Look around today and in many ways modern parents have never been so tuned into their children’s needs. They know that to thrive, children require enough sleep, additive-free food, and stimulation through the best educational toys, sports, music and after-school activities.
Yet, all too often, parents fail to provide what their offspring need most: a constructive and loving relationship between the only two parents a child will ever have.
Over the past three years, I’ve interviewed experts and talked to dozens of men and women who have experienced (or are still having) affairs. What resonated most for me was the emotional fall-out on the young.
There’s something badly wrong with society when we put our entitlement to sexual stimulation and release above the needs of our children. If we then rush into a separation or divorce, we fail them at least as much as we fail ourselves.
Jean Duncombe, a sociologist who has conducted extensive research on the subject, says: ‘I’m puritanical when someone tells me they’re having an affair — because of the work we’ve done on the impact of divorce on the children.
‘If people say to me that the children don’t know, I say: “Are you sure?” or “Think about what you’re doing to the children” — and I never would have said that 20 years ago.’
For parents who have affairs are not only lying to their partners, they are often deceiving themselves about the impact their infidelity can have on their offspring.
‘The children are too young to understand what’s happening,’ they reason. ‘In any case, it doesn’t concern them. And children are resilient.’
All of the evidence points to the contrary. People don’t just betray their partners when they shatter family life with a serious affair — the sad truth is that their children grow up believing their parents have been unfaithful to them, too.
There is substantial research on the short and long-term effects of divorce if it isn’t handled well.
For children, these include low self-esteem, a sense of being abandoned, poor performance at school, anti-social behaviour and the heartbreak of simply missing the absent parent.
Separations provoked by an affair tend to be the most acrimonious. Each parent shoves the blame for the split on to the other, sometimes forcing the children to take sides by supporting his or her version of events.
By tearing a child’s loyalty in two, parents can inflict profound damage. To make matters worse, research has shown that around half of all fathers lose contact with their offspring within two years of the separation.
An acrimonious divorce, according to research, doesn’t simply hurt children at the time; it can also store up problems for their future.