Teaching or retaliating?

I have an issue concerning my children that is distressing me a great deal. I am divorced (not by choice) and in the process of an annulment. During the last two years of my marriage my husband carried on an affair with another married Catholic woman in another state after meeting her online. After our divorce and in counseling with our children it was reccommended by the childrens counselor that we not tell tell them of the affair and we agreed to it saying that if a time were to come that he felt the need to tell them we would discuss it. A month ago he told my oldest, 17, without letting me know until after a couple of weeks had passed. He told her not to mention it until he had a chance to speak to me. I was upset by the fact he told her and also that she felt she could not speak to me for a while after the fact. Now my child is telling me he is still in a relationship with this woman. He justifies it in many ways including that she is now separated. My ex used to be an incredible leader of our faith. We taught Confirmation class together and taught it to our daughter the year beofre we separated (while unbeknownst to me he was having an affair). I can hardly reconcile the fact that he is now encouraging my child to accept his adultrous actions and is bringing this woman into her life. He intends on telling my 12 year old when school is out and introducing both children to her this summer. She is already becoming a regular in their life sending gifts, talking to my oldest on the phone etc. I admit she is a sore spot for me. I know she and my ex have good points, but I do not respect their actions while we were married and I don’t now either. THey are commiting adultry and both intend to teach the children through their actions that it is acceptable. We have raised our kids in the church, my oldest even teaches RE classes now that she has been confirmed. THey know the faith. I want to talk with them to reiterate what my ex is teaching them is against our faith. I know I can’t stop it and don’t want to sound like a jealous ex wife, but don’t I also have an obligation to make sure my children know there is no justification for this? I know they have to live with her in their lives and am not trying to start a battle, I just don’t want them growing up thinking this is acceptable. Am I letting my personal issues color my decision to talk to them? Should I talk to them at all or trust that they know?
If anyone has had similar experience and can guide me it would be appreciated.

[FONT=Times New Roman][FONT=Arial]It is the right and duty of parents to give moral education. As a parent, you are the first and foremost educator of your children in matters of morals. Your role as an educator is so crucial, if you fail in delivering moral lessons, scarcely anything else in a child’s can compensate for it. I think it is very important that you live the Faith at home. You must instill and reinforce moral values in your children, which is going to be very difficult considering the example being set by your ex-husband and his adulterous relationship. You’ll need to be delicate but clear in your teachings given your personal situation.

Your husband is an adulterer and you don’t need to water down any aspect of the faith in order to protect his lost honour. My guess is that your children are or will be very resentful of their father’s cowardly acts towards the whole family at least when they are old enough to understand.
My heart goes out to you. Don’t blame yourself. Your husband brought this mess, and your children deserve nothing less than the truth about faith and morals.
Faced with the knowlege that his children knows about his big failures he might some time repent from his adultery.

My experience in this is from having divorced parents myself. I think that the general rule is that you should be very hesitant about criticizing your former spouse to the children. Do teach them your moral values, but do not mention their dad. If they ask, try to answer in a way that isn’t judging.

This seems a bit like dissembling, but I think it is the only solution. Any other course tends to run into problems with your children feeling guilty about their love for their dad, or their continuing relationship with him. Even casual comments can tend to make them feel they must choose loyalties.

Your kids may already be judging their father rather harshly - kids of divorce often do. As they get older, they will not hesitate to make moral judgments about his behavior, but it is also important that they are able to maintain their understanding that he loves them, and it is ok for them to love him.

I would definitely talk this over with your priest to get some feedback on how best to address this issue. It definitely needs to be addressed. Your priest will be able to advise you in ways that we cannot here on this anonymous messageboard.

Generally speaking, I believe it is best for parents not to disclose to their children their own moral failings or those of the other parent, insofar as that is possible. However, your ex is somewhat forcing your hand by telling your daughter (behind your back!) and insisting on bringing this other woman into their lives. Your children need to know that you are not okay with it.

