I Keep My Kids’ Secrets From My Spouse

secrets kidsTo tell or not to tell, that is the question. As a parent, are you obligated to tell your spouse everything that happens with your child? I was put in a tricky situation the other night when my fiancé’s daughter told me a secret. “Don’t tell my dad,” she said. As she was saying, “Don’t tell my Dad,” I was already thinking, “Am I going to tell him this?”

Let’s just say the “secret” was not so much something bad she had done, as much as it is something that every 13-year-old girl does on occasion (it was nothing illegal or dangerous). On the one hand, it was nice to know that she trusted me. (Or could she? I still hadn’t decided whether to tell her father or not.) I told her, “I don’t think your dad will care,” because truly, I didn’t believe he would care. “Yes, he will,” she said to me. Also, it was kind of nice to share this “secret” with her. But was it bonding at the expense of doing something wrong? Even if that “something” I couldn’t really put my finger on.

In recent months, my own daughter has said to me, “Don’t tell Daddy, okay?” When your child says this to you, it does put you in an awkward position. I’m sure the “right” thing to do is to tell her father. But it also feels like I’m being disloyal to my daughter. Again, nothing she’s told me has been anything that her father would really care about, but for some reason she thinks he would. (I won’t share my daughter’s secrets here, but similar examples include staying up all night or, on the more embarrassing but common front, accidentally calling your teacher “Mommy.”)

Do you tell your spouse everything? When it comes to my married friends, I automatically assume, even if my friends tell me otherwise, that they are going to tell their husbands. I know this because, generally, I tell the person I’m serious with everything. I may leave out details, but they get the gist of what is happening. But when it comes to your own child, loyalties do shift. I find myself extremely loyal to my daughter. First and foremost, I want her to be open with me and tell me things. If she finds out that I run and tell her father everything, especially things that she has specifically told me not to tell him, will she trust me? Or should my loyalty be with her father, the adult? Again, mostly the stuff my daughter tells me “not to tell” is super silly stuff, at least it is now.

The night my fiancé’s daughter told me a “secret” and “not to tell” her dad, I had a conversation with him. I asked him if my daughter told him something and told him not to tell me, would he? “Of course I would,” he said. He’s under the total belief that parents need to stick together under all circumstances. Of course, he also is an adult and can add 5 plus 7 so can figure out that I was only asking him because one of his daughters told me something and his curiosity got the better of him.

I also think that because he’s a male, he doesn’t quite understand the importance of “secrets” or keeping secrets, like females do. Females, of course, talk a lot more to each other than men do. But my fiancé also says that kids are smart and once they figure out which parent they can talk to about certain things, it will be never-ending and that child will constantly go to the parent and work them.

So did I tell him what his daughter told me? Yeah, I did. It really was a silly thing and he, like I guessed, didn’t care. But what if his daughter had told me something really personal, like about getting her period, or having sex, something much more serious, that maybe she only would feel comfortable having another woman know about? Then would I have told him? There are certain things that I have told my mother that I have told her not to tell my father. These are always “womanly” things, but now that I’ve been thinking about this, I’m pretty much positive that my dad knows everything my mother knows.

What I hate most about hearing “secrets” from your children is that you have to tell your spouse that they can never tell. I told my fiancé, “Okay, I’ll tell you, but you can’t ever tell her I told you, or else she’ll never trust me again.” So now I’m left wondering if he’ll ever say anything to her, and also knowing that I betrayed her trust, even if it was to her father.

I know most people will say, “Your loyalty should be with your spouse,” but I find this really tricky. I know most people will say, “Don’t promise your child that you won’t tell,” but then I wonder if anyone, especially their children, has ever asked them, “Can you keep a secret?” because the human response is, um, “Yeah, I can!!!”

When it comes to “secrets” your children tell you, should you always tell your better half? Or can you, as my daughter says, “Zip it. Lock it. Put it in your pocket?”

