Staying Together for the Kids

I hope you had a great weekend. It was a long weekend in Canada, Victoria Day Weekend to be precise, and it was wonderful to rest, relax and regroup. My kids went back to school this morning after a 6-day break (hallelujah), I went back to the gym, and life returned to normal.

I was chatting with some moms last week about quite a heavy topic, and it took me back to something that happened a couple of years ago. I remember it clearly – at the time, I was grabbing a salad for the road and on the way to my son’s school to serve hot lunch to 650 students. Never one to skip a meal, I was waiting for my salad, when I bumped into an old friend’s sister. I actually found out on Facebook that this old high school friend had recently separated from her husband. Unfortunately, they also had two young children. I proceeded to ask the sister, “How is your sister doing?” To which she replied, “My sister seems much happier and he seems much happier too, so I guess good for them, but I’m not so sure about the kids. I have a different point of view than her. Who’s happy? Who is living in marital bliss? Sometimes you have to suck it up, and stay for the sake of the kids.”

In fact, we hear things like this quite often: couples divorcing after 25 and 30 years of marriage. When you ask many of them why, often they’re quick to answer, “I couldn’t break up my family. I stayed for the kids.”

Is this right? Is this wrong? Is it fair for two miserable people to stay together for the kids’ sake?  Depending on the different people you ask, you’ll get a variety answers.

After meeting my friend’s sister in the cafe that day, I started to speak candidly with a few divorcees, and I learned a lot. One separated woman told me, “Trust me, it was worse for my children to live in such chaos and fighting. The kids are thriving now that my husband and I are finally separated. We both have made a conscious effort to create a calm environment in our respective homes, and the kids see that we are finally happy. Albeit happy without each other, but happy nevertheless. And we make the kids our number 1 priority. We come together for the sake of the kids. It’s not easy, but we try our best. We will always be connected through our children, so even though I harbor tremendous resentment toward my ex-husband, I make it work.”

Interesting.

I also spoke to another recently divorced father at the time, and he painted a very different picture. “My children feel displaced. They are doing horribly. They are shuffled around. We do our best to get along for the kids’ sake, but my ex-wife can barely take care of our children now. She’s too busy living her own life. I receive numerous disturbing phone calls from my kids asking me to pick them up from their mother’s house, as she is not properly caring for them. They feel confused, and they are suffering in school. I should have stayed longer and sucked up my unhappiness. I almost wish we could have quietly lived separate lives, but at least I would still be there, and could see them daily. I made a horrible mistake by breaking up my family.”

Wow, that is painfully sad.

I have to tell you, I see both point of views. Now, I’m NOT talking about staying in an abusive marriage, or staying with a serial cheating spouse. I am talking about staying in a loveless and/or toxic marriage.

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For myself, I  believe in marriage.  I take the vow that I made almost 13 years ago very seriously. Call me old fashioned, but personally speaking, if I were unhappily married,  I think I would stay for the sake of my kids. I couldn’t go down without a fight. Therapy, whatever it would take to keep us together. I’m just being honest. And for the record, my husband feels the EXACT same way as I do. Aren’t we just perfect for each other?? 😉 He always jokes, that even if we hated each other, he would never leave. He says he’d sooner live miserably together. His reasoning; he couldn’t go a day without seeing our boys.

But then I also see the flip side. When we marry and decide to have children, we envision a family staying together forever. But what if the marriage starts to crumble?  I’m not so sure it’s better for everyone to live in a highly anxious and tense environment either. Someone once said to me about this topic, “Would you really want to set the example for your children that your own happiness is not worth anything? That your needs don’t mean or count for anything?” Also, an interesting point. This is a complex issue, one that I truly feel needs to be examined on a case-by-case basis.

So the burning question is:

“Your relationship is falling apart, or maybe it died long ago. But your children depend on you both for love and security. Should you split up or stay together for their sake?”

I decided that for today, I am not going to give any tips or suggestions. Instead, I think this is a VERY subjective issue, and would like you my readers, to weigh in on this heavy ‘on the fence’ topic. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. What would you do if you had children and were living in an unhappy marriage… stay or leave?

FYI, you are always able to comment anonymously, without an email address or name. I’d like to know your point of view.

Erica3

27 Comments
  1. I do not believe in staying in an unhappy/dysfunctional marriage for the sake of the kids. One quote someone said to me that helped me in my divorce is this, “I would rather come from a broken home than grow up in one.” I do not believe you can raise functional kids in a dysfunctional home.

