Most of us know of an unhappy couple who stayed together longer than they should have "for the sake of the children." And just about everyone has heard a report or study talking about how bad divorce can be for children: disrupting stability, even having a negative impact on their future adult relationships. If you are a parent who loves your children but needs a divorce, it can be daunting. You may feel like you are choosing between your own well-being and that of your child, adding "guilt" to the pile of emotions your divorce is already stirring up. If you divorce, are your children doomed to an unhappy childhood and failed romantic relationships? Will they be okay? Can divorce be good for children?
You will be relieved to learn that the answer is a resounding "yes." Certainly, it would be wonderful for your children to live in one home all the time, in a tranquil environment with happy parents who supported each other. If you're contemplating divorce, though, chances are that your children don't live in that kind of environment now. At best, there is unspoken tension that kids can pick up on and worry about. At worst, there might be chaos or violence. While divorce is hard for kids and parents, the fallout from living in a strained or hostile environment for years can be even worse. Let's talk about how to turn a divorce into a benefit for your children.
The first benefit your divorce can offer your children is, quite simply, a more peaceful environment in which there is no arguing and no conflict between parents. Children often feel the need to "walk on eggshells" when they know their parents are arguing, and may even engage in "magical thinking" in which they believe that if they are just well-behaved enough, things between their parents will be okay. It can be a tremendous relief for children to let down their guard and just be a kid at home—both with mom and with dad in their separate residences.
After a divorce, there are of course adjustments for kids, like remembering which parent they will be at home with at what times. But, in general, things begin to settle into a new routine, and that routine is often a lot calmer. Emotionally speaking, the level of ambient tension is just lower, reducing the stress for children as well as parents.
Kids take their cues from the parents on whom they are dependent. When parents are tense, kids are tense. The upside of this is that if you are happier after your divorce, chances are your kids will be, too. This is not to say that you have to maintain a perpetual smiley face; after all, you'll be adjusting to changes and have hard days, too. Hopefully, though, you will become happier as you shed the stress of your marital troubles and take charge of your own life—and that feeling of happiness and empowerment will rub off on your kids.
There is something powerful for a child about seeing a parent pursue happiness and well-being. Our kids internalize lessons we sometimes don't know we're teaching. When they see us make a conscious decision to prioritize our well-being, and make the changes that make that possible, they will understand that they can and should take care of their needs as adults. Contrast that with the hopelessness we teach by staying in a marriage that isn't working for anyone, making a sacrifice no one asked us to make.
Another powerful lesson divorced parents can teach is the ability to work together. If you have children, you are most likely co-parenting with their other parent. You will be compromising, sharing information, and working together for the sake of your kids. The more effectively, and maturely you can do that, the better example you are setting for your kids. Children, like most adults, handle change better when they understand why it is happening and what to expect. If your child is between the ages of nine and twelve, a divorce class offered by the Utah courts can help them learn to deal with your divorce and constructively express their feelings about it.
As we've discussed, though divorce is hard for everyone, there is a lot of good that can come out of it. Those benefits don't happen automatically, however. You need to consider your actions in the context of their needs. One benefit of divorce for kids is that they may need to chip in more around the house, which can give them a sense of mastery and help them to become more independent. That doesn't mean that leaving your twelve year old in charge of the younger kids while you go out for a late evening (which might make you happy) is in their best interests. And even if you are happy and relieved to be divorced, your kids will need time to process their own feelings in their own time. Yes, a happy parent may mean happy kids, but it might not happen all at once.
As long as you're considering your kids' needs first, and not justifying your own choices because they might have an incidental benefit for your kids, they will be fine. Your kids—and you—will still need to mourn the end of your marriage and the changes in your life. But there is every reason to believe those changes will result in growth and happiness for all of you as you move forward.
If you have concerns about how your divorce might affect your children, we invite you to contact our law office to schedule a consultation.
You may also be interested in: