Many couples on the verge of divorce ultimately choose not to follow through with the separation. This is because they want to stay together for their kids. Conventional wisdom is that every two-parent household is better for the development and support of children than even the best single-parent household. It’s with this in mind that we see all too many couples nominally remain in unsuccessful marriages.
Is such an unhappy status quo really the best thing you can do for your family, though? If your marriage is in a state where you can no longer model positive and healthy relationships for your children, the old axiom of “staying together for the kids” does your children more harm than good. Your kids risk learning some maladaptive lessons from your marriage. We’ve all heard about the studies that show children of divorce are more likely to divorce themselves. However, it’s much more difficult for social scientists to quantify how many unhappy marriages of quiet desperation beget more of the same.
Don’t think of staying in a marriage that you should end as something you need to teach. Think instead about what positive lessons your kids can take from you and your spouse making a transition to successful co-parenting. There are still constructive life lessons children can learn from divorce that can make the most of a situation that didn’t go as planned.
The concept of “settling” weaves its way through relationships at every level. In a hostile world that can be hard to navigate alone, people often feel that they’re deferring their dreams, desires, or overall happiness to secure and maintain a relationship with another person. But these compromises often come at a price—seething resentments, festering discontent, or a lack of love in general. The peril of pursuing relationships for relationships’ sake is an important lesson to learn, even at an early age. While all successful relationships and marriages require a healthy give-and-take, there’s no room for concessions when it comes to devotion to the other person.
Many couples dive into marriages they’re not ready for. Sometimes, family pressures force people to marry when they perhaps shouldn’t. Other couples impulsively decide on their own to get married on the spur of the moment. The notorious drive-through wedding chapels of Las Vegas are a testament to this. Others simply feel that it’s what society expects and a routine that everyone must go through. At first glance, it can seem that divorce trivializes marriage because it seems like nothing more than a breakup with more paperwork. However, acknowledging the end of a marriage that perhaps never began on solid footing underscores the importance of a marriage that does. You can teach your children that both partners should properly prepare for a union and enter it only for the right reasons.
We can’t always prepare for adversity. On the lists of the most stressful life events that people can experience, divorce ranks highly; most people only place the death of a loved one above it. Life after divorce can indeed be difficult, stressful, and sometimes seemingly impossible to cope with healthily. Nevertheless, with the proper support systems and their own resilience, formerly married people can come out of divorces with great strength and emotional growth. By not only surviving divorce but thriving afterward, you’ll demonstrate to your children that they, too, are more resilient than they think. They’ll learn that they can overcome all manners of adversity that they’ll face in life. As the French say, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. In other words, the only thing that remains the same in life is change. Change is inevitable, and when you and your children can deftly handle big life shifts, such as divorce, handling smaller events along the way will become considerably less challenging.
Having the ability to handle a busy, jam-packed everyday schedule is just as important as handling large and small jolts to the system. Joint custody means that children with co-parents are often on the move, passing back and forth between their parents’ residences to spend quality time with both, albeit apart. This new normal will teach your kids about effective time management and making the most of all the time they have.
With only one parent in the household, at least for some time, children quickly learn that they will have a bigger role to play at home. With only so many hours in a day, they cannot rely on one parent to make all their meals, clean their rooms, or do many of the other daily tasks they may have taken for granted before. Children of divorced parents understand that they must become self-sufficient just as their parents must. This can go beyond the boundaries of the home. They may be more interested in seeking a job to help with bills or have a little extra spending money of their own.
While divorce was certainly not what you originally envisioned, understand that the vital life lessons children can learn from divorce can still be positive. One additional lesson they can learn is that both of their parents are still capable of collaborating. Often, an approach to divorce that involves litigation begins and ends with high tension and acrimony. If at all possible, you should seek a method of alternative dispute resolution to finalize your divorce. A collaborative divorce is one in which both spouses and their legal representatives sit down to develop a fair and equitable divorce agreement outside the courtroom. It will spare older children from involvement in a court case and show them that even though your marriage may be ending, you’re still capable of working together constructively in the best interests of the whole family. The firm of Schiller DuCanto & Fleck can help you secure a collaborative divorce in Illinois with experienced attorneys who are as effective outside the courtroom as they are within it. Agreeing on this route will be an important show of teamwork—one that will pay off for you and your kids for years to come.