View Full Version : Do your kids know about previous relationships?
I'm wondering how (and when) you tell your kids if you were married before? (This question doesn't really work for those of you who have kids from a previous relationship or marriage, because, of course your kids know about that.)
This question came to me somewhat out of the Santa/Easter bunny thread I started several days ago. As background, dh and I have both been married before (with no kids from either union). Our boys are currently 5 and 7. They know nothing of our previous marriages.
What are your opinions on when (or if) and how we should tell them? We have no intention of keeping this a secret their whole lives and will likely tell them when they're older and better able to handle it. But based on your differing opinions about being truthful regarding fictional characters, I'm interested to see what your take is.
03-23-2007, 02:34 PM
I have no experience with this, other than an uncle who had been married before...
I wonder if you're hiding the previous relationships, or whether there really is nothing to discuss, ie, no 'leftover' relatives, people who belonged to the previous spouse, etc.
If the first relationship in any way impacts your children's lives, I would probably mention it in passing, just so they get used to hearing it as no big thing. If there was abuse-type situations, I guess I would wait until they're older, because, to me, that would be a need-to-know situation. Their security may be threatened if they are told at the wrong time in their lives... clear as mud, huh? :rolleyes: I guess, if it were me, I'd mention it in passing, just as part of family history, like Great-great grandpa came from another country or something... no drama, just fact.
03-23-2007, 03:33 PM
I have some experience from the child's side.
Both of my parents are "second spouses." My father married his high school sweetheart pretty much right after high school. To this day I don't know how long they were married, but it was brief -- it might have even been annulled. My mother's previous marriage is still a mystery to me. They married each other in their late 20s, and I came right along after. I grew up in the same suburban town my father had, attending the same elementary school and later the same high school.
Fast forward to third grade, and a new girl joins my class. During the "what happened at school today" talk, I mention this girl and her name, and my parents give each other some strange looks and murmur to each other something about somebody moving back. My antenna immediately perk up but I get no further information. Not long after, the new girl tells me that her mother and my father used to be married to each other. I was stunned, as only a completely ignorant 8-yr-old can be. It was such shocking news, and it was obviously a Big Grownup Secret, that I felt I couldn't admit to my parents I knew. At times I even felt that that must be the tip of some iceberg, that there was no telling what other secrets there must be lurking about, including things like adoption.
Fast forward to my college years. As part of a minor family crisis involving one of my brothers, my father mentions to me the fact that he and my mother had both been married to other people before. First, I admitted I had known about him since 3rd Grade, then I had to admit that I'd had NO idea about my mother. Talk about a second shoe dropping!
These revelations were very very big deals precisely because they had been secrets. To this day I don't know why my parents thought this was something best left unmentioned, but throughout my childhood I felt the burden of carrying that Big Grownup Secret, and a little uneasy that they (and my grandmothers, and everyone else in the family) lied to me by omission.
So ... I say tell 'em, and don't make a big deal out of it. When the topic of divorces or second spouses come up naturally, bring it up casually, in an "Oh by the way" fashion, almost as if you thought maybe they already knew. It's not a shocking revelation, it's just a trivial fact about you. But the longer you keep it secret, the more shocking it will be to them, especially if they find out from someone else.
03-23-2007, 03:39 PM
What funniegrrl said! Leave out the drama and keep it casual...:)
Thank you thank you for this feedback. I must admit, I was starting to feel like it was a lie by omission. I don't hide the fact that I was married to anyone who asks--or even if it comes up in conversation with anyone in the neighborhood or wherever. It's not a secretive thing to me. But for some reason, I was thinking it might shock and hurt the boys. I think you are right though, that if I mention it in passing at an appropriate time, it will be less of a big deal. Also, I HATE the thought of them learning about it from anyone else. Oh, that would be just awful.
I guess my reasons for omitting it thus far from any dialogue are just to preserve the notion that you find the RIGHT person to marry--and that right person if their father. Maybe I was just putting off the questions of "how do you know?" a little while longer.
I can't believe how long you had to hold in that secret, Funniegirl, and how painful that must have been. I always sort of preach openness and honesty in my house, but I don't think I've been practicing it. Ouch.
Again, thanks SO MUCH for the feedback.
I like: "I was married once before and that wasn't the right person for me. The RIGHT person for me was your father!"
03-23-2007, 09:47 PM
I definitely vote on the "tell them" side.
my parents didn't tell me until I was 21 that my sisters were half sisters. My sisters didn't know that our dad wasn't their biological dad and that mom had been married before. My sisters actually have 6 other half sisters and brothers. And I just found out that my uncle was married before and had a son who is a drug addict. And that son was the first grandchild for my grandparents
Each and every time we found out a new revelation about the secrets that were kept it was a very big deal. Exactly as funniegirl said, precisely because it was a secret. and other people in the family knew things about our parents that we never did and about ourselves that we never knew.
I think secrets in a family are damaging. Their mere existence has an impact. It changes what you say, what you do and how you act. And in some sense your kids will pick up a "vibe" but never really know why.
03-24-2007, 08:06 AM
My DH was previously married, no kids, and he didn't think it was necessary to tell the boys but I disagreed. They were older (oldest was probably 15 at the time) but I didn't think it was necessary to keep it a secret. My reason for telling had something to do with being Catholic and why we were not married in the Church. DH was married in the Church the first time (his ex is Catholic) but it was never annulled that we're aware of...as for why they divorced, she didn't want children.