Now, does this mean you run him down every chance you get and urge your children to do the same? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean you should sit passively by and make it seem that everything is just fine and your ex has done no wrong.

Exactly what I was thinking.

Good luck with this. My prayers are with you to find the right words as you discuss this with your children.

Thank you all for your input. I pray for the right words to share the Catholic faith with my children while not undermining their love for their father. It’s a tough one to be sure.

It is nice to have a place to discuss this. I appreciate all of your comments.

Likewise, I had divorced parents. I am now a mother myself of preteen children, and looking back (my mother had the adulterous relationship during the marriage), I can say that though I was young and she was trying to introduce this other man into the family (the children) I knew in my conscience that she was wrong. She (mom) was trying to justify her happiness, etc… with him which my dad did not give her. Nonetheless, my conscience had been formed (I was in early high school). Sadly but by the grace of God, mom was not my moral teacher in this. I had a rock solid Catholic education in the Benedictine tradition. So, even though I knew that my dad had his faults, so did she. As far as I can remember, I had a sick feeling about his presence and was never comfortable.
I think that if your children are well-formed in their faith (which you mentioned they are), I wouldn’t so much worry because they know right from wrong. Your role as the first catechist to your kids can never be over-emphasized because you (and dad) are their pillar for their formation. Your children will continue to love you because you have set them in the right path.
Their eyes will be opened.

Based on watching my children go through something similar:

Do not criticize your husband or the other woman. Do not give your opinion unless asked. If you are living the faith, they know where you stand and what your opinion likely is.

If you have raised your children in the catholic faith, they are already aware of the moral right and wrong, but are loving their father despite his faults as best they can. As they are supposed to as catholics. Do not mistake politeness for acceptance or tolerance. They probably realize that whatever relationship they decide to have with their father, this woman is a reality they will have to deal with.

They will not care about what you or your ex say, they will form their opinions based on your actions. They have seen the most fundamental vow a person can take broken, their trust is now based on actions not words.

Let your children manage their relationship with their father. If you interfere in that and it falls apart in the future, they may very well blame you.

This is probably not the first time your children are going to run into others, including fellow Catholics, who ignore the Church’s teachings with regards to marriage, of whom their father will be their prototype. They are going to have to figure out how to walk between the boundaries of permissiveness and self-righteousness, and how to proceed when the violator is also a parent, who is due some certain amount of respect. The posters who suggested the help of a priest or spiritual director were on the right track.

Since you are asking for a decree of nullity, you believe your attempt at marriage to have been invalid from the beginning, even if it was attempted in good faith. That means that you might choose to characterize your husband’s choice to seek someone else for a wife as not an attempt at bigamy, but rather a premature release from an attempted marriage he should have been treating as valid until proven otherwise, even though neither of you currently thinks the attempt was in fact valid. That is certainly not an excuse for what he did, but it gives room for a certain amount of leniency from you, even if you believe that it is the lack of good faith on his part that doomed your attempt at marriage.

Nevertheless, we don’t have to choose to have a relationship with everyone. “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17) Choosing not to have any more contact than necessary is appropriate for those who have violated our trust, particularly when they are unrepentant. Your husband violated your trust and the trust of your children, whether or not your marriage is found to have been valid. You do not have to pretend as if he did or is doing otherwise. Nevertheless, you also do well to teach your children that rendering the honor due to a parent is a duty that you continue to expect from them and support with your own behavior towards your strayed ex-spouse. It is kind of like showing respect to a President that you would like to see out of office. You simulataneously respect the office and object to how the duties of the office are being carried out, all the time giving the dignity a person deserves simply by being a human being. It can be done.

I’ve also found that it is good to reinforce the concept that while right and wrong are ours to discern, the culpability of a person (which requires a reading of the heart to know) is for God alone. On top of that, the Lord has let us know that it is the desire of God that we love as God loves, who sends the rains to the just and the unjust. Besides, we ourselves are capable of anything, save for God’s grace. Beggars ought not be too hard on other beggars.


