Cheating parents hurt their children

By Pham Nga   May 2, 2023 | 03:17 am PT
Until now, Tuyet Nhung still doesn’t know the truth about her shattered family. Her father said her mom was the one who cheated, yet her mother claimed the opposite.

"Dad said mom went to the city to study and rented a room with a co-worker," Nhung said. But her mom said that her father’s mistress was pregnant before her parents even got married.

Unfaithful parents who divorce are the leading cause of mental health problems in children. Illustration photo by Pixabay

Unfaithful parents who divorce are the leading cause of mental health problems in children. Illustration photo by Pixabay

The mother demanded custody of the child, but then sent her back to her grandparents when she was in 1st grade.

"I didn’t know who was telling the truth," said Nhung, a 23-year-old living in Hanoi.

Duc Tung, 37, from HCMC, knew since 3rd grade that his father was cheating with another woman who was only 10 years older than Tung himself.

"From then on my mom had to use anti-depressants, while I was left feeling like someone hurt me to the very soul," he said.

Tung’s father is a high-ranking manager, while his mom was a homemaker. To Tung, his father was someone he looked up to – a man who was the epitome of success, who loved his wife and was beloved by people all around.

But on a cold, rainy night, Tung saw his mother return home and collapse on the bed. His father silently followed behind, only to gather his things and quietly leave the house. His parents had divorced. The father promptly married another woman. Tung then broke off all contact with his father.

According to a statistic by the Institute for Family and Gender Studies, infidelity is the second most common cause of marital crisis (25.9%). In a study by global think tank Overseas Development Institute (ODI), unfaithful parents who divorce are the leading cause of mental health problems in children.

Psychologist Hong Huong from Vietnam Association for the Protection of Children's Rights explained that parents are the people children trusted the most. As such, this trust crumbles when they know their parents cheated on one another.

"Symptoms include becoming more scared, embarrassed, fear of others knowing about their situation, failing grades in their studies," Huong said.

When her parents went their separate paths, Nhung went from a happy, talkative child into a moody and quiet adolescent. Missing her mom and dad, she stuck their photos into her diary, along with the words "I wish the three of us were together."

The desperate wish for a reunion, combined with her loneliness, turned Nhung into a person who prefers to be by herself. "Everyone told me I might be autistic, I’m not even sure if I am," she said.

According to Huong, a loss of trust in parents who lied can also directly affect children’s relationships with people around them. Children will also lose their trust in romantic relationships, because if the person they were supposed to trust the most can lie to them, then who else can they trust?

This is also why Tung became depressed when it comes to being in a relationship. "I don’t believe anyone can stay with someone for the rest of their life," Tung said.

But that break in trust was not that big at first. Tung managed to be in a 5-years relationship, which he planned on moving forward with until marriage. Invites have been sent out, but the moment his fiancé’s family heard about Tung’s father, they decided that their daughter should not be with Tung.

Two days before the wedding ceremony, he pleaded with his fiancé, but she decided to let the relationship go. "From then on, I despised my father even more, and lost all of my trust in love," Tung said.

After many failed relationships, he actively became the one who initiates all break-ups, due to not wanting to be hurt by others. When he was 35 years old, Tung decided to marry a girl who stuck by his side.

On the day of the engagement ceremony, her parents wanted both of his parents to come over and talk. Feeling like his past was coming to haunt him again, Tung asked to cancel the marriage.

Tran Minh Hai, who has a master’s degree in social work, said that the shock from knowing their parents cheat can turn well-behaved children into kids with rude and anti-social behavior. They often cause chaos to vent their stresses.

Nhung became a taciturn person, but she also found herself fighting regularly with a group of bullies who mocked her as the "girl with no parents."

When she was in 10th grade, her dad told her about how her mom cheated on him. She became more anxious, not willing to ask her mother about it, but also unable to ignore her father’s words.

So she silently investigated.

As it turned out, both of her parents were hiding the truth about their former lovers from their daughter. "I was sick of my life, but not to the point of becoming suicidal. At least I still had my grandparents who I could still rely on," Nhung said.

Hai warned that anti-social behaviors in children can result in illegal activities. As someone who has worked with street children for decades, he said there were numerous cases in which children commit crimes because their parents were cheating on each other.

The expert said that love, marriage, and divorce are common events. "If a marriage cannot be saved, then it’s best to be truthful to your children. They will be shocked, but when things calm down, they won’t lose trust because of their parent’s lies."

For children who are mentally disturbed because of their parent’s infidelity, Hai suggested that instead of discussing it with friends – who are not yet mature enough to give proper advice, it’s better to talk with adults that they can trust --grandparents, uncles, aunts, teachers, or mental health experts.

He said it’s ill-advised to share personal stories on social media because not everyone will fully understand the story and give objective opinions. Often things posted on social media hurt the children even more. It can also bring consequences if parents want to be together again.

Tung felt he was lucky when the girl he loved accepted him. After he asked to cancel their marriage, his fiancé successfully persuaded her parents to empathize with his situation. Now, whenever he thinks of his father, Tung sees it as a warning for himself.

*Characters' names have been changed

go to top