Want a Bad Idea? Stay Together for the Kids
Dinnertime is increasingly strained and the kids are pretty sure mom and dad don’t like oneanother all that much. There’s no small talk going on, no laughing at private jokes, no acknowledgement of one another’s days, even the special ones. Conversations at dinner—and pretty much everywhere else—are mostly the children talking to the parents, and the parents talking to one another only about the children. The parents may live in the same house, but they might as well be living in different countries. Consider the following statistics about married parents—who wish they weren’t:
- One in four married couples are together only for the children, and intend to split up once the last child has flown the nest.
- About one in five couples who are planning to divorce, will make the decision to stay together through the Christmas season, then end the marriage in January—which explains the 33 percent increase in divorces in the first month of the year.
- Among those who have already divorced, one in four admitted to staying in the relationship much longer than they wanted to—for the children.
- About eight in ten of those who stayed in their relationship longer than they wanted to said they not regret it.
- A dismaying forty percent of adults who are currently married admitted they weren’t all that happy with their marriage and their spouse.
- Of those who said they were unhappy in their marriage, thirty-three percent said they have too much to lose financially to consider divorce.
- Thirty-seven percent of married parents say they have thought about asking their spouse for a divorce, but put it off because of how it might affect the children.
- Twenty-one percent of parents considered themselves “separated” despite the lack of a formal separation agreement, and despite living with their partner and acting like a couple in front of their children.
- While 18 percent of unhappy spouses have a date in their mind as to when they will end their relationship, the date for at least five percent of those is ten years or more in the future—usually when the last child has graduated.
- Only about 42 percent of the unhappy spouses surveyed said they made an effort to not argue in front of the children.
Children Would Rather Their Unhappy Parents Split Up
We’ve all heard about couples who stay together “for the kids.” Perhaps you know someone who has stayed together, ostensibly in the best interests of the children, or perhaps you and your spouse are together right now for that very reason. Interestingly, a survey by Resolution found that 82 percent of those between the ages of 14 and 22 who have gone through a family breakup would much rather their unhappy parents split up than endure years of coldness which spills over into the entire family. These teens and young adults felt it was ultimately better that their parents divorced.
Children Learn About Relationships By Watching Their Parents
In fact, there is little reason to believe staying together no matter what is better for the children than divorcing. Parents who are unhappy with one another are actually teaching their children how to behave in their own adult relationships. Yes, that’s right—your children learn how to behave as adults from you and your spouse. They learn what marriage is, how to be a husband or wife, and how to either effectively or ineffectively deal with conflict. Like it or not, your children are likely to repeat the relationship patterns they have seen. And, while divorce can certainly cause some scars in children, the odds are pretty good that if you and your spouse are civilized about the divorce, the children will be fine in the long run. That is, if you can manage to avoid playing the blame game or asking your children to be the go-between, there is a good chance your children will grow up to be well-adjusted adults. On the flip side, those with unhealthy relationships who stay together for the children are likely to produce children who repeat those lessons in their own relationships.
Parents Think Their Children Would Prefer They Stay Together No Matter What
Yet many parents stay in a bad marriage because they don’t want to be separated from their children, and because they are under the impression that the kids would prefer their parents stay together, keeping the family intact. Of course there are benefits for the children in having both parents under the same roof, but the friction and uncomfortable environment may be too much of a trade-off. If you are currently debating this issue, there are a few things you need to consider.
- First of all, your children are much more aware than you think they are. You may think you and your spouse are successfully hiding your feelings—after all, you don’t scream at one another or throw things, or call names. Be that as it may (and kudos for not doing any of those things), your children are absolutely aware of the resentments, awkwardness, silence, coldness…the list goes on and on. Your children want their parents to be happy, even if that means splitting up with a person you are no longer in love with—and who happens to be their other parent.
- When parents try to put a good face on their crumbling marriage for the children, those same children may feel cheated when they get older and realize their parents were only putting on a “front.”
- Your children may not learn the lesson you mean to teach them, rather they may learn to hate marriage before they even understand love.
- Using the children as go-betweens is a dead giveaway, even to the youngest children. (“Go tell your father the gas bill is due.” “Go tell your mother I’m going to work.”)
- Your children may begin acting out or may become especially emotional in response to the unspoken tensions in the home.
- Children hate hearing one parent bash the other. If you do feel as though you should stay together for the children, at the very least, don’t include your children in the resentments you have against one another.