  2. I would focus on us getting our happy back. A great marriage needs work. You CAN find a new relationship in the old one. One needn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Provided there isn’t violence or infidelity (though many forgive the latter more readily) then it’s worth working on IMO.

  3. I tried, and tried and tried, everything that I knew to resurrect a toxic marriage! It nearly cost me my sanity and my life! There are no easy answers, marriage is about growth, change and acceptance. If these things cannot be achieved in the marriage then for me it was time to let go, lovingly! Our daughter was six when these changes occurred in her life, I grieved deeply for her loss! Now, ten years later she is happy, healthy and very well adjusted! She understands that as her parents we love her, and are better parents to her apart then we were together. It is definitely not a decision that I made easily, yet time has shown me that it has been the best decision that I could have made at the time.

  4. I’ll preface by saying I’m like you and a bit old-fashioned in doing whatever it takes to keep a marriage together.

    That being said, there’s a difference between unhappy and irrepairable. Abuse of any sort, infidelity, and a few other cases usually merit separation. But I know of couples who separated because they continually argued in front of their children or were constantly miserable with one another and vocalized this to their children. Unfortunately, I think these separations could have been prevented with both sides fully committing to work on the marriage, prior to giving up. Without showing your kids that you both tried to work through your issues as adults, they learn that it’s ok to walk away from difficult situations. You also risk sending the message that if you become unhappy with them, you’ll walk away from them as well.

    In most cases, I vote to forego a decision for a span of time and be an example to your children of how to (at least try to) work through obstacles with maturity and dedication.

  5. There’s an expression I heard once that goes:

    It’s better to come from a broken home than live in one. I agree with that.
    My parents got divorced when I was 10 and I am incredibly grateful to my mother for having the courage to end her marriage. I know that she tried very hard to make it work, but she was the only one trying and one person cannot save a marriage. She set an example for my siblings and I that we deserve to be respected and loved and we all deserve to be happy. The divorce wasn’t difficult for me, what was difficult was how my father handled it. I think if both parents can remember to love their children more than they hate eachother, their children can get through everything pretty much unscathed. In my case, my father didn’t want to be a father anymore and that was difficult..but the divorce was the RIGHT decision for my mom and our family.

    That said, we do owe it to our kids to make divorce an option only when we’ve honestly tried everything else and it becomes the healthiest route to go.

  6. I grew up with parents in an unhappy marriage. There was lots of fighting and even a short separation when I was in my teens. Still, there was no infidelity, abuse, or criminal activity, all major breaches of trust which I would consider good reasons to end a marriage.

    Probably most parents who fought as much as mine did would have divorced. But mine didn’t and I really believe that we kids were better for it. They put our happiness as their children ahead of their own happiness. We didn’t have to schlep between homes, we saw both our parents every day and maintained close relationships with both of them, and while we could easily see they weren’t getting along, they never put us kids in the middle of their arguments.

    Sometimes you can learn just as much about what a happy marriage should look like by seeing what NOT to do in an unhappy one. I believe I’m in a happy marriage now – it’s not great every day, but on the whole it’s better than OK. Growing up vowing that I would not do certain things I saw my parents doing in their marriage helped me be the best wife I could be – and I believe helped me make a good choice in a husband. I also made sure to spend many years in my 20s putting my own happiness first so that when my kids came along in my 30s, I didn’t feel like I was “missing out” by putting their happiness ahead of my own when necessary.

    I’ve seen friends with young kids divorce and I often think they just didn’t try hard enough to save the marriage. Some of this has to do with how much value you place on marriage in the first place (for example, a now-divorced couple I know went to Vegas to get married over a weekend without telling friends or family because they “wanted to get it over with.”). But a lot of it, I think, is an unwillingness to put your children’s happiness ahead of your own, and to be patient, and to do the work that marriage takes. It can be incredibly difficult even if both partners are willing to put in the effort – and impossible if one of them has “checked out.”

    My parents have now been married 45 years. Turns out the period when kids are young and a lot of work is also the most stressful time for any marriage. Once they got through that, they found they actually liked each other and continue to enjoy each other’s company. They still bicker though, as old couples do, but they also have a lot of happy shared memories. I have no doubt there is no one else either of them would rather grow old with.

