Data points from kids with divorced parents

I've gotten a number of questions recently about divorce and custody and how it affects kids and how to do it better. And while I think my own kids are happy with our situation right now and feel good about the way their dad and I work together to try to create the best two households possible for the kids, I can't really know.

There is so much reporting on the effects of divorce on kids that is bad, and doesn't separate out things having to do with the actual divorce from socioeconomic or other factors, that I think it's a huge mistake to read mass-market reporting on research studies and think we're getting a clear picture, let alone a prognosis for our own kids.

So instead of looking at trends and trying to parse out what studies did or didn't look at and control for, I'd like to hear from all of you whose parents split up.

How old were you when your parents split? Did you have siblings and how old were they during the split?

What was good and what was bad about it?

How could your parents have made things better for you?

At the time did you wish your parents were still together? Now, in hindsight, do you wish your parents had stayed together?

What would you tell a friend who was divorced or getting divorced about making it better for their kids?

Anything else you'd like to say about it.

Thank you!

60 thoughts on “Data points from kids with divorced parents”

  1. I am an only child and my parents split when I was 11 years old. They were quite civil, kept me out of the messy parts, and basically did a good job in a tough situation at the time. I was in that pre-teen phase where I didn’t really want to think about my parents as people, and was working toward independence, so I just tuned out anything (like parental dating OMG) that was uncomfortable for me, and that actually worked pretty well.My dad worked a lot and did his best to entertain me on my weekends with him but his job made that tough. We got through it and we are quite close now. My mom and I were very close during my teen years and she probably crossed the line a bit when it came to making me a confidante, blaming my dad for things, but in a mild way. Overall, I am grateful to them for the way they handled difficult things I learned about later.
    I didn’t wish they were still together at the time, because my dad wasn’t around much anyway by the time they got divorced. I do sometimes wish I lived in an alternate universe where, as an adult, my parents were married, because things are more complicated when it comes to events and vacations and visits etc.
    Having divorced parents has been harder for me as an adult than it was when I was a child. I am more in tune with them, and their weird behaviors/comments around one another. They still, 30 years later, are very very uncomfortable together or even talking about each other. They have different expectations of me and my time and sometimes that is hard to navigate.
    My advice: remember that if you have a child with someone, they will never, ever, be absent from your life. You will probably wish they were, but try your hardest not to express that to your child (including your adult child). I imagine some parents breathe a sigh of relief once their children are grown and they are no longer legally obligated to interact with the other spouse, but for the child, both parents are always family.

  2. My parents got divorced when I was 9 and my brother was 5.5. They kind of sprung it on us – we went on a long summer vacation and my dad came home early. When my brother and I and mom got home, she said we weren’t going back to our house and that our dad wasn’t going to be living with us any more. I assume the idea was that he could pack himself up and move out when we weren’t there. I’m not sure this was the best way to handle giving us the news. However, they did a good job of keeping us out of the messiness of custody battles. There was also a complication that my dad was accused of molesting me (he DIDN’T – I maintain this to this day), so he had supervised visitations (my grandmother – his mother – served as the other adult) with us once a week, and they had me in counseling, which I feel I didn’t need.My dad had always worked long hours, and I was never very close with him as a kid, so I didn’t have that wish that they were still together. I also knew from the beginning that they were both happier not being married. They remained friends, and my dad was always very generous with alimony and child support, which was great – no battles there, and we were comfortable, even though my mom had to struggle a bit, I think.
    My mom moved my brother and me across country (San Diego to Philadelphia) a couple years after the divorce, which prompted a new series of custody arrangements. I think my dad’s family resented her taking us away from him, and that created some tension. We spent four weeks in the summer and a week or two in the winter with my dad every year throughout my teenage years. The summers were a bit boring because he still had to work during the week, but it was overall a fairly enjoyable time, and I think he liked having us to himself for a while. He planned activities as much as possible and definitely parented us – this wasn’t a “Disneyland dad” operation, which was a good thing – he was still our dad. We also talked every week on the phone during the year.
    As an adult, I have a much closer relationship with my dad than I did as a kid, I think. He loves having grandkids and comes to see us several times a year, almost once a month now that we live back in California.
    Neither parent remarried. My mom made the conscious decision not to date or look toward remarriage until we were grown. My dad dated but never got terribly serious with anyone. I think that was good for us, too. It meant we were still the focus for both of them and meant we didn’t have to deal with yet another upheaval in our lives.
    I don’t feel I was harmed by the divorce. I think my parents’ staying together would have been more harmful. They are both wonderful people who simply weren’t terribly compatible as a married couple. With less tension between them, the relationship for all four of us was better.
    I think the main thing for parents considering divorce is to remain as cordial as possible and put the well-being of the kids first. They need to understand that while Mom and Dad still love them, they don’t necessarily love each other or want to live together anymore, but they want to make a life that will be good for everyone, especially the kids. The kids should never be used as pawns, and one parent should never speak badly about the other parent to the kids – THAT, I think, is one of the most harmful things you can do in a divorce situation. As bitter as one parent might feel toward the other, it’s NEVER the kids’ fault, and they shouldn’t be made to feel that they’re in the middle of anything. Above all, protect the children.

  3. I used to pray for my parents to split up. They were miserable together, and they made life miserable for me. They finally split when I was 16 and the resulting peace, despite the years of acrimony it involved, was amazing.

  4. My parents divorced when I was 6. There had been much fighting at home and I was very aware of /sensitized to the tension. It was a good thing they split up, but the way they did it was *lousy*. We (3 kids and mom) went on a vacation to grandparents. When we got back, dad was just gone. No warning, nothing. We still saw him but he didn’t live at home anymore.I didn’t remember this, but my mom told me about it when I was an adult. This explained a TON! For years I had abandonment fears in my relationships – it took a good therapist to help me make the connection. My advice to divorcing parents: please do not just ‘disappear’ on your kids .. if you do you will have a big (negative) effect on them!

  5. I’m not sure how relevant my data points are. My parents split up before I was born. My dad walked out on my mom when she was six months pregnant. He was there when I was born (or shortly thereafter), but then we didn’t have a relationship at all until I was 7 years old – partly because he had a crazy second wife who didn’t want him to, partly because he didn’t want to, and partly (but a very small part) because my mom was angry. I was the only kid from their marriage. My mom went on to marry two more men and divorce them both – both of them were abusive alcoholics. She had one more child with her second husband.My mom handled things with my dad REALLY well. I never realized how much he had hurt her until I was an adult. My dad occasionally complained about thing WRT my mom when I was a kid, but only very occasionally. However, he sat me down when I was 18 and headed off to college and dropped the whole bomb on me about his side of the story – why he married her in the first place (he was scared about graduating from college and being alone in a new city, and she was there), how their marriage was (not great – he cheated on her a lot), and the circumstances of his leaving (also pretty shitty). I don’t recommend doing this, unless your child asks for that kind of info. It definitely soured my relationship with him. At the time, he also had two kids with his new wife (his 3rd) who were 4 years old and a newborn, and I became incredibly jealous of the time that he was spending with them, that I never had because he wasn’t in my life when I was their age.
    We did repair our relationship, but it took a long time, and a (ultimately fatal) disease for me to realize how important it was for me to have a relationship with him, regardless of what had happened in the past, and to be able to forgive him.
    I don’t really have anything to say about whether I wish they stayed together, since I never really knew them together. I can’t imagine the two of them together, honestly! I think that the most important thing is that they need to be available for their kids. Feeling abandoned (and being afraid of that) was the biggest issue I had (and continue to have) as a result of my parents’ divorce and my subsequent relationship with my dad.
    On the other hand, having lived through my mom’s second and third train wrecks of marriages, I can also say that kids know when it’s bad and can understand that it needs to change to be better. Even if they aren’t happy about it. Our lives were all so much better because she got divorced, and even my half-sister, whose actual parents were splitting up that second time, agrees. (They’d be EVEN better if she’d never gotten married that third time, but that’s a different question!)

  6. I was 18 months old when my parents divorced. I was an only child at the time (my father remarried, had a child 9 years younger than me, then divorced my step-mom).I have no memory of my parents being together, so it’s hard to answer what was good and what was bad. As a child the thing I hated most about my parents’ divorce was feeling like I lived 2 lives–one at my mom’s house and one at my dad’s. They never lived near each other, so if a friend’s birthday party was on my dad’s weekend, I couldn’t go. And forget sleepovers. My dad felt strongly that his weekends were HIS weekends and I was not to take one of his nights by going to spend the night with a friend. That sort of thing drove me nuts. With my own children of divorce, I make it a priority not to ever separate their lives while at their dad’s from their lives with me. We take them to parties, make sure they are at family functions for both sides, and let them have sleepovers, etc regardless of whose weekend it is.
    My father was an alcoholic, so I never wished they had stayed together.
    As I said above, I think the most important thing you can do for kids in a divorce is to treat the back and forth like your problem not theirs. If my kids forget something at dad’s that they need for school, I go get it (or he brings it to me). If their paternal grandparents call and say, “Hey, the family is coming over for Sunday lunch!” I make sure the kids go… even if it is “my” weekend. Their dad travels a lot which calls for some flexibility on my part. Done. He and I created this “mess” not them, so we do our best to keep things running as smoothly as possible.
    I’ll finish with this–I had tremendous guilt about my divorce given that I myself had such a crappy “every other weekend” experience. But in the end, I think the kids are “okay”. Would they rather not have us divorced? Probably. Will they say as adults that our divorce was the worst thing in the world to happen to them? Probably not.

  7. I was five when my parents split, and my sister was about 3. I was sent away for a few weeks to my aunt and uncle’s home several hours away, and when I came home, my father no longer lived with us. I honestly don’t remember if that was difficult or not–I have almost no memories of the few years after the divorce. That probably means something. :)My father immediately remarried (his relationship was the reason for the divorce), and his new wife was very uninterested in being a stepmother. My father’s reaction to that was to distance himself from us, which he does to this day. We saw him twice a year most years. I grew closer to him as I got older and felt more comfortable seeking out a relationship with him, but in general our relationship has been rocky, and now, with kids of my own, I’m sad that he has almost no relationship with my children.
    My mother relied far too heavily on me for emotional support, and she was always very honest about why they divorced. Her anger and disappointment were hard for me to hear about, even though as I got older I knew they were reasonable reactions to my dad’s behavior. She never dated and remains single, but I can’t honestly say it was because she wanted to focus on us or anything like that. She’s introverted, shy, and exceedingly sensitive to rejection, so relationships must be minefields for her. She was very withdrawn for most of my childhood, read a lot, and just seemed sad.
    I’ve processed my parents’ divorce ad nauseum in therapy (and out), and I feel pretty comfortable saying that the divorce itself had little effect on me, positive or negative. However, the way my parents handled their own reactions to it shaped me in hugely important ways. Both essentially withdrew from parenting, leaving two very young children to cope alone, with no emotional support. I coped by internalizing, and my sister reacted by externalizing. We both continue to struggle in some ways. Had my parents stayed in the game, stayed close to us, been active, emotionally supportive, involved parents–I suspect our reactions to the challenge of the divorce would have been a lot healthier.
    As a child I wished my parents were still married, because my mother seemed so sad, and she missed him very much. I wanted her to be happier.

