What's best for the kids
March 9, 2007 7:40 PM   Subscribe

Did your parents divorce when you were a small child? Do you wish they hadn't? Do you wish they had handled it differently? What did they do right? How do you feel about the custody arrangement they worked out?

Obviously (?), I'm considering ending a relationship with my partner. I'm trying hard to figure out how to put our two kids first here. On one hand I almost feel we should stay together for the sake of the kids, and on the other hand, I know what a fucked up set-up that can be for the kids themselves (who don't need that kind of pressure on them, and also who invariably sense the stress between my partner and I).

To complicate matters further, we both started as single parents of only children and so, in all likelihood, we would return to being custodial parents for each of our biological children with some amount of time of shared custody. (Kids have known us as a couple for 3 years now – more than half of each of their lives - and we've lived together for 2.) Not sure what details to even consider at this point, any feedback welcome.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (41 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Growing up my parents fought like crazy, screamed a lot, mom would take off for a couple days, etc. They stayed together for us kids, and I'm honestly glad they did. I turned out fine, am in a wonderful marriage, and am proud of what my parents sacrificed for us to grow up with mom and dad together. I don't know how popular that sort of thing is nowadays, but you asked for any feedback, so there you go. It's a single data point, and each family is different, but just like divorce won't automatically screw up the kids, neither will staying together. I don't envy your position. Best of luck to you and your kids.
posted by monkeymadness at 7:51 PM on March 9, 2007

I was 8 when my parents divorced. Every situation is obviously different but I can say with no doubt in my mind that my parents would both be happier if they had stayed together and the children would have certainly been happier. Unfortunately pride pushed them apart.

That being said I feel that the divorce actually helped with my own personal development and I am more well adjusted than I may have been.

Please take it slow and don't make any rash decisions. My parents divorce happened quickly and angrily resulting in years of bitterness but now, 15 years later they both obviously regret it although neither are willing to admit it. I have many friends who went through similar situations with parents more willing to work with each other and I think it's obvious in their cases it was the best decision.

I guess what I'm saying is that you need to take it slow and know that every situation is different.
posted by Octoparrot at 7:54 PM on March 9, 2007

My parents did a great thing for me by divorcing. They couldn't spend their lives happily together, but they tried very hard to let me know that they were still happy with me.

Here are the two most important things they did:

Never (no, not once) have I ever heard either of them speak badly about the other.

They trusted each other to keep me safe and comfortable regardless of whom I was with at the time.

As a bonus, I spent summers with my father, so I got to travel to where ever he was and see more than just Southern Mississippi growing up.

Divorce does not have to be a soul-crushing experience. Good luck to you and your kids.
posted by thebrokedown at 7:54 PM on March 9, 2007

My parents had as ugly a divorce as humanly possible. I was very much put in the middle. My mother actually made me ask my father for the child support when I would spend weekends with him. My father, who was pretty much on his way to a nervous breakdown, would then use me as his therapist. Both parents would ask me for advice on how to deal with the other, and then would say nasty things about the other person. One day I told my father if he didn't stop saying bad things about my mother I would get out of the car. He didn't so I got out at an intersection and stood on a street corner for 20 minutes while he tried to coax me back into the car. I was eight years old.

At eight, I became the adult in my family. I hated every second of it, and I was never the same child again. Neither of my parents ever remarried. They haven't been on speaking terms for 7 years. Yet to this day, every year on the anniversary of my parents' marriage my father calls me to ask if he should send her flowers. I know my mother well enough to tell him no. This year he said, "But it would've been our 40th anniversary." I responded, "You've been divorced for 23 years, longer than you were married. MOVE ON." I told my mother he almost sent her flowers. She sighed with relief when I told her that I talked him out of it.

If I said that the things I just wrote above don't have any bearing on why I have never married, I would be lying. If you are terrified of being bitten by a shark, you don't go swimming.

So my advice to you is to take responsibility as the adults and be mature. NEVER put children in the middle. Take CARE of THEM. Do not force them to become adults to help you deal with what you are going through. And very importantly NEVER badmouth eachother in front of your child, because your child is half you and half your spouse. Any time a child hears someone put down their mother or father, it is putting them down as well.