(Photo: Jupiterimages)

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  • Andrea

    I think you may be missing the point. The “don’t tell” is probably more out of awkwardness than concern. Some parents like to talk everything out, find everything to be fair game for a joke, or make really awkward statements. In those cases, there are certain things the kid learns to just not share with that parent. A kid asking that you not tell a particular parent something may be more a cue that this parent’s way of responding (regardless of if they’re admonishing the child or not) isn’t something the child is comfortable with. It makes them feel awkward or uncomfortable. It’s perfectly fair for you to tell the child, maybe sometime when she isn’t about to spill the beans, “I’m happy to be your secret keeper. Just know, if you tell me something that I think is important for your Dad to know, I’m going to share it with him. We’re all a team, and none of us should keep secrets from one another if it may impact our safety or happiness.” That way you’re covered, and she understands the difference.

  • Ellen

    I agree that parents should stick together, after all we’re a team raising a human being. I don’t mind not being my kid’s friend, that’s not my role in her life. There is a general rule in our home that there aren’t secrets – so if you tell me something Dad will also be told. This goes for us as a couple as well – no secrets. I don’t mean that there isn’t privacy, but keeping secrets takes energy and is just a hair away from lying.

  • Lissa Duty

    Wow! This is a good blog post. I have kept a few secrets in my day from my now ex-husband that his daughter (only about 9 years younger than me shared). He would have freaked if I told him. I never told him and he never found it. Would I do it again? Tough call.

    I look back and wish that perhaps on the first secret I had responed with No, I can’t do that. He was a way over protective daddy, even though, she was an adult by then.

    I have a 4 year old with him now! She already says to me “Don’t tell daddy!” I laugh and tell him anyway (even though we are divorced we communicate daily about her). Will I always do that? I don’t know — I do know that I want him to learn how to listen to her with understanding vs. reaction, so when she is a teenager she won’t say “Don’t tell daddy!”. I hope she feels like she can tell daddy anything. That is how it was with my mom! I don’t know about with a daddy – he left when I was two.

  • Rebecca

    If the “secret” was just something she told you in regular conversation without the “don’t tell my dad” part, would you have mentioned it to him? If not, then it’s not worth stressing out about.Look at it from the other angle too. If she told him something similar would you want to be informed even if she said “don’t tell mom”?

    • Jean ( in the valley)

      @Rebecca, that is different. You need to be for real.There are some gender related issues, not serious, that a mom should only know about. And nine times out of ten, girls tell moms about periods, just as boys tell dad about their erctions and noctournal emissions.

  • bl

    I have a general rule with children that I won’t promise to keep their secret before I hear it. If they need the promise first, then they have to keep it to themselves. In my experience, really never keeps them from telling you; plus you already know they have a secret and can pretty easily get it out of them if it seems serious.

    Once I hear it, I’ll decide if someone else needs to hear it and then tell the child I’m going to tell their parent/teacher/whoever, unless they want to do it themselves. For my future children I’m going to establish sharing with both parents for most things, just so it doesn’t feel like the most horrific thing in the world for my daughter to ask her dad to pick up tampons. Hopefully they’ll have already briefly acknowledged her period and she’ll see that he reacts like a respectful adult on that topic, or in any other example situation. I want my children to know that both parents are good listeners and safe places to get information,rather than just establishing a bond with one.

  • Andrea

    If it is serious, you have to tell him. If it is something related to being a growing young woman (like getting her period, or having sex, or being pressured to have sex) you have to tell her mother. She can decide whether dad needs to know.

    If it is silly, don’t tell him.

  • Daisy

    The way I figure it is this: if it’s something silly that he won’t care about anyway, then why tell? It doesn’t serve any good.

    If it’s something serious, then you have to tell, but DON’T go behind the kid’s back or they will never trust you again. Discuss it with them first. Encourage the kid to do the telling, and say you’ll help them if they like, or you will do it for them if they are too embarrassed.

    And womanly things should always be kept to just the girls, unless the daughter specifically says it’s ok or talks about it openly herself. I’m 22 and I’m still mortified if I just tell my dad I’m not feeling good, and then find out later that he knows it’s period cramps.

    I’m not a parent or a spouse, but as someone who was recently a kid and now posesses adult sensibilites, I think all of what I’ve said is the most sensitive way to handle things for the kid, while still doing what’s right.

