Should You Stay Together for the Kids?

an expert and grown children of divorce weigh in

Often, couples choose to stay together for the sake of their children. They may feel too afraid of how traumatic a divorce might be. Or perhaps they have other reasons for staying together. But there are mixed thoughts on this. Some feel the decision is admirable, while others feel it’s not the right direction toward a happy future.

If two people don’t want to be together anymore, no longer love each other or fight endlessly, it might seem like that environment is more traumatic. Perhaps, it’s more traumatic for children than parents separating or getting divorced.

So, what’s the right decision? Psychologist Dr. Robin Hornstein agrees it’s a tough call. “What is right for one family yet wrong for another can be very different,” she said. “Remaining together for the sake of the children has different outcomes if parents are friends or are in a battle.”

Meet the expert
Robin Hornstein, Ph.D.
Licensed Therapist and Life Coach

 

Should you stay together for the kids?

Dr. Hornstein said several things come into play here. Being unhappy for the sake of anyone has a cost, and it shows. She has seen adults come into therapy saying their parents waited until they left for college. They wished for years they had not waited. They knew they were not a loving couple, and it didn’t make it any easier.  

“Finding a way to be a happy co-parenting unit with two happy adults living fulfilling lives is the goal,” explained Dr. Hornstein. “We want our kids to know that adults need to be happy and not just people who remain unhappy for them because that is actually a burden on the kids in the long run. I often suggest couples work on mediation … Intentional planning for a family is better than a blanket decision to remain together despite the costs.”

 

Finding a way to be a happy co-parenting unit with two happy adults living fulfilling lives is the goal.

 

One of the reasons many families often choose to stay together is fear of a long-term negative impact on their child’s well-being. Dr. Hornstein shared some long-term considerations but offered hope as well. “Kids are resilient, so not all will have long-term issues,” Dr. Hornstein said. “The ones who do may not want to get into relationships, may feel betrayed by their parents, and may end up withdrawing from their parents as they grow into adults. They may replicate this relational style which can lead to relationships fraught with the same pattern of arguing and disconnection.”

Growing up with parents who constantly argue can affect trust and attachment. It’s different than seeing parents have healthy arguments, said Dr. Hornstein. Ultimately, demonstrating love for their kids and taking the space one needs as an adult can co-exist. Dr. Hornstein explained that too often, we let guilt, finances, family pressure, religion, or other issues affect our decisions in ways that are not helpful for our family. 

 

We want our kids to know that adults need to be happy and not just people who remain unhappy for them because that is actually a burden on the kids in the long run.

 

While the decision to separate is never easy, especially if children are involved, parents should consider the long-term outcome of growing up in an unhappy household versus the initial shock of a divorce. 

 

couple fighting

Source: Timur Weber | Pexels

 

Grown children of divorced parents share their stories

As Dr. Hornstein pointed out, what is right for one family may not feel right for another. But many adults who grew up in unhappy households only for their parents to divorce later in life agree: Things would be easier had their parents called it quits sooner.

 

Wished their parents had divorced sooner

Kelley Kitley says growing up in a household with married yet unhappy parents had a long-term effect on her mental health. “There was a negative energy. It was never spoken about to us, but we could feel it. It absolutely affected my mental health. I felt anxious and oftentimes second-guessed myself. Was this normal?” Kelley feels that if her parents had divorced sooner, she would have felt more at peace. She could have moved on rather than constantly waiting in anticipation of what was to come. 

Ariel, a digital marketing associate, recalls after her parents left rehab for the first time that it began driving a wedge in the relationships of everyone in the family. “This marked the start of a vicious cycle of conflict, rehabilitation, and eventually divorce, lasting all throughout high school and into my college years.” To this day, Ariel says she doesn’t have the ability to envision a successful and romantic relationship for herself. Her longest relationship only lasted about six months until fear of commitment and her inability to communicate led her to end the relationship.

Now an adult, marketing director Alice Eve, feels that her parents’ toxic relationship tarnished her vision of marriage and raising children. She needed to work on herself first before starting a family of her own. “I don’t know if things would have been better or worse, but I’m grateful that I was old enough to remember how their divorce worked out for everyone. My parents stayed together because they … agreed that ‘it’s for the kids.'” Alice realized years later, once the dust settled, she was lucky enough to have had a good childhood. She realized that she was always loved and that her parents staying together would not have been a good idea. 

 

Grateful their parents divorced when they did

Sometimes, getting divorced can truly be for the best. Jill Taylor of Happy Farmyard, whose parents divorced when she was eight years old, says it was the best decision for everyone. “They were both happier after the divorce and remain happy now. When your parents are happier, you’re usually happier too. It’s also worth noting that my parents got along much better than they did when they were married. They could communicate and co-parent without any drama, which made things a lot easier for us kids. They could co-parent more effectively because they didn’t have all the baggage that comes with being married. They could focus on being friends and helping us kids through tough times instead of worrying about their own relationship.”

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