I was in a good marriage for close to 10 years.
He was a good dad, we had good fun, good jobs, a good house, a good dog, and a good life. But that was the problem. I knew there was more to life than just “good.” And I wanted it.
I wanted to wake up every morning excited about the day ahead, rather than feel like I was trapped in the movie Groundhog Day. I yearned to feel not just like a mother and wife, but a powerful and desired goddess. I ached for the romance I saw in movies, rather than the roommate relationship I currently had. I knew all of this was possible for me, but change is scary, and boy, oh boy, was I scared.
The idea of divorce danced in my head for months.
I’d casually bring up the topic to friends and family, and since things looked “good” they’d always respond with, “you should stay for the sake of the kids.” If I had a dime for every time I heard this well-intentioned but completely unhelpful response, I’d be, well, a whole lot richer.
I was already acutely aware of the impact a divorce would have on my children’s lives, and every time I tried to leave, the anxiety about how I could possibly f*ck up their lives for my own, selfish reason stopped me in my tracks. I decided therapy would help me sort it all out in my head.
My godsend of a therapist gave me the one piece of research-based advice that I desperately needed: it is better for the kids to see their parents happy and healthy, even if that means they are no longer married.
Finally! Someone to validate what my heart already knew—that my kids would be okay.
My divorce was finalized when my daughter was four and my son just two. The thought of staying in my marriage for 16 more years made me want to crawl in a hole with Netflix and a bottle of Tito’s. What kind of mom would I have been for my kids then?
This is exactly why staying in a marriage just for the sake of the kids is not necessarily the right thing to do:
It teaches our kids what a relationship shouldn’t be.
I know, I know. You hide it from the kids. Sorry, mamas—kids are smart. We might think they don’t notice the quiet eye-rolls made behind our spouse’s back, the constant responsive sighs made when our spouses are asked to do something, or the fact that we haven’t held hands in months. They still pick up on it, I assure you.
It is a breeding ground for resentment.
Those sighs and eye-rolls I was just talking about? Yeah, that’s resentment. Think about how annoyed you get at your spouse now, then multiply that by the number of years you “have left” until your kids are out of the house. Resentment thrives on itself, and holding on to these negative emotions is not only harmful to our emotional health and well-being, but can eventually manifest as physical symptoms as well. And just as our children notice our microaggressions, they sense our resentments.
You’re missing out on your own life.
You know there’s more for you out there. You can feel it. You see other relationships and yearn for what they have. The thought of leaving everything we know is overwhelming and scary. Trust me, I get it. But we are only here for a short time, and you are supposed to be living it up.
It makes me sad to think of how many married people out there are counting down the days until the last kid turns 18. It makes me sad to think about how many of those kids have to live like that.
So, how can we ensure that our kids are happy and healthy throughout a parental split? I have many tips, but here are my top five:
Kids are people with feelings and emotions. They have a right to know what is happening to their family. Don’t be afraid to cuddle up under a blanket and talk about what’s going on. Ask them how they feel. Normalize their feelings. Yes, divorce is hard and scary, and it’s normal to feel that way. Tell them you’re sad. Let them be sad. Cry together. Feelings are normal.
Don’t expect your kids to carry your emotional load.
It’s okay for your kids to see you sad, but it’s not okay for your kids to take care of you while you’re wilted like a dead flower on the couch for a month. Your kids are also not your therapist. They don’t need to know about how you can’t stand him now, or the real reason for your split. So, if you need someone to talk to about all the adult stuff, hire a therapist.
Speak kindly about their father.
Yeah, I’m sure your soon-to-be ex is acting like a total dick right now. But your kids don’t need to know that. Don’t tarnish their image or relationship with their parent just because your relationship with them as you knew it is over. When you need to talk smack about your ex, that’s what girl’s night is for.
Don’t use your kids as pawns.
So he owes you extra money this month because it was the holiday and you had to buy all that extra holiday stuff for their teachers and friends at school? That’s fine. But don’t use your kids as a bargaining chip. I saw this surprisingly often during my time as a teacher. Kids shouldn’t have to miss out on time with their parent because the one or both parties are unable to get their financial sh*t together. Instead, document everything, hand the kids over nicely when it’s their turn, and go call your lawyer.
Work on you.
Do the self-care. Take a bath. Go for a walk. Hire a mentor. Get a new lipstick—whatever you need to do to make sure you are coping appropriately. This is what you should do for the sake of the kids.
Divorce is not easy, even when everyone involved wants it. But we don’t have to stay trapped in a situation just for the sake of our kids. The kids will be okay—as long as you are.