  8. My parents divorced when I was 19 so I don’t really fit the profile Moxie’s looking for but I did want to chime in with two pertinent things:1) My parents separated briefly when I was 7, but my dad moved back in and they decided to stay together “for the children”. Don’t do this. They lived peaceably, sort of like roommates, for the next decade but I wish they’d just divorced when I was 7. They’d likely have been happier people and thus better parents. And I honestly think I would have coped with a divorce better at 7 than at 19.
    2) My mother has never spoken an ill word about my father, ever, since they divorced. Even when my sisters and I are b*tching to her about what a jerk my dad is, and even when she would be absolutely justified in making a negative comment. She offers a sympathetic ear and doesn’t invalidate what we feel, but she doesn’t participate. I have a tremendous amount of respect for her in this regard.

  9. I was 15 when my parents split. I’m an only child. For years before that, I felt like it was a matter of “when” and not “if”, both thoughts that tell me I knew things were not good. Not volatile, just not good.Good divorce: My parents kept me out of the middle. It was outwardly very amicable and well-handled. I was busy being a hormone-crazed dramatic teenage girl, although the first 6-12 months was definitely hard. I don’t recall anything really bad about it other than the fact of the divorce. It was weird for me to see my dad move out and take up a bachelor lifestyle. The bad part was later on when my dad got into a relationship and lied to me about it, lied to me about why he was spending major holidays elsewhere. I was probably naive to think we’d spend them together, but truth is better than lies. I remember mostly being left to my own devices after the initial announcement – no requests for input, no check-ins. BUT, my memory is not great, so I may be forgetting some things.
    I don’t recall wishing they were still together; they were so unhappy and disconnected. My life didn’t change that much – my dad did make a big effort to stay connected. I am still okay with them having divorced. I wish that one of my parents had been able to do some more personal work to be able to form healthy relationships moving forward. This is still true 25+ years later.
    What you do varies so much depending on the age of the children, but lots of talking and asking questions and staying involved in kids’ lives despite the tremendous challenge of a divorce for the parents is key.

  10. I am the only product of my parents. I was 2 when they split. My dad moved out of state to take a job. Remarried when I was 5 (my dad) and 9 (my mom). I have a half sib from each; each parent still happily married to spouse #2, each of whom had their own “starter marriage.”It’s complicated, but it’s all I’ve ever known. I used to wish them back together (and also for a sib) when I was around 7 or 8. Now I am appalled by that, mostly bc my stepparents — stepmom especially — were so good to me.
    My parents were civil but distant. They worked out visitation/child support in 1977 and didn’t modify it until 1991 (!), because my custodial parent was moving cross country. They rarely spoke except to discuss money for things like camp. Once i was about 12 i was taking care of my own travel arrangements (on amtrak)! They are friendlyish now on the very rare occasions when they see each other, which is like maximum 3x per decade.
    It used to bother me when my mom called me out for some gesture that reminded her of my dad. Like I was intentionally trying to annoy her…I was a teenager; I had far better methods.
    I never learned what broke them up (other than it wasn’t me). I used to be bothered by this — I mean, being told essentially none of your business as an adult was a trifle insulting. But now I don’t mind; I really don’t want that kind of insight into their marriage.
    They did ok. I wish I had spent more time with my dad. He sent me books and tapes of him reading them; we did fun things 1 weekend a month and for several weeks in the summer. I think it must have been hard for him to not see me more, but it was a 1970s style divorce. So it was good for my mom, but in the end not the best for my relationship with my dad.
    I don’t think I’m broken. Certainly no more than anyone else.

  11. My mother was married and divorced three times, and had kids with each marriage. She and my father were divorced when I was six months old, and my father was only rarely involved (my observation was that he’d mostly be involved when he was partnered to a woman who encouraged him to be in contact with his children, and when he broke up with that woman, he stopped having contact with any kids involved).My siblings’ fathers were much more involved post-divorce–they’d spend time with the kids, and maintained relationships, and my mother encouraged that. She also encouraged me, but I wasn’t motivated to write to someone who responded erratically if at all, and we couldn’t afford long-distance phone calls. My siblings are much more connected to their fathers, as one might guess, and also to the family on their fathers’ sides.
    I invited my father to my commitment ceremony, and he went around talking about how he was the sperm donor, which is a pretty accurate description of his role in my life. I’m sad about it, but I’ve gotten to where I don’t think it has anything to do with my worth as a person (particularly because I can see he did the same thing with both of the other kids he fathered, and with the kids he was a stepfather to).
    I don’t think there’s much my mother could have done to foster a better relationship between us, and I can’t imagine what they would have been like if they’d stayed together. I’m kind of sad not to have had a real father figure (my relationship with my stepfather is complicated for a lot of reasons, so even though he was around, he wasn’t exactly a father for me).
    I think the main advice I’d have is to be very careful about the person you begin co-parenting with, and, if they’ve been married before, take a long, hard look at how they interact with their children from prior relationships. Barring that, if each parent can do their best to focus on the relationship with the children, that seems to work out best in the long run.

  12. My mother died when I was 4, and my dad married and divorced twice during my childhood, once at age 11 and again at 18. I had step siblings that lived with me before both divorces, but I was my father’s only child.The only good, in my case was that my step mothers did what was right for them and didn’t stay in a bad marriage to my dad. The bad part was that both of my step mothers were awesome, and my dad expected me to act as if I’d also divorced them, but that was impossible for me.
    My parents could have made it better for me by refraining from speaking negatively about one another in my presence. I have since learned in therapy to shut down that talk IMMEDIATELY. It’s easy, you say “I’d rather not talk about my father right now, please. It upsets me.” And, miraculously, the negative party will stop. There, I hope I’ve saved someone a talk with a therapist!
    I never wished my parents would have stayed together. I only wished I’d been in a situation where custody could have come into play and I could have visited my step mom that I did and still do call “Mom.” She raised me. It was unfair to both of us.
    I’ve told a divorcing friend to try to look at her ex’s new partner as a potentially positive force in her child’s life. I actually don’t think any of my parents or step parents were willing to see any positives about each other, even for my benefit.
    Divorce sucks. I feel bad for all parties involved, but especially the kids. If parents act like grownups, I think it can help. I certainly wish my own parents had attempted to put aside their anger for my benefit.

  13. Parents divorced when I was 7 and my brother was 4. Suspect Dad cheated on my mom with my now-stepmom, but nobody ever told me this for sure, which I guess was very mature of my mom.They did everything right. Joint custody and never bad-mouthed the other parent. Parents re-married and now I have 2 step-parents and a stepbrother.
    Yes, it’s sad that they got divorced. Divorce is sad. In spite of my parents doing everything right, I still feel sad thinking about their divorce. But (1) it was the best possible option, and (2) nobody has a perfect childhood.

  14. My parents got divorced when I was in fourth grade, so ten, but my dad was gone a lot before that due to drinking/drugging. I’m an only child. Not having a sibling to talk to about the stuff was hard.The lack of a second income and the fact that my dad is unreliable were hard. But we did okay. My mom never badmouthed my dad, and his family was always still around. She is actually way more apart of his family than he is, still.

  15. My parents separated when I was in 7th grade and divorced (finally!) when I was in 9th. My brother is 2.5 years younger than me. My dad was not around much when we were younger, so the separation didn’t seem weird. What DID seem weird was him coming around to see us because he’d never made a point of it before. So I have a lot of memories of painful and awkward interactions with my dad from my preteen/teen years-but that might be because those are awkward and painful years.I realize now that my dad made the decision to leave and it was only after awhile without him my mom realized it was better that way…and my dad realized he liked living with us. I think that’s why it took so long to get an actual divorce. I wish they would have made the divorce final (at least in our minds) sooner. The limbo was weird and painful.
    In hindsight, my mom NEVER said anything negative about my dad in front of us. And she could have said quite a bit. She still refuses to talk badly about him today. The worst she says is “he does the best he can.” Though at times I wanted my mom to commiserate with me and explain why my dad was so crappy, I realize now that her refusal forced me to have a relationship with my dad on my own terms. Now, we’re pretty good…I don’t expect much from him and when he does do something great for me or my kids, it’s a great surprise. I really respect my mom for never giving in to talking negatively about my dad.
    Also, there wasn’t much that was bad about it: my parents were clearly not meant to be together.

