Should we Stay Together for the Sake of the Children??
We posted the following letter and asked how the rest of you feel about staying together in a bad marriage for the sake of the children. We are reposting the original question together with readers' reactions. If more of you wish to contribute, please fill out the Feedback Form.
"I've often heard that people, including psychologists, believe it is important for parents to stay together, even in a bad marriage, so the kids will benefit from having two parents, two role models. I strongly disagree. For as long as I can remember, my parents fought and even at a very young age I knew it was only a matter of time until they divorced. How can children learn and adopt their parents' good attributes if the parents are so unhappy, they are exhibiting their negative traits?
"In our case, instead of moving forward and learning to deal with divorce, we were all caught up in a vicious cycle of anger, frustration and hatred. In my opinion, the only way I benefited from my parents staying together in a bad marriage was that it taught me how to recognize a bad relationship.
Wholefamily Visitor Dana Replies:
"The fact that her parents didn't divorce didn't mean that they weren't sick parents. They indulged in a hateful relationship, and this was a failure of the individuals, not the relationship. This woman would have had two sick parents even if they divorced.
"The real question is how happy/unhappy this woman would have been if her parents divorced while she was a young and dependent child? Most of us grown adults are not children of divorce. Ask a child of divorce whether they would have preferred that their parents had stayed together. It is amazing what you will hear. I have met such people who say that staying together would have been preferable even if the relationship involves alcohol and physical abuse. It appears that it is much harder to be a child of divorce than it appears to us, from the outside."
Another Reader Replies:
"My parents have been married for 40+ years, three kids later, and a first generation immigrant from Asia, marriage and family can survive a lot of challenges as long as everyone is willing to make adjustments. In all the years my family and I have been together, my parents 'discussed' - and at times they were heated. Believe me I've seen my mother's frustrations, but she stayed on and worked with the marriage and the family. She makes adjustments, she patiently waits, she has good timing. My mother always believed that there are certain things children should not be exposed to and once they are grown up it's none of their business.
"Divorce was not something I grew up with and never thought it would happen to me, but it did. Sometimes when your happiness and your very existence here on earth is threatened it is best to take the divorce alternative than to stay in a marriage that can either kill you, cause you pain, or cause emotional damage to your children.
"When Parents Stay in the Marriage, Even if it is 'Bad', it Shows a Few Things:
- Ugly and abusive(verbal, emotional, physical, mental) treatment towards each other is acceptable (it's not!)
- Children do not benefit from it, they learn ugly and angry behaviors they will think is okay to do to other people.
- It does not necessarily mean that when a child grows up, he/she will recognize a bad relationship or marriage, on the contrary, they might fall into the same cycle without realizing it.
"I have friends who are single parents and know children who come from a single parent home who are healthy. It can be done, just realize that commitment, patience and perseverance are some of the tools and keys to succeed in raising children as a single parent.
- Remind your children that they are not to be blamed for your separation from your husband.
- Show them your love and your attention. You may have to put your own needs on hold for awhile, but in the long run the fruits of your labor will shine through your children. So often, couples 'use' the children to bridge the parenting gap or to prove a point or to 'win.'
- If divorce is the only alternative, try not to deprive the other parent from spending time with their children, unless of course there has been a history of child abuse.
- Marital and family counseling can sometimes be an option if the relationship is not at the point of 'no return.' Don't be afraid to seek professional help or to try other alternatives.
Yet Another Reader Replies:
(Personal details have been changed to protect her privacy.)
"My name is Renee and I am a 30-year-old woman who has been married for almost two years, no children - just a parakeet and a cat - might as well consider them as children! My question is: "Why is the marriage bad?" What transpired that indicates that your marriage is bad? I consider my marriage to be in bad shape because my husband cannot keep a job and does not know how to spell 'responsibility'.
"I think if you exhaust yourself totally and feel that you have put every "POSITIVE" effort into seeing what the issues and problems are, there may be a possibility to continue to stay in the marriage. A child did not ask to be brought into this world and should be given the opportunity to have both parents to love and care for the child.
"But, again, if you have done everything you feel that you can do to try and salvage the marriage (and I mean everything) then it would most likely be better to leave your problems instead of trying to "fix" them. Remember though, you will always have to have a part in this person's life for the next 18 years of your child's life. What kind of strain will that cause your child?
