6 Min Read
- Separation Factors To Consider When There Are Kids Around
- Is It Selfish Staying Together For The Kids?
When a marriage is struggling there are many things that run through the minds of the partners involved. If there are children, one of the biggest questions is the affect divorce could have on them. But is staying together for the kids the right thing to do, or could it do more harm than good?
No one wants to break up their family or have their kids suffer by shuffling weekly between houses. Looking at it from that point of view, it seems like an obvious answer– of course staying together for the kids is right. Right?
There are several important things to consider when determining what the best and healthiest option is for everyone involved. Certainly when there are children they play a part in this decision, but staying together for the kids can’t be the only (or even the main) reason to stay together.
It’s also worth noting right now that this is in no way referring to verbally or physically abusive relationships. In cases of abuse, safety for you and your children is the immediate and primary concern. If you find that you’re in this situation and need help, find a local shelter or call the National Abuse Hotline at 800-799-7233 for assistance 24/7.
Separation Factors To Consider When There Are Kids Involved
When considering ending the marriage there shouldn’t be any hasty decisions. Divorcing in and of itself is a complicated, painful, and damaging process. When you add children to the mix things get exponentially more so.
So, if you're facing the question of staying for the kids, there are some important considerations before making any changes.
- You are your kid’s first teachers. This is true for all aspects of life, not just academic. They learn from you what an adult relationship looks like and how it works by watching you. If Dad comes home, doesn't say hello, eats his dinner and goes off to his computer for the rest of the night, your son will think that’s what he should be like as a dad or husband, and your daughter will think that’s what her husband should do, too. So, you both need to be aware of what you are showing them.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to hide everything or pretend all the time either. What they need to see is how you each relate to each other, even if it’s during conflict. So, remaining respectful to one another and united in your love and concern for them is crucial.
- Their environment needs to be healthy. The best thing you can do for your children is provide them with a safe, secure, and healthy environment to grow-up in. That environment can look different for each family. But if there’s regular fighting in the house between parents, or emotional abuse with intense yelling and door slamming, being apart may actually be easier on the kids than staying together for them.
On the other side, when there’s virtually no communication between the parents, making the living environment tense or uncomfortable, that can also be a case for not staying together for the kids. They often pick up on things much faster than adults. You’ll need to stay aware of that and realize what it is they’re observing. They’re going to know that their parents don’t like each other by how they interact. Communication is key to any relationship, good or bad.
- There will be feelings of guilt, and not just for the parents. Kids will feel guilty too. Children feel an unspoken responsibility for their parents and their happiness. You’re probably not doing anything to make them feel responsible, it’s just a natural reaction born out of the love and protectiveness they feel for you. For this reason, they may feel guilty that you and your spouse aren’t happy, but to make things even more complicated, they will also feel guilty if they sense you’re staying together just for them, and also if you split up.
Separation or divorce when there are children involved is a no-win situation. The bottom line is, together or not you need to find a way to address your relationship issues. As the author of this article in the Huffington Post wisely notes, "Two happy separated parents are better than two miserable together parents."
We routinely get comments and questions from readers on our blog. It’s a safe place to share experiences and get feedback from others who may have been through similar situations. An example of this regarding children and staying together is below:
My father was abusive towards myself and my mother. Like you, my mother did not want to leave my father because somehow staying in this volitile relationship was better "for the kids" who would grow up knowing their father and then make their own decisions. This is not true. Your kids feel it, your kids know they are not in a happy home, no matter how much you try to shelter them... They know. Trust me!.. My relationship with my mom in my teens was strained because I resented her for sticking around… [I wanted] answers "why do you stay with him?" And that was the begining of the end... Our lives became better without him in it… Don't stay with him because of your children... That is the wrong reason." -Suzi
Suzi’s situation is just one variation of how staying together for the kids can backfire. Rather than making things better for her by mom and dad remaining married, it made things worse and far more complicated.
Is It Selfish Staying Together For The Kids?
One Christmas morning, my husband and I were on our way to my parent’s house and we had stopped at a fast food place that had a drive-thru open for something to eat. While we waited at the window, two cars pulled in at the very far end of the parking lot and were as far apart as they could be and still be in the same lot. Two little kids, maybe 5 or 6, jumped from one car and ran to the other and hopped in.
That happened 13 years ago, and it made such an impression on me at the time (my daughter was only 2 and I was pregnant), that it still chokes me up. I remember telling my husband that we’d live on separate floors of the house before I’d ever do that to our kids.
That’s a pretty selfish attitude, when I think about it now – living separately in the same house because I couldn’t stand having to be apart from my kids on holidays. Looking back, those kids were so young.
How bad must it have been that their parents couldn’t even say some sort of greeting to each other or even be parked close enough together that their kids didn’t have to look both ways for other cars before going to the other parent?
Would I stay for my kids and have them live in our house wondering why we either fought or never spoke, why we were always in a bad mood? The holidays would not be happy occasions because we were forcing ourselves to be there because we were staying together for our kids.
That seems pretty selfish to me. It’s such a tricky situation, because on the surface it seems like the best thing to do, but without realizing it, our kids can become pawns in our adult issues.
Dr. Kurt has worked with many couples struggling to find just the right balance when it comes to the parenting and divorce. According to him,
Kids too easily get misused during separation and divorce. And a lot of times this is done by well-meaning parents who don't realize they're actually using their kids selfishly. Separation is about the adults, not the kids. It happens because the adults won't change. Justifying either staying or leaving 'for the sake of the kids' is ignoring the problem and wrong. There's a third choice to consider too – change yourself."
Allow me to be clear – I’m not suggesting anyone should split up or stop working on saving their relationship – quite the contrary. With some time and effort, it’s entirely possible to fall in love again.
By working on ourselves and actively working on having a healthy relationship, even in less-than-ideal times, we can show our kids how conflicts are resolved, how to compromise, and can demonstrate what real commitment looks like.
I have been married for 12 years, have two kids…We've been going to couples counseling for over a year now to try to work things out. We're still working on it… He said that he loves me so much and that he wants our marriage to work, and that he feels stupid that a little thing like physical attraction could get in the way of a marriage that is otherwise "good". It's been rough and continues to be miserable some days, but we have two awesome kids that are worth doing everything we can to try and figure this out so that we can stay together as a family. Don't get me wrong, we won't stay together for the kids, but they certainly make it worth trying as hard as we can…" -Tami
I like to think that those kids in the parking lot had a really nice Christmas because hopefully they were with a parent who loved them and was happy, rather than an oddly quiet Christmas with no love in the house. This is a bit of a paradox though, since they probably didn't enjoy switching between parents in a fast-food parking lot on Christmas morning. But I just can't put a happy face on this topic, because in the end staying together for the kids is not really better than not staying together for them.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published October 05, 2016 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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