Let them be children and if that means you have to be strong and find a way to be civil, DO SO. Please. I desperately wish someone had done that for me.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:08 PM on March 9, 2007 [3 favorites]

My parents divorced when I was 7; my dad remarried three years later.

I know a lot of kids go through a period where they wish their parents hadn't split up. My sister sure did. But I've always felt that my parents were better off apart. I have so few memories of the "family unit" being happy and together. It is so definitely better this way.

My parents still live in the same city, so I've always spent equal time with each--2 or three days with one, then a switch. It was a PITA to haul clothes, art projects, school books, etc across town for 10 years, but we worked it out.

I think you need to do what's right for your relationship. Your kids are young--10 or 12 years is a hell of a long time to stay together "for the kids". That's not good for them in the long run. thebrokedown's advice is good, too.
posted by folara at 8:10 PM on March 9, 2007

I still remember how they announced it to me, sitting at the table one night:

Mother: "We are going to go live at mamie's house, is there something you would like to bring ?"
Me, after a brief pause: "my turntable !"

They never fought in front of us, and managed to break up without me noticing.

Today i'm in my mid-twenties, and they just got back together again. As much as I didn't care when I was five, their reconciliation didn't affect me much either. You may think that your rupture will be very bad for your kids, but it may very well not be the case.
posted by isobar at 8:13 PM on March 9, 2007

I was three when my parents divorced. I don't really know what I'm missing, and I think my parents worried about it more than I did.

So far I seem to be pretty normal.
posted by idiotfactory at 8:18 PM on March 9, 2007

My parents divorced when I was 5 - and it was a good thing.

They also never said anything bad about each other to us which helped - we were told that even though they loved us very much they couldn't live together anymore.

We lived with our Mum, but would see our Dad every Saturday and stay with him some weekends, until he moved to the country when we were in our teens.

Most of the problems stemmed from my brother's and mine relationships with our Dad - which were on the whole separate from the divorce.

Hearing arguments all the time is a lot more stressful than dealing with a divorce I think.
posted by gomichild at 8:19 PM on March 9, 2007

My parents divorced when I was so young I don't remember it at all, or my father ever being a part of my life. I suspect that made it a lot easier on me - I don't have any big feeling that my happy family life was disrupted or was a lie or whatever, because as far as my memory goes there just never was any such thing. My mom and I went on to have a very happy life as just the two of us for a long time. She eventually remarried and that had its own friction for me, but I have no doubt she's happier than she would have been had my parents stayed together, so I'm glad they got divorced.

There wasn't any kind of custody arrangement - I went with my mother, end of story. My father wasn't in the picture at all for most of my life, except as an occasional sender of birthday cards/checks, and a handful of visits ending when I was about eight. That's the biggest thing he/they handled badly - I probably would have been okay with him not being in my life at all, but he was there just enough to make me wish for more for a long time. If he couldn't have been around in any meaningful sense, a clean break probably would have been easier for me in the long run. But maybe he thought at the time he'd be able to be in my life; who knows?

I suspect this kind of thing just varies so wildly from family to family, there's no way for an outsider to know what's best for your kids. For that matter, there probably is no one thing that would be best for all the kids. Whatever you do, probably the best thing is just to make sure they know you care about them, and are trying hard to be there for them and to make things as easy on them as possible, even if you're only human and can't necessarily do that perfectly. Good luck to all of you.
posted by Stacey at 8:20 PM on March 9, 2007

My parents divorced when I was about seven and tried their hardest to soften the impact on my three year old sister and I. Regardless, I still developed a lot of trust and anger issues stemming from them seperating. Part of this had to do with the knowledge that one of them had cheated on the other. I wouldn't recommend letting your kids in on whatever your reason for seperation is; they're too young to process that input. I was already a very rebellious child, and once I saw that the divorce had made mom (primary caretaker) too distraught to keep up effective discipline, I ran wild for a few years. Running around the neighbourhood in my undies at 3am and defacing cathedrals wild. My little sister was very quiet and antisocial until High School, although I have no idea if that was a result of the turmoil of them seperating. It probably had something to do with me teasing her so mercilessly. I hated dad's continuing ability to exercise authority over me at the time (I never developed the ability to disobey him for some reason), but looking back I wish he would have been around enough to curb some of the truly awful and mean things I did. I don't know what to recommend as far as staying together for the children goes; I needed much more parental attention (from dad) than I got after the divorce, but I eventually developed a conscience and both my parents became much better and happier people afterwards. I have no idea why they married, but I'm glad I'm here. Your kids are probably nothing like I was; just another data point. If one of them is highly rebellious or difficult, make sure they get the attention they need.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 8:24 PM on March 9, 2007

I just read my post above over. Just to clarify, it was actually in my 20s that my parents divorce kept me from marrying, although I didn't realize that was what it was at the time. In my early 30s therapy helped me to really understand & accept how my parents divorce was & how it had affected me. Now it's ancient history; the only thing that keeps me from marrying nowadays is the lack of men worthy of me. :)
posted by miss lynnster at 8:25 PM on March 9, 2007

My almost-10 year old daughter and I have been talking about this a lot lately. Her father and I split up before she was 3. She still wishes we lived together, but loves her stepparents and would like all four of us to live in one big house. We've always split custody about 50-50, and have always been really positive about each other, in front of her at least, and have always been flexible with our schedules. She is recently said she wished she didn't go back and forth so often (we do week on, week off roughly; she is with me every day after school until he gets off work, since I only work 1/2 time). She is able to say now how lucky she feels`that we don't fight, and that it's like we are "best friends". I also think our flexibility is key-if the other one has something special on a weekend she's supposed to be elsewhere, like a camping trip with friends and kids, we always, without exception, make it possible for her to go. I was hurt when my ex was unfaithful, but I love my daughter more than I was hurt, and I had to let that go. Her dad and I attend soccer games and school events together, always, and are happy to do that.

We have friends who have been divorced as long as we have and are absolutely rigid about their schedule. Their daughter misses out on a lot. And my husband's parents cannot speak to each other or be in the same room 17 years after their divorce. I can contemplate giving anything in my life that much negative energy.
posted by purenitrous at 8:26 PM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

My parents divorced when I was seventeen. All through my childhood, there were no big fights or psychological dramas, just a lot of tension and people not talking to each other.

I wish they had gotten it done with a whole lot earlier.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:26 PM on March 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

My folks split up when I was very small, and before that dad was gone a LOT on business travel, so I don't really remember a huge disruption with him suddenly being gone all the time -- this will probably sound awfully cold-blooded, but what was much much more difficult to deal with at the time was the loss of all sorts of familiar, comforting things -- mom was going to sell the house and move back to her family, but the sale fell through at the last minute...after she'd already sold just about all our furniture, given away books and pets, and so forth. Even without the even bigger disruption of a new house, new neighborhood, etc., losing books and pets and other things that had been a part of my day-to-day life had more of an immediate impact than the loss of a person who wasn't a daily presence to begin with.

Again, since I was awfully young and fuzzy on all the concepts at the time, I never really went through the "it's my fault they split" or "I wish they'd get back together" stages -- I barely had any memories of them together, and they weren't really strong enough to override the memories of how scary it was when they were screaming at each other before the split. Sometimes I felt a little weird, as divorced parents just weren't all that common in my peer group, and getting grade-school projects where you were supposed to talk about your dad, make father's day cards, etc. definitely made me feel the odd one out -- but again, not to the point where I was sitting around wishing things were different; I just didn't have enough memories of things being different to compare my life to. People have asked me, didn't you miss having a father? I don't know how to miss something that was never really there in the first place.

Custody was not joint -- partly differences in era, I guess, and the distances involved -- mom stayed in the islands, dad moved to the mainland and remarried. There was no real visitation arrangement, again the distances and cost of travel probably had a lot to do with it. I think I saw my father maybe twice after the divorce, and each time it was dreadfully awkward -- we didn't really know each other and my mom was dreadfully hostile and resentful the whole time. It probably didn't help any that contact from him was pretty minimal -- token birthday and holiday cards and small gifts, occasional awkward phone calls. (In his defense, I can now see in retrospect that it can't have been easy even trying to keep up with that much, since my mother made no bones about how much she loathed him after his infidelities; on the one hand, I have to wonder if someone who really cared wouldn't have tried a little harder than he did...but then, on the other hand, I've now also got more sympathy for her feelings of hurt and betrayal, and his chronic laxity regarding child support payments can't have helped her attitude any either. So really, bad form on both sides.)

