Ask Dena: Should We Stay Together for the Kids?

DenaAugust 31, 2010

Dear Dena,

Should I stay with my husband and be miserable to make my kids happy?


Dear Lisa,

Doctors, psychologists, and professionals are split down the middle on this issue. Half believe that divorce is the healthier option for families. The other half believe that even rocky marriages nourish children emotionally & practically. Personally, I don’t favor either side. Every situation is different and every family is different. For some, divorce is the best option. For others, staying together makes sense. There are too many variables to consider to make it a black and white issue.

There is one exception and that is physical abuse. In the case of physical abuse, get out as fast as you can. Nothing good will come of it—not for you or your children.

First, let’s talk about why people choose to stay together. Children from divorced families suffer emotional trauma, especially when the divorce is “messy”. Fear of abandonment & loss are common among these children. Bursts of bitterness, jealousy, and doubt often send these children into therapy. Research tells us that children of divorce suffer more often from depression and learning disabilities than those of intact families. These are just a few reasons as to why married couples choose to stay together for the kids.

However, it is important to note that divorce has its most harmful and profound effects on younger children. After age 18, children are better able to cope with the trauma of divorce. By that age, children have formed many of their own developmental beliefs about marriage, relationships, and family. So in your case, it may be important to consider the ages of your children.

On the other hand, many couples decide that divorce is the best option, despite the impact that it may have on children. The fact is that for many couples, staying together for the kids makes things worse instead of better. When a couple forces itself to stay in an unhappy & unhealthy situation, people are pushed into affairs, resentment builds, and everyone suffers. The problem festers and eventually, many couples end up getting divorced anyway.

The bottom line is that right now, you are staying in your marriage because you want to be a good parent. You should ask yourself a couple of critical questions:

  • Will staying in this crumbling marriage make you a better parent?
  • Are you doing more good or harm to your children and yourself by staying in this marriage?

If you are truly enduring misery, you are sending a clear message to your children: “I don’t deserve to be happy.” If you are putting up with abuse, you are sending a clear message to your children: “Don’t rock the boat. Endure abuse from others at all costs.”

Take some time to think about all of these things before you make your decision. Think about the legacy that you want to leave with your children when you are gone. Do you want them to remember a “normal” life with a mother & a father (even if their parents were miserable)? Or, do you want them to live through the trauma of divorce & remember a strong mother, who took her life into her own hands in order to live a life of true happiness?

These pains that you feel are messengers, listen to them. Turn them to sweetness. —Rumi

Both options are admirable. Choosing to stay together for the sake of your family is an incredible act of generosity & love. At the same time, taking a chance & pursuing a life of true happiness is also a brave act of love. Only you can decide what your legacy will be.

I am sending you love, strength, & courage! You will make the right decision.

In love & light,

Comments (10)

  • Dawn

    August 31, 2010 at 9:25 am

    For me, divorce was the best and bravest decision I ever made. Even though at times it felt very selfish, which is probably why I put it off for so many years. In the end, I knew it was best for all involved. My children now see a happier more peaceful mother. Someday I hope I can show them what a healthy relationship looks like.

    It is not easy…but you cannot stay ‘just for the kids’. My personal feeling was that I was teaching my children that it was acceptable to be treated the way I was…which, if it were my daughter, would NOT be acceptable.

    Divorce can be just as much a loving act as anything else…It all depends on how it is handled.

    1. Dena

      August 31, 2010 at 9:39 am

      @ Dawn – Thank you so very much for sharing your story! I can not tell you how much it means to me. I am so proud of you for your courage, love, and commitment to your family. I hoped that someone would make a comment like this one — to give Lisa the perspective from someone who has really been through it.

      You are wonderful & your daughter is so lucky to have such a brave & loving mother. Thank you a million times! xo

  • Keri

    August 31, 2010 at 11:16 am

    I am a child of divorce, altough my parents did not get divorced until I was 31 years old. In my situation my parents stayed together for my sisters and I, but as children we had to grow up in an environment that was hostile. We endured fighting and bickering on a daily basis and lived with a lot of fear and knew my parents were not happy. We always knew it was a matter of time before they would get divorced. Now after much anger, resentment,and sadness my parents are divorced and trying to start life over in their 60’s. I think it is more difficult to handle this as an adult because one has their own beliefs and values and it is much harder to adapt to changes as you get older. Children are resilliant and can adapt to new situations much easier than adults.
    We are at a point now where we are trying to let go of our resentment towards our parents and accept their new lives. I can honestly say that my parents are both much happier and stronger people today and individually more pleasant to be around. The sadest part of this whole thing is that my parents spent 39 years married together and now don’t even acknowledge one another if they are in the same room. I often wonder if they would have gone their separate ways years earlier, if they would have been less angry towards one another and been able to have a civil and cordial relationship. Divorce is never easy on a family no matter what the age of the children. The most important thing for a child is to know they are loved and to grow up in a nurturing and stable environment. There are many factors that need to be considered when making the decision to divorce and it is never easy. The most important thing to consider is how your happiness or unhappiness will affect your parenting and what is the best possible environment for your children to live in so that they can thrive as individuals. Children learn by what we model and are much smarter than we give them credit for. Whatever your decision, it will be a brave one, that will require courage, but we are never dealt more than we can handle.

    1. Dena

      August 31, 2010 at 11:28 am

      @ Keri – Thank you so much for your comment. I am absolutely in awe of how beautiful & inspirational your words are, even if they are coming from a sad place. You are so brave. I can not imagine what it must be like to go through what you are enduring. Even though you are an adult — this experience must be so hard to adapt to like you mentioned. Especially since you spent your entire life in a family that was intact (even if things were difficult at times).

      You are so right, when you say that children learn by what we model & are much smarter than we realize. You are hands down one of the most incredible, inspiring mothers that I have ever known. You have a sweet, gentle, wisdom that is absolutely heart-warming. It is as though you were meant to be a mother.

      I am so happy to hear that you parents are both much happier & stronger as a result of their decision. I hope that this happiness & strengths spills into the lives of your whole family. In the end, yes, the most important thing is that children know they are loved & growing up in a stable, nurturing environment. That is the greatest gift of all.

      I know that your advice will mean so much to Lisa as she makes her decision. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Dena Botbyl

    August 31, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    evolution you | Ask Dena: Should We Stay Together for the Kids?

  • Dena Botbyl

    August 31, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    Ask Dena: Should We Stay Together for the Kids?

  • Dena Botbyl

    August 31, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    [Some really INSPIRATIONAL comments on my latest post!] Ask Dena: Should We Stay Together for the Kids?

  • Dawn

    August 31, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    I had to say thank you for your comment…You have no idea how much it means! xoxo

  • Dena Botbyl

    September 1, 2010 at 12:19 am

    [What do you think?] evolution you | Ask Dena: Should We Stay Together for the Kids?

  • Dena Botbyl

    September 1, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    [Some really INSPIRATIONAL comments on my latest post!] Ask Dena: Should We Stay Together for the Kids?

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