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My son’s upset with me because I lied to him about his father’s infidelity and why he and I got divorced

My (F42) ex-husband and I have one son together who I’ll call Marcus (M18). . My ex and I never had a very stable marriage and while I really loved him (I still do, honestly, which sucks) I knew his heart wasn’t in it. We dated only for a year then I got pregnant so we got married.

When we were getting divorced (when Marcus was 11) I didn’t tell him it was because I caught his father cheating on me. I’m not going to go into the details, but it was a mess and I tried to protect Marcus from it best I could. My ex died in late 2021 in a car accident. Marcus took it incredibly hard and kind of started hero worshipping his dad. My mom thought I needed to tell him the truth, but I disagreed. He’s been through enough, you know?

Anyway, we were having dinner with my brothers and their families and someone made a casual comment about my ex and his affair, out of Marcus’ earshot. But I guess he heard and once we got in the car he started ranting about my brother, he was furious and thought they were lying. I didn’t say anything. I don’t like lying and I know a lie by omission is still a lie, but it feels better than outright saying a lie. Marcus noticed I was not saying anything and he got really quiet. He asked me if it was true and I said it was.

He didn’t say anything until we got home when he asked how I could lie to him. I said he was too young and he stormed off. I feel horrible now. He’s 18, yeah, but he’s just a kid. He hasn’t really talked to me since and I feel awful. I don’t know what to do.

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  1. I think because his dad died he doesn’t have anyone but you to vent that anger at. Like he can’t say why did you cheat on my mum? Or get his side of the story like how he was unhappy anything like that.

    Sit your son down when he’s calmer and explain that you were trying to protect him but also it was irrelevant to the relationship he had with his dad. That your marriage and their relationship were 2 entirely different things.

  2. Give him time… You had your reasons and I don’t blame you for them. But keep in mind this isn’t *just* about you lying but that he’s coming to terms with his dad, who he obviously looked up to and loved a lot, having done something like that.

    I hope your son will eventually realize that no one should be telling an 11-year-old “your daddy cheated on me so we’re getting divorced”. You handled it the best way you knew how. And I hope he also realizes that just because his dad was a flawed human being doesn’t mean the love they shared was misplaced in any way.

    But for now… give him time and space to work through his feelings. If you do want to reach out and express your thoughts, I’d do it in a letter so he can read it in his own time and contemplate.

  3. Hey, I actually caught my mom cheating on my dad when I was 14 and again at 17- it was awful. I would sneakily read her phone texts any chance I could get. I WISH someone protected me from knowing any of that. It really messed me up at that young age. You did the right thing, OP. When your son is ready (and he will be) to talk, be honest. Don’t give graphic details or names, but be honest. That’s the best you can do. Good luck ❤️

  4. Messy divorce and Dads sudden death, does Marcus have a therapist? If not, he needs one ASAP.

    Please tell him that he doesn’t have to talk to you, but he needs to talk to someone to process everything he’s going through. Give him some names and let him choose.

  5. He is grieving his dad again. At least the version of his dad and the events that has been in his head all this time. Allow him time to work through the grief. I would tell him that his feelings are valid and you are here if he has any questions. He’s upset with you because you’re the one there. I would maybe look into grief counseling to help him process everything because right now he feels betrayed by you and your family. He probably won’t talk to any of you for a while about it. He needs someone with a logical adult thinking process to talk to and help him.

  6. Not telling your 11 year old about his dad’s affair is not a lie in my book. If anyone should have told him, it should have been his dad. Maybe not at 11, but at some point. I’m sure your son is upset but give him time. You are not the villain in this story.

  7. I had a similar situation with my grandfather. I absolutely loved him and thought he was wonderful.

    I found out after he died that he was an abusive alcoholic who regularly beat my father and grandmother. My dad had a very strained relationship with him, which he really only maintained for his mum and for us grandchildren.

    This was really hard for me to process, even in my early 20s when I found all this out.

    I definitely had an easier time than your son is having now and it was REALLY hard for me. As others have said, give him time. He’ll likely be angry with you because he can’t be (directly) angry with his dad.