So I can't really speak to what shared custody is like. But I can say, whatever sort of contact you have to keep up with each other, at least be civil and respectful in front of the kids if you can't be loving. Even without a particularly deep relationship with my father, it wasn't easy or pleasant to cope with hearing my mother's harangues about what an evil bastard he was one minute, and then being told to write him a thank-you card or talk to him on the phone the next minute. And for heaven's sake, no matter how angry or resentful you may be towards the person, don't use that to berate the kid when you're angry -- I still have so many bad memories of all the times I did something that displeased her and was screamed at for being just like him.

And try not to lie to them, even inadvertently -- broken promises feel much the same as a lie to a little kid, they don't have the perspective to understand why something fell through, they just know that mommy or daddy swore they'd do something, and then something else turned out to be more important. This was the huge thing that was way more of an issue in my circumstances than the simple facts of the divorce; they both told me, time and time again, that daddy still loved me, yet his actions didn't seem to jibe with wanting to be part of my life. They swore up and down that he'd always help take care of me, yet money was always tight for us: he could never get the support payments out on time without my mom having to file complaints. And they both promised that he'd help pay for my college tuition...until I graduated from high school and then suddenly it was whoops, sorry kid, I love you but I'm broke from supporting my new family. Mixed messages like that really do not promote security and a sense of trust.
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 8:28 PM on March 9, 2007

I'm an only child; my parents divorced when I was three.

They never said negative things about each other to me (well, my mom did, but by that time I was in college). I spent weekends with my dad, and after he remarried and moved (far away), I spent at least part of the summers with him. Despite some really whacked-out stuff that my dad did when I was ten (not to me personally, but it involved the custody arrangement), my parents were back on speaking terms around the time I graduated from college. I've turned out pretty ok, and will celebrate a 7-year anniversary in June.

What everyone else has said: thou shalt not talk shit about thy ex in front of the kids. They are kids. Vent to your friends.
posted by rtha at 8:29 PM on March 9, 2007

My parents married when I was one, divorced when I was three. I barely remember a time when they were together.

In fact, I was a bit of a surprise baby. They were dating, they broke up, my mom realized she was pregnant, and they got married. So, not the most ideal way to start a marriage. They got along okay, but realized quickly that romantically was not the best way for them to be involved.

They went to *great* lengths to put me first. We lived in a house, and instead of disturbing my sense of home, my mother rented an apartment down the street from our house. Every week, my mom and dad would trade living spaces, so my dad would go to the apartment and my mom would come to the house -- I never moved. They kept this up for nearly two years.

I don't have any specific memories of this arrangement, but nor do I remember any great instability during my early years. And, it led to a really great story: my stepdad proposed to my mom in the house that she shared with my dad (and in which he still lives).

Obviously, my mom and dad are able to get along without much trouble at all. My mom remarried, my dad has been in a relationship for many years now (though they have no interest in making anything official). After my mom's second wedding, they ended the house-share and I began the period of my life in which I gloriously had two sets of everything. Two beds, two toyboxes, two groups of friends, etc. I thought it was awesome. The only thing I didn't like about it was that as I grew, I felt a disconnect between my 'mom' friends and my 'dad' friends. The bridging of the two worlds sometimes proved tiring and fruitless. Other than that -- dude, *two* bedrooms!

They never spoke ill of one another around me, aside from good-natured ribbing -- they really did work (and still do) as fond friends. Actually, I vaguely remember once my dad trying to convince me that my mom used to have a pet monkey, and that she'd had to give it up when I was born. I badgered my mom for a long time about re-adopting that chimp ...

Anyway, as to how their divorce effected me ... I think I'm ok. I am in the dying throes of a four-year relationship, so now may not be the best time for me to judge my own adeptness in romance.
posted by inging at 8:31 PM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

My parents divorced when I was one and a half. I can see how other children's lives were easier not having to have double sets of things/keeping track of which house homework will be due from, but my life always had two houses. (Monday, Tuesday at dad's, Wednesday, Thursday at mom's, alternating weekends.) If they are young enough, they'll get used to it and forget they ever knew anything else. That said, it did get difficult as a teen, particularly after my sister moved out, and I ended up primarily living with one parent.