  • Melanie

    Try asking this: If I tell her father and she finds out will it hurt/upset her and damage my credibility as someone she can trust? (likely yes -in this case) If I don’t tell her father will he be upset and will it damage or negatively affect our relationship? (sounds like no in this case, because you said it was something ‘silly’ that he didn’t really care about anyway) That tells me you probably shouldn’t have told him because you may have needlessly hurt your relationship with her. If the answer to both questions is yes, then I think you need to use your best judgement on whether it is something her father really needs to know. Then, if you do decide to tell him, you should be frank and honest with her and explain why you think he needs to know.

  • Katie

    If its something small, then I dont tell my husband, chances are ill forget about it before I get around to speaking to him anyway.

    As for “secret womens business” for me it depends on the situation, first bra “dont tell dad” well, ill probably mention it briefly, its not like he wont see it on the clothesline anyway, first period “dont tell dad” again, ill mention it to him, because if Sage is anything like me, he will be wondering why she is lying on her bed with a heatpack on her stomach. He’s still her parent, regardless of gender, and things that do hold some level of importance he should be aware of, but things like “I think Jimmy is cute, dont tell dad” Eh, big whoop.

    • Jean (in the Valley)

      Do you really think your husband will tell you as his wife, everything. Honey, men are sneaky and secretive.They are not, I repeat are not, going to tell you everything. Most men eading this, will say that’s a lie, bu tdeep down inside, they laugh at their wives for telling them too much and telling them the daughter’s private business. Do you really think that your husband will tell you what he and you all’s teenage son told him about his penis, from the conversation that they shared while working on the car?
      Wake up wives/women. Wake up and take off your blinders. If your husband wants to know why the daughter is on the bed with a heat pad, tell him, honey, it is our daughter’s female business, that we should not go into right now. If he is a loving and respectful husband/dad, he will humbly bow away and respect the female privacy. He will not demand to know. If he does, then that is an eye opener to you. Would you as a wfie demand that he tell you about the son”s penis issues that are not life threatening, after the son said not to tell mom??
      Women are the onlly ones who have this dillusional feeling of “we share and tell each other everything.” Beleve me and spread the word, your husbands do keep secrets form you wives!!

  • okiko

    hmm it depends on a lot of things. my first instinct is definitely not to tell. i get that’s it’s often assumed if you tell a friend, their SO will know too.. but when my friends specifically tell me not to say anything to my significant other i almost always do not. it’s not something they’re entitled to know just because i do. if they trust me enough to tell me a secret it’s not right to tell. not that i haven’t ever.. if i have an extremely trustworthy SO i may say parts of it but it’s not even close to an automatic thing. i am and want to be thought of as very trustworthy. a lot of it depends on your SO.. some people just can’t help but blab about stuff or hold themselves back if something upsets them.

    i think telling what a smaller child said is more ok but if i were in your situation with an older child or a teenager telling me things i wouldn’t tell. that’s wrong imo. they have a right to their privacy too, & esp if they’re trusting you with things they don’t want their dad to know or that they’re uncomfortable telling him you shouldn’t say anything. it’s much better for them to have someone they do trust to go to about things like boys, birth control, sex, drugs etc than to have neither of you (bc talking to the dad is not an option obviously) and if she finds out you told she’ll keep it to herself. even if he really is fine with it she’ll still know you lied to her & told him & have it in the back of her mind when deciding who to go to with something.

  • Anonymous

    Her secret wasn’t yours to tell. Children are people too – and since it wasn’t a secret of great consequence, I think it’s as simple as that.

  • Jean

    Some of you women ar really unbelievable. Would you really betray your daughter’s confidence for something that is not life threatening/dangerous.
    Do you women really think your husband telss you everything? That just goes on toshow how gullible and foolish we are as women. Yes.indeed our men keep secrets from us.
    A dad does not need to know about his daughter’s period anymore than if the son talked to dad about and penis or testicle situation that was not serious and he said dad, please don’t tell mom or my sister. Do you really think you husband will tell you? Girls you all just don’t know.Guys stick together more than we do.
    WE as women are a little low down to each other. All I know is I never told my husband when my daugthers got their periods, unless there was a danger to her it was not for a man to know about.