SmackDown: Can A Cheating Spouse Still Be A Good Parent?

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Lipstick on you collar: Two moms duke it out on whether or not cheaters can be good parents. Credit: jupiterimages

Cheaters Are Only Fooling Themselves.

by Amy Hatch

If you can't be counted on to maintain your loyalty to your spouse, despite the fact that you made a solemn vow to do so, how can you possibly be counted on to be a good parent?

When you are married with children, an extramarital affair goes far beyond hurting your husband or wife. You damage the central unit of the family. If you think the fall-out doesn't affect your kids, you're kidding yourself.

You're busy running around, setting up clandestine trysts and trying to hide them from your significant other, you can't possibly be present and available for your child.

Any parent can do a rant on what it's like to just get out of the house. If trying to get a babysitter to go to a doctor's appointment is like planning the invasion of Normandy, what kind of time and energy does it take to arrange for an afternoon delight and then hide it from the rest of the world? Some of that time has to be taken from your children.

Take Tiger Woods, who was forced to admit to the world the other day that he missed his son's first birthday because he was in rehab. He will never have that moment back again, and neither will his child. There are no photographs, no memories to share of this significant milestone in his child's life. Now go ahead and tell me that the flings which lead him there didn't take away from his children. His son was clearly the loser.

While this double-life is going on, and you think you're doing a grand job of keeping it under wraps, remember that kids have sensitive antennae. I know that in my house, every small disagreement I have with my husband causes a bit of anxiety for our kids. They sense tension, and they can tell when something isn't quite right -- even when no one else can.

But say you do let the affair bleed into your life. Say that you're in love, and you can't completely hide it. Suddenly you're singing in the shower. You're doing your hair and make-up a little more carefully than usual. So your spouse looks a little more closely at the mobile-phone bill or the credit-card statement. He keeps a close watch on your Facebook page or your Tweets. And blammo! You're caught.

Now what?

There's fall-out, of course, and sometimes the marriage ends. Even if you manage to stay married, the emotional upheaval is intense and your kids are part of that. There are tears and recriminations, sometimes there is therapy. There is the erosion of trust and the painful rebuilding of your relationship.

It's crazy -- or delusional -- to believe your kids aren't going to feel at least some of that.

Being so unhappy in your marriage that you're compelled to stray has to be a terrible situation, one that I wouldn't wish on anyone. However, when you become a parent you are responsible for protecting that child no matter what, even from your own whims, desires and pain.

Adultery and the ensuing chaos creates a sense of instability and fear that kids carry with them for the rest of their lives, and in some cases right into their own adult, romantic relationships.

When you cheat, your children pay the highest price.

Jo and I want to know what you think. Join the debate in the Comments section below.

Jo Parente is the ParentDish nom de plume, a pen name, used by female members of our editorial team when we want to spill our dirty little secrets but still keep our dignity, and families, intact.

Cheaters Are Not Necessarily Bad Parents.

by Jo Parente

There are alcoholics who are brilliant singers. There are drug addicts who are amazing actors. There are certifiable lunatics who are masterful artists. And there are gazillions of married folks who cheat on their spouses and still come home and function as good parents.

One thing has nothing to do with the other.

That's not to say that every cheating spouse can keep his infidelity separate from his home life, but the parents that I know who've cheated are really good at compartmentalizing their lives and not neglecting their children.

I was one of them.

A few years ago, my marriage was in the toilet and I knew it was just a matter of time until the dissolution was formalized. In the midst of my despair, I did what many miserable spouses do: I called a former flame. Suffice it to say that the relationship rekindled quickly.

And here is the strangest part. I became a better parent for it. I was happier, so naturally that lift permeated other parts of my life.

But like most rebound relationships, that one eventually hit the pavement, yet I was grateful for the perspective it gave me. Number one: I discovered I was still lovable (which I'd stopped believing). Number two: I realized I was doing the right thing by ending my very, very bad marriage. (When your family sees the charming side of your husband and not the ugly parts, it's hard to convince them that you're not living happily ever after.)

Now about that Tiger Woods guy. None of us have a clue as to the effect that Tiger's multiple straying has had, or not had, on his kids. He's a cheater, granted, but I, for one, have to hand it to him and his wife Elin for keeping the nitty gritty details completely apart from the public. No doubt a book will come out one day, but for now, it's none of our business.

So we're left to wonder, is it possible that Tiger is a great dad? Of course it is.

When things unraveled for Tiger last Thanksgiving, Baby Charlie was all of 9 months and daughter Sam going on 2 1/2 years old. I highly doubt that Tiger was bringing up the discussion of a "new mommy" at the dinner table with his kids.

The guy has a job that keeps him on the road, and according to news reports, that's where a lot of the cheating happened. But even if the hook-ups took place in the house, it stands to reason that the professional swinger (pun intended) was keeping it all secret and going about his home life normally, loving and caring for his children in the way that every good parent does.

Think about it. Cheating isn't cheating unless it's a secret. There are plenty of things we keep hidden from our children that are perfectly legitimate, but are for adults only. Parents aren't readily sharing the humiliating details of the day they got axed from their job, or how they had to sell a treasured heirloom to put food on the table, or how they got blotto at a neighborhood New Year's Eve party and engaged in dirty dancing with the coat rack, or anything about the porno stash in the footlocker under the bed.

When you cheat, it's the most secret, secret going. If anything, philandering parents will overcompensate to make sure that their kids know they are loved.

Castigate the sin, but the sinner has plenty of good qualities that remain. Chances are, his parenting is the one bright spot left in his marital home.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.