Things which made my dual existence easier were that my sister did the bi-weekly commute with me, my parents were nice (if occasionally uncomfortable) to the extent of both being at birthday parties, and my parents did their best to always live close to each other (originally a block apart, then, when we were older, a mile apart -- always walkable if necessary).

I'm glad you're thinking about sharing custody of step-children -- I lost some step-siblings from a remarriage/divorce and it still feels weird that someone so a part of our lives could just disappear.

The effects on me are probably more from their happy remarriages -- I love my stepparents and am very close to them. And am happily married with a child myself.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:39 PM on March 9, 2007

Oh lord, miss lynster's post reminds me of something I forgot -- don't force the kids to be your support system. The roles were a bit reversed in my case, my mother was the one who pretty much gave up on any new relationships, made herself a martyr-mom, and despite having adult friends insisting on treating me as her best buddy and confidant. I didn't want to hear that stuff, I wasn't old enough to hear that stuff, it forced me into an "adultified" sort of situation which just isn't right for a kid. Sure, there may be times when you can't avoid showing a little sadness or anger around the kids, but don't make them your emotional dumping ground. They need to feel like you will be there to take care of them, if they're thrust in a situation where they feel like they have to be your caretaker it just warps the whole relationship in unhealthy ways.
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 8:39 PM on March 9, 2007

My parents divorced when I was 4. My mom moved me and my sisters half-way across the country (back to her family), and we saw our dad during the summers and on alternating holidays.

I really wish we hadn't moved away from my dad. Even though I saw him for a couple of months every year, he felt like a stranger to me until I was almost out of high school. So my advice would be to stay close geographically and be sure that your children feel like they have two parents who love them equally, even if they don't live together.

I agree with the other comments that you should never, ever bad mouth your ex-partner in front of the kids, or allow others to do so. And do not rely on your kids for emotional support.
posted by donajo at 8:59 PM on March 9, 2007

Mine split up when I was 3 or 4. Luckily, this was before I had any coherent memory of them as a couple or as a pair of custodial parents. Knowing what little I know of their relationship, it's indubitable that my parents are happier apart than they ever would have been together. The only person who got screwed over by this arrangement was me -- my father sort of just drifted out of our lives and I haven't seen him since...kindergarten?

It's not as if their divorce actually bothered me. The only aspect of what happened that did was the custody situation; however, I wasn't introspective enough when I was younger to communicate that properly. I was pretty hard on my mother about her seeming nonchalance over my not having a father. Given that they were both alive and well, I just wanted two parents, but my complaints probably sounded as if I wanted two parents together no matter what.

How did their divorce affect me? I'm assuming that I wouldn't have been exposed to as much anti-marriage and fatherhood ranting as I was growing up had they stayed together. That, combined with my mother's choice not to date while I was at home for fear that it would be awkward means that I didn't grow up witnessing functional relationships -- I'm not yet sure [if] that's messed me up.
posted by thisjax at 9:17 PM on March 9, 2007

I am a stepmom in a situation so much like the one purenitrous described that I had to double-take and make sure she's not my kid's mom!

Nth-ing the "don't ever say negative things about the other parent," and that minimizing the kids' disruptions of routines will be a big help.

My own parents divorced when I was about 9, and it didn't have much effect on me since my mom died a couple years later (clearly, that overshadowed the divorce, as emotional stressors go!).

But, there were two takeaways from my short stint as a child of divorce: one was the way they informed us. We all sat down together, and they gently explained that, while Mommy and Daddy still loved each other as friends, being married was making them unhappy -- which finally acknowledged something my brother and I had already intuited. (Critically, they later followed through by working hard to show proof of that friendship, by being very cordial and helpful to one another.)

Most importantly, they emphasized that we were all still a family, which was very reassuring. Little kids inherently grasp the notion of family, which is their whole world, far more than they do the more abstract concept of marriage. So we walked away with the comforting message that we weren't losing a mom, or a dad, or a family -- we still had all those things; the logistics had merely changed.

And, my parents also chose a custody situation that was downright unheard of in the 80's -- I lived permanently with my mom, and my brother went to live a short drive away with my dad. Every weekend, my brother and I were reunited at mom's house, alternating with dad's house -- and one weekend a month, we did a full switch, with me going to my dad and my brother going to my mom.

