One of the most common reasons given for people in a bad relationship staying together is “for the kids.”
This is the idea that it is better to stay together with someone who makes you miserable so you don’t put the children through the trauma of a divorce. There are numerous financial reasons why it might make sense to keep one household until the children have left home. Also, a parent might think it’s better to put up with a dud marriage than to miss out on living with their children 100% of the time.
But if the relationship is utterly toxic and you are fighting with your spouse all of the time and everyone is miserable, what benefit is that to the kids?
I was 26 years old when my parents finally broke up. I had spent a good decade and a half wishing they would before that – it would have saved us all a lot of misery. The teen years are bad enough with all the stresses you go through as an adolescent. Add to the mix living in a house with two parents who clearly hate each other and you can imagine what a woeful time it was for all. Even though I was an adult no longer living at home when the marriage finally ended, their divorce was a relief to me when it finally came.
My own experience is reflected in statistics released by a UK family law organisation “Resolution” that reveals most young people who have experienced divorce don’t agree parents should stick together for the kids.
A poll found 82% of young people, aged 14 to 22, who have experienced family breakups would prefer their parents separated if they were unhappy.
One of the people surveyed said, “Don’t stay together for a child’s sake, better to divorce than stay together for another few years and divorce on bad terms.”
Jo Edwards, the Chair of Resolution, said that being exposed to conflict and uncertainty about the future are what’s most damaging for children, not the fact of divorce itself.
“This means it is essential that parents act responsibly, to shelter their children from adult disagreements and take appropriate action to communicate with their children throughout this process, and make them feel involved in key decisions, such as where they will live after the divorce,” Ms. Edwards said.
2013 research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies found the risk of divorce after 20 years of marriage had doubled since 1980 – while the number of divorces involving children under 18 has been declining.
This is part of a trend of women who wait until their kids have finished high school to divorce their husbands which has been given the term, “post-HSC divorce” in Australia.
The intention of staying together for the sake of the children is obviously a good one. Having both of your parents live with the children every day to be involved in their lives is obviously ideal…but that is assuming that the relationship between the parents is a loving, caring and nurturing one. Good intentions are just that. They don’t always work out the way you would hope.
For two people who are no longer in love and, worse, who might actually hate each other, living under the same roof is a nightmare for everyone involved. Whether they are openly fighting or are just giving each other the cold shoulder, they’re creating a stressful environment for everyone else in the house – including the kids. The same kids they don’t want to damage with a divorce.
Not only are these kids living in a stressful, loveless environment where quite often everyone is walking on eggshells, but the kids’ role models in what adult relationships should look like are completely dysfunctional.
The way kids see their parents treating each other becomes their “norm” for what to expect in their own relationships as adults. They are being shown that it is perfectly acceptable to be unhappy and to put up with a negative home environment no matter how it makes them feel.
On the flip side, they might have trust issues when they develop their own adult relationships, vowing not to get too close to someone in case they end up in the same situation their parents were in.
Ultimately, staying in a marriage that is beyond repair (assuming you have tried everything to fix it – communication, counselling, and so on), even for the sake of the children, is going to take a toll on your own mental health as well as that of the kids.
Kids having two homes to go to, where their parents are happier, is better than one home with miserable parents.