  8. Give him time. I didn’t find out the real reason why my parents divorced until many years after they divorced. My older sister gaslit me to think my parents divorce was my fault. My mom thought it was best not to tell me the truth because at 9 I was a daddy’s girl. No one cheated, from what my mom has said he told her to pick between him and my sister. Despite this they ended up better friends than being married.

    I hold no resentment for either of them. My dad has been gone 7 years now and I don’t hold resentment towards him. Your son will process everything in time and let him know that if he wants to talk to a therapist, you’d help him find one.

  9. “You’re father wasn’t the best husband. But he was a good father and loved you. I didn’t want to ruin your relationship with him, especially now that he is gone and not here to talk you about it. I’m sorry son. I hope you can forgive us both for our mistakes.”

  10. You did the right thing and your son will see that. By not talking bad about his father you allowed him to have a happy relationship and great memories. Now that he is older, he can start putting that into perspective with the fact that his father was human and made mistakes. Eventually he will admire the strength his mother showed to allow him his innocent childhood.

  11. Don’t worry. You will feel bad, he will also. He needs to process this new information, but remember that it’s not your fault. It was the right decision not to tell him, as with his father dead, there is nothing to gain by saying the truth. However, cats out of the bag, it happens. He is big enough to understand why you didn’t tell him, give it time.

  12. I think maybe he just needs some time to process this new information and trying to adjust his opinion of his dad. If he wants more of an explanation just tell him that some things that go on in a marriage are not meant to be shared with kids and just because he wasn’t a great husband doesn’t mean he wasn’t a great dad.

  13. Remind your son that there’s no user manual when you have a child.

    Every scenario you’re feeling your way through, trying to do the best you can. You kept this information from him at age 11 because you loved him & wanted the best for him. In your opinion, and clearly your ex’s opinion, this was info he did not need to know at age 11.

    Ideally, his father should have told him. So, ask your son: here we are now, how do we navigate forward?

  14. I think your son is probably taking this extra hard because as you say, he hero worshipped his dad (probably as a way of dealing with grief too). So now, he not only has to deal with the truth of his dad’s infidelity and your lie (albeit in good intentions) but the shattering of the image he had of his dad.

    I think the whole hero worshiping thing probably amplified the gravitas of this whole thing coming to light and he’ll just need time to deal with it. The best thing you can do now is to apologise for not telling him sooner, and offer him the ability to ask you anything regarding that time.

    In time (he’s only 18) he’ll understand why you did what you did and perhaps even come to understand how hard it was for you to deal with the infidelity itself as well as allowing him to believe his dad was a hero.

    Good luck.

  15. Let him be angry and sad. Give him time and be there for him when he‘s ready to talk. I understand why you did what you did but you should try to see it from your son‘s perspective. He just learned that his perceived reality was partly fake. It‘s hard to get over things like this, that‘s why the truth is always better than a lie. I hope he‘s in therapy and if not this is the time to start.

  16. His view of his hero father has changed, and he now knows he hurt you, another very important person. It’s a challenging time Marcus is In. Plenty of others have given wonderful advice, I just hope your son is open and willing to listen to you.

  17. I’m going to go against the grain here. Sure at 11 it may have been the right thing to do, to hide the reason for the divorce. But when he became a teenager you should’ve been up front about it.

    It’s not just that he just found out his father wasn’t the man he thought he was. It’s that he’s never going to get the chance to confront his dad about that and thrash it out with him. That choice was taken away from him and he’ll never get it back. So he feels he’s been lied to, by both you and the man he’s hero-worshipped. And he can’t even tell one of the people who lied to him how he feels because they’re dead. Shitty situation all round.

    Give him time and space. Apologise to him for the deception and tell him when he’s ready to hear it you can explain why you did what you did, even if in hindsight it wasn’t the best choice. Offer therapy. Might be a good idea to get some for yourself.

  18. This is a hard one… Your mom is right, he should have KNOWN but how the hell would you of ever told him??!! “Hey son, don’t idol your father too much!! Cuz he’s a cheater!” like…

    Your son needs a therapist. I was him just a handful of years ago. It’s hard, and it’s also infuriating. It’s so hard to be mad at someone who’s gone, someone who you want to miss but then feel guilty for missing because they were the root issue to many of your life problems… gosh these are all thoughts that ran through my head when I was in your sons position.