- Sometimes staying “for the children,” is nothing more than a reason to avoid moving on. For some couples, one parent may use the “staying for the children” line because he or she still loves the other and doesn’t really want a divorce.
If you find yourself in the unenviable situation of staying together only for the children, you should know that two happy, separated parents are always better than two parents who live together miserably. Of course if there is still love between you and your spouse, then it may be time to take the bull by the horns and work on your marriage. Will it be a struggle? Of course, but you are teaching your children that there can be value in staying together, even when it is hard. However, if both spouses have basically already “checked out,” there is little reason to continue the struggle.
Can a Divorce Really Ever Be Good for the Children?
Despite the horror stories and statistics about children of divorce (they are more likely to divorce as adults, have more emotional problems, are less likely to attend college, are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, etc.) in fact, there is an equal amount of solid research which shows that children of unhappy parents actually benefit in the long run by their parents divorcing. Children who live in the midst of a chaotic marriage, not only learn bad relationship lessons, they learn bad parenting techniques as well. Perhaps the overall state of the marriage must be considered in order to come up with the best answer for each situation. Judith Wallerstein, author of “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce,” believes it is so important to keep the family unit intact, that if the parents can commit to living together respectfully (no fights, no coldness, no resentments or sarcastic comments), they should do just that. Unfortunately, there are simply very few couples who have fallen out of love and are unhappy remaining with one another who can actually live together “respectfully.”
Should You Put Your Children’s Happiness Above Your Own?
Well, the short answer to that question is “yes.” Parents, by the very nature of parenthood, put their children’s happiness above their own from the day they bring their first baby home. You play Candyland until you want to throw the game out the window, you throw a baseball to your budding sports star until your arm feels like it will fall off, and you stay up all night on Christmas Eve, putting together the bicycle your daughter can’t live without. Of course parents put their children’s happiness above their own. When you are deeply miserable with your partner, however, you are talking about something completely different. Even when your child tells you he or she doesn’t want you to divorce, you have to remember that you are the adult, and that you have to make the decision which will be best for everyone involved. Should you try to fix the marriage before bailing? Certainly, but when you know in your heart that your marriage is over, staying for the children may be hurting them more than helping them.
Be Realistic About How the Divorce Will Affect the Children
In most divorces, everyone involved loses in some way. Finances usually become tighter, a stay-at-home mom may have to work outside the home, smaller children may have to attend daycare, older children may have to change schools, or even the place they call home. There will be visitations issues, possibly even custody battles. In short, there will be adjustments to be made by all. If the marriage was particularly contentious, however, the divorce may actually be a relief to the children—and to you. If one parent is physically or emotionally abusive, or has a drug or alcohol problem, the children may actually benefit greatly from the divorce. Plus, a reduction in the parents’ stress levels can allow them to spend more quality time with their children.
Don’t Kids Bounce Back and Adapt Pretty Quickly?
In fact, most kids will adapt to the divorce, and, in some cases, may even blossom. Of course how your children react to a divorce will depend on their individual personalities. If you have a particularly sensitive child, he or she may experience hurt and grief for longer periods of time than less sensitive children. The sensitive child may also feel responsible for leaving mom or dad alone. Children who tend to be more self-absorbed, may resent the loss of financial stability, and may be much more vocal if they are forced to leave their school, friends or home. Relocating, especially for older children, can be an anxiety-ridden time until they make new friends and are comfortable in their new atmosphere. Children who watched their parents behave angrily with one another, may actually be able to relax and cope just fine with the divorce.
Work on Having a Civil Divorce
Should you decide that staying together for the children is not the best solution for you—or for your children—do your best to have the most civil divorce possible. Tell your children together about your impending divorce. While you shouldn’t be afraid to show emotion, try not to totally lose control as this can frighten the children. Make a pact with your spouse not to blame one another for the divorce in front of the children. This can make children feel as though they have to take sides, and that is not a good position to put your children in. Many children feel as though the divorce is their fault, so make sure you let them know that they had no part in your marital troubles. Tell the children what they can expect in a clear manner. Any fear and anxiety is greatly lessened when children know how their lives will proceed after the divorce.
If you are contemplating divorce, speaking to an experienced Ayo and Iken divorce attorney who can help you navigate your divorce in the best way possible is crucial. You have enough things to deal with during this time, and having a knowledgeable Florida attorney who will fight for your rights and be your advocate can make all the difference.