  16. I was 2, then next one I was 12, then the next one I was 14 or 15. On my mom’s side (custodial parent). Tons of siblings, about a 2 or 3 year span between us, one younger, five older.Good: yay for my parents being emotionally available again. When you shut down the channels to deal with each other, you shut them down with the kids, too. In therapy (yes, did therapy), we figured out that the worst damage I had was from the emotional abandonment *before* the split(s), not after. Also good: calmer households, less depression in caregivers, more intentionality in parenting, and as each parent added additional step parents, more resources, more family, more people who were there for me with different skills and abilities. I very happily had six parents at my wedding (of mine, plus two of his), because they were all my parents.
    Bad: a little too much grousing about the other parent when things weren’t going well. They all learned to tone this down, but it was irritating while it was present. One parent effectively disowned me on the divorce, because he was afraid that I would grow up expecting him to provide for me (like college expenses and being in his will). That hurt, and took some work to get to a workable relationship with him again, but likely I’d have had work to do with him through the teen years anyway.
    Putting me in counseling might have helped me process better, or might not. I had to be really astute to grasp the issues as an adult, not sure if I could have spotted them as a child at all. My mom did a spectacular job of highlighting all the great things about the no-longer-present ex, until I was a teen, when I asked more questions and got more answers. I wish the dads were all a bit more positive about my mom – and their other ex-wives – it’s not like I can’t figure out their flaws, most of which are different for me than for a spouse, but I really like being able to see the positive through someone else’s eyes.
    For the 12 year old split, I wished they were *able* to stay together, but I could already see that they couldn’t, and didn’t wish they would in that context. Earlier, no idea. Later one, it was so clearly not necessary in order to maintain my relationship with both parents that whether they styed together was immaterial. I still have a really strong father- daughter thing with the dad who was my dad for the least time.
    Advice: work hard on the co-parenting, keep your own problems out of the child’s space unless they are the child’s problem (and then frame it for their problem version, not yours), find a few stories that illustrate the features they may inherit proudly from the other parent. Or even that they wish they had, if they don’t inherit that (including by association rather than genes). I always found it reassuring that while my mom talked about my dad’s negative genetic traits, she also could still glow talking about some of his shining moments, how quickly he assessed situations and handled them for the best care of others, or how good he was at figuring out just the right gift for others.
    Overall, I got a lot out of the process. Through my parents being married and divorced multiple times each, I got fantastic parents, all with flaws, all with different strengths. I learned how important it is to do the work, and not just coast on affection. I learned how important safety is, and mental well being, and respect. I gained siblings, some of whom stuck, others didn’t, but the ones that did are so worth being related to. I learned to be persistent in pursuit of a healthy relationship with my parents, and to also recognize their limits. I learned that it’s worth fighting the good fight, and it’s worth knowing when to stop. It isn’t that there was no hurt or harm, but I would choose this harm over the harm of staying in a bad situation, which I ended up getting some of anyway – but I am glad I didn’t get more of that end of the stick. No regrets except that people are not perfect, and that isn’t one anyone will ever solve.

  17. I was 15 when my parents split. My siblings were 12 and 9.What was good about the divorce was that the fighting stopped, and it was finally OK to admit that all marriages/families were not as conflict-ridden as our family. What was bad about it was pretty much everything else. Our finances took a huge hit from which my parents only recovered after their kids were out of the house. It took nine months for my parents to work out a custody arrangement, with several moves into and out of the family home, and those were probably the worst nine months of my entire life before my high-risk pregnancy. My father was staying in a bad apartment in a bad part of town and 25 years later, all three of us kids still remember the depressive hole in our stomachs whenever we went there. My mother ended up becoming the non-custodial parent and there was never any formal custody arrangement: we saw her often (at least several times a week) but she had a tiny apartment so no one ever stayed the night with her and even dinners at her house were sporadic. There was a lot of chaos in our lives for a lot of years.
    We very much had the typical 70s/80s experience of divorced kids who have to start being the own caretakers, emotionally and to some extent physically (making meals, doing laundry, being responsible for the cleaning — all age-appropriate chores in another context but in this one, a sign that the adults were mostly concerned about themselves). Our parents put up few boundaries around their Exciting! New! Dating! Lives! They were so busy catching up on all the personal growth that they’d sacrificed for their disastrous marriage that we were really a side-concern. They were also so busy trying to keep their heads above water financially that they had no energy for us.
    (Right now as I’m typing this, I’m hearing that nagging voice, “you are responsible for your own happiness.” Yes. Of course. And I was 15, so I was mostly ready to take that job. But what about the NINE YEAR OLD?)
    My parents had read all the right divorce books and mostly said all the right things, but in my experience, children of divorce are alone with their grief and anger regardless of how their parents handle it. No matter how often or how convincingly my parents invited me to share any and all of my feelings, the fact was that at least one of them was thrilled to be divorced and really didn’t want to face the fact that they’d blown my life to bits. It may have been a noisy, angry life but it was the one I knew and the one I wanted and nothing that they offered as a replacement felt like even a half-way decent trade. They bought their happiness with my loss. That’s how it felt then, and on my bad days, that’s how it feels now.
    What could they have done differently? Besides not giving up on their marriage? (That is the inner child speaking there, not the therapy-glutted adult.) Practically speaking, they could have established a formal custody arrangement as a signal that the alternative to an intact family wasn’t chaos. Each of my parents could have consciously asked themselves, every day and with every decision, “Am I asking my children to be little adults in this situation? When is it necessary for my children to accommodate my new status as a divorced person and when is it necessary for me to put their needs first? How can I maintain daily rituals and discipline in our lives? How do I make sure that the end of my marriage is not the end of their childhood?” One good thing that my parents did do was keep us enmeshed in a strong extended family. My aunts and cousins and grandparents were my lifeline, and the continuity of my extended families (paternal and maternal) made a huge difference in my life.
    Of course I wanted my parents to stay together. They blew up my family. It was a dysfunctional, anger-filled family but it was the only one I had, or knew. Yes, I was grateful for the fighting to stop and for the freedom to say, “yes, your marriage SUCKED.” But at the time — and maybe even now — I really wanted them to take one fraction of the energy they dedicated to the creation of their new, post-divorce lives and put that into fixing my family. Do I wish they were still together now? I just don’t know how to answer that question. My parents got divorced because they weren’t happy with their marriage, but from my perspective, they really weren’t happy with themselves, and the divorce didn’t end up fixing that. I guess I can’t imagine our lives any other way, and it feels silly even to try. (Seriously, I try to imagine my parents still married to each other and … it’s just ridiculous.)
    I guess, when I’m being brutally honest, I want to tell people (only I never do, and I feel guilty/ashamed to type this out here, and I am ONLY volunteering this because you asked): in my experience, divorce frees the parents at the cost of their kids’ lives forever. My parents would tell you that they rarely think about each other except in relation to their kids. My siblings would tell you that every major celebration and tragedy in our lives has required us to renegotiate our parents’ divorce. Who’s going to host my graduation party? Who’s going to walk me down the aisle at my wedding? Who is going to be at the hospital first after the grandchildren are born? What do I say when dad asks for an extra long-distance visit with his grandchildren because the baptism weekend was too stressful for him because mom was there, only I’m exhausted and need a break from family visits for a while? How do I figure out the holidays when my parents and my in-laws are ALL divorced and some of the are remarried and different parts of the family live at least a 2-hour flight apart? Who do I ask to stay with me during my chemo treatment? What happens when my parents get old and we need to ask them to move to assisted living facilities close to us? Where do step-parents and step-siblings fit into this, and how will we get along around a hospital bed? And why for the love of god did my parents choose the divorce but I got the lifetime of work to manage it?
    Ugh. I’m embarrassing myself. If my parents’ divorce were to be the worst thing that ever happened to me, my God (and I say that devoutly), I would be one of the luckiest people on earth.
    FWIW, I have yet to read a well-designed study about the effects of divorce on kids that I didn’t agree with pretty much entirely. Those studies speak to me and my siblings in our hearts.

  18. I was around 2 or 3 when my parents divorced, and my sister was 16 months younger than me. I have no memory of my parents together, so I’m not sure how relevant my experience will be (if you’re looking for people who remember the split). My mom has remained single since then, and my dad remarried when I was 5. I have a stepsister and a stepbrother who are much older than my sister and I (10+ years).I can’t necessarily speak to what was good and what was bad, since I don’t know anything different. I will say, though, that knowing my parents as individuals I can’t really believe that they were ever together. I think that the divorce was absolutely the right path for them, and they did everything in their power (to my knowledge) to make things OK for my sister and I. They worked out a shared custody arrangement that was fairly evenly split, and even had a clause dictating that neither parent could move outside of 50 miles of the other with the kids (they remained in the same town my whole life, and for a time even lived a couple of blocks apart). They were careful never to say nasty things about one another to us or with us around, and got along well enough to co-parent effectively. They even were both present at most of our school functions and celebrations whenever their schedules allowed. They did it all well enough that I actually thought that they got along–it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that they’re really not terribly fond of one another.
    I feel lucky in that I absolutely adore my stepmom, as well as my step siblings–our families are all very close. I can’t imagine my life or family without all of them in it. I always cringed at the phrase ‘broken home’ when used to refer to divorced families, since my home never once felt broken. I do remember times when I’d miss one parent or the other when I was at the other’s house as a kid, but the parent I was with always encouraged me to call the parent I missed or helped in other ways. We were a very ‘touchy feely’ family and feelings got discussed often.
    I’d encourage a friend experiencing divorce with children to understand 1.) that they need to put their differences with their ex-spouse aside when it comes to the kids, and make co-parenting the priority; but also 2.) that kids can be resilient, and that if there are slightly different rules in the 2 houses or if the parents don’t agree on everything it will be OK–cut yourself some slack. Making sure that kids feel safe, secure, loved, and heard is of the utmost importance. If this is the goal for both parents and you actively work towards this, you’re doing the best you can.

  19. My parents divorced when I was nine. My father had custody of me until I was thirteen during the school year and my mother had me during vacations, and then vice versa. (They lived in different states.)Let me just say that switching school systems at the age of 13 *sucks*.
    On the plus side:
    1. They made it very clear to me that they still liked each other as people, but couldn’t be married to each other.
    2. They kept all arguing to themselves after the decision to separate and divorce. (Which made a high contrast to the time before that when I would cry myself to sleep because they were shouting at each other.)
    3. They didn’t criticize each other to me when I was a child.
    4. They made it very clear that it was not my fault.
    It was hard, no kidding, but it was definitely the right thing to do. I don’t wish they had tried to stay together, despite having to make new friends at the age of 13 at a school where I ended up being bullied for a year. That was awful. But I think having my parents stuck with each other would have been worse.
    As it is, my mother, my father, and my stepmother can all come to Thanksgiving at myself and make friendly conversation.

  20. My parents split up when I was 8, my sister 5, and my brother 2. My father remarried when I was 11 and I gained a stepsister and eventually 2 half-siblings. My mother began a long term relationship when I was 15 (and they eventually got married, but not until after I did!) The basic reason for their divorce was they were married very young (my mother was 20) and she had kids and grew up, and while she was doing this, my father was in medical school/residency and didn’t notice her changing until it was too late. They seem to me now to have so little in common I cannot imagine how they ever got married (I have very little memory of them together.)They didn’t handle stuff in the best ways – my father was – probably still is – very angry at my mother for initiating the divorce, and when he remarried he became more distant and uninvolved (having 6 kids when you are basically not a people person didn’t help either). My mother overshared with me. Both of them were way too open about their dating lives before they met their second spouses; I did not need to know some of that shit.
    My advice to those getting divorced is to deal with all the emotional stuff as quickly as you can and with as little revelation to your kids as you can. Failing actual abuse or abandonment, the former spouse is not going away, and you NEED to forge a stable, as healthy as possible, new relationship with that person for the sake of your children. Cowboy up and do it.

