I remember the day well: the day we stole my son’s innocence, the day we told him we were getting a divorce.
He was stunned. He cried. And begged and pleaded. And cried some more. And the next day, when he woke up, forgot for a second and then remembered again, he cried again. He was 12. And his father and I broke his heart and shattered his world that day. He was never the same happy-go-lucky kid again.
Lately there has been a lot of debate about whether a “good divorce” is better than a “bad marriage,” for the sake of the kids. I think we’re forgetting about the third option: if you are in a bad marriage, and you have kids, how about doing whatever you need to do to make the marriage better? For the kids’ sake.
For me, hindsight has definitely been 20/20: we should have tried harder to stay together. My kids definitely paid the price for my “good divorce”. And as a school counselor I have talked to hundreds of kids who are definitely not better off after divorce.
(And just to be clear: I am not saying I think everyone should stay married no matter what. For example, in situations that are dangerous for kids, like when there is abuse going on or drug use it’s a no-brainer: get out.)
But in the case of most of us, it is not because of a life and death situation that we are splitting up. For most of us, we are divorcing because we’ve grown apart, or we lost that loving feeling, or we no longer see eye to eye on things, or we have different goals, or we met someone who understands us better than our spouse, or we argue too much. etc. etc. And no matter how much we try to justify it, it is not good or easy or best for kids. They are just the innocent bystanders and they get dragged along for the ride.
I believe we owe it to our kids to do right by them, which in the majority of situations, means doing what we can to keep the family together.
We also owe it to them to “walk the talk”–to model for them the kinds of things we want them to learn as we raise them into adulthood. Like how the right thing to do isn’t always the easy thing. And when you start something, you need to finish it. And sometimes, when the going gets tough, you need to keep going. And, just because something is hard doesn’t mean you should quit.
Bottom line is I think we owe it to our kids to try as hard as we need to in order to make our marriages work. In good times and bad. For better or worse.