    He needs a therapist to talk about these things. Please provide him one! It’s so important. These thoughts have answers to them, they really do. And a good therapist helps you arrive at the healthy, acceptable, and in my opinion, correct answer.

  19. A friend of mine had an ex who died in suspicious circumstances when his kids were 7, 5 and 2. The police were involved. Foul play was eventually ruled out, so it was either a stupid accident or suicide – he had previously attempted to commit suicide.

    Nobody told the kids any of this. The two mothers stood together and told them all the same story, that it was a stupid accident, and gave just enough detail for it to sound very plausible.

    The then 7yo has hero worshipped his father ever since, even going as far as to have a huge tattoo honouring his father and his father’s culture across his entire back.

    Nobody has ever told him, actually your father was quite the AH, he cheated on your mother with her BFF, he tried it on with me even though I was obviously in a happy relationship, he drank and smoked to excess, he used to be a gang leader before he had the kids, he did time in prison, he had just left the mother of the 2yo because she’d told him she was pregnant and he didn’t want another baby, and had been talking seriously about moving south and not bothering with doing his share of custody any more with either mother, he said maybe the kids could come to see him in the school holidays. I was not in the least impressed with this guy. But I hold my tongue, because yes the kids have been through quite enough heartbreak and what does it matter that the kid hero worships someone who was altogether not deserving of such attention? It’s not like he can do anything to fall off his pedestal now.

    So I think you did the right thing. Your kid was too young to understand, you didn’t want to speak evil of your ex, and all the more so after he died. That’s a perfectly reasonable and even selfless stance to take. Imagine if you’d said “yeah Daddy cheated on me that’s why I kicked him out” and your son went and repeated that to Daddy, and then what might Daddy say in his defence? “yes but your mother was a bitch because…”? However he finishes that sentence, the kid is going to feel awful because he’s being dragged into an adult argument that he doesn’t have the maturity to understand. The idea that your parents can be at fault is pretty devastating for a young child.

  20. I knew my dad wasn’t well when we left him when I was probably 4 but I didn’t know it was because he fell in love with a coworker and tried to unalive himself, until I was about your son’s age. I knew my dad was shitty before that and saw some crap. Your son is dealing with a lot of emotions and some shock. Tell the full truth if he asks any questions and give him time.

  21. I’d recommend you share the full truth, short dating history, fast marriage, unstable marriage and the affair happened. Affair was likely the symptom of a unhealthy relationship not the cause of it. Help your son understand the value of taking his time in a relationship before having children or getting married if he desires to. No need to go into the details of the tumult the affair caused but that’s how I would handle it. Good luck!

  22. No teenager likes hearing he’s “too young” for anything. Maybe you should be honest with him and say that when you first found out about the infidelity you didn’t tell him because you didn’t want to damage his relationship with his father, and then when his father died you didn’t want to tell him because it might hurt him further to know?

  23. He was too young. And plus, his father dying ended up having a positive impact on his life. It gave him something to be proud of, something to idolize. You didn’t want to ruin that. Too many people fall off the rails after a death in the family. You didn’t want that for your son.

    Give him time to cool down. Then talk to him. I’m a fully grown adult, and there are family secrets I’m learning for the first time. I don’t think this situation will turn out bad.

  24. I agree with your decision to not tell him at the time, but I completely disagree with you not telling him the truth even after he legally became an adult. Were you just planning on never telling him? Because I’m sure that’s what he thinks.

  25. Somewhere between you both getting divorced and 2021 was the time to at least hint at the reason for the divorce, you didn’t, and now you have a problem, one you have no part in being able to solve.

    Best case scenario, it takes some time, but your son realises the truth. He will resent you for not telling him yourself, he will resent you for not telling him before his father died, and he will resent you for allowing him to hero worship his father. If you are lucky he will forgive you, but he won’t trust you the same again.

  26. show him this thread. he owes you an apology – at some point, hopefully he will realize that you were the one who suffered and that 11 was too young to know why his Dad screwed up.

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