I’m a happily married woman with no plans on leaving my husband any time soon. What the heck do I know about divorce? Before you think I’ve misunderstood the assignment, let me explain:
I am an adult child of divorce. My parents split up when I was 18 and already (mostly) out of the house. That’s given me a unique perspective on marriage, commitment, raising a family and adult relationships. From my own experience as a teenager in a home on the cusp of breaking apart, I’d like to share some things to consider if “the big D” is on your mind, but you’re worried about hurting your kids.
Your kids already know something is wrong, and they might even know what’s coming. Around age 12 my mom asked me how I would feel about her and Dad getting divorced. I told her if it would make them better, happier people then they should do it. Not all kids feel this way of course, but I was old enough and had seen enough to know it was the right decision for them. There’s something to be said for spending your childhood with people who are no longer compatible.
Though it didn’t happen for six more years, I’m glad my folks split up and I was glad at the time that it happened too. I’m not going to get into the particulars of my parents’ ultimately messy separation- that’s their story to tell, if they ever wished to tell it. I will tell you that I knew -for many years beforehand- what was coming and not just because of that fateful conversation with my mom. The truth is I’d thought about it. A lot. The prospect wasn’t upsetting or frightening to me at all.
The messages you are giving your kids about adult relationships are probably not healthy ones. Carrying on with a marriage that is over in spirit and/or in practice is difficult for a kid to watch. In my own experience there was a lot of fighting and side-choosing. I’m not really in a position to say whether or not that is “normal,” because it was the only experience I had, but figuring out what is healthy in a marriage has been an interesting challenge for me in my adult life. I’m not sure if I’m better or worse off for that fact, but it has on occasion been tricky.
What hurts kids in the disbanding of a family is often not the divorce itself. It’s the fighting over furniture; issues with custody and feeling like you have to pick a side. It’s being kept out of the loop and feeling like no one cares enough to be honest with you about what’s going on. It’s feeling helpless. It’s behavior.
Happier parents are better parents. Growing up I didn’t have the greatest relationship with my dad. We have a much better relationship now. I’m sure some of that is because I grew up and the nature of our relationship has changed, but it’s also largely in part because he is a much happier person. So is my mother. When I look back on my childhood their unhappiness is an obvious stamp on my memories. That’s not to say I didn’t have a great childhood, but I can see now that “for the kids” meant sacrificing a lot, and I’d rather have happily divorced parents than miserable married ones any day of the week.
Whatever you decide is best for you and your family, remember to give your kids credit. They are likely more observant than you know, and ultimately they want you to be happy. Keeping that in mind (and seeing a good counselor) will help you to make your decision confidently. Either way it won’t be easy, but doing the right thing rarely is.