  21. How old were you when your parents split? Did you have siblings and how old were they during the split?I was 6. I have 2 older brothers but it is worth mentioning that they are half-siblings and they don’t have the same mom. They were 11 and 13.
    What was good and what was bad about it?
    My parents got along REALLY well after the divorce, so it was good in that regard. Splitting into 2 households actually went well for me. Being at my mom’s house was very relaxed and it was just her and I. There was not a lot of scheduling in that household and everything was tackled pretty organically. My dad on the other hand remarried so being in that house was very different considering my dad, step mom, 2 brothers and step brother all lived there too. It was a much bigger, active household and we usually had very scheduled days and stuff like eating together at dinner, doing chores with my brothers afterwards and taking my dog for walks were things that happened everyday at specific times. I really liked having this balance.
    My dad’s new wife after my parents divorced was a horrible human being. So that sucked. My parents lived in the same city for 4 years after the divorce, but because of the military, my mom and I moved across the country when I was 10. Leaving my dad was the worst thing I ever had to do and it wouldn’t have happened if my parents were still together.
    How could your parents have made things better for you?
    I don’t know how they honestly could’ve. I don’t have any bad memories of them leading up to the divorce and neither of them ever used me as a tool to bother the other one. They got along really really really well afterwards and were really respectful to one another.
    At the time did you wish your parents were still together? Now, in hindsight, do you wish your parents had stayed together?
    At the time, yes. I don’t have any bad memories of them together as I was young and often times at least one of them would be out of the country for extended periods of time since they were both in hte military.
    Now, definitely not. A lot of my friend’s parents got divorced when they were teenagers and it was usually happening too late. They already hated each other and had to go through years and years of a turbulent, tense household. I have 2 amazing parents now who are respectful of each other. If they had stayed together any longer they probably wouldn’t be on such good terms now.
    What would you tell a friend who was divorced or getting divorced about making it better for their kids?
    Don’t ever use your kid as a way to ‘get back.’ Don’t talk badly about your ex to your child unless there was some kind of safety issue or abuse going on. Let your kid know that whatever they’re feeling is ok and if they are feeling mad/upset/sad they should talk to you about it so it doesn’t fester.

  22. I used to wish that my parents would split up. I’m in my mid-forties now and wish they had and wish they would. They’re both terrific people, but they are so ill-suited their marriage can only be blamed on Mad Men sensibilities, and now they are so old that they’ve turned into a bad habit. I mourn the example of a happy marriage and the wonderful step-parents I’ll never know.

  23. My parents divorced when I was 25. Being grown and out of the house and working allowed me to not think about it as much as possible, which was an OK coping mechanism. I thought, and still think to this day, that it was my dad’s fault/initiative and that my mom got the shaft emotionally and financially.About five years after, both my parents got remarried. My mom married her high school boyfriend who was LOVELY. We (my sister and I and our spouses) all loved him. He loved my mom and was wonderful to her. They were very happy for five years and then he died of cancer, which was beyond horrible. But then she moved to my town, which has been fantastic for all of us, and if she was still married to my dad that never would have happened.
    My step mom is fine — she is 20 years younger than my dad, but she is nice to me and my kids, and to him. BUT her kids (in their early 20s) are trainwrecks. Drug/alcohol abuse, babies out of wedlock, my dad and stepmom are now foster parents to my step sister’s 1 year old because of her meth addiction. It’s a nightmare. And I feel bad for my dad, but not TOO bad, because it seems like hey, you chose to get divorced, right? You made your bed, now lie in it.
    I am not exactly unhappy that my parents got divorced. But I do hate, HATE the complicated negotiations about vacations, visits, etc. It was hard enough when I was a single adult. Now I am married and we have kids and that would be hard enough to negotiate with a spouse’s family, but it’s a constant negotiation with my parents SEPARATELY. And I know they love us and want to see us but I HATE that it take so much time and energy to make it all work and feel like it’s fair. Plus my husband gets irritated because his family (parents married) is so much SIMPLER to plan around.
    So I guess I don’t feel like I was irrevocably scarred by the divorce. I do think my relationship with my dad will never really be the same. I have to agree with the commenter who said divorce improves the parents’ life at the expense of the kids. I know that is not pleasant for a divorced parent to hear, and maybe that’s just a price that must be paid, but I feel that way.
    So what could a parent do to make it better? I don’t know. Think LONG AND HARD about any partner you bring into the kids’ life, even in adulthood. Think LONG AND HARD about the divorce and if that is really the only option available. And realize that for the rest of your life, you need to be extra generous, flexible and accommodating about arranging time with your adult children and grandchildren because you have made the situation much more complicated.

  24. My parents formalized their divorce when I was between 4 and 5, but their relationship was on the rocks from about the time I was born. Honestly I didn’t have much of relationship with my father, so I didn’t care all that much. I was relieved that the fighting had stopped though.My dad wasn’t very involved when my parents were together and became even less involved after the split. It probably didn’t help that my mom moved back to her hometown, so distance was involved. He eventually remarried and moved even farther away. My maternal grandfather filled the father’s role for me and I didn’t feel like I was lacking anything. My mom never said anything negative about my dad. From time to time I was envious that other kids had two parents and I only had one and I asked my mom to find a new daddy. She never remarried and I feel sad for her having given up on personal happiness.
    In retrospect and having had a chance to meet my father when I was already older I’m grateful to my mom for ending things with him. He is a deeply unhappy, emotionally unavailable and unreliable person and it wouldn’t have done me any favors to be growing up with him in my life.

  25. I too used to wish that my parents would split up throughout my childhood, but things didn’t come to a head until my mother found out that he’d been cheating on her. And then all sorts of ugliness ensued: the tension of nightly arguments turned up several levels, there was a suicide attempt by my mother, and too much confiding in us kids (my brother was 18, my sister was 10). As far as I know, my brother has no relationship with my father and my sister may occasionally speak to him. I am not particularly close to him. I believe he is remarried, although he’s never announced this to me or any of my siblings. (He once introduced me to a woman he referred to as his “landlord”.)I’ve come to more or less accept that my parents are very limited and not very self-reflective people and that they will never be anything more than who they are. I still wish they were better, but my disappointment is more sad than angry most of the time. I’m nearly 40 and I wish they had never married in the first place.

  26. I was almost 8, my brother 9, my sister 19 and in university when my parents split. There was never a lot of fighting; they just weren’t suited to each other.What was bad was that my mom and brother and I moved a 30-minute drive away, my sister moved near campus and my dad stayed in our house for about a year. It felt miserable going back to our old family home as a weekend visitor. Then my dad moved into an apartment complex with an indoor pool and that was better.
    Both parents were in new relationships within a couple of years and they are both still with the same partners 30 years later. I think that stability made a difference in our teen years.
    We saw my dad a lot, most weekends and for a couple of weeks in the summer even though there was a drive involved (until three years later when we all lived in the same city). I am glad that my dad stayed involved and I know my brother was too – he was closer to my dad than I was.
    What was good was that after a couple of years of awkwardness, my parents got along quite well. We all had Christmas dinner at my dad’s new place about two years after the split and it felt nice to be together again, especially for my brother who (I think) had fantasies of them reuniting. When I first got together with my husband, also a child of divorce, he was surprised that my parents were willing to be in the same room together — and I was surprised by his surprise, because I took their friendliness for granted.
    My brother died suddenly at age 22 and in retrospect my grief was a bit easier than it would have been if I had warring parents at the same time. It’s sad to say, but I think his death drew us all together more as a family and made us realize what was really important.
    My parents did not badmouth each other aside from one mild comment from my dad, yet it has stayed with me all these years. Maybe because it was so rare.
    I never really wished they had stayed together but I think my brother did at first. It was also really helpful to have an older sister who was already an adult, since she was someone we could talk to and who could sometimes have us over to stay. She sometimes came with one or the other parent when we went on vacation.
    It was all relatively painless for me (compared with some of the stories here) but I still think of those early years with sadness. And nowadays it gets to be an effing hassle to schedule our visits home when we have three households to consider. We only have one daughter and I hate the idea of her ever being torn in the same way as an adult, to say nothing of the pain it would bring her if we split.

  27. My parents divorced when I was 1 and my brother was six. THings that were good…my mom has gone on to better herself at every phase of her life. My dad has become a person who doesn’t shower, mooches off of everyone else, doesn’t work and expects everyone else to take care of him! I see my life as being sooooo much better with out my dad around. My brother if empathatic to my dad and feels like my mom didn’t do enough to help my dad.My mom had two kids, was uneducated and had to move back home to go to college. She has since become an excutive and a better mother (and grandmother) along the way. I see zero reasons why my parents staying together could have benefited me.
    If I could give advice to a person with kids going thru a divorce now, I would tell them to keep on keeping on and your kids will respect your choices to better yourself. Even my brother will admit, my mom made a hard choice but made the best of it.

  28. I am a product of divorce, I AM divorced myself (hello, I’m a statistic. Nice to meet you), and I have two young children. They live mostly with me, and spend a significant amount of day time/evening time with their dad. They do not do very many overnights with him, though I think this has more to do with him and his parenting style and less to do with “what’s right” timeshare-wise. He sees six days out of seven per week, and yes, that means I have to see him and interact with him that many times (often multiple times a day) as well. It’s a drag for me, but it really works for our kids and allows him to maintain a close relationship with them.I am also a teacher of elementary school aged children, and I have to say that over the past 15 years I’ve only seen one family do a true 50-50 split well, and I’ve seen MANY families do it wrong. The kids are neither here nor there, they are a scattered mess, most of the time. Again, I think the difference is the parents and their personalities and how much they’re willing to communicate. I know Moxie and her ex talk a lot. Their situation reminds me of the ONE situation that was done well, both parents were in constant communication, maintaining similar (though not identical) expectations and there was a certain sense of fluidity between the houses and the kids were free to go back and forth even on non-custodial days.
    I can’t really give data points on my own experience because the personalities of my dad/stepmom are so flawed. It’s less to do with the set-up and more to do with the damaged individuals involved. Some people are just too damaged and it doesn’t matter what situation they put into place. Others are less damaged and can navigate the shared custody better. I guess my point is it has less to do with the schedule and everything to do with the manner of collaboration between the two parents.