"My husband is from a broken home and he has so much anger toward his parents that it is apparent he will need a lot of therapy to undo what they did to him as a child. Please try to salvage what you have and establish a positive environment for your child!"
"Having read the comments in the section on whether or not you should stay together for the children - I have one very important thing to say, those people advocating staying in a bad relationship for the children have no experience with this subject whatsoever, they even admit as much.
"I agree with the person who said that it just causes more stress and strain on the children. I also grew up in a family where the parents stayed together for the kids. It was a nightmare...I strongly disagree with the person who said that it's the people that are making it miserable and that life would be just as bad if they divorced. That is absolutely untrue! You would have to be a saint to live with a person in close quarters when the relationship is strained.
"Also the parents certainly aren't going to show their children what a loving relationship is like...It is also wonderful to see my mother happy for the first time ever. Although my older sister and I are adults now, we are much happier now.
"I have one important question for all of those who judge people by their divorces. Why should someone be doomed to waste 15 or 20 or even more years of their lives living in a bad situation because they have children? Those children also deserve a happy household and that doesn't always mean two parents. Not to mention that remarriage is also an option and those children can benefit from having many supportive adults in their lives."
A Mother Writes:
"My mother divorced my father after pretending to me, my younger brother and younger sister that they had a happy marriage. The disagreements that they had were kept from us for the most part, but I always had a sense that they did not belong together. I HATED my mother since I was 13. She was a loving, caring person who tried to do the best for us "staying together for the children" until we had graduated college. I had always felt that she was duplicitous. It caused me great frustration and resentment.
"Now, I can see the correlation between when Mom tried to get Dad to go to marriage counseling, and when I started to hate her deceit. She would always say things like "you enjoy eating your broccoli" with a big smile on her face and in her voice. She literally plotted to leave my Dad from the time I was 21 until I was 26. She even threw an elaborate 25th wedding anniversary.
"Dad was always very passive and unconnected to his feelings, and I understand why she left him, but he is the one I love, not her. Perhaps, I hated her for lying and love him for always being constant and honest. Dad is the most honest person I know, even to the point of being unconsciously rude or undiplomatic.
"If I had to say whether they should have gotten divorced, perhaps I would say that had my mom been honest to me and said that she was planning to divorce my Dad from the time I was 13, I might have had some respect for her. Unfortunately, had she divorced in 1976, I would have been forced to live with her. I might have committed suicide with only an unstable and sneaky parent. The way she would change rules to suit her situation drove (and still drives ) me out of my mind with anger. She has the same effect on my brother, but not on my sister (or barely so).
"Had she divorced and my father been given custody, I probably would be much more stable than I currently am. My father taught me what responsibility means. My mother taught me that you can be selfish and still do many things that look like you are trying to do something for the good of another. Perhaps staying in an unhappy marriage warped her, but I do not believe it warped me, or my brother or sister.
"Furthermore, in answer to the question Why should someone be doomed to waste 15 or 20 or even more years of their lives living in a bad situation because they have children?' I believe the answer is that most people can live in marriages of quiet existence for 15 years where both parents give up their lives' so that the children can see that responsibility does not dissolve when you make a bad choice. That the two people do not love each other does not mean that they can not live as brother and sister until the kids have reached 18 years of age.
"The children will see that their parents love them. And those children will understand what it means to be responsible and make responsible choices."
A Father Writes:
(Details have been changed to protect anonymity) "My divorce was final last week. Because we were separated for almost a year before it was finished, I had a lot of time to grieve (I didn't originally want the divorce), and then reflect on the situation a little more objectively.
"Right now, today, the results of staying together for the kids' are staring me in the face. And it IS the kids that suffer. We have three children--a girl, age 14, who decided to stay with me, a girl aged 9 and a boy aged 2, who live with their mother.
"The two-year-old is too young for it to matter. We were separated since shortly after his first birthday, so this way of life is really all he knows.
"Our daughter (14) is handling it well, all things considered. She's always been a straight-A student and none of this has been affected. Toward the end of our marriage (when we were still together), our daughter developed an attitude that said "if I want something, the way to get it is scream and yell" (taking on the role her mom and I were playing--lots of screaming and yelling), which DID affect her school work and relationships with friends.