  7. Half of my 25 year marriage was staying for the kids. I have no regrets, as the kids were relatively unaware of our problems, and got to grow up with both parents there loving them and supporting them – and it was better for them financially as well. Just as I stayed for the kids all those years, I also ended it for them 9 months ago. The emotional abuse was becoming obvious, and as heartbreaking as it was to break up the family, I knew there was no other choice. I agree that couples need to stay and work through their problems because the relationship can be that much richer when you do. But when one partner doesn’t trust, respect, and treat the other partner with kindness and shows no willingness to make changes, then eventually you have to save yourself, and your daughters from a poor marriage model.

    1. I am one who did stay married for the kids. I caught my husband in an affair 15 years ago and never got over it. I tried very hard, but he confessed at that time he had never been faithful, and it broke my heart and changed forever how I feel about him. He dumped the woman and I am reasonably sure he quit cheating. I stayed because we have three boys and I believe that boys are healthier if their father lives in the home with them, provided he is a good father. He may have been a crummy cheater husband, but he is hard working and an involved father and made a decent income. We put our children first and they have grown up healthy, normal and happy, no drugs or jailbirds, good studious upwardly mobile young men. We are very proud of them. The last one leaves in a few months and we will be empty nesters. I had always planned to end it once the last one has gone, but I find myself asking.. what for? We don’t really love each other anymore – we’re more like brother and sister or something. , but neither do we hate each other. We have grandchildren to look forward to. Money and asset division seems so daunting to me. I don’t want to lose half our income. I certainly would never have another man in my life – hah – I have drank the poison and wouldn’t drink it twice. So… why divorce at this point. Maybe it’s better to wait until one or the other of us croaks of old age.

  8. I grew up in a family with an alcoholic/abusive father…. we lived in fear all of the time. The best thing my mother did was leave my father after years of abuse, finally when I was 21 yrs old. In retrospect it would have been better for ALL of us if she had left much sooner.

  9. I am in a unhappy marriage. No one in my family has ever gotten a divorce. We have a little boy he is the only reason I have been staying.But don’t know what to do anymore. He is not interested in making love. He is more just about himself. If I tell my family they will be disappointed. but how do I live in a love less marriage. We have talked about our issues in the past now i think he just doesn’t want to listen. He thinks we are good together but we really are not. I don’t know what to do disappoint lot of people or be happy.

    1. I am in the same exact situation. I have two children and my wife and I are no longer in love. I have recently told her of my plans on leaving but I have gotten made to feel guilty for leaving. The only reason I am staying is because of my children. I have no idea what to do. I no longer love my wife and but like you she thinks that things are working just fine between us. I also don’t know what to do…make my own happiness or disappoint my children

  10. after all that I have been thru divorcing and abusive ex husband and having everything i hold dear in life ripped from my hands…i would have stayed

  11. HE ACTUALLY LEFT, never tought he could do this to me

    I’m 41 years old and my husband has recently told me that he wanted out of the marriage and he actually left a few days later, after 21 years of marriage…
    …After the initial shock wore off and I was able to think straight…
    I purchased this book http://marriagebook.blogspot.com/

    …I was able to persuade him to give me and the marriage another chance…
    …I had to wing it with only the strategies in the “save the marriage” book

  12. Im so desperately unhappy. My husband is emotionally abusive not physically. He shows me no loving kindness or friendship. We have always lived separate lives. He has been an absent father in the sense that he never wanted to come on family holidays, never shared running the kids around to sports etc, pays me a weekly amount of money for his share of the expenses (which is about a third of the actual cost). We have never had joint accounts. I have paid for everything in our home ie: furniture, kids clothes, you name it I bought it. Im in huge debt while he has savings. I ask for money but he says he doesnt have any to spare. I do earn more than him, so I feel bad about asking for money from him. The only time he actually touches me is when he wants sex, otherwise he outwardly shows his distain at showing emotion. When he speaks to the kids it is always in a growling type tone. We are all scared of him but he doesnt realise it. Thats why Im in debt because he growls me and the kids everytime we ask for money even though its for their school trips or sports payments etc. He will eventually give it – but lectures us first. So we just dont bother anymore. As I write this I wonder why I stay – but it is because of the kids. They have made comments before that it would be terrible if we broke up like their friends parents. My youngest is 10 – I dont know what to do, I am so desperately unhappy and sad and extremely lonely. I would be better off without him in so many ways – but would my kids?

  13. Divorce “destroys” children’s lives.
    In time we will see how this destruction takes shape in an anxiety burdened society.
    It’s the adults who are childish in these examples above.
    They should have never born children in the first place.
    Such selfishness on both sides.
    And that is what their children will inherit and live out as a hand me down from divorced parents.