I know it sounds convoluted and confusing, but what it allowed us to do was retain all the permutations we knew of "family." Each kid got each parent to him- or herself some, and each parent got to spend time with both siblings together some -- just as it would have been were we all under one roof. We even occasionally did things as a foursome (my brother and I firmly knew our parents weren't getting back together, so the family outings didn't inadvertently complicate that... but YMMV there).

Nobody who ever heard the custody story could understand it, but it's what worked out best for us at the time. I have always thought that it was a very forward-thinking and natural way to handle things, and that I was lucky that they were amicable and cooperative enough to execute it. My parents never felt pressured by the unsolicited opinions they received about how terrible it was "splitting up the children" and that both of us "belonged with our mother."

It's rough stuff no matter what you decide, and I hope it all goes as smoothly as it possibly can.
posted by pineapple at 9:32 PM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Personally, I was with my father every other weekend and I found it really difficult to cope with as a kid. It wasn't a good experience for me, it felt really disruptive. My mother is an authoratarian. My father is clueless... to this day he can barely be responsible for a dog let alone a child. At my mother's house there were all sorts of rules, but when I went to my dad's place I was on my own. I had friends at my mother's, I had friends at my fathers, but the two lives really didn't mesh well together. It was disorienting, confusing and frustrating.

I hated it. Absolutely hated it.

Despite what kids may say, they do like structure. They like being able to count on things. They like rules. That stuff makes them feel safe. So if you are going to split custody AT ALL, I would recommend getting together with your soon-to-be-ex and trying to get on the same page about where you stand on things with your children. Try to work together as much as you can and put your personal issues aside for the kids' sake. Try to make things fit well into one comfortable and happy life for them, instead of making them feel split apart into two.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:24 PM on March 9, 2007

Pineapple's Krazy Kustody story, and this, from above: "Every week, my mom and dad would trade living spaces, so my dad would go to the apartment and my mom would come to the house -- I never moved" are two of the greatest things I've ever heard. There are creative ways to deal with kids while divorcing, and I'm so glad to hear that. I was a kid with one of those standard parent divorces--really young, didn't quite get it, wasn't quite sure why I kept getting shipped off to this other parent I didn't really know. It wasn't the best--though god knows I'm just fine and certainly don't sit around THINKING about it or anything--and didn't seem like the best thought-out arrangement: All this to say, one size doesn't fit all families, particularly when you've already come in with kids of different parentage.

To really answer your question: You've been together just a year or three less than my parents were. I CANNOT IMAGINE them having stayed together until I was 18 "for me"! My God! That's INSANE to even imagine! No no no no no no no. And no. In the name of God, why would that be a good idea? Nooo. I'd still be in therapy today for the guilt over keeping them together, for one thing!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:29 PM on March 9, 2007

My parents divorced when I was three, so I have no idea what it was like to have a two-parent family... My father remarried by the time I was five and my stepmother was a very nice woman... But I didn't live with them...

My mother went through a revolving door of men, and that was the most traumatic thing to me...

If you divorce, your kids will handle it fine as long as you don't become a tramp (in front of them).
posted by amyms at 10:29 PM on March 9, 2007

Try not to cry a lot in front of the kids. My mother was a teary mess everyday and it really made us kids feel like there was no one in control. We felt more vulnerable, unsafe, and distraught. It's OK for kids to see their parents sad, hurt, and occasionally teary. But crying in front of them on a regular basis is not healthy for kids to see. They need to know that a parent can take care of them and take charge when necessary. If you need a good cry, lock yourself in the bathroom and cry in the shower in the fetal position.

My siblings and I would all gather around my mom every single day when she would cry and we would say, "it's OK, Mom. We love you. Blah, blah, blah..." But we were really wondering whether or not she was stable enough to care for us and whether she would try to commit suicide and leave us orphaned.
posted by HotPatatta at 11:14 PM on March 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

One thing to keep in mind is that there will likely be no legal obligation for your (possibly future ex) partner to participate in any shared custody (given that you each have one biological child who are not related to the other parent). I'm imagining you thinking, "oh, of course he/she will want the kids to still be together at times," and you may be right. But break-ups of serious relationships can really really change situations and people. Your partner/relationship now and your post-break-up partner/relationship are two different animals.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 2:17 AM on March 10, 2007

don't stay together for the kids sake..... please!
but also, remember that every kid will take it differently.
my middle sister still wants our parents to reunite 25 years later and mum's been dead for a year!