03-24-2007, 08:24 AM
When my grandmother was 90 :eek: , she finally told my uncle that he was not a brother to the two middle children! Her sister and the sister's husband had died in the big flu epidemic of 1918, and she and Grandpa had adopted the sister's 2 children. My uncle was flummoxed, and his first thought was that he had been paying an additional premium on his life insurance, because his "brother" had died in his 30's of a heart attack! There's lots to consider when keeping secrets... you just never know what all the ramifications are...
Grandma also lied about her age, because it was unseemly long ago to marry a man younger than you... After 70 years, she couldn't remember how old she really was...:p
03-24-2007, 09:36 AM
Another vote for appropriate disclosure. Like Funniegrlll, I learned thru neighborhood chat that my oldest brother wasn't my "real" brother, and there were these relatives that he had, that weren't mine etc.
It wasn't til I was 18, and that oldest brother was getting married that I learned the more of the truth, which wasn't really a big deal. My father had been married, and there were 2 children, one of whom died, and his wife also died. When my parents married, my mother adopted my brother, who was about 2 years old. I also learned around the same time that my mother had gotten married right out of college, but had been divorced.
But none of this had ever been talked about or explained. And mom forbade my brother from asking dad, because it "didn't matter now, and would upset him".
Fast forward 20 or so years later when our dad died. At that time we learned that the child that died was about 11 years old. I later learned from a cousin that I hadn't seen in 30 years, that she had died of a heart attack in the middle of Sunday school! Then, we learned that less than a year after the girl had died, her mother (dad's first wife) committed suicide. At that point, Mom told us a little bit, but characterized it as "She was always somewhat unstable, and after that..."
All of this happened during the late 40s and 50s, when this sort of thing was not routinely discussed, and these things were considered shameful. At least now the attitude has changed from shameful, to just tragic.
So, while I don't agree with exactly how my parents handled it, I do think that all that information would not have been appropriate for young children. I just feel there would have been a better middle ground that would not have left us kids feeling like there was this "big grownup secret" burdening us.
I am so glad I posted this here. I have completely changed my tune about telling the kids this. The truth is, our "secret" is not that big of a deal. There is no drama behind it, no tragedy, no deep dark something to hide. We just happened to both be married before and niether relationship worked out. I talked with dh about this last night and we've moved from "there's no reason to tell them" to "there's no reason not to." I think the biggest influence on this decision was the realization that I've told other people as if it's no secret at all. So the boys could easily find out from a neighbor kid who overhears his folks talking. And THAT would be tragic.
Anyway, thank you again for sharing all your experiences and advice. We will add it to the dialogue when the right opportunity comes along. Now, the truth about Santa...I'm still on the fence with that one. :D
03-24-2007, 11:05 AM
I can see not saying anything when it's no big deal to you. But when your children find out from someone else it will be.
When my brother got married, his wife had an 18 month old son and he's been my nephew ever since. He was never adopted, but that didn't matter. Now he's almost 30. Should I tell people he's my nephew, but not really? Because to me he is.
I can see the difference when it's your children and their parents have a "secret", but I also see it from your point of view that it's no big deal. I think you should tell them. Let us know how it goes!
03-24-2007, 12:05 PM
My husband had been married before. He was young and it only lasted a couple of years. When my boys were about 8 and 11, I was thinking about it one day, and I thought how odd it was that they didn't know this about their dad, and other people did. But it never came up as a topic to mention it. One day we were talking about my brother (who had previously been married), and I asked them if remembered his first wife. Then I said, "You know, Dad had a first wife." Well, they couldn't believe it! So we told them about it. And it's no big deal. Definitely something they should know.
03-24-2007, 02:33 PM
I was in 5th grade when my mom sat me down to "have a talk" to tell me that my dad was married before. They were afraid it would come up somewhere and we would find out that way.
I just remember thinking it was weird that they made such a big deal about it...
03-24-2007, 10:26 PM
Past relationships- no. Past marriages- yes. Birth history- absolutely!
That is crazy that they never told someone about their birth parents! Maybe as an adopted mom I am more "soap boxy" about this issue, but it seems like stealing to keep the real details about a childs biology from them. I don't understand how you can justify keeping that away from another person. Past marriages- I would let the kids know but in a very low key and nonchalant way. Maybe a picture in a photo album or mentioning something like "Oh, I went their once with (my first husband Jim). If you make it into a big state secret you give the impression that it is shameful or something horrible happened. Kids are so dramatic- given the least material they will concoct the craziest scenarios.
DH was married befreo and I was engaged to someone else while I was inlaw school. Our boys know. I can't tell you how long they've known -- we've never made a big deal of it, no heavy sit-down and not part of daily conversation, but probably something that came up and got casual mention.
I really think it falls more into the "no reason not totell them" and that waiting to tell them until they are aldoer makes it a bigger deal, bith because it was kept a secret and because they get to an age where they are considering or getting involved in relationships. At 5, it's something adults do but rarely rocks their boat. They may or may not have questions. At 15, the teen hormones and dynamics have kicked in, parents do everything wrong, and relationships may the most important thing in their world. Potential for very rocky boat for a while.
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