Staying Together For The Kids Can Backfire

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When we were still married, my ex-husband came home from work one night and started telling me a story about a guy he’d been talking with at work.

“He told me that he and his wife separated for a year, then got back together because their son was having such a hard time with the separation,” he said.

“When was this?” I asked.

“8 years ago. They’re still together.”

“Are they happy?” I asked, leaning against the kitchen sink and dropping the dishes so I could turn and give him my full attention.

“No,” he answered as he put the mail on the kitchen island and sat across from me. Our eyes locked and teared up simultaneously.

“He is miserable. They are miserable, and he doesn’t know what to do. Their son is 9 now and they can’t afford to separate. It’s awful.”

My ex and I had agreed to separate two months prior to this conversation, and because our decision had been made in late October, we decided to stay together for the holidays, then tell the kids after.

Maybe it was our way of making the transition easier because we couldn’t handle the thought of dumping this on the them during what was supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year. Or maybe we prolonged our separation because we were both hanging on to the thread of hope that we could find each other again after 6 years of struggling. Maybe a little of both.

We had both gone back and forth many times; we’d cried together and separately. We second guessed ourselves daily. We were grasping for a sense of peace around our decision to let go of one another, and looking for reasons to stay together. And we weren’t able to find either.

Were we right? Were we wrong? What would this do to the kids? Did we give it long enough? Were our reasons valid? If we worked harder, could we do this for them?

You don’t plan a lifetime with someone, get married, have kids, and decide to end things in an instant. When you have a child and are about to tell them you and their other parent don’t love each other any longer, one of you is going to move out, and they are going to go back and forth between two homes, it shreds you no matter how sure you are that the decision is the right one.

This conversation I was sharing with my then-husband was his way of saying, “We really should separate because we can’t look back in a decade and be even more miserable and stuck and sad than we already are. You deserve more. I deserve more. We deserve more.”

And deep down, I knew it, I did. But I couldn’t quite let go of the thought, We can do this for them.

I’d go for a run every morning and vow to try really hard when my husband came home to just make this marriage work so they wouldn’t have to go through their parents divorcing.

And every day I’d fail. We’d fail.

My kids started saying things like, “Mommy, I don’t think you love Daddy anymore.” They’d ask us to stop fighting. They’d ask us to kiss and hold hands. They were looking for some sort of sign, some sort of security, that their parents were happy. We’d lie in bed night after night after a difficult, tense evening and I’d tuck them in and apologize.

And in many ways, those things were more devastating than telling them we were going to divorce.

You see, They knew. Kids know. Your kids know when their parents don’t love each other and they really know when you don’t like each other.

We knew in order to give our kids their best life, we had to walk away from each other because those kids deserve to see their parents receive healthy love from a partner — even if it’s not with their other parent.

They deserve to be in a home (or two) where there isn’t angst hovering over them because the two adults who take care of them can’t tolerate each other.

They deserve to not carry that burden of trying to get their parents to fall in love again by asking them to show affection for each other and to stop arguing about what’s for dinner every Saturday night. They may be kids, but they know damn well you aren’t fighting about food.

They deserve to know the truth.

They deserve to see you have the strength to walk away from a relationship that is no longer healthy, and to start over because that’s what you’d want them to do if they were living your life.

They deserve to see your strengths and your weaknesses and for you to let them know this new life will feel different, but everyone will be okay.

My kids took our divorce hard; it was horrible to watch and made both of us almost change our minds.

Then we realized what we would be doing if we stayed together for them. We’d be punishing them by trying to save them without even meaning to because we’d be living a life we didn’t want.

No child wants to be the reason their parents are miserable.

It’s been two years since my separation. My ex is happy. I am happy. Our kids are really happy, and they have adjusted well.

Did it take time? Yes.

It was really hard to see them struggle and try to find their way into this new life, but I can tell you this: They struggled more when we were unhappily married.

And I know with everything I have in me if my ex and I had pushed through and were still together, there would have been so much more struggle and damage to repair.

Staying together for the kids, if you don’t love your partner, is doing them a huge disservice. You are showing them every day you are sacrificing your own happiness and giving them an example of what an unhealthy relationship looks and feels like, and they deserve so much more.

I’m not saying it’s not hard, but I am saying it is worth it, and everyone will come out the other side happier.

After all, that’s the outcome we all want for our family, isn’t it?

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