Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Children Unaware of Previous Marriage

DEAR HARRIETTE: I was previously married, in my early 20s. My current husband and I have been married for more than 20 years. Because that previous life is from so long ago, I don’t think about it or talk about it at all. However, it came up recently because I ran into a college friend who knew my previous beau and me.

I have two children who were in earshot of the conversation that involved my ex. I have never told my children about my previous marriage. I wasn’t keeping it a secret; it’s just that it ended a lifetime ago, and we didn’t have children, so it’s over. Now that they may have heard something, I think I should tell them. How do I broach this subject? I feel like they will be sad to learn I was married to somebody before their dad. -- Before Dad, Arlington, Virginia

DEAR BEFORE DAD: By all means, tell your children about your previous marriage. You don’t have to give all the details, though. Choose what you want to share, which should include highlights of how you met, when you married and why you broke up. It is important for you to tell your children so they are empowered with the knowledge and are never left flat-footed if someone approaches them about your past.

In terms of managing their surprise and potential disappointment, be honest with them. You dated and married someone before marrying your husband. Sadly, it didn’t work out. Obviously, you value marriage and are saddened you had a failed marriage, but you are also enormously grateful you met and married your husband and created the beautiful family you have, which includes the two of them. Point out that you hope they will meet their perfect life partner and be able to build a life with that person forever, but acknowledge that things don’t always work out exactly as planned.