I appreciate your point but the affair has restarted. It is not just a past adultery issue but one that is current. Regardless of my marriage or its issues the woman he is with is *currently still married *in the civil sense.
I have not decided what to do here. I go back and forth. I am talking to religious educators and my priest but I’m getting mixed reviews. Some opt for teaching the faith delicately, others to say nothing. It has been much the same as on this forum. I am still facing the same question. Should I lead by example and word or just quietly assume the children know what is right? Can anyone recall scripture that might help with this conundrum?

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.
- 1 Timothy 4:13

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and* teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ*. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
- Colossians 1:28-29

I do not have experience with divorcing a spouse, but I do have experience with a family member talking to one of my sons behind our back and undermining our authority (which is in essence what your husband is doing). Very destructive to the conscience in formation - the child is torn between what he or she knows is right and their love and respect for that family member. It is not fair to allow the children to wrestle with this on their own. They will not know how to figure out what to do about Dad and his affair.

This really should be between you and your ex-husband. Since you had an agreement with him about how things like this would be handled, and he broke that agreement and drew the children (at least the oldest) into his own circle as a co-conspirator (how disgusting), then you need to confront HIM with his violation of boundaries.

If he tells you at that point that his business is his own, etc. and he will do as he pleases, I believe you MUST then discuss the issue with your children. Not ragging on their father but explaining that as your parents, BOTH OF YOU need to talk to them at the same time, if there is a big issue. That going behind your back, or you going behind his back, is the wrong thing to do, and that their dad has made a mistake by doing that. I had to talk to my son, and explain to him that the family member should not have taken it upon himself to give our son advice which totally contradicts what our family values are. It placed our son in a very bad situation, and it was very wrong. I wasn’t doing it out of spite, although I was furious with this family member. I had to let our son know that people do things out of their own motivations, and that may not be to help our son grow up to be the man God wants him to be. And, there should NEVER be secrets kept from you, between their father and them. EVER. That alone is like a ticking bomb in their lives.

But enough about me. I think you need to talk to your ex-husband about this first. From his response, you will know what is the next right thing to do.

I spoke to him after I found out he told our daughter. He believes he had the right to discuss his transgressions with his daughter on his own. I know, from what she has told me, that it was so he could spin it and play on her emotions and that he lied about parts of the tale. I have not pressed my daughter to talk about it and won’t. But have noticed a change in her towards me since. She is more distant with me and closer to her father so I wonder what all actually transpired during this conversation of theirs. I just try to field any issues she wants to share and continue life as usual. it’s been hard though as I feel the void widen between my daughter and I daily. Just last night she presented a gift to me that the other woman made for her. It was almost like she was throwing it in my face to see how I would react. I told her it was nice and that the woman was quite crafty. Inwardly I wanted to throw up on it. My daughter is quite religious and even had her boyfriend attend chastity classes with her so her attitude is mystifying. She normally shares much with me but has become increasingly tight lipped about everything in her life. I asked one day if we were ok, if I had upset her in some way and she said no but there is no denying the change since all this transpired.
Well, that is a whole other issue there isn’t it? Anyway…
I agree with your assessment that I should speak with him and will try again. We have agreed to co-parent on big issues but he left me completely out of the loop on this one and I believe will again when he tells my son. My heart bleeds for my children who asked for none of this. I don’t want to cause them any more pain than they currently experience but do want to lead them and teach them properly.

It sounds as though your daughter is confused by the whole thing and possibly that your husband spun the details into quite a fairy tale.

Please know that we are praying for you and your children. I can’t imagine how horrible this is to deal with.

