"We're doing it for the kids"--B.S.


Folks who say "We're doing it for the kids" may say it in the context of getting a divorce, or of staying together even if their marriage is essentially over except for being parents. In either case, the intentions are good, but it's actually a very bad idea for everyone involved, especially the children..

First of all, kids can smell a fake marriage from a mile away. They may not know how to put words to it, but they can feel the lovelessness. Children who grow up with parents who are not affectionate and loving toward one another are learning some really bad lessons about what it means to be in a relationship. Mom and dad being "together" is meaningless without the love that makes sense of that arrangement.

On the other hand, divorce has been classified as an Adverse Childhood Experience with consequences on par with molestation, abuse, neglect, or parental use of hard drugs (look up the "ACE Study"). While there may be no more vicious arguing in the home, the silent absence of a parent is often even worse. Worst of all, kids usually blame themselves for the divorce.

So, what can be done for the kids' sake if you stay together? I believe a dose of common sense is needed. If you don't love your spouse more than your children, you've got to rethink your marriage and get some help. If you find this controversial, it's clear you've got some intimacy issues with your spouse. It is not possible to love your children to the max unless your marriage comes first. Your loving, married relationship is the deepest lesson you will ever teach your kids.

What if you just can't hang with that, and there's a divorce? What about the kids then? Add some common sense as well. First, what makes you think you can "make it work" for the kids apart any better than you could together? How will not seeing each other as much suddenly help you to be civil and agreeable? Second, the stresses and legal battles involved in divorce may cause deeper resentments than ever. The kids always eat the brunt of that knuckle sandwich. If you get divorced, you've still got to learn how to be civil--that doesn't just go away or stop being difficult if you aren't married.

And the research shows why that's such an important point. The psychologist and researcher Mavis Hetherington spent 20 years on a single study of children with parents who divorced. Not surprisingly, there were bad outcomes and good outcomes. However, she discovered with astonishing clarity that the only factor affecting outcomes was the level of positive, cooperative parenting present between the divorced parents.

So, in other words, whether you are divorced (or not), ignorance is not the answer. If you want happy and healthy kids, you've got to learn to stop acting like a child yourself and work together with your ex (or spouse) for a better relationship--divorced (or not).

Is that easier to do when divorced or married? I believe it's much easier when there is a truly humble marriage bond that allows for mistakes and works toward family togetherness, however hard that may be. That's the type of marriage that takes those hackneyed vows seriously, to have and to hold, for better or worse. That's a high ideal, and it doesn't always work out. Maybe you married a jerk, I don't know.

What I can say with certainty, is that when divorce occurs, it is essential to put your parenting relationship with your ex above your differences regarding each other, even if he or she is a complete jerk and the situation is unjust. The research is clear: cooperative parenting with a cordial and mutually giving relationship is what produces good outcomes for children when there is a divorce. This sort of prioritization will likely take a lot of humility, and probably the help of a therapist.

NOTE: What I've said here obviously doesn't cover all divorce situations. There are cases of abuse (not just physical) in which the non-offending parent should fight for justice and full custody. There are cases of betrayal, abandonment, and fraud that reflect a narcissist who is incapable of cooperative parenting. I find, however, that these extremes can be used to justify lazy parenting and blame the spouse when the kids go wild. Therapy can assist divorced parents in developing a more active and humble attitude. The lesson of humility is important for kids, too.