“Is it okay to stay together for the children?” is easily one of the most common questions I get as a marriage counselor. The short answer to this question is a quick and simple ” absolutely not”.
Here’s why: First of all, in case you have missed some of my previous posts, parents who think they can have a conflictual relationship with their spouse and keep it hidden from their kids are fooling themselves. You often hear parents call their kids “sponges” because they pick up on everything. Children who grow up in an environment where there is contention but it is not explicitly stated, still pick up on the tension but because it’s not talked about, they grow up believing that this contention is normal. They then go on to live their life with convoluted ideas about “normal” relationships, “normal” fighting, etc. In this instance, parents who are fighting to stay together for their kids are really just setting their kids up for future relationship problems.
Second: If parents are really having such a difficult time but can obviously tolerate each other for the sake of the kids, are they really having such a difficult time? My advice to them is to forget yourself, buck up, get some help and fix your relationship. What do you have to lose?
Third: In order to be a good parent you have to be a good spouse. It takes a real grown up to see this. If you think you can be a good parent but not be a good spouse (evidenced by having a conflictual relationship with your spouse) you’re fooling yourself again. Children need to and have a right to see what a good relationship is and be raised in a home where a mother and father are invested in each other. If you’re not able to give your children this right, you’re being a bad parent.
Fourth: I have never met a couple who was fighting who didn’t try (deliberately or not) to leverage their child(ren) against their spouse. Despite that everyone agrees how twisted it is to use children in this way every fighting parent still uses these tactics. They will explain and reason how they don’t mean to use the children this way and how somehow what they’re doing is different from when every other parent does it but it still has the same effect.
Fifth: What good do quarreling parents think they’re doing for their children by staying together? No one has been able to give me an answer to this. To ask this question is assuming that there is something good about quarreling parents staying together, but nobody has been able to explain me exactly what it is yet.
Sixth: Despite all the stigma around divorce, every bit of research I’ve read (and I’ve done two theses on the topic) shows that children who grow up in divorced homes where there is not economic depravity fare just as well as children who grow up in non-divorce homes. The key here is economic depravity. As long as children are economically as well as their peers who grow up in non-divorced homes, there is little to no difference in school achievement, social skills, college attainment, teenage pregnancy, drug use, or anything else.
So if you’re considering divorce but want to “stay together for the kids”, ask yourself who you’re really staying together for and if it’s really doing any good. Better yet, if you really want to stay together for the kids the best thing you can do for them is go see a counselor and fix your relationship