  29. My parents separated when I was around 4 and after a very lengthy and ugly custody battle divorced when I was maybe 6 or 7. I have two siblings who were about 2 and 8 when things started.I don’t know if I wish my parents would have stayed together. My dad was unhappy and wanted to get out, the main problem was the way he did it. I don’t know if me or my siblings will ever forgive him for the way things went down.
    I totally agree that for the kids it never ends. Even if the divorce is a “good” one which my parents was decidedly not, it affects every thing forever. Because my parents can’t even be in the same room together I have to negotiate every major life event, graduations, my wedding, the birth of my children etc. This is mainly due to my dad having remarried the woman who essentially broke up my parents marriage.
    In terms of the good and bad: My parents did a lot of bad that is too lengthy to include here but involved things like asking us to pass notes back and forth for them (this was pre-email and texting) and having my Dad ask us to buy my stepmom a mothers day card and flowers before the ink was even dry on the divorce papers. To this day I try very hard not to say my step-mom’s name in front of my mother since when I was growing up saying her name meant a lot of crying and anger from my mom.
    I’ll say that my mom tried her best not to bad mouth my dad and encouraged us to have a relationship with him. My dad stayed around and was definitely in our lives and did his part financially. we had a schedule (very carefully laid out) and it was fine for my parents but very hard on us. I remember having to take clothes to school in the beginning because I did not have much at my Dad’s place. I was allowed to do things on each other’s weekend so that was helpful.
    I would tell a friend who was thinking of it to think very carefully first and also make sure you do not involve the children. Both my parents used us kids to communicate with each other and it was awful. I had stomachaches every time I had to give my mom a note because if it had something bad in it she would be upset and I would have caused it.
    I have mostly come to peace with everything but it is still a challenge. My mom never remarried and sometimes I wish she would have since then we wouldn’t have been her sole focus. I mostly wish that they were different people and would have been able to stay married. It would have been nice to have two parents in the same house who liked each other

  30. I’m an only child and my parents split when I was 5. I think the pain I experienced was more about feeling abandoned by my father and the stress my mom faced financially. I remember yearning for an intact family “like the other kids had” and for a loving father. But now, I know my mom gave me everything she possibly could — most importantly her love. And so I turned out OK because I had a fabulous mom!

  31. When it comes to divorce, I am the Gal Who Knew Too Much. My parents divorced when I was 7 and I am a mental health professional who works almost entirely with divorcing families.Divorce never ends, especially for the kids. Your children – and your adult children – will always be trying to figure out how to keep mom and dad happy. That is how children are built – to please their parents. You can make it a lot easier on your children if you understand that they have a lot to balance and that you ARE pleased, even if you are displeased. You will not always get the Christmas you want, etc. Adults need to act like adults – and I’m talking to the 40 year olds out there acting like spoiled children.

  32. My parents split up when I was about 5. I don’t remember a lot about it except I remember some yelling and door slamming (which my mom says there was *VERY* little of, so I guess that made an impression) and that we briefly lived in a couple of places I didn’t love. My biological father had older kids from a previous marriage and my mom moved out temporarily so they could finish out the school year. Then we (my mom and I) moved back in, I guess after my father had had a chance to find and buy a different house.My mom remarried when I was 6, to a man with 2 kids about my age (who did not live with us, but were regular fixtures), and they had us a half-brother a couple of years later.
    I consider my “step-dad” my Dad-with-a-capital-D in every way. Nobody ever really bad-mouthed my father to me, and my mom even praises him for how he *never* shirked his responsibility to me (by which she means he continued to pay child support, willingly, through my college years). I did the every-other-weekend thing at his place for awhile, but it faded out over the years and I think neither of us enjoyed it much. He is not really a kid person. Once I was college-age, we sort of connected better, but there’s still no real parent-child relationship there. I like him OK, I just don’t really think of him as my dad. He lives in my city, and I see him about once a year at Christmastime when he brings gifts by for my kids.
    The one bit of advice I would give is that even if your child take it well, seems to be fine with it, don’t forget that the trauma is there. It might be hiding under the surface. It might be gone forever, but it might not be, too, so you’ll be doing your kid a favor if you aren’t so relieved that it’s not a problem that later, when things Get Hard, you don’t remember that maybe it *is* a problem.
    I’m not sure I’m describing that well. I just know that my whole life I thought I was FINE. I’d go to therapy, and they’d ask, and I’d say, “no, no, none of that bothers me. I have a fabulous Daddy and It’s Not A Problem, really.”
    It wasn’t until I had my own children that I really processed some of it. When my daughter was around 4 (the age I was when, from my perspective, my father pretty much disappeared from my life), I would sometimes rock her to sleep and hold her long after she was asleep and cry and cry and cry and think, “how COULD he? How COULD he have just … given me up”. And I know now that I *was* changed by it. I have a fundamental belief that if I don’t get everything right, the world will end at it will be All My Fault.
    So I don’t know, I just think … be aware. Just like if your kid had a tiny heart murmur at one doctor’s visit and it could be just an anomaly, but you’d always want to be a little more vigilant in the future about that particular thing. Be aware that the trauma of divorce (and I’m not saying don’t do it — just that it has a cost) is never going to completely go away, and keep an eye out for it, because you never know when it’s going to pop up again for them.

  33. I was 5 and my sister was 7.I don’t at all wish they had stayed together. I honestly can simply not picture two such incompatible people ever getting together in the first place. The little I remember of their marriage was high-conflict.
    We had an every-second weekend-with-dad custody agreement, up until I was about twelve and he started a 5-year-long sailing trip, then it became a one-month-a-year-with-dad situation. Sounds not ideal, but y’know, this worked relatively well for us as much as I can remember.
    The one thing my mom did NOT do well was that she constantly harped about how terrible my father was. She talked about everything about him, big to trivial, in the most negative possible way. And then, in addition to that, she constantly told me how I was EXACTLY like my father. Not always in the same breath, but there was also a certain amount of “I am going to change this about you if it kills me (and you, and especially or relationship) because you are NOT going to grow up to be like your horrible father.”
    On the other hand my father never said a single negative word about my mother. And so I grew up knowing only her narrative, and only as an adult can I see that she wasn’t blameless in the breakdown of the marriage either.
    My mother relied too much on my sister as a friend and confidante. I also really think she could have used someone to give her a kick in the ass about the shitty elements of her parenting. I really think that is one role co-parents fill that often goes empty as part of a divorce.

  34. I’m an only child, and my parents split up when I was 20. In retrospect, they had been emotionally distant with each other for my entire teenage years (if not longer).The split was messy, my dad had cheated, and my mom made me her confidante, telling me all the bad things my dad had done over the years of their marriage. My dad and I were estranged for a few years after the split, and then when we began tentatively to rebuild a relationship, my mom became increasingly unhinged – calling me with made-up stories, acting hostile toward my boyfriend, etc. I ended up cutting off my relationship with my mom, and having a lukewarm relationship with my dad.
    As far as lessons from all this that I’ve tried to apply to my divorce (of course I’m divorced): your kids are your kids, not your friends; don’t badmouth the other parent, no matter how much you want to; living with emotionally estranged/hostile parents IS NOT better than having them split; and living with that type of dysfunctional relationship screws up your relationship template and takes you years to recover from.
    I’m still working on the healthy relationship – in one now, but it’s a slow process learning what you should expect for yourself. I do think I managed the divorce as well as possible for my kids, though.

  35. I suppose I should add that I don’t feel traumatized by the divorce per se; the divorce was just one incident (of many) of shitty relationship modeling and just how small my parents were inside. I’ve never been in therapy, but perhaps I should: I’m very conflict-adverse and I sometimes I feel as impatient and uncompassionate a parent to my own 3 kids as my mother did.

  36. Thanks to everyone for sharing. This has given me insight into my own situation.I forgot to include one thing in my earlier comment that was very important to me. When my parents split up (I was in fifth grade), they both made significant sacrifices so that my mom and I could continue to live in our house until I graduated from high school. My mom left town practically the moment I left for college, but she stayed until then so that my dad & I could have a relationship. If we had moved away (and I know she wished we could), my father & I would certainly not be as close as we are today, and I am so grateful for that. I know this isn’t possible for everyone, but it is a very concrete way to support children during a divorce.

  37. My parents split when my brother and I were five and my sister seven. They had an ideal divorce. They were just a terrible match and never should have gotten together in the first place and I never remember resenting them for splitting up nor ever wished they would get back together.Looking back at what made life as a child of divorced parents so uneventful, there are a couple of things that stand out.
    1. My parents almost never fought in front of us. I can really only remember 2 or 3 fights between them in the 13 or so years of their divorce.
    2. They put our well-being before their own. Even if they weren’t getting along, I think they always prioritized our happiness over their own.
    3. My dad stayed very involved in our lives and was an equal parent to my mother. This is the one that I think is huge. Among my friends with parents that divorced when they were young, few have had any lasting relationship with their fathers. They are the ones that continue to have the most issues surrounding divorce.
    Since my parent’s divorce was amicable, I tend to not think that divorce is always the end of the world. Yes, I want people to stay together and work on their relationships. But I do also feel like it is ok to end relationships for more expansive reasons that they big three (adultery, addiction, abandonment). I do think that parents deserve to be happy too and if, after they’ve had children, they realize they are a bad match and their is no way to change that, divorce might be the best option.

  38. I’m the younger of two sons. My parents divorced when I was 16. My parents are still friends. They can hold a civil conversation and even go on a family trip together. Our family case is “not standard”, I understand that. There are other problems in our family but, few actually stem from the divorce. Being that I am the younger son, we were both old enough to understand what was going on. This will probably be similar for most children who grew up in a solid family unit that has a divorce in the mid to late teen years of the youngest children. My older brother might have a different view of the divorce. My father and mother both told me “Daniel, you are not the reason we’re getting divorced.” Nor, did either one of them ever cut down on one another as all too often happens in a divorce. Parents need to be happy and their children as well. The most important thing in a divorce to focus on, is making sure everyone can be happy with the eventual outcome of a divorce. Not just one side or the other, but the family as a whole.

  39. I was 11 when my parents separated, 12 when they divorced. My sister is 2 years, 11 months older than I am — so she was almost 15.At the time, everything was bad. I felt betrayed by my parents because nothing SEEMED wrong in the relationship. I felt like I had been lied to. They made me to go family therapy, which was awful – I didn’t want to talk to my dad about him being a jerk. I just wanted to think he was a jerk. I wanted the space to hate him. No one would allow me to just be angry…everyone had a cure or a fix for me. So the anger bottled up year after year and became a raging depression that took more years to fix. In the long term, the divorce was a good thing; my mom is happy, and my dad is back to being miserable (leaving his second wife now!)
    See above. They could have respected my anger…and I hate to say this, but they could have delayed getting into new relationships because it was so much more stressful to recover from the divorce and learn about this new person.
    I would tell them to respect the way the kid feels about the other parent…don’t encourage bashing, but allow venting and allow the child to be angry. Don’t try to make things perfect because nothing will ever be perfect again. Divorce shatters a child’s notion of family and security. Demonstrate to the child how you are going to provide that security in the future — by responding attentively to their needs and not introducing new people so quickly that they haven’t had time to recover from the divorce yet.