she ended up marrying our father, in my opinion. her husband even has the same name, it's rather sad, poor electra.

each of us needed different things from our parents during the divorce, but mostly we needed one on one time with our parents. and not just around the time of divorce.... for ever after

my other sister was happy enough about the divorce, she just wished her little sisters were never born...... you can't please them all.

and as for me, i just wished my parents had been a little classier and not said atrocious things about each other, nor enlisted their friends to help, nor involved the grandparents. and i second whoever said something about missing the material familiar comforts.

if you do leave, ensure that nothing significant leaves the house, especially if the kids are little. they need the familiar and you can buy cheap, replacement furniture/televisions/pictures at target. i hated that my mother stripped the house when she left .....and then dad and mum got it a three way tussle asking me to bargain with each parent to get extra things out of or into one parents house. i was 11. precocious, i'm sure, but still only 11.

born to disturb the oldest sister :-)
posted by taff at 2:28 AM on March 10, 2007

My parents divorced when I was seventeen. All through my childhood, there were no big fights or psychological dramas, just a lot of tension and people not talking to each other.

I wish they had gotten it done with a whole lot earlier.

I am just quoting Faint of Butt, since he seems to be my doppelganger.

I knew that there was something wrong with my parents' relationship, and I never understood why they were together. And by the time they did separate, all of the tension had built up to the point that they were both total inappropriate assholes afterward.
posted by miss tea at 5:42 AM on March 10, 2007

Every week, my mom and dad would trade living spaces, so my dad would go to the apartment and my mom would come to the house -- I never moved

I just wanted to add that I have friends who are doing a version of this right now -- the parents had owned a two-family house together prior to the divorce (living in one half and renting the other) and now they basically all still live in the same house, but with the parents rotating through who lives in the "main" house and who lives in the rental. Clearly, this only works if you can get along with your ex, but its a great arrangement for the kids in question (one of whom has Down Syndrome, which is part of the reason for the arrangement). They have also met other parents who have done the same thing, for a diverse set of reasons; its unusual but not really unheard of.
posted by anastasiav at 6:09 AM on March 10, 2007

Whatever you do, don't turn to your kids as your support system. My mom did and I resent it to this day such that I still have issues (I'm in my 40's and they split when I was 14).

She expected me to be her (sometimes boozed-fueled) crying shoulder at a time in my life when I was trying to figure out who the hell I was. She had no right to put that on me.

I'm divorced now too and I worry sometimes that I have overcompensated and put my son first too much... but I vowed to not repeat my mom's mistakes.

Kids can't take sides, can't counsel and can't help adults get through these types of emotions. They can only be kids and expect the full ration of love and support they deserve, no matter what parents might be going through.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:18 AM on March 10, 2007

for every friend who was traumatised as a child by his or her parents divorce, I know two or three who wish their parents would've spared them decades of fights and simply take their dead marriage out of its misery

divorce apparently isn't necessarily the worst thing
posted by matteo at 7:27 AM on March 10, 2007

I don't resent my parents for getting divorced at all, but I would caution everyone in the world to (a) not involve your kids in the process (b) and don't split the kids up for any reason. If my parents hadn't done those things, I don't think I'd have unhappy feelings about their divorce.
posted by BackwardsCity at 8:26 AM on March 10, 2007

My parents stayed together through a a pretty-much loveless marriage ostensibly for us kids. Oddly, they had so much inertia that they didn't break up even after we left home.

I had thought this was totally disfunctional when I was a teen, but now, my parents are more affectionate with each other than ever. It's not a relationship I would choose for myself, but it seems to work for them.
posted by serazin at 8:29 AM on March 10, 2007

My parents never considered divorcing (supposedly), but there certainly wasn't much in the way of love, and plenty of yelling.

To this day I am FLABBERGASTED at any married couple who's been married for more than like a year and still loves each other and wants their spouse to come home and holds hands and stuff like that. I have no concept of "married = happy and in love" at all.

That's not the best thing to leave to your kids either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:34 AM on March 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

I do not know any people who were scarred by their parents splitting up. I do know plenty of people who were scarred by the manner in which their parents divorced. It makes all the difference.

