Is Staying Together "For the Kids" Really What's Best For the Kids?

Divorce and separation can be a hard topic of discussion for families. Sometimes it is so hard to discuss, that some spouses choose to stay in toxic and, sometimes, abusive relationships for the sake of their children. By observing my family and friends, I realized that this is very common in the black community and with black mothers. Many feel as though their children would be better off having both parents under one roof no matter how bad the parental relationship gets. Were they right? In my search for answers, I sat down with some of the closest people in my life who are children of unsuccessful relationships and got their view.

His mother left. And his father was still in his life. His father made sure he saw him and his sister everyday and supported them. He and his sister were made a priority regardless of the status of their parents’ relationship. At first, it was hard getting adjusted to the transition. It was hard to listen to his mother crying at night and seeing her worry about how she was going to move forward. Looking back, he feels that it was all for the best in the long run. “They’re both doing their own thing, but we’re still a family,” he says. There’s no tension. There’s no malice.

Her mother left. And found better. Before she was born her father was abusive mentally and physically to her mother. Her mother did not want her to grow up in that environment, so she left. She feels that if her mother had stayed she would’ve had to grow up witnessing all of their fights and toxicity making her a “totally different person”. After making her decision to leave, her mother found better. Her mother met a man that “filled that real dad role” and showed her how a woman was supposed to be treated in a relationship and how “a family is supposed to be.” Her mother leaving was “the best thing ever”.

Her mother left. And because she was so young, it didn’t really affect her. Her parents had her at 19 years-old and married the same year. They divorced two years later. Of course, she went through a phase where she wished her parents would get back together (as most kids do), but as she got older she realized their breakup was for the best. Although her father was not abusive, she feels “some people just aren’t meant to be together”. Her parents still don’t get along, and it’s hard for her to spend time with both sides of her family at the same time. If she had to grow up in the same household as the warring sides, the effects would have been detrimental. Unfortunately, the concept of divorce was normalized for her. She did not have many examples of happy and successful relationships growing up. She remembers thinking that two-parent households were “strange” and foreign.

Her mother stayed. Despite the physical and emotional abuse her mother endured, she felt that her daughter would have a better life if she stayed with her father. He could financially give her the things her mother could not. She got her first car at 16. She didn’t have to worry about how she was going to pay for college or textbooks. Any material thing she wanted, she got it. But it was at a price far greater than the digits on the pricetag. She had to hear the screaming. She had to witness the fights. She grew up feeling helpless. Feeling like she couldn’t help the “one person that [she loved] the most in the world”. She remembers telling her mother multiple times throughout her childhood that she wanted her to leave. As long as they were together, it didn’t matter to her. Growing up around that tension and seeing the ugliness that some people possess ultimately shaped who she’s grown up to be. “For better and for worse,” she says.

Staying together for the sake of your children is not good for your children. Period. As they say, “A good divorce is better than a bad marriage.” Just because parents breakup that does not mean that the children would go without -- financially or emotionally. As seen from the stories above, the father can still be present and offer support. A breakup should not affect your children and neither should your relationship. You’re not hiding your emotions from your kids as well as you think you are. According to a 2009 report by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, children who witness the depression of their parent are more likely to have signs of a “difficult” temperament, low self-worth, and other negative effects (Lifshitz, 2018). To all the mothers (and fathers) out there in unhappy relationships, it is possible. It is possible to get out of your situation, start fresh, and provide a life for your children on your own. Material things do not mean as much to your kids as you think they will. Your happiness and your safety mean a lot more.