  40. I think we need a separate thread on what it’s like to have divorced parents when they are elderly or otherwise in need. My experience has been that it is difficult and heartbreaking in ways that the stereotypical “good divorce” does little to ameliorate, for me or for them. My advice, as others have said, is that the logistics are really hard, divorce is a burden on your children forever, so think long and hard about whether it’s worth it to you and to them. My parents are very amicable and handled the minor children part of their divorced life well, but what we’re all going through now, I wouldn’t wish on anyone and I can’t really think of any ways to make it better. I guess my advice would be to have ample retirement savings.The main thing is that my parents are of an age where they really need me, and I am not able to care for them as well as I could if they were still married. This is very hard for me emotionally as well as in the practical sense. Traveling to two locations instead of one is a huge time and money burden for me, and it means that I can’t do as much to help them with their medical problems, home maintenance, etc. Yet, because they are both single, I am the first responder for each of them, for all problems and emergencies. Their divorce also damaged them financially, so they are not able to afford much outside help. And of course, they can’t both move in with me. If they were still married, they might hate each other and be miserable, but at least there would be just one house and car for me to maintain, and they could call 911 when the one of them fell down the stairs. What I wouldn’t give to have that peace of mind. Most of my nightmares feature simultaneous health crises and having to choose between them. Being alone for holidays, seeing less of their children and grandchildren, not having enough money, all these things seemed abstract and hypothetical when they were exiting their marriage, but that is the reality they now confront as elderly people. Dealing with it has been really hard on my marriage and my own children. As others have said, this is the price their children and grandchildren pay for their attempt to be happier, even though they didn’t actually end up happier.
    When I was younger I said I was glad my parents were divorced, but now that seems really naive. I didn’t understand then what it would be like in this phase of life. I now see that the relative peace in our family in my 20s and early 30s were the eye of the hurricane, and the full cost of divorce would be paid by our parents in their more vulnerable years, and by me and my siblings in our 50s and 60s. I’m not sure that my parents are happier or better off for having divorced. We’d all love to believe that we’ll meet someone new and have a happy marriage, but it often doesn’t work out that way, and the consequences for finances and family life are often a source of unhappiness even if the second marriage is good emotionally. Their marriage was heinous, and as co-parents of young children they were quite amicable, but these years have been unbearable. I often wonder if it was worth it. As others have said, divorce is re-mourned at different life stages as you develop a fuller understanding of what was lost.

  41. My parents divorced when I was 8 after a few separations. I hate the phrase “broken home,” because getting my crazy abusive father out of the picture fixed our family. As a three-some, my brother, mom and I are very close and talk all the time to this day. I lived with my brother as a young adult and I admire my mother tremendously. She held it together for many years and did not say anything about my dad, until I had reached my own conclusions.My father is not in touch with us.
    Getting my dad to leave and my stepdad involved with us were among the many excellent parenting decisions my mom made. In term of thinking through who you would co-parent with, my mom was friends with my father’s parents and had every reason to trust him. But then he turned into a monster and it took way too long to get away. Thank God she did!

  42. It’s really really interesting to hear all the comments.I was 10 and my brother 12 when my parents split.
    My parent’s divorce is definitely a life defining moment. My mother left my dad for another man and in my eyes chose this other man over her children. My father who was pretty much a jerk and an alcoholic was beyond devastated at my mother leaving. He basically spent the next 10 years RAGING over my mother. He was awful to be around and when he wasn’t screaming profanity at me about my mom he was asking me for dating advice (for 25 year olds). It was HORRIBLE. The custody agreement was split 50/50. So I spent several years going back and forth with the token duffle bag (on the bus to one house and off the bus to another house). I hated it. Hated how my life had been completely disrupted and how low a priority I was in my parent’s eyes. I had in my opinion a fairly happy childhood up to that point because my mother had sheltered me from my father. This band aid was ripped off when she left him for another man.
    I think that people minimize the effects of divorce on children. I have friends with kids who have gotten divorces because they woke up in their 40s and realized they married the wrong person and weren’t happy. I have a hard time supporting these divorces only because I know what their children will go through.. and I think this gets “discounted’ time and time again that children are resilient and will bounce back. No matter how you spin the divorce, how amicable it is, how much therapy and open communication you give your children, there is still the pit of your stomach rejection that most children will feel because you chose an option that was best for the parent not necessarily the child. I’m not saying this is in all cases but in a lot of cases.

  43. I also think divorces in which the kids are aware of infidelity are a special category. It’s very hard to lose trust in a parent while already going through the disruption of a divorce. There’s a loss of credibility and moral authority that is really damaging to the parent-child relationship. Or if you keep the kids in the dark about your cheating so that they’ll accept your new partner, be prepared for all hell to break loose when they find out the truth.

  44. Great post KE– I really loathe the cliche that “children are resilient.” Children are sometimes resilient, sometimes not, and it can be hard to predict. I think people use it as an excuse to do things they know are bad for their children. My mom likes to point to my success as evidence that her divorce isn’t a hardship. But my resilience doesn’t change the fact that her behavior was appalling and unethical, and that her divorce has made my life difficult in countless ways. Sometimes I wonder how big a mess I’d have to be for her to admit her divorce has been a negative thing.There seems to be a cottage industry devoted to cheering people up about their divorces (see HuffPo Divorce section) and aside from the same old tired tips, the impact on children is mostly swept under the rug. Divorce is cast as the courageous, hopeful, forward-looking option– anyone who stays in a bad marriage is “held back by fear” or “setting a bad example of an unhappy marriage” or whatever other cliche. But a lot of divorcing adults don’t end up in a happier relationship after all, and the impact on their children is prolonged and severe. I have a lot of respect for people who choose to make the best of an unhappy marriage, because I think there are circumstances under which it makes a lot of sense.

  45. My data point is … odd, I think, but here goes an outlier. My bio-dad left my mom for another woman (who also left her husband for him) when I was about 3 and my brother 1. Within a year or two, he cut off all contact. My mother remarried when I was 5, and her husband adopted me and my brother (which of course means the bio-dad voluntarily gave up parental rights.) I consider my adopted dad to be my real Dad, of course. I had stepbrothers from my Dad’s first marriage, but they lived with their mother for the most part (typical 70s custody split). My parents together had my younger (half) sister.My mom didn’t like to talk about her divorce or our biological father, and I grew up believing that asking questions about him would show disloyalty to my Dad. I was not even sure of my bio-dad’s first name until I was an adult (one of two names that sound similar when spoken). I never saw a picture of him until my last year of college. My mom says now that she was always prepared to answer questions about him, but I (and my brother) never asked.
    I remember nothing of the time surrounding the divorce, but my long-term memory in general is pretty poor, so I can’t say that I’ve repressed anything. Until I had my own kids, this was just a kind of mysterious story that happened to be part of my history.
    When my oldest daughter was three, we moved overseas. I thought she would adapt and soon forget our “old” home. I was wrong. For over a year, she talked about missing America. Suddenly I realized that, even if I didn’t remember it, my bio-dad’s leaving must have had a huge impact on me. Like one commenter above, I looked at my three-year-old and for the first time in my life got angry at my bio-dad. I could see what would happen to her if my husband or I had left at her age. I couldn’t imagine it.
    Since then, my brother has had limited contact with my bio-dad and his family, but I don’t really have an interest. I Googled him several years ago and found his professional site online, then was overcome with anger again when it became clear that he had raised his second wife’s two kids.
    The positives of this situation is that I was never in any doubt who my family was…from 5 years old on, I essentially had an intact family. No being shipped back and forth, no juggling families in adulthood, etc. Also, thanks to my Dad, no sense of having a missing father. Only as an adult have I wondered how that early divorce may have affected my psyche. For awhile as an adult, I blamed my general lack of self-confidence/low self-esteem–particularly while growing up–on that early abandonment, but my oldest seems to have similar issues, and anxiety definitely runs on my mother’s side, so I’ve dropped that.
    My stepbrothers, who had a much more typical divorce experience (shuttled back and forth, with the added bonus of high levels of animosity between their parents), seem to have many more issues surrounding marriage. One has never married, two have divorced (one has since remarried), and only one has stayed married and had a child. My brother and I both have long-lived marriages and children. So…I guess it was for the best?

  46. This is very timely for me. I come from a family with divorce – I am what was refered to as the “step it.” (product of the second marriage) I watched my Father navigate a bitter divorce and his two sons from his first marriage hurt and miss their father. There was resentment and anger that lived on – well after my Father passed away. Be it real or perceived it was felt and lived by all three children. Now I am navigating my own divorce. It surprised me – but in hind sight I can see the markers (that is very painful to see). But because of my own pathology I accepted so much. My former husband and best friend and I are trying to keep our kids interests first. We started out poorly. with little communication. A therapist tought us to communicate. We are now in the divide the assests and debts stage. Its gross and scary but because we delt with the anger in counciling we can move on to neutrality. (the opposite of love is not anger its neutrality) A much better place to be in my eyes than where my father, his two wives, and three children, and 7 grandchildren ended up. My kids dont know their cousins. The beginning of our separation agreement will read something like ” Our three children come first and we their parents (needs and wants) come second. That being said our agreement will be legal while we are here in this place – just in case someone changes their position on things. One of the hardest things to deal with is other peoples judgement of our choices. When discussing things with other people (I dont have a family other than my children (deceased parents only child) so bouncing things off people is challenging- they expect me ww3 depending on their own baggage- its hard to explain our choices.The best tip I can offer is to find a therapist that can help you look at the whys and the feelings. and make it ok for your kids to do the same thing. My kids will forever remember this period with a person in our lives who I refered to often- hopefully they will be confident (in a way I was not) to seek help.

  47. My parents divorced when I was 25, when my dad came out, and, not coincidentally, my youngest brother had just left home.So, my parents stayed together for the kids. And you know what? I don’t think that was the wrong thing to do. It helps that my parents are not fighters, always had a lot in common and respect for each other, and that my dad wasn’t cheating or anything on the side. But even if my parents were a bit emotionally disengaged with each other, I can’t really look back and wish that we’d had to negotiate visitation and joint custody and all that, even though I’m sure my parents would have been very mature and considerate about it all.
    And the divorce was still hard on me, even though it was for a very neutral reason and I was grown up enough to understand it.
    And +1 on how annoying it can be to work out the logistics of it all.

