I feel great sadness. I recently found out that my father is having an affair with another woman.
The sad thing is that my 12-year-old sister was the one who found out about it. She didn’t know who to tell and kept quiet for so long until recently when she told me about it after I returned home from my matriculation programme.
I pity her, I truly do. She must have felt so lonely. She even showed me all the evidence I needed – the pictures, the texts. She’s just a little girl. All of this must be too much for her.
Thelma, I love your column. It's amazing how you advise people with so much understanding and calmness. I can’t believe that I’m now writing to you because I don’t know what to do.
I’ve always looked up to my father. He’s my idol, the person I want to be. He always looked out for us. I actually wanted to find a future husband with his traits. Well, I used to. Now, I feel so cheated and betrayed. My heart is broken into pieces.
Does he not love us? Does he not love my mother? I know, I should act like a grown-up. But I can’t. I can’t. I just can’t believe he could do something like this. After knowing about it, I can no longer look him in the eye. I cannot pretend that I don’t know. I cannot fake a smile. Is he unhappy with us? I can’t help but think so.
I pity my mother. Oh, how devastated she would be. I don’t want to see her cry. She still doesn’t know about this. The last thing I want to do is hurt her.
Thelma, what should I do? I told my boyfriend everything, and he has been so sweet and kind to me. He told me to confront my father about it. I know that I should, but I just can’t. What if he leaves us afterwards? What if he won’t leave that tramp?
I hate him for doing this. Maybe it would not make so much difference in my life, but my sister is still small. It would affect her whole life. In fact, it is affecting her life now. What about my poor mother?
I have been secretly crying every night. I don’t know what else to do.
Oh dear, what a horrible situation. Sadly, it’s quite a common one but the approaches to dealing with it are hotly debated. Let me walk you through some of the elements of the decision process.
First, you can’t know how your parents’ marriage works. Your assumption that your mum is blissfully unaware of the truth may not be correct.
Your mum and your father may be fighting over it in private. After all, you have been away.
Your mum may know, and be pretending that she doesn’t. It’s quite common for partners to ignore an affair because they think it will blow over.
She may know and be waiting to leave at some future time. Sometimes people stay in an unhappy relationship because they think the children would suffer if they split up.
Finally, some people have open marriages where they give each other permission to have affairs. It’s taboo in our society, and so not talked about, but it happens.
So, it may not be as clear-cut as you think.
If it were just you, I’d suggest that you take no action. However, there’s your little sister to consider.
I am curious how on earth she got all of this evidence. However, to keep to the point of your question: the stress of keeping this secret is not good for a child. I’m glad she can talk openly to you. Do continue to be a big sister to her.
As for approaching your parents, as you point out, there may be some tough consequences.
You can try and talk to your father. However, if he is cheating and hiding it from your mother, he may lie to you, too. How would you feel if he denies it and accuses your sister of making it up? Or what if he admits it and asks you to keep it secret from your mum?
I think the safest thing for you to do is to wait. Look for insight into whether your mum knows. Then, talk to your sister and decide together what you want to do.
In this, as you’re going to be away from home, I think she should have the deciding vote in how you two deal with it.
It may be that she’d rather have an open discussion and risk a family split, than pretend not to know – or the other way round. I’d strongly suggest you always be cautious; if in doubt, wait.
Whatever she decides, consider that it’s not cast in stone. If she changes her mind later on, that’s okay.
As this is very upsetting, both of you could do with adult support here. Do you have a relative or counsellor whom you trust? Look for someone sensible, kind, and who can be trusted not to gossip.
This is not easy. As I said, I’m so sorry to hear of this. Know I’ll be thinking of you.