It has become increasingly more common for people to stay in bad marriages “for the sake of the kids.”
You might expect children of divorce would be less likely to get divorced, knowing what they went through as a child. My experience, however, indicates the opposite. It seems that people whose parents remain married after 30, 40, or 50 years are the ones more hesitant to leave a marriage—whether or not they view their parents’ marriage as a “good one.”
When people believe their parents have a good marriage, they seem to believe that staying together is the only choice—regardless of the quality of the marriage. Perhaps because they haven’t personally experienced divorce, they believe it to be awful that they cannot imagine exposing their children to it. If their parents are miserable, they seem to believe that being in a miserable marriage is normal…rationalizing that their parents “did it for them” so they should make the same sacrifice and stay married for their children.
Adults who were children of divorce seem to have a lower tolerance for being miserable. For most of us, we have experienced our parents’ divorce, and though it wasn’t easy, we realize that we survived it just fine. This experience often teaches children invaluable life lessons of toughness and resolve. All marriages are different—some are in constant conflict, have arguments, and are volatile. Others are quietly miserable, resigned to the circumstances and belief that true happiness is not an option. Regardless of the type of marital misery, these circumstances are not good for children—even when parents have the best intentions.
Personally, while I hated my parents’ choice to divorce at the time, I soon realized (at a very young age) that it was best for me. My family experienced constant conflict. There was no physical abuse, but there was rarely a conversation not involving my parents screaming at each other. I remember hiding in my closet with pillows over my head to muffle the sound of arguments. It was awful; yet I thought it was normal. In my view, one of the biggest things people overlook in deciding to “stay together for the kids” is that doing so shows children a poor example of marriage. It gives them a false sense of “normal.” If you are miserable in your marriage, for whatever the reason, don’t you want your children to look for (and believe in) something better?
My parents’ divorce taught me to be independent and self-reliant. I realized that I didn’t want to depend on someone else to take care of me, and that motivated me to work hard and do well in school so I could take care of myself. My parents’ divorce also taught me that there is more to marriage than what they had. Both remarried into much better relationships, and, accordingly were much happier people. Technically, I had less time with each parent than when they were together, but the time I had was much better quality time. They were better parents to me, and better people generally because they were happier, less stressed, and less miserable.
I want to be clear that I’m not advocating for divorce. I’m a firm believer in working through hard times, seeking marriage counseling, and doing everything possible to make your marriage work. I’m simply saying that if you are staying married only for the sake of your children, you may be doing them (and yourself) more harm than good.
Divorce doesn’t have to be a horrible situation. Like anything else, your divorce is what you make of it. When two people are committed to co-parenting and keeping the best interests of their children at the forefront of their minds, divorce can be a very healthy alternative to staying in an unhealthy marriage.