"Since shortly after her mom and I split up, this stopped, and she's back on the straight and narrow'--not because anybody called her on it, but because she's no longer exposed to it. BUT, because our daughter and I have always been close, she doesn't have any desire to be around her mom for more than an hour or two on mom's "visitation" weekend. She's very bitter towards mom because of all this. Hopefully, this will eventually pass and she will want to spend more time with mom. BUT, it will certainly affect her overall outlook for some time to come. Remember--this attitude came about because her parents "stayed together for the kids" and ended up spending more time in verbal confrontations than they did nurturing their children.
"Now, the REAL problem--our 9-year-old daughter. At this age, I think children are TREMENDOUSLY influenced by the environment around them. During the past year, she has developed some severe emotional issues. These problems started during the last few months her mom and I were together. Again, we were spending a lot of time arguing and crying and all the other things that go along with a marriage that isn't working any more. She's very angry, has problems with relationships (making friends), and often kind of goes off into a world of her own. She feels like she has no control over how she acts (no control over her life), and says her acting out is to get the other kids' attention and to make friends. She can't seem to understand that she doesn't have to be someone else for people to like her...in fact, this acting out scares the other kids away. She starts counseling with a child specialist this week, and hopefully we'll be able to get to the root of the problem and take the steps to get her turned around.
"If you think that staying together for the kids' so that they will be in a happy, whole family is the right thing to do, then you're only kidding yourself and hurting your children, because the home isn't all that happy (children know, even if you put on an act), and it isn't whole.
"I would advise ANYONE that, if a marriage is salvageable, then by all means do whatever possible to put it back together. BUT, when it's over, it's over. Staying together for the kids (which we did for as long as we could) will, in many cases, do nothing but negatively affect every aspect of their lives."
Another Mother Writes Us:
"I have been reading these comments on how divorce affects children and I too, finally had to respond. Having three alcoholic fathers I have also been there as a child going through divorce and difficult situations. Growing up and repeating that cycle by marrying an alcoholic was very difficult for me to accept (I swore I would never do that). Of course, I did not realize this until after the second child when the responsibilities became too much for him. Finally I had to come to terms with it and make the decision that my children would be better off with a single parent than with a parent with no values, goals or ambitions. Not to mention bad habits!
"I have been a single parent for almost nine years now and can not imagine my children having to be exposed to the kind of life that they would have had if their father would have remained in the picture. It has been "a lot" of work on my part, but it has paid off. Both of my children are very high achievers and very involved in school. They are both very athletic and involved in every sport that our school offers. My son, almost 15, and my daughter, 12 1/2, have grown to be very responsible and respectful children. How could they have ever accomplished these goals with nothing but chaos and fighting in the home if things would have remained the same?
"I did not have a choice as a child to avoid living in a very chaotic and painful situation, but as an adult I have that choice. I would never recommend for anyone to stay in a marriage for the sake of the children. As one of the other response letters said, how will they grow up learning that it is healthy and normal to have a loving affectionate relationship if all they see is fighting, control over each other and chaos? For the most part, if that is the way you are raised then that is how you will live as an adult when that appears to be "normal"!
"Without a lot of independence and determination that cycle will continue to be repeated. I also think children need to see that if things do go bad in a marriage they have control over their own lives to make it better. Life is too short to be miserable and unhappy. It can be very lonely to be alone, but I would much rather be lonely alone than to be lonely with someone.
"People change, some grow and some never do. Why should the children be put in a position to never experience happiness themselves as children because one of the parents never grew up? Is that what we want to teach them - irresponsibility, no goals, no motivation, no direction? I think not. My children have learned to become more independent and responsible since it has been the three of us for most of their lives, which I hope will carry on into their adult life.
"I work for Family Services and see so many messed up families. I am fortunate enough to have the strength and ambitions to make my life and my children's life better by not allowing myself to stay in unhealthy situations which will always leave some kind of impact on the children. Most are not as fortunate as I have been to see the effects and be strong enough to change that cycle when it comes to our own children.
"I do believe very much in making every attempt possible in trying to work things out, but when that is not possible why should every one involved suffer, especially the children! No doubt there will be some resentments from the children when this happens, but with a lot of patience, understanding and COMMUNICATION they soon are able to understand the benefits of not staying in bad relationships.
"We must work closely with the schools also. It is unbelievable the difficulties that children have in school academically and with relationships when their home life is nothing but negative. Every parent should consider all of the pros and cons of this issue before thinking that it is in the "child's best interest" to stay in a bad relationship."