay awake at night, wringing my hands and devising wicked schemes to harm my children. I had seen a darkness too great, and so I did damage instead under the umbrellas of truth and protection. Ouch.
First off, I assumed that some of the rules regarding children in divorce didn’t apply to me. (Spoiler alert: I was wrong.) My situation was different – it was extreme and there was a clearly defined, officially diagnosed, dangerous guy. His own sex addiction counselor told me “He is a very sick man and he is making your family sick. Get him away and keep him away from you and your children.”
Secondly, my ex rarely pursued time with the kids; instead he holed up in a cheap hotel known for prostitution – all under the guise of “see what a great guy I am saving money?” (don’t bother with the math; it definitely doesn’t add up). His own addiction counselor recommended he be allowed time with the children only in public places until a lie detector test could be administered, so it was less embarrassing for my ex to simply blame me, avoid the test, and stay away.
Thirdly, I was a wreck. I was bouncing around the stages of grief, was yet undiagnosed with complex PTSD, and lived in confusion and fear as I began to realize that I had devoted my life to a complete stranger. He’d broken, and continued to break, vows and laws with equal fervor, and I was afraid for my children – particularly when he wouldn’t submit to the lie detector test.
It all boils down to this: I talked too much. My kids were told of his addiction in an age appropriate manner according to the many counselors and prevailing model of the time. I went wrong when the questions inevitably came. My kids did not deserve to be burdened with any gory details, regardless of how unrelentingly they asked or how much I felt I was teaching them what they needed to know to protect themselves.
I felt obligated to answer my children’s questions to protect them from this man who’d crossed so many inappropriate boundaries. I felt that I owed them the truth because our little family had been mired in his lies and confusion since it’s inception. “Secrets make you sick” seemed like the right advice, as I didn’t want my kids to be sick(er). I felt an urgency to speak truth when they asked, and sometimes when they didn’t.
There are some things they still don’t know; things they’ll need to deal with when they have children of their own. My ex’s sex addiction hurled me into the reality that the iniquities of the father can indeed be visited on the children, to the third and the fourth generation. That scares me.
When the iniquities are great, and sometimes dangerous, can we really protect our children’s innocence? Unfortunately, I don’t think we can – not completely. What we strive for, then, is to limit the damage whenever possible.
Children will come to the truth on their own, in their own time, to the level of their own understanding – if you let them guide you and don’t overburden them with details meant for adults. Only years and life experience can slowly, gently hand them the insight they need in order to more fully comprehend what happened. I tried to hurry that process, and sadly, the price I paid was the innocence of my children.
No question is urgent and no words can ever be taken back. I’ve learned to err on the side of too little information; more can be added later, but none can ever be erased. And so, I take my time, weigh out my options, get good counsel, and make wiser choices today than I did yesterday. My kids, who are now adults, deserve that.