  48. My parents divorced officially when I was five but according to my dad they were separated for a bit before that; I am an only child. At first they had joint custody (6 months with mom in NH, 6 months with dad in CT) but my mom couldn’t handle the separation and was basically stalking my dad. So he filed for sole custody and won (which was almost unheard of back then). My mother has bipolar disorder, OCD, and generalized anxiety. She was always “shy” before she had me at 27, but I think untreated PPD and it being the average onset age for bipolar caused her to sink into mental illness, and she has never recovered. My dad hasn’t talked about it much but he worked and when he came home I would be running around in a full diaper and my mom would be on the couch, same way she had been in the morning. My dad tried for a long long time to help my mom but he realized that the best thing to do was to divorce her and take care of me. It was the best thing he could do. If my mom had raised me… I don’t know. It was really hard to do the shuttling every other weekend and alternate holidays and whatnot but mainly because I was *fiercely* devoted to my dad and hated being with my mom most of the time. Her house was a mess and stinky and I just despised going there, especially as a teenager. My dad remarried when I was 18 but that’s a whole ‘nother post. I will say though that one thing that was and always has been hard is when my dad has said negative things about my mom (which he didn’t do really when I was younger but as I’ve gotten older… and after he met my now stepmom). Only I’m allowed to do that. Just kidding :)As for advice, I will say that though she is my mother it was absolutely the best thing for my mental and physical health that my dad did what he did. If you are divorcing and don’t think your child will feel safe (emotionally and physically) with their other parent, by all means explore what legal action you can take.

  49. I was 16 when my parents separated, 17 when they divorced. I am the youngest of 4 and we are all 2 years apart, so the others were 23, 21 and 19. I was the only one still at home. Everything was horrible, awful about it and nothing was good. Not one thing. My parents made absolutely no effort to shield me from any of the nastiness, the screaming, the accusations, the sobbing. I saw it all. I guess they thought I was “old enough” to deal? I don’t know. I wasn’t even on their radar. I think maybe if they would have at least made one tiny bit of effort to act like they hadn’t just upended my entire world, it would have been better, but they were mainly focused on how to best get in their digs at each other than how it would affect me to hear my mom call my dad a cheater and my dad call my mom fat and lazy.Aside from the awfulness of the fights, I will admit that there was some relief there for me. I knew my entire life that my parents didn’t love each other. They didn’t fight much when I was growing up (maybe that’s why their fights were so visceral when they did decide to split–they had a lot of pent-up anger). But I knew from the time I was very young that they didn’t like each other. I just thought that that’s what parents were like. They didn’t like each other, but they stayed together anyway. In hindsight, I wished that they had gotten divorced WAY EARLIER, so that maybe I wouldn’t have thought that was normal.
    If I had a friend who was divorced or getting divorced I know what I have told both of my sisters who have both gotten divorced recently–I told them that they should respect their kids enough to be honest with them about the situation–there doesn’t have to be details about wrongdoings or namecalling or whatever, just an honest conversation with their kids about why it isn’t working and what you’re gonna do to ensure that their world doesn’t implode.
    I’ll be honest, it’s been 25 years since my parents divorce and typing all this out brought tears to my eyes. We’ve all since made peace (my parents are even friends now and spend holidays together with their respective spouses), but just remembering the hurt.. it’s just really painful. And could have been handled so differently.

  50. I was 8 and my sister was 4 when my parents got divorced. They were not upfront with us about what was happening. My dad said that he was moving (halfway across the US) and would find us a place to live and then we would join him. But really they were getting divorced and no one really clarified that for me until I asked.Having one long-distance parent was really miserable. That is my #1 advice to people who are divorcing: Don’t move away from your kids. My husband’s ex lives less than 2 miles from us and I think it is great for my step-kids because they are able to see both parents often (50/50 split)
    Then my mom remarried and we acquired 3 step-siblings … and a child-molesting step-father. I managed to keep him from molesting my sister. I believe that my mother willfully ignored some very clear signs that something was wrong. (For example, when I was in middle school, they came home from a shopping trip with a red silk bra for me. Really? It didn’t occur to her that this was abnormal?)
    As an adult, I told my mother what happened and she claims to believe me, but is still married to him. So as a result I have cut all ties with my mother and rarely see her side of the extended family.
    My dad had a terrible temper (I couldn’t have remained married to him either). He and my mother got into a huge money fight while I was visiting and so he yelled terrible, terrible things at me and sent me home early. We didn’t speak again for 5 years. Once we reconnected, he never apologized and we were never really close after that. He had another child with my step-mother and really it felt like my sister and I got replaced by his new family. I often feel that my half-sister didn’t even have the same father that my sister and I did.
    There are so many ways my parents could have made it better for me, but honestly, I don’t think either one of them were capable of it. I think they each put their own interests first and neither one was looking out for my sister and I. I also don’t think things would have been much better if they had stayed together because we still would have been living with someone who was verbally abusive. At least maybe I wouldn’t have gotten molested.
    I would also like to mention that having lived through all of this, I thought that step-parenting would not be hard for me since I knew what NOT to do. I was wrong. Step-parenting has it’s own set of issues and I’d love to see a post where we could explore that angle too.

  51. Child of divorced parents and I’d say my parents went about it maybe the worse way ever. First, I wanted them to get divorced years before they did; the house was filled with either cold silences or yelling for years. So the separation itself was a relief. But the way I found out it was happening is that I came home from school and found my dad almost moved out. No one mentioned it was happening and if I hadn’t come home when I did I think he would have just left without saying anything. As it was, he didn’t say much at all (I’m not sure whether my mother knew beforehand). There was no discussion, ever. It was shortly before christmas and there was a lot of whispered talk that my mom was having with….I don’t know, maybe friends or relatives?…that let me know that we might lose the house, we might have to move…none of that happened, but it was pretty scary. We didn’t get any presents that year (fun fact, some stupid teacher went around the room after the break asking the kids what they got for christmas! never mind the occasional kid who didn’t celebrate the holiday or that not everyone even got anything, so of course I lied). We didn’t see our dad for months and at some point he just started showing up occasionally to take us to his apt for the weekend. The big thing is that nothing was ever discussed. The only thing they did right, IMO, was that neither bashed the other, but hey, that’s hard to do when the entire subject is verboten. I never thought it was my fault, but the lack of information was so scary as a teen.

  52. My parents divorced when I was 6, and I wish a few things had been different:1. I wish my mother had gotten support, self-care and therapy. She worked (as a doctor) and raised 3 kids and was bitter and depressed. I think she also felt a lot of guilt for many years, and as a result denied herself pleasure. That took a bigger toll on me than anything.
    2. I wish my mother had not talked badly about my father to us. It was not until I was an adult that I actually got a mind of my own about my father’s strengths (and weaknesses) and started to have an authentic relationship with him.
    3. I wish my father had fought harder to have intimate relationships with his children. My mother shut him out, and he was lazy about it.
    Even though things could have been better, they also could have been way worse. I fantasized about my parents getting back together until I was about 10, and then I got over that fantasy. I think there is some sadness for children in every divorce, if only that our fantasy of having a “happy family” is over. Yet divorce was definitely the right choice for my parents. I think losing the “happy family” fantasy can also be extremely sad for kids of married parents, too, when they see the problems in their parents’ marriage.

  53. I was 12. My sister was 14. My brother was 18.Good: I suppose the fact that my dad was finally being honest after 23 years of marriage was good. Bad: My mom was left with a lot of issues that she still hasn’t resolved.
    My parents could have made things better by not bad-mouthing each other. I know from my mom’s side it came from a place of pain, but it didn’t help things.
    No and no. Looking back on it, they never really worked as a couple.
    Do everything you can to let your child(ren) know that it’s ok to care about the other parent and maintain a relationship. And no bad-mouthing. Ever.

  54. These comments are fascinating reading. My mom stayed with my dad until my brother and I were grown and gone, which was almost certainly the right thing to do for us yet done at tremendous cost to her. I don’t know how one judges that tradeoff, though I am inordinately and eternally grateful. In retrospect it looks like a bigger tradeoff (in sheer years if no other regard) than it really was, because she was committed to making the marriage work and really it wasn’t until I was about 16 that it was obvious she was leaving. Even then, I remember thinking, “If he doesn’t change, she’s going to leave,” i.e., he could still have shaped up (in theory) and they could have stayed together. But he didn’t and they didn’t. Still, she “only” probably gave him 6 years more than she otherwise would have, though in hindsight he took far more from her.He would have dragged the entire family through the mud to “save” us (though he wasn’t willing to put any actual effort into the marriage) and drawn things out for years — small town southern lawyer well hooked into the very real “Good Old Boys” network and totally aware of how to work the system (the way their separation, divorce, and property agreement dragged out bears witness to this, though it happened once we were adults and there was no custody battle involved).
    And the “no bad mouthing” thing — I agree with in principle and in general, but — eh. My dad did stuff like forge my mother’s signature to take out (big) loans without her knowing it and steal money directly from his kids’ bank accounts (our bank accounts; we were adults and had given him Powers of Atty., but he took the money for his use, not to use on our behalf), and, yeah, my mother does now speak ill of him for that (many years later, though I’m pretty sure she ALWAYS spoke ill of his taking, not her, but our money). I don’t mind.
    For me, there’s some truth, but not much, to the lived experience of the hassles of divorced parents (and that in a context where my dad’s now declining into dementia and my mom’s in her mid-70s, so it’s not youth that’s protecting me). Mine still live in the same town, and had they stayed married my dad would have dragged my mom down like he has himself, so her getting out and thriving (and having her own retirement savings and such, which my dad does not) is likely better than the alternatives.
    My husband’s entire family (his parents and virtually all his sibs and he) have been divorced, many multiple times, and yeah, that does get somewhat chaotic. But a wonderful thing about that family is that it welcomes every single kid in exactly the same as every other kid. You could be my inlaw’s firstborn grandchild and you would get treated no better than the second son of the third wife of the middle brother from that third wife’s second marriage (i.e. a kid in no way related by blood or history to my inlaws), and I don’t exaggerate. I occasionally have a hard time figuring out why a given kid is present at a family gathering (Wait — tell me again? He’s WHOSE son?) but I’ve never once seen a kid who wasn’t included and embraced. And similarly, in fact, ex-wives are welcomed back at events where they are included, mostly weddings and funerals. So that makes it easier.
    My husband got divorced when my stepkids were teens (not his choice) and I am as certain as someone who wasn’t there and is contemplating a counterfactual can be that it would have been better for the kids had their parents stayed married until they were adults; I still feel bad for them about that. But that said, we have all ended up on friendly terms; both their parents are now remarried and we do stuff like rent a cabin together and all stay in the same place — my (now adult) stepkids and their partners, both their parents and stepparents, and now, my stepkids’ younger (half)sib — and all this at the stepkids’ suggestion (it’s certainly not ours, though we all get along fine we wouldn’t choose to vacation together just to do so). So … I do think such is possible, if not necessarily likely.
    Having witnessed the divorces of the parents of two close friends in high school and remembering how that turned their lives upside down (having to move out of a childhood home, no longer having support to cover college costs), I strove really, really hard to keep my stepkids’s lives as much like they were before their parents divorced (and I showed up, which is the order in which events unfolded) as possible. Obviously given that I married their dad while the younger of the two was still living at home, I didn’t 100% achieve that, but plenty of things I’d otherwise have wanted to be different, I left as they were to avoid rocking their boat any more than it was already being rocked. I do agree with the idea expressed by many above that kids should be allowed to be kids and adults need to act like adults.