    1. You are both delusional and judgemental.

      The last thing kids need is to grow up in a home with unhappy parents.

      To say that they shouldn’t have had kids, is so bizarre. When you get married and have kids, you plan on staying together, sometimes it doesn’t work out.

      There are plenty of happy, well
      Adjusted children of divorce.

      I’m
      Wondering where your anger is coming from?

  14. Bring married for 11 years My husband and I are completely separate different personalities we have completely different point of views not even a single thing in common. And have 3 children. 10 years old Son and twin 5 years old daughters and 1 of my daughter has cerebral palsy. We often don’t get along and end up arguing lot of times. My son is very emotional and sensitive. Despite of knowing our unhappy relationship he wants us to stay together and never even think about partying ways.
    I always have to compromise and stay back because my husband is a very good loving and caring father he fulfills all my kids wishes even he gives lot more time to kids he is always there for kids . He is also JUST a caring husband. He is always there when I need him he has always been loyal to me. He helps me in all my chores. He doesn’t let me work out because he thinks I have enough to do at home. Now bad habits He has bad temper , he argues for little little things which doesn’t even make sense he has some phyco problem because most of the time he wants his way or No way. Which annoys me and wanting to leave him that very moment. And I always end up going his way because of kids But now since last year that we know that arguing or fighting is no good front of our kids 90% of the time we try to avoid talking til the night when kids r sleeping. And I am noticing he is improving himself day by day. But still He has lost all my respect and love for him in all those years for dominating me and fights for no reasons. I am just soo use to it now that
    I guess I have just devoted my life to my kids and being unhappy with husband doesn’t really matter now as long as my kids are happy seeing us together. We rather stay unhappy and see our kids happy than staying apart and ruin kids happiness or life’s. That is the only common thought in between us. We basically want our children to be raised in a single family home rather than 2 different homes.????

  15. My situation is similar yet different. I have lost all respect and love because spouse constantly yell And curse at the kids and rage at them for stupid little things. But at the same time, can’t say no to them when they ask for stuff. Don’t help out around the house, only focus on sports on TV and sport activities for kids. And threatens the kids constantly but never follows through with discipline. Instead, expect the kids to behave good After they are allowed to do something or receive things, then yells at them when they don’t behave as expected. I don’t even know what I ever saw in this person anymore as I feel like I have to constantly defend the kids against this person. But we live in small town and kids have gotten accustom to no change and refuse to even move to a different house in the same town because it’ll be a different school (can’t say no to the kids) so I know they don’t want us to be separated. Too much difference between the two of us as far as our upbringing. I grew up in a relative normal family while spouse had disfunctional family and opted to live with sports coach who agreed to the arrangement. I’m bringing this up because I feel like since spouse didn’t have normal family growing up, probably doesn’t know how to be in a normal family. Should’ve listened to others before we got married … Too stupid and young back then. Sigh!

  16. I’m in a marriage where my husband is verbally abusive to me, angry and punches holes in the walls. He’s never hit me, but I think he would if he could get away with it. I’m staying with him because I’m hoping things will one day get better, but I’m losing hope of that. I’m staying because I want my kids to stay in the same school, near their friends, and have a happy childhood. He is really good with them. He’s a good father and he’s a good husband 80% of the time. So yes, I’m staying for the kids to give them some security and stability. I honestly cannot see myself growing old with my husband the way things are now.

  17. I found out my wife was cheating 3 years ago. Not only was she cheating but she had several guys on the side. It destroyed me, our perfect marriage, almost my job, and ended up with my wife and our councillor (single male) still “good friends” today. (Dont waste your money on marriage counseling) Like you said, it’s hard to let go of someone you really love, but honestly whether you choose to forgive them or not, trust will always be an issue. I won’t bore you with the details but I will tell you this: Once a cheater, always a cheater and in my opinion, flirting via text messages is the same as cheating.
    So, we stay together because we have kids and that’s that. She swears up and down she doesn’t want a divorce but she continues on with her flirting/texting and I act like I don’t see. One day although when the kids are older and can manage on their own, I’m leaving and not looking back. Why, because I can tell already that I just don’t love her like I used to. Sure, she is still very good looking and takes care of herself, but I deserve better. In this day and age every woman under 35 has some guy or guys on Facebook, etc. that’s pushing for a fling. Most women fall for it and it becomes an addiction. Got to have likes and comments! Well, I’ll never fall for that crap again and every time I smile, I think about what could of been.

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