The decision to get a divorce has to be one of the most difficult one life can throw your way. I have heard parents agonize over the impact that it might have on their children. They don’t want to mess up their kids, permanently scar them, or sentence them to a lifetime of unhealthy relationships. I also know of several couples who despise each other, but decide not to get a divorce because it would simply be too costly and messy. They can’t bring themselves to uproot everyone’s lives, possibly move out of their home, and redefine everything they have come to know as normal. So they stay there, and they stay miserable. No child of theirs is going to come from a "broken home."
In those situations, staying is probably easier in the short term. But there’s one big problem: your kids come to learn that “normal life” is pretty crappy. We all know kids learn by example. Doesn’t it make sense that they come to define marriage and relationships based on the one they see day in and day out? Here’s my theory: When kids grow up in a house with parents who shouldn’t be together, they grow up to believe “marriage” means apathy, fighting, tension and bitterness. They see it’s ok to feel one way but act the opposite, for appearances’ sake. Or that it’s ok to settle rather than strive to live life to it’s fullest potential. Some may learn that emotional, verbal and even physical abuse is okay between spouses. Or that being married means it’s ok to date other people (trust me, your kids will find out), or sleep in separate rooms. To kids who see this day in and day out, that’s just the way married people behave. It’s “normal,” and it sets pathetically low expectations for their own relationships later in life.
I’ve watched a few people from these “normal” families grow up and get into relationships just like their parents'. They cheat, lie and sneak around. They complain constantly about their partner, and become angry and bitter. They fight all the time, even in the so-called 'honeymoon period,' yet they stay in the relationship. They’re not particularly happy or fulfilled, but eventually they get married anyway because they've come to believe that’s just what you do. You find someone you think (hope) you can tolerate, get married, and then spend the rest of your life bitching about the “old ball and chain” (or worse). These people never learned it doesn't have to be like that! They don’t reach for anything beyond what they saw in their own homes, because unless they happen upon it by accident, they don’t even know there’s anything better out there.
Gee, it’s a good thing those kids didn't grow up in a “broken home.”
I always thought parents who stayed in a toxic, loveless marriage were selfish. They claimed to be staying together for their kids, but listen to them talk for awhile and you’d figure out they were really staying because they didn’t want to divide their assets or give up their house. If they truly put their kids first, they never would have let them grow up in such a tumultuous environment.
I’ve been in a lot of broken homes growing up, and nearly all of them had moms and dads living there. I’d come home and talk about the things I’d seen in disbelief. I had no idea people lived so miserably. Teachers always commented that I was a happy, contented child. I felt safe and secure in my house. Home was the best place in the world when I was a little girl, yet I was so often shocked to find many of my classmates didn’t want to go back to theirs at the end of the day. Even through high school, the gang always gravitated to my house. Most nights there was an extra kid or two at the dinner table or sleeping over, even several nights in a row. I'd get homesick if I were away even for one night, but these kids never seemed in a hurry to leave. Our home was warm and inviting and fun. Most of all, it was peaceful. Yet I was the one who'd see a few of their parents’ turning up their noses at me, because I came from a single parent home!
Obviously, the decision to divorce is extremely complex and highly personal. I’m not saying divorce is better than having a happy, unified family. Certainly having a united family is ideal, and if you think there’s still a chance you can pull that off (and create a genuinely positive home environment), try anything you can to make it work! But if you are in an abusive relationship, or one that you’ve already checked out of with nothing left to salvage, you owe it to your children to take the brave but necessary steps to get out. You need to show your children what is acceptable and what’s not in a marriage. And if you handle it properly, there is no reason in the world why your children won’t be so much better off (even if your ex-to-be doesn’t meet you halfway – more on that later).
As a child of divorce, I can promise you one thing for absolute certain: I was much happier growing up in a household where I felt safe and loved instead of watching my parents screaming at each other, griping behind each other’s backs, or using me as their go-between. Even as a pre-teen I admired my mom for having the courage to get us out of a bad situation and build a better life for us both. I’ve always had very high standards for my relationships as a result of her example. I knew I needed to be treated with respect, and I never let a guy push me around. Not because that’s how my dad treated my mom, but precisely because he didn’t - andshe left. She showed me it isn’t ok to let someone treat you that way.
I look back on my childhood, and it’s full of great memories with my mom and dad (just not both of them together – and really, who cares? They’re happy memories, isn’t that the point?), and later, my step-family. I got married because I was deeply, truly in love with my husband and we’d spent several years building a solid foundation together. People are always saying we are one of the few couples around who are “the real deal.” How many kids with parents who hated each other but stayed married can say that? My parents and I had special one-on-one times that would’ve been unheard of if they were under the same roof.
Yeah, my parents got divorced when I was a kid. Then we figured it out, and it was all good. Really.
I was just fine. Actually, I was great.
There were a few broken homes on my block growing up, to be sure. But none of them were mine.