Stay together for the sake of the kids? Generations of miserable parents followed that advice hoping their sacrifices would pay off for their children in the end. Many still believe that’s the only option for parents stuck in a dead-end marriage.
Based on my own personal experience, I have another perspective. Having been raised by parents that chose to stay together in a miserable marriage, I opt in on the other side. For me, parental divorce is preferable to years of living in a home where parents fight, disrespect one another and children are surrounded by sadness and anger. That’s the world I grew up in and the scars are still with me today, many decades later.
I believe that staying in a marriage only for the kids is a physical choice that doesn’t touch upon the emotional and psychological pain children endure when their parents are a couple in name only. In that environment there is no positive role model for children to see how marriage can and should be lived. In fact, it makes marriage appear to be something dreaded or to be avoided.
Happiness, harmony, cooperation, respect and joy are all absent when parents are emotionally divorced while still living together. Children feel it, are confused by it and too often blame themselves for their parents’ unhappiness. Consequently, they grow up anxious and guilt-ridden, experiencing little peace in childhood. In many ways, the scars are much the same as for children who experience a poorly handled divorce.
For me, parents who find themselves in an ongoing unhappy marriage who consciously choose to create a Child-Centered Divorce are providing a much better option and outcome for everyone in the family.
My own parents should have divorced early in their marriage. They were both miserable together, had little respect for one another, and raised two children in a home fraught with anger, tension, frequent loud arguments and discord.
I remember my mother asking me one day whether she should divorce Dad. “No,” I cried. I wanted a Mom and a Dad like all the other kids. Although my childhood was miserable and filled with insecurity, I feared what life would be like if my parents were divorced. Mom didn’t have the courage to do it anyway. Those were vastly different times, especially for women — and she continued in her unhappy marriage for decades longer.
Today, looking back, I feel that was an unfortunate mistake. Neither of my parents were bad people. They were both just totally mismatched in a bad marriage. Their communication skills were miserably lacking and they were wrapped up in winning every battle at all costs. The real cost, of course, was the well-being of their children. I believe that each of my parents would have been happier and more fulfilled had they parted ways and remained single or chosen another partner.
That’s why I chose the other route when my own marriage was failing. Because of my childhood experiences, however, I intuitively understood what not to do in divorce. I intentionally worked to create what I call a Child-Centered Divorce. My “was-band” and I coParented cooperatively, shared the important parenting decisions and maintained a positive relationship for the decade to follow when my son grew from ten to twenty years old. Most gratifying for me was the satisfaction of having my now adult son acknowledge the merits of my coParenting philosophy and choices.
More than a decade after my divorce I wrote the book that shared my unique approach to breaking the divorce news to my son. As a grown adult, he is a strong supporter of my Child-Centered Divorce Network and wrote the forward to my digital guidebook, How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love!
Fortunately, despite my painful childhood, I still believe in marriage and have since happily remarried myself. My advice to unhappily married parents can be summed up succinctly: if parents have the maturity and determination to get professional assistance before divorce, learn how to positively reconnect and renew their commitment to marriage, that is undeniably ideal. The entire family will benefit and the healing will be a blessing to all.
However, if children are being raised in a war zone or in the silence and apathy of a dead marriage, divorce may open the door to a healthier, happier future for parents and children alike. But parental divorce in itself is never a solution. To give children the best outcome parents must consciously work on creating a cooperative Child-Centered Divorce that puts the children’s psychological well-being first – as the basis for all parenting decisions!