Getting A Divorce When You Have Kids.
The reality of how difficult divorce is when children are involved.
Should You Get A Divorce Or Stay Together For The Kids?
It’s the question you are wrestling with. Is it better for the kids if you stay with your spouse until they are a bit older or are you causing them more harm staying together when your marriage is clearly over?
Many squabbling couples stay with each another just to keep the family unit intact. But are you helping or hurting your children? Should parents put the happiness and the wellbeing of the children before their own?
If divorce is on the table then you are completely stressed out, you might be an emotional mess, your heart might be breaking as you see your life being completely turned upside down. Do you really want to put your kids through the same and go through the anguish of their tears as their lives are shattered by the news mommy and daddy are splitting up?
Or would a divorce bring some calm, stability and happiness into their world, after the initial upset, as you and your spouse part ways and they are no longer forced to live in a war zone? Is it better for your kids to have some pain in the short term for more joy in the longer term? Is staying married for the kids the best option?
Staying Married For The Kids
Many, many couples stay together for the kids and it can work, but only if the kids are unaware of the problems. Your children only know what your behavior tells them. They can tell if you are sad or happy but will have no idea that their other parent is leaving you unfulfilled in the bedroom. The complexities of your marital breakdown are not understood by your children. You feeling unhappy won’t make them feel unhappy but you behaving in an unhappy way will impact on them.
Parents who can master controlling their behavior in front of their children can sometimes avoid a divorce and stay together for the kids without the kids having any clue about the problems in their parent’s relationship. Masking their true feelings, both parents have to be on the same page and have to enjoy being a family, raising their kids together, in one house and that has to be more important than their feelings towards each other and their personal needs from an adult relationship. A task many may find impossible.
And this has a major downside for your children. It can hit them like a bolt from the blue when they reach adulthood, their parent’s announce they are getting divorced and that their marriage has been a bit of a sham. Adult children of divorce can often struggle with feeling like all their childhood memories of family life were nothing more than lies and in some ways this is worse than if their parents had just got divorced when they were children. The happy memories the parents fought hard to create are now all tainted in their children’s eyes.
Deciding If Divorce Is Right For Your Children
So how do you know what your adult children would want you to do now? They might be glad you stayed together for their sake or they might not. They might be glad you divorced because it means you are both happy. They might say it was better having two homes that were both happy places or they might be glad they got to grow up in a house with you both together, even if you were both unhappy inside, you never let it show and they are grateful for that. Or they might resent you. Or they might be glad you moved on because it meant you met someone else and they got to new siblings to love.
You do not know what the future holds.
All you can do today is try to make a decision that, on balance, work for every member of the family, and that includes the kids of course, but also you and your spouse. The perfect solution that means no one gets hurt or suffers any pain doesn’t exist. Pain is inevitable whether you divorce with children or without. You are looking for the least worst solution and that might take time for you and your spouse to figure out.
Don’t make rash decisions. Get help. Seek counselling. Always be mindful that this is your child’s other parent so before you make the decision to radically alter the family dynamic, you both need to really explore your feelings and make a sincere attempt to try and fix them. After you strip away all the petty stuff, what is it that you really need that you don’t feel you are getting and what can your spouse do to help you fill that need? Anything?
Ultimately the questions you need to ask yourself and your spouse is ‘would being divorced make us better parents?’ and ‘is our unhappiness affecting our ability to be the best parents to these children, who we both love dearly?’ The answers to these questions should help you answer the big question of ‘should you stay together for the sake of the kids?’
When Should You Get A Divorce?
There is a world of difference between a high conflict divorce and a low conflict divorce.
High Conflict Marriages
If you feel humiliated, emotionally abused, mocked, and derided in your marriage, or just wake up miserable each day, you probably should get a divorce.
If you feel threatened or are physically abused then you definitely need to get a divorce and get yourself and your children to a safe place right now.
If you need help please reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1-800-799-7233
In situations where there is high conflict such as physical abuse, throwing objects or repeated threats of physical violence, you are causing your child serious psychological harm by remaining in that situation. You have to get out NOW. Children who are raised in fear for themselves, their parent or their siblings suffer terribly and often end up in similar relationships as adults. You don’t want this for them. People will help you. You just need to take that first step.
Even if there is no violence, being exposed to yelling, screaming and constant verbal abuse can have a detrimental impact on your child’s development and wellbeing. Witnessing such scenes is traumatic for children and a truly terrifying experience. You are not doing them any favors by staying in a marriage such as this. It’s better to get a divorce.
When children have been witness to such high conflict in their parent’s marriage breakdown they will more than likely need some sort of therapy to help recover from the trauma. They need help to learn how to let go of fear and anger so they can become psychologically healthy children. In the case of physical abuse this is a must. They need help in order to resume their development without a distorted view of how people treat each other. They don’t know what normal relationships look like so need to learn new, healthier models for male-female dynamics in order that they don’t subconsciously seek out abusive relationships in future.
You must also seek help for your own trauma in order for you to move forward. As an emancipated parent, you can become a far better role model and teach your children what is acceptable behavior and what is not. You can take the opportunity to improve your life, set a good example for your children and raise their aspirations. You can show your children that they don’t need to worry about you anymore and they can just concentrate on being kids. You can become a parent who has had the courage to bring about change in your life and the lives of your children. You can make your children proud. A new world is ahead of you, and it’s yours to define.
Low Conflict Marriage
Most divorces will fall into the category of low conflict.
You both feel awful that your marriage has failed, but you can still respect the other person enough to deal with them and have some common ground. You are able to hold a conversation with the other person, and even though you may have disagreements, your children never feel threatened by your arguments.
Deciding to divorce is preferable to raising children in a family where the parents are civil but clearly unhappy, lonely, cold and distant. This environment prevents people from being the best parents to their kids as they could possibly be and doesn’t provide a good example of what their kids should aspire to in their own adult relationships.
Children who don’t learn how to express themselves emotionally and can become withdrawn and lonely. They may become distant and lose interest in the things that they used to enjoy. They may prefer spending time alone in their room to going out to play with their friends and witnessing this will be really difficult for you as a parent.
Divorce With Children To Comfort Is Not Easy
Divorce is tough. Everyone suffers. Life is changed forever. But divorce with kids involved doesn’t have to be chaotic or traumatic if both you and your spouse can agree to put your children’s needs at the forefront and work to a plan that provides them with love, security and certainty as you all move into this new phase in your lives.
Your job as a parent is to love your children and teach them about the world. That includes showing them what adult relationships are like and modeling good, healthy relationships for them to emulate. If you are in turmoil then you have to teach your kids that being in turmoil is not ok otherwise they will settle for relationships that offer less than what they deserve as adults. You don’t want that.
When you are ready to divorce there are great services you can use to keep the costs low. Wouldn’t you rather take your kids on a vacation to Disneyland than line the pockets of a lawyer? Of course you would and if you and your spouse can work together, that can be achieved reasonably painlessly.
Remember, as bad as things feel now, it won’t last forever. Life goes on after divorce and happy times will return again. You just need to hang on in there.