Kids pick up on the energy in the house. No matter how Oscar-winning you may think your performance is, your kids get it. They can feel your tension, the distance and the lack of real intimacy. While things may be clicking along fine, they are learning that this is what marriage is. They will be at a friend’s home and see the behavior of parents who are in a good marriage, and they will mentally compare to their own parents. Kids get it. You are setting an example for them–is this the lesson you want them to learn? Do you want them to re-create the marriage of their parents? If your answer is no, you had better make a change to break the cycle.
Obviously your kids play a major role in your decision-making process. However, your decision to divorce (or not) needs to be separate from your relationship with your children. Situations with your kids may affect the timing of your decision, but they shouldn’t dictate the outcome of your marriage. For example, if you have two very young children, you may decide to wait until they are a little older because working and paying for daycare would be a significant stressor. Or, perhaps a child is dealing with an illness or other difficult issue. These are things you need to manage through and take special care of, but they should not dictate your entire future of your marriage.
This site has a great deal of helpful information about your kids–the impact of divorce, talking with them, signs to watch for, parenting post-divorce and many other topics. We recommend you spend some time reading that information so you can understand how to best handle the issues and continue to parent your kids well.
What is Best for the Kids?
Are kids better off if unhappy parents get divorced or if the parents stay together “for the sake of the kids”? You would think the amount of research done on children and divorce would render a clear-cut answer to this question. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. What we have are volumes of research and studies that lead to dissenting opinions on the answers to those questions. Make sure you’ve read through the previous section so you can understand why there is not a definitive answer.
There is no denying that divorce isn’t usually the prefered option for your children, except for in cases of abuse and high-conflict. However, neither is staying in a relationship that is at best a marriage of convenience or co-parenting, or at worst, toxic.
If your marriage is physically abusive, the answer is obvious. You need to keep yourself and your children out of harm’s way. Also, this is not something you want to teach your kids is okay. If you or your children are being physically abused–seek professional help immediately!
Is there emotional abuse within your marriage? Especially if you are eyeballs deep in the situation, it’s probably harder to recognize. Emotional abuse can be verbal or nonverbal, and will deteriorate one’s self-esteem, confidence, self-worth and independence. If this is happening within a marriage, it could be happening to your children as well, either directly or indirectly. Children of parents who divorce from a high-conflict marriage or abusive situations are better off psychologically and have an easier time adjusting. Physical or emotional abuse will have negative and long-lasting effects on children’s cognitive, social and psychological development.
If your marriage is like millions of others where it’s “fine”, no major “issues”, the conclusion may be harder to reach. Bottom line, do you want your children to be in a marriage of co-existing or to be married to someone who is their best friend and true life partner? People often unknowingly recreate the marriages of their parents. Is this the wish you have for your children? You need to really think about that. Think about your son or daughter living in his or her marriage as you are now. Is this okay, or do you wish for him or her to have something different? If you think this doesn’t apply to you because you are portraying such a perfect image of marriage to your kids, think again. Kids are pretty dang smart, and they will put it all together, if they haven’t already.
We have presented some generally accepted opinions from studies of children and divorce, and some considerations for you. But, as we learned in the previous section, the impacts divorce will have on your kids has as much to do with how you parent and the relationship with your partner as from the divorce itself. Our recommendation to you is that you do not base your decision to stay married or not based upon your kids, but rather the quality of the marriage itself. Should you divorce, you will be able to take the appropriate steps to protect your children.