It is impossible to know what he told your daughter. He may have done a character assassination on you to throw her loyalties toward him and his mistress. (That’s even too nice a word, really.) And yes, your daughter may actually want to hear your opinion about her dad and what he is doing, but unless she asks you directly, it’s hard to know how to approach the subject without damaging their relationship. He has already done that to you, but 2 wrongs don’t make a right. Or, the Catholic version - 2 sins don’t cancel each other out!

So you have just the 2 children, 17 and 12? Oh, my heart just aches for them and for you. Their father is despicable for cheating, he’s also despicable for doing this, it is obvious that he doesn’t have their best interests at heart but is merely using them to pretend that what he is doing is acceptable.

In case the topic does come up, though, don’t shrink from discussing it. Say one of the kids brings up a friend whose parents divorced after one of them cheated. You can ask them questions, “Do you think that parent made a good decision?” while making sure you reinforce that parents can love their children like crazy and still act like a total donkey’s rear end.

p.s. I don’t know if I got this across in my previous post or this one - the actual information your ex or my family member discussed is almost not important in the end - it’s the idea of GOING BEHIND YOUR BACK and encouraging your children to keep secrets from you that is the worst subversion. It’s passive-aggressive at best, narcissistic at worst, and shows a total disregard of the norms of relationships. In our case, our son was told that we were “old-fashioned and out of touch” with what teenagers need and should do, which then took the entire foundation out from under our discipline. It was suddenly pretty obvious what the missing element was, why this son was SO rebellious and disrespectful. He’d spent quite a bit of time with this family member, time alone to have an alternate reality created. Unbelievable, it still is unbelievable to me but there you are. Some people simply do not care.

Until the Church agrees with your contention (or suspicion) that your attempt at marriage was invalid, we have to assume that you’re still married, too. That is the only reason why I implied that the marriage of your husband’s current consort a bit of a moot point. You are right: he is now violating a second marriage, which compounds the sin of having violated yours. My point was that the worst of it was his first violation, as it was the most direct violation of the trust of his own children, of his own vows.

I trust that you have told him this privately, but if you need some Scriptures to help you, you might go back to Matthew 18:

You ought to correct him bluntly and directly, at some point. After that, you may let that go and refuse any contact with him that civility and your shared work of parenthood requires: (15-17):
If your brother sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”

You must be clear about what is right and what is wrong with regards to what you teach your children. Let them be innocent of what they are innocent; let them be taught correctly where their innocence has been violated. You cannot condone your husband’s actions, but you can allow your children to remain innocent of them by your silence. No matter how dear to him this woman is, though, no matter what need she fulfills or what other excuses he might have, he is duty-bound to avoid giving scandal to your children (6-9):
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come! If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna.”

Having said that, once you have been clear about his moral situation, you also need to be clear that we choose our treatment of sinners in the knowledge that we are sinners ourselves. He has violated your trust, but we have all violated what God justly expects of us even more deeply:

*Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.

That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.

When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair.

His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart." *

And so you can tell your children that you have compassion on your husband not because what he is doing is not wrong and hurtful, not because it is OK, but because you stand as a forgiven sinner yourself. You may be silent about the sins of others, as long as silence doesn’t amount to complicity. You are kind to him not because he deserves it, but because you hope to be treated with mercy yourself. Don’t ever say that what your husband did or is doing is OK. Do say that you have to pray that he realizes and repents of his sins, but that God in his mercy will treat you both with kindness for every sin, both those you see and those you are blind to. Do say that you have no choice but to treat him with charity, because you hope God to grant you eternal life in spite of your own sins.

It might also help to consider the Church’s teaching on sins against the truth. This will help to guide you about when it is OK to remain silent:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.278 He becomes guilty:

  • of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

  • of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;279

  • of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

You ought to avoid rash judgement, detraction, or calumny with regards to your husband. You have to be clear about what is right and wrong when the question is forced on you, but you ought to avoid lowering him in the eyes of your children when respect for the truth and your duty to teach the moral law to your children doesn’t force you to do otherwise.

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