If you split up amicably, I doubt there will be any serious long-term effects, especially since they have spent relatively little time (in the grand scheme of things) living with both of you. But if you put them through years of fighting and forcing them into a position where they have to take sides like so many messy divorces do - "to keep the family together" - they will be scarred. Two parents is not worth a miserable home environment for your children.
posted by chundo at 10:09 AM on March 10, 2007

If parents stay together for the sake of the children successfully, who knows about it? The stories are likely to be one-sided.
posted by Idcoytco at 10:51 AM on March 10, 2007

My parents divorced when I was six. At the time, I wanted them back together. Later, I realized how lucky I was not to have to grow up in that family every day.

Don't put your kids in the middle. Don't make them pick sides, or try to tell them all the terrible reasons you hate your partner. Don't make them feel guilty for being at your partner's house instead of yours. That's the best advice I can give you.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 9:45 AM on March 11, 2007

I have a few of friends whose parents divorced when their kids were in late high school, college, or just out of college. These friends are universally more scarred than the friends whose parents divorced when they were younger. When your parents divorce when you're in your 20s, and you learn that they're separating as a result of problems they've had for years and hidden from you, it's hard not to feel like you've been lied to by mom and dad for your entire life, like everything you thought you knew about relationships was false.

My husband's parents divorced when he was 8. He saw how unhappy they were together, how they've been able to live much happier lives since then, and he believes they made the right decision.

His younger sister, who was 2 and has no memory of their marriage, sometimes indicates that she thinks her parents' divorce was a mistake. But what does she know. She was raised by two sets of parents (both remarried) who love her, and was a lot better off than she'd have been in an unhappy household, I think.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:58 PM on March 11, 2007

I'm an only child and my parents divorced when I was 2. My mother had sole custody but I saw my dad probably every couple of months (he was the one who had pushed my mother to have a kid but then wasn't ready for the reality of it). They never really got along after the divorce but I don't think I really noticed or felt it until I was in late high school/college - money of course being the main root of disagreement (my dad resented being held accountable to my mother for my college education funds, so he'd send me the check instead, and then I'd have to send it to my mother... ugh). But they managed to be civil enough most of the time. I'm glad they didn't try to stay together or split the disciplinary anything - they are most definitely opposite personalities and trying to go between them would have been insanity. Living with my mother under her rules and occasionally seeing my dad worked out pretty well, I think.

The most important things you can do:
--don't trash talk the other person
--don't make your kids the go-between or your therapist
--arrange everything in advance away from the kids if you possibly can - disciplinary rules, money, scheduling. You don't want one of you to be caught having to make a decision on a major issue without being able to consult the other ("can I get a tattoo, dad?")
posted by marginaliana at 8:29 AM on March 12, 2007

Late to the party, but this is sort of a huge issue in my life. For what it's worth, my parents divorced when I was around 2 and I have no memories of even wondering why Daddy didn't live in the house. Dad was a musician and had even less money than we did, but his weekends were great fun and taught me all I know about doing things that are fun and also free, which has come in quite handy throughout my life.

I'm now 31, and my parents have both been remarried for many years, and we all get along beautifully. As in, we go on vacations together. We spend birthdays and holidays together, all of us. I realize this is a pretty unusual situation but I had to go on the record and say it is entirely possible.

In my mind, we are where we are today because of my mom. In retrospect I know my dad was a really shitty husband, but I was an adult before I knew that. He couldn't afford child support but he was still very much a dad to us, and even though we didn't have much money Mom never sued. More importantly, she had the maturity and grace to never say a bad word about him around us. I can't even imagine how hard that must have been, but she knew that this wasn't about her, or him, it was about us.

We're all very lucky, and I can't imagine how hard it was for my mom when she was a young mother with a crappy husband she finally got the balls to kick out. But the point is that she kept us first in her mind. If he were abusive or if we were in any kind of danger it would have been different. But keeping that perspective - this isn't about a failed relationship, it's about the kids - is really the best way to approach it.
posted by ultraultraboomerang at 10:34 AM on March 12, 2007

The website for Robert Emery's book The Truth about Children and Divorce has a page summarizing how divorce affects children.
posted by russilwvong at 3:12 PM on March 12, 2007

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