How Children of Scandal Cope

It's not just Mr. and Mrs. Spitzer who have had a bad week … their three daughters likely have had one, too.

When news broke Monday that New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer allegedly has been involved in a prostitution ring as recently as Feb. 13, all eyes watched as he offered an apology to his family and his wife, who stood by his side during the news conference.

Nowhere in sight were the couples' teenage daughters, who psychologists told will have a lot to cope with as their father's scandal continues to unravel.

"They're probably shocked, angry and in disbelief," said Robert Scuka, executive director of the National Institute of Relationship Enhancement in Bethesda, Md. "This is coming totally out of sync with how the daughters viewed their father, and all of a sudden it's, 'how could this happen?' and 'how could dad do this?'"

Faltering Father May Affect Daughters' Personal Lives

Children of scandal — as the Spitzer daughters now are — typically experience a myriad problems, say psychologists, ranging from trust issues to intimacy issues to the painful realization that every adolescent eventually faces: Parents screw up, too.

For young girls, processing a father's mistakes could even affect their future relationship choices.

"A father represents to a daughter a kind of ideal, and often unconsciously a woman looks for the traits of her father in a potential mate," said Scuka. "For any child, and particularly a daughter, when a father is engaged in something like this it calls into question the ability to trust any man."

"It may create a certain reserve or self-protectiveness on the part of the daughter," added Scuka.

Daughters are also likely to become allied with their mother, said Scuka.

"There will be a tendency to be protective toward the mother," said Scuka. "The mother and the daughters are all kind of in the same position of experiencing betrayal."

If Spitzer had sons rather than daughters, the reaction would likely have been one of disappointment, rather than anger, according to Scuka. Sons would likely fall victim to gender identification and may worry that they, too, will stray from their own relationships.

Healing Wounds Through Relationships

The effect of a father's betrayal on a daughter is often manifested in whom she chooses to date and form relationships with, said Hindi Mermelstein, a psychiatrist at the North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System in New York.

"Sometimes children in this situation decide they're going to get involved with people who will never be in the public light, or someone who is asexual so the sex drive won't put them at risk," said Mermelstein.

"And other times, people get involved with someone who resembles and acts like their father but is more intact," said Mermelstein. "They try to correct and heal the wound and prove that [relationships] can be better."

Reconciliation with a cheating father often depends largely on the family's relationship before the incident, said Mermelstein.

"If their relationship had been one of love and caring and nurturing then it's possible to repair the breach," said Mermelstein. "It's possible to grieve the loss of the idealized view of their father and find a way to not make it the only thing they think of when they think of him."

But if the relationship was strained to begin with, a betrayal could further confirm the children's negative feelings about their parent.

Famous by Birth, Not by Choice

While politicians choose to live their lives in the limelight, their offspring have no choice in the matter. But they still must cope with the negative aspects of the job, from bad headlines to sex scandals.

"Political figures often make a choice for themselves to be in the public arena, and the impact on the children and the family gets carried with them," said Mermelstein. "Right now the world cannot see them as anything but Spitzer's children."

But the experience of living for years with a politician parent doesn't trump true devastation, according to Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle, who said that even kids have a breaking point.

"Yes, they learn the game but it's not their game -- they inherited it by birth," said Schwartz.

"They are somewhat more hardened to [scandal], but they've been able to discount all those other negative headlines," said Schwartz. "But this one, this one is true."