Why Parents Shouldn’t Stay Married for the Kids’ Sake
Divorce can be a treacherous path to navigate. Emotions can run high after a couple decides to end a marriage—and for couples with children, stress levels can surge even higher when it comes time to determine child custody and child support in court.
Although divorce takes its toll on parents, it can also take a toll on children. Many parents neglect to manage their own emotions for the sake of shielding their children from the conflict, stress, and upheaval of divorce. While it can be tough for children to process that their parents’ marriage is over, it can be less damaging than the alternative.
Being part of a broken family is never easy, but in many cases, it may be healthier for kids to live with divorced parents than remain in a dysfunctional family. The hardships of divorce can be preferable to the lifelong hardships of being raised by two parents in a toxic marriage.
While the prospect of staying together “for the kids” can seem like the right thing to do, it can sometimes cause more harm than good. Before parents opt to sacrifice their marital satisfaction for their children’s sake, it’s worth pausing to consider how the decision can impact their family as a whole.
5 Reasons Not to Stay Married for the Kids
The innate parental instinct to protect your kids from harm isn’t a bad thing. The vast majority of parents want what’s best for their children.
It can be difficult to put your child through a divorce. While splitting up your family can be unpleasant, raising children in a hostile household may be more unpleasant. Before you make a decision that is solely “for the kids,” consider stopping to reflect on whether that decision will be best for them in the long term.
Keep reading to learn 5 reasons why parents shouldn’t stay together just for the kids.
#1. Children model parental behavior.
All parents want to be good role models for their children. Not only are kids impressionable, but they tend to imitate adult behaviors, especially the adults they respect and admire.
A parent who knowingly chooses to stay in a toxic or unhealthy marriage may not like how the decision impacts their children in the long run. While you may be protecting them from the pain of divorced parents at the moment, you may also be modeling unhealthy behavior for your child to exhibit in the future.
Consider the lessons you may be teaching your children when you decide to leave or stay in an unhealthy marriage. What do your actions reflect? How does it affect your child’s perception of love when it comes to family and relationships?
#2. Putting off the inevitable can negatively affect your family.
When left unaddressed, resentment can build over time. If you’re experiencing animosity in your marriage, there’s a good chance that hostile relations will grow worse.
There’s also a chance that your children will pick up on these negative sentiments. As you may imagine, this can lead to your child experiencing confusion, loneliness, detachment, and even guilt.
It can take people multiple times to leave an unhealthy relationship for the last time. For many, returning to a partner they abandoned previously can be accompanied by the unfavorable intuition that the relationship will end again; the only question is when. Don't subject yourself and your family to the recurring pain and predictability of one marital blowout after the other.
#3. Kids know when something is “off.”
Although we often associate children with heartwarming innocence and naivety, rest assured that children aren’t oblivious to the adult world. Your child may lack a concrete understanding of grownup arguments, but they can still pick up on tension—even when parents attempt to conceal conflict.
A child’s intuition is powerful. Studies show that children as young as six months old can tell when their parents are stressed. Even children of parents who keep arguments behind closed doors aren’t immune to the resentment that an unhealthy marriage can create in a household.
Kids don’t need to hear or understand your words to read the tone behind them. Even if you and your spouse only argue in the privacy of your bedroom, there’s a good chance that your child will know something is off.
#4. Your child deserves the truth.
When someone lies to us, it’s normal to feel disrespected or betrayed. When we tell the truth, we demonstrate respect for the other person.
The act of “sugarcoating” when conversing with kids isn’t inherently bad, as it can help prevent younger children from being upset or overwhelmed by something they’re not equipped to process yet. However, children are tougher than we give them credit for and equally as deserving of our respect.
We can respect our children by being honest with them. The circumstantial pain of divorce likely won’t compare to the decades-long pain of strained relations with a parent who resorted to deceit. Besides, as most parents already know, children have a knack for badgering adults until they receive the answers they need.
Telling your child one thing while your actions say another may not be an outright lie, but can yield negative consequences nonetheless. If you tuck your child into bed and reassure them that their parents will always love each other unconditionally, your comfort may have the opposite effect if your child overhears arguing less than an hour later.
Sugarcoating can be a gracious way to protect children until they’re developed enough to face certain realities. Still, there will be times when it’s more gracious to give children what they deserve: the truth.
#5. Your child may take it upon themselves to repair the marriage.
Parents who choose to stay married for their kids' sake can unknowingly burden children with guilt, blame, or the responsibility to repair the family. While adults are capable of identifying this self-inflicted pressure as unreasonable and undeserved, this isn’t the case for kids who are navigating life with a still-developing brain and body.
A child doesn’t look at divorce and see the underlying web of adult conflicts, such as financial troubles, infidelity, or the detriment of a poor work-life balance; rather, a child’s perception of love is more simplified than an adult’s.
The hope and natural optimism that children possess in adolescence can result in viewing the world through rose-colored glasses. When a child looks at their parents, they see two people who fell in love and are meant to live happily ever after. Naturally, it can be difficult to reconcile this foundational expectation with reality, leading children to take it upon themselves to mend the broken marriage.
Unlike adults, children who burden themselves with restoring their parents’ love are unaware that their well-intentioned efforts will fail (through no fault of their own). This can cause your child to experience disappointment and grief when they’re unable to save their parents from an unhealthy marriage.
As a parent, you can take responsibility for your marriage by being honest with your child about your family’s future. Being straightforward and compassionate can help set realistic expectations and prevent your child from shouldering burdens that aren’t theirs to carry.
Compassionate Family Lawyers
The family lawyers at McKinley Irvin understand how devastating family disputes can be. Resolving matters such as divorce and child custody can take its toll on adults and children alike. If your family is going through a difficult time, rest assured that our firm is here to prioritize your needs and protect what matters most.
Our experienced Washington family law attorneys have delivered results for our clients for over 30 years. As the region’s largest family law firm, we can recommend a divorce attorney who is best suited for your family’s unique needs.
When filing for divorce in Washington, it’s crucial to have the right legal team in your corner. Call 206-397-0399 or visit our website to schedule a consultation with a McKinley Irvin family law attorney.