Should I stay for the kids?

For the past several months I have been writing my blog posts in a series format.  For those of you who thrive on format and that type of consistency, bear with me.  I’ve decided to change things up a bit. 

I’m still going to do a weekly blog post, but there are several stand-alone topics that I want to discuss.

As a divorce coach, I often hear the question, “Should I stay for my kids?”

My short answer is NO.

In general, I think people go into marriage with dreams of it lasting forever and wanting their children to have a stable home with two present parents. 

As mothers and fathers we want what is best for our children, and on the surface having both parents in the same house seems like what is best.   However, this notion really only works if the marital relationship is healthy.

My take is that an unhealthy marriage is not best for your children.

Can a couple work through unhealthy behaviors and patterns?  Absolutely, but it takes time, effort, and commitment from BOTH partners. 

Food for thought: Change is possible, but it is hard work, and most people are resistant to change.  Do you think your spouse is capable or willing to do the work?

Let’s explore this a bit, and start asking ourselves the right questions.

What can make a marriage unhealthy?

Obviously if there is domestic abuse, as in physical violence, that is something that is unsafe for all.  Though physical abuse is clearly visible, it still doesn’t mean it is easy to leave a bad situation especially when fear and threats are involved. 

If you are experiencing physical abuse, I urge you to seek out proper help and support to keep yourself safe.

With emotional abuse, we often get desensitized and don’t even realize it is happening. 

When you are around bad behaviors long enough they become normal.

This is hard because on the surface your relationship might look fine.  You might look like you have it all, even if you are hurting or feel unfulfilled inside.

In my case, my ex is a work-a-holic, and was not present a majority of the time.  He worked lots of weekends and if he was home during the evenings, he crashed from the long hours.  His schedule did not allow “time” to facilitate an emotional relationship.

We had no connection, no real emotional bond filled with mutual support.  We communicated, but it was very surface level on day to day topics, mainly about the kids.   To me, this was just getting by.  It was nowhere near what constitutes a thriving relationship. 

Here are some signs that you might be in an emotionally abusive, toxic relationship: you feel emotionally drained, feel like you can never please your spouse, and your feelings are often hurt by the one that supposedly loves you.  The other big thing to look for is that the patterns, fights, and triggers are cyclical.  They really are the same issues over and over again.

To learn more about finding awareness within a toxic relationship, read this blog post.

Here is something I want you to think about. 

If you are in a relationship that is causing you to not be your best, is that healthy for your children to see?

If you are unhappy and unfulfilled, is that what’s best for your children?

If one person is modeling less than exemplary behaviors, is that what you want your children to learn?

Our children learn from us.  What they see modeled is what they believe to be normal and okay. 

It becomes acceptable.

Even if the behaviors are not obvious or hidden to the children at the time, they witness it and absorb it.

Here’s an example that I may have used before, but it illustrates how children gather their “what’s normal” point of view.

For our family vacation in Maine, we broke up the drive and spent the night at a hotel in Hartford, CT.  Our hotel was directly across from an office building and from our window we could see directly into the office.  At about 8:30 my daughter saw a woman at her desk in the office working.  She asked us, “Why is that lady at work so early?”  I had to explain to her that most people start their work day between 8:30 & 9AM, as her father always went into work around 10:30 or 11 each day making his own schedule.  She was truly surprised to see someone working already, but given what she saw at home, someone in work early was not normal.

When I left my marriage, it was in distress.  I found out that my ex was not honoring the marriage on several levels.

My first appointment at the attorney’s office was very impactful.  I met with Lynne Gold Bikin, a prominent Philadelphia area attorney, who has since passed.  She was a fiery and tough woman that you would want on your team.  She was smart, sassy, and wise.  At our appointment, she said something to me that was extremely impactful.

“Know that your husband is demonstrating to your daughter what she can expect in a husband, and showing your son how he can behave.”

I came back to this statement many times in my decision making process.

I knew the relationship was unhealthy for me, but from this perspective I could see the long term impact that staying would have on my children.

Do you agree with my thinking? Or do you have an alternative perspective where you think it is a good thing to stay in an unhealthy marriage for the children?

Let me know in the comments below.

2 responses to “Should I stay for the kids?”

  1. Angel says:

    I agree with you, Christina. Just as you used the analogy of your daughter observing the early-working woman, thinking that was not normal, for many of us, we stay because we do not know any other way. We think the way IS normal.

    To be in that world… it is stressful, tiring, empty. It is a feeling of despair of sorts, of not knowing any better to change it for the better. We become stuck. Sometimes, we conform to that because we feel as though there are no other options, we don’t know the other options… cyclical.

    For mostly all of my married life, my motherly life, I tried to find the harmony and respect, the peace and joy that was never reciprocated, never honored. Because I didn’t not bring home the paycheck, I was thought to be a lesser person. I never believed this but I didn’t know the way out.

    Feeling that I had no say in all that was bought for our children, all that was given to them, not instilled in them… the arguing, screaming, banging.

    Me staying as a wife/mother that “only” worked part time at my “little jobs”, did that make it worse? I sought out counseling for myself and the kids. I did all that I could to give them values and be a darn good example to them, showing them how to contribute to the world.

    Nothing seems to have worked/helped. They are their father’s sons. They are messed up with anxiety, depression, fear.

    I gave them all that I could, except my confidence to be my own person. Until now…

    Feeling sad and empty for too long, feeling ignorant to the finances (not my doing), struggling to teach our children well, to love unconditionally, yet to not be a doormat.

    It was only when a few friends pointed out to me that I was not treated as an equal, was when I made the decision to forge ahead without him.

    Our children are adults, at least, in years, they are. They now have to figure themselves out. I have to figure me out.

    • I remember not feeling like I had a choice in the matter for quite a while. We can only do our best given our current awareness and knowledge in any moment. I know you and your children will all figure yourselves out! You will move forward as your authentic and true self.

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