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Love your Children When You Divorce

Updated on August 19, 2009

With the divorce rate hovering around 50% in the US, more and more people are finding themselves in the position of trying to make divorce work, particularly where their children are concerned. It is simplistic to say, "Divorce is harmful, avoid it at all costs." Some divorce is absolutely unavoidable. If a person finds themselves married to an abusive, dishonest, manipulative or drug/alcohol addicted spouse, they are seriously jeopardizing the future mental health of their children to "stick it out". But how you deal within and after the divorce affects your childrens' mental health just as much.

I am speaking from personal experience. I was married for 13 years when my husband abruptly informed me that he was divorcing me. Now, I say abruptly. I should have seen it coming, but divorce was something I never even considered. I was so miserable I was in a stupor most of the time, going through the motions of being a "good and supportive" wife and mother. Inside I was angry, depressed and very unhappy. We let it go way too long. But, I was raised in a very strict religious family that taught (literally) if the husband and wife fought, it was the wife's fault because she didn't keep her mouth shut. And divorce is a shameful thing.

So, how did I survive this ordeal? Thankfully, for all our marital dysfunction, my exhusband and I have one huge thing in common: the childrens' well being comes first. We knew a couple who had gone through a divorce and turned so hateful and bitter that they set out to destroy each other. Who got hurt? The children. They hurt those kids so completely and got absolutely nothing out of it. The wife dragged the husband through court with the direct intention to destroy him financially and to tie up as much of his time as she could. Her children moved in with grandparents because she didn't have time to raise them. Almost as soon as they settled for the last time, and she had exhausted all her legal avenues, she came down with Multiple Sclerosis. I was struck by the fact that she had only a few years to enjoy a healthy life and get on with it and she chose to spend the time hating, fighting and hurting.

So, it was ironic when I found myself facing divorce, with young children about 12 years later and I was met with a choice. Forgive? Or hate. I took the forgiveness road, and believe me, I'm so happy I took that road. Forgiveness is so empowering.

You may have been cheated on, your spouse may have a gambling addiction. He/she may be lazy. The person may be abusive, sneaky, dishonest. I'm telling you, you have a choice. Forgiveness or hate. If you are married to someone who has traits that leaves you with no choice but to divorce, you still have the choice of how you deal with it. Divorce is the only path in some situations. Only you can decide if it is your path.

That being said, what do you do when your spouse sets out to hurt you and you are trying to take the higher ground? When your children are adults, they are going to remember the situation a certain way. For example, your spouse wronged you some way and you get divorced. Here's the choice:

1. Tell all your friends repeately that the *&%$%^ did whatever to you and you will never forgive him. You hate him and you are justified in trashing him because he made the choice to cheat on you/embezzle funds/drink too much/take drugs/gamble away your money, etc. Your children will remember that the parent they love was repeately trashed and your hate made them feel constantly that they had to choose between parents. Who should they be loyal to? At first they will either side with you or be angry and side with the other parent, but as they get older, they will simply resent your bitterness. And they will learn that when someone wrongs you, the way you deal with it is to turn into a hateful, bitter person that sets out to get revenge. Or:

2. You keep the sordid details of the divorce to yourself. You are civil to the spouse when you are around him/her. When the children ask you why you got a divorce (which they will repeatedly), you explain that you were in a situation that wasn't healthy and you couldn't find a solution except to get out. That you don't hate their other parent, but you could not live with him/her anymore. That it is okay for them to love the other parent. That the other parent needs their love and that you don't hate them. That you love your children so much that you needed to put them into a better life and that with working together and loving each other, it will work out. You never put down the other parent or tell the children ANY of the bad things the parent did. You don't put the burden of a parent's sins on a child. (That being said, once a child is an adult and still wants to know details, I don't think it's wrong to tell the facts) The child grows up with the skills to recognize a bad situation and to get out, the capacity to forgive and get on with his/her life. The ability to love someone who is imperfect even if he/she can't live with the person.


 I know it's just a movie, but I was struck by the mother in Liar Liar. She was divorced from her husband because he had been unfaithful and he was a compulsive liar. Her young son adored his father and waited in vain for his father to put him first. The mother would have been accurate to tell her young son that his father was a no good lyin' cheat. She didn't. She recognized that it would be her son that would be scarred if she destroyed his faith in his father. She got out of the marriage (ok, at the end she ends up with the guy again...), and made a new life for herself. But, she taught her son how to work through the pain of someone you love hurting you. She gave him avenues to express his frustration and didn't pop his bubble of innocence. She knew that disillusioning this boy would hurt him. He figured out on his own that his father was a liar and wouldn't change unless something drastic happened. She was very angry, but did not let that spill over into her relationship with her son. I can respect that

I am not a psycholgist, so can not advise anyone who is dealing with someone who is abusive. I can't give financial or legal advise to someone who is being dragged through court. And I know I will probably unleash someone's ire because I made divorce sound simplistic. Divorce is not simple or easy. And being kind to someone who has hurt you is just about the hardest thing you can do. But, you are responsible for teaching your kids how to deal with loss, disappointment, and anger. How you act will greatly impact those kids for the rest of their lives. Think about that before you lose your temper and throw dishes at each other

I just know that forgiving each other is the best thing you can do and we don't regret it a bit. My children are tolerant, happy, forgiving, flexible, adventurous, and well adjusted. My husband has never bashed their father, and he backs us up completely. Divorce made me feel like a failure, at first. Well, I'm not a failure. We have suceeded in turning it into a life lesson that has made life good.


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      Frustrated 7 years ago

      Nice article. Thanks for the civility reminder.