  55. Here’s the thing– some people stay together not “for the kids” but for their own preferences. An unhappy marriage sucks, but dealing with shared custody sucks too. Being broke sucks, having no health insurance sucks, missing your kids sucks, splitting up family holidays for the rest of your life sucks, the possibility of ending up old and alone sucks, it all just sucks from the parent’s perspective, and the impact on the kids is serious but far from the only factor. So it’s really just picking your poison. Sometimes a divorce just replaces one set of problems with another. And turning everyone’s lives upside down in search of your own happiness is really embarrassing if you don’t actually end up happy.

  56. How old were you when your parents split? Did you have siblings and how old were they during the split?– I was 20. My siblings were 30, 23, 13, 11. I became a parent for the younger two at that time; my parents were not capable of dealing with everything.
    What was good and what was bad about it?
    — Good was no more yelling in the house. Bad was they felt they had solved things, ignoring the fact that they were really just checking out. The younger two might not get picked up from school, etc. without their sister. I stayed living at home to help the younger two. My college schedule was wrapped around school dismissals, etc. for years.
    How could your parents have made things better for you?
    — By parenting anyone.
    At the time did you wish your parents were still together? Now, in hindsight, do you wish your parents had stayed together?
    — No. They needed to be parents though. I think the selfishness was unbelievable. I hate their continued pressure at holidays to make them feel at the center. Between two sets of divorced parents, we cannot do that.
    What would you tell a friend who was divorced or getting divorced about making it better for their kids?
    — You know how when you have kids you both turn into parents?
    Your world is for them. This divorce is not permission to stop being for them. Don’t put your kids in charge and walk away because your marital status changed. Really, divorce is about you. Figure out how to make it not impact your kids. They need to live their lives, not get hit with shrapnel, emotional or logistical, because you changed the game.
    Don’t whine to your kids about how you just couldn’t do it all. That sucks. Because guess who picks up the slack for you? Your kids. Not right.
    Divorced parent. Be that. Divorced man or woman? Don’t be that. Unless you are divorcing your kids. In which case, pay them some alimony to pick up the slack by hiring someone to help out.
    Ok. I never say this. I think about it though. My parents were weak about the whole thing and I resent it. All of us do. We don’t believe in them. We love them, but we don’t trust them with our interests. If you can keep your children from thinking you are self serving, do so.

  57. /*How old were you when your parents split?*/My mother was four months pregnant with me. My dad came out after 14 years of marriage.
    /*Did you have siblings and how old were they during the split?*/
    No siblings. I was their first.
    /*What was good and what was bad about it?*/
    It was good that my father was able to feel he could live honestly. It was bad that all the expectations my mother had about adding parenthood to their marriage were knocked down. Up until that point, they had had a loving, productive relationship with an equal partnership arrangement.
    /*How could your parents have made things better for you?*/
    My mother could have gone to court when my father did not consistently follow through on his child support. She was very conflict averse, but we lived in Maryland and by then he was in California, both states with excellent enforcement of those arrangements. The support was not punitive – we really did need the money because by the time they split, he was the larger earner after many years of her being the primary bread winner. Also, she had decimated her retirement savings to pay off his medical school debt prior them splitting up. And he racked up a huge amount of credit card debt after the split, but before it was legally official so when he declared bankruptcy, all the companies came after her and she ended up having to declare bankruptcy as well.
    My father could have lived up to his financial commitments. Only rarely was it due to an actual lack of funds; typically it was because of inappropriate spending decisions. He was also bad about yelling at my mother over the phone, typically about money. I have very distinct memories of her remaining calm and saying, “N, I will hang up the phone if you continue to yell” and then her actually doing it without ever yelling back at him. So he could have made things better by being a more fiscally responsible person though he was always available to me emotionally.
    /*At the time did you wish your parents were still together?*/
    I was about four years old before I realized that many/most kids lived with both their parents in the same house. I did have times when I wished for a “normal” family, but given the circumstances, I never really wanted them to be together again.
    /*Now, in hindsight, do you wish your parents had stayed together?*/
    I still wish I could have had the experience of living in a home with two parents in a functioning, loving relationship so that I could have had that model, but I know MY parents were not in a position to do that. So no 
    /*What would you tell a friend who was divorced or getting divorced about making it better for their kids?*/
    It is your responsibility to protect your child’s ability to have a relationship with both parents, assuming it is safe to do so. Do not have your children around people who denigrate the other parent or if comments are made, make it clear they are unacceptable. My aunts (my father’s sisters) routinely ran him down around me and my mother felt like she couldn’t say anything because they were his family. It does not matter who the person is, your child(ren) is/are YOUR responsibility. The same goes for the language you use about your former partner around your child. You can be truthful without being disrespectful.
    Be honest about situations while providing age-appropriate details. Children have a much better emotional acumen than we give them credit for and they understand more than we think.
    Live up to your financial commitments. Take steps to make sure that those with financial commitments live up to them. This goes back to being responsible for YOUR child(ren). Do not let a former partner guilt you into thinking that asking for money that is owed is somehow stepping over the line.
    Surround your child(ren) with people who love and support them, even when those people are not related by blood. Families of choice can be just as meaningful as families of origin. In some cases, they can be far healthier.
    And remember what Moxie keeps telling us: you are the best parent for your child(ren). Never forget that.

  58. My parents split up when I was 10 (I am now 33). My sisters were 7 and 5. My youngest sister remembers having to ask her kindergarten teacher what the word meant.There was a lot of tension in the house beforehand. I can remember having both my sisters in the room with me crying while listening to our parents outside in the back yard yelling at each other (so we wouldn’t hear them, I assume).
    Mum got full custody. Dad was military and moving all the time and didn’t even try to question this.
    Mum had already found her next partner before leaving my father. She moved in with him within a couple of years of leaving and then married. Dad remarried the same year. Both parents have now been remarried for longer than they were ever married to each other.
    There was a time where my sisters and I would say we were glad our parents split up, but as we’ve aged, and as our parents’ second marriages have weakened, we’ve changed our tune. Now I think we all wish they’d stayed together, although I don’t know how they could have managed it since they married so young and really didn’t have the maturity to negotiate through the big problem (Dad’s rapidly rising military career versus Mum’s desire to stay in one place long enough to restart her career and give us some stability).
    My sisters and I are all terrible with conflict. I cannot stand to have anyone mad at me and will avoid fighting at all costs. I am only just beginning to figure out how much of this is divorce related and stems from a fear that if I express anger someone I love will leave. My other sisters plow right into conflict and embrace it, stemming from their own divorce experience where parents bottled things up until it was too late.
    I have almost no memories from the first five years after the divorce, or from much of my early childhood. I think I’ve blocked everything- the good and the bad. I started to get migraines.
    My parents made a lot of mistakes, but the biggest ongoing issue has been their complete inability to exist in the same room. I haven’t read all the comments, but what Jody wrote above really spoke to me: absolutely EVERYTHING in the lives of my siblings and I has revolved around balancing our competing parents (my sister has a partner who also has divorced and remarried parents, so they have eight parents within 500km- it boggles the mind). To make matters worse my stepmother is very jealous and insecure and hates to imagine a time in my father’s life when she wasn’t around, so she keeps track of how many days/nights we spend at each house, etc. To be fair, she is now really the only problem. My mother and stepfather haven’t ever engaged in this pettiness and my father has finally, finally mellowed.
    But it was ridiculous for years and years and years.
    One thing that has helped has been us refusing to split some things. So all four parents had to come out to lunch together to celebrate when one of us graduated from university. They had to come to my wedding. And now that there is a grandchild, they have to come to his birthday parties together because I am NOT throwing separate parties just for their convenience. My husband and I now keep Christmas Day at our own house just so we don’t have to swap every year. But we still have to travel between the two households, and we have to visit one if we visit the other, only one set can stay with us when they come for my son’s birthday party, etc. It is easier but it has never become easy in the way I hear about with some divorced families where the divorced parents get along like a house on fire.
    Short of abuse, I don’t think there is any way I could ever leave my husband. I could never do that to our son. I think it is ultimately a very selfish decision, and this idea that kids are resilient passes over the deep emotional scarring and the fact that the kid’s life is made more complicated for the rest of their life. It’s not easy on children.
    (I must say I would have HATED joint custody so thank goodness it wasn’t an option in our situation. I needed stability badly by that point.)

  59. “Short of abuse, I don’t think there is any way I could ever leave my husband. I could never do that to our son. I think it is ultimately a very selfish decision, and this idea that kids are resilient passes over the deep emotional scarring and the fact that the kid’s life is made more complicated for the rest of their life. It’s not easy on children.”DITTO

  60. The responses are eye-opening to me and hard to read, as so many of them highlight the trauma and pain the adult reader is still feeling after all these years post-divorce.My datapoint is that my parents were deeply unhappy but never divorced, and I think that unhappiness affected my self-esteem and how I could evaluate relationships in my adulthood. I recall one party where my parents were forced to kiss (peck) in public, and I burst into tears because I had never seen that before. Looking back, if I had a better understanding of healthy relationships and had parents who were unafraid to pursue those, I might have not made the same mistakes I’ve made in my adulthood.
    My plea is for those that think that emotional scarring is limited to those who are children of divorced parents, please reconsider your theory.

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