It’s something that affects the majority of us at some point in our lives, either directly, or through someone we know – divorce, or separation, involving kids. Of course every situation is unique and there is no right or wrong way to do things, but as a relationship changes, or hits a rocky patch, should kids be considered in a bid to stay together? Or is it better to be happier apart rather than unhappy together, whether you have kids or not?
Here we speak to a range of parents and children to find out what they think and talk to them about their own, very unique, experiences…
Melissa, 64-years-old, Bath
Melissa was married for 10 to her first husband, and then 26 years to her second. She has four children aged 23, 24, 34 and 38.
I think that almost all parents do, or at least try to stay together for their kids. You end up putting up with an awful lot more if there are children involved. Generally I think people doing this consciously, will decide to split up if they genuinely think its better for their children. However if you’ve been divorced once, and have a second relationship with kids, you know how unbelievably difficult and expensive it is to bring up children between too households.
I chose to separate because I didn’t want my children growing up thinking that bad relationships were normal or acceptable. The children were seeing a level of conflict, verbal abuse and lack of financial security that I didn’t think they should have to live with. I made the right decision but I didn’t realise how difficult it was going to be. I had to grow up fast, into the person I became.
After a lot of time I have learned that we need to stop thinking of family as what exists within a single household and think about it as a kinship network. We need to look at all the relationships in the family. See which ones are strong and make them stronger, see which ones are broken and try to repair them. If you are thinking about a household you are likely to spend a lot of time judging yourself, and thinking that you failed. Family life is very difficult, so it is best to look at all these relationships separately and see what you can do better each day. Judging yourself is very unproductive. After my first marriage I struggled to keep on top of everything. I was living on my own with two kids, in a tiny one-bed room flat and earning £5k a year. I thought I was a complete failure as a mother. But years later when our life became more stable, when we had a house and a garden, it was those difficult years that they missed, because we only had each other.
Sinead, 25-years-old, London
Sinead’s parents separated when she was 2-years-old, she is not yet married herself, nor does she have any children.
My parents were together for a year before I was born. They actually separated just before my Mum found out she was pregnant, but after a few months they got back together. This was largely because she couldn’t get a council flat under Thatcher and was living in a squat in Glasgow at the time. My Dad owned a little cottage and I suppose they (optimistically) thought that it could work. Subsequently, they stayed together for two years after that.
I was only two years old but my earliest memory is of them arguing, both of them kneeling facing each other, my Dad swearing at my Mum as she cried. I walked in to the room and I remember choosing her – I walked over and put my arms round her. It must’ve been just before they broke up. I didn’t see my Dad at all after their separation but my Mum tells me that I cried for him every night for six months.
I absolutely think this was the best option for them, or at least for me and my Mum. It wasn’t just that they had relationship issues, as my Dad is a long term drug addict and amongst being involved in various dodgy things and stealing from and lying to her, he also used to get high whilst looking after me – putting me in danger. Whilst it was hard to grow up without a father figure, it probably would have been much more detrimental for him to be present in my life.
My mum is an incredible woman who made a hard choice and never stopped loving and caring for me whilst trying to create some stability for the two of us. I’ve learned and gained so much from the relationship we’ve always had and have been able to make close bonds and relationships with people because of it.
My mum still talks about marriage like it’s a dream of hers. Whilst I don’t think it’s necessary to be married, it’s made me want that union she never had – to have children with someone who loves you and offers you a partnership.
Billy, 35-years-old, London
Billy has been married for six years and has two children, a five-year-old and a 10-month-old
I remember sitting, listening at the top of the stairs. I could hear mumbling then shouting. Not really understanding what was being said. In theatre terms it is called the Gods, but I didn’t feel like a God, I knew something wasn’t right and I was helpless – I was a kid listening to my mum and dad, as a child you spend your early years listening to what is wrong and what is right, but how do you tell your parents that you think they are wrong? As a child all you know is there is a mum and a dad and that is it.
At the time, I could not get my head around it – why would anyone do that – why would anyone break up a family, a home. Looking back at that now, as a parent – it must have been the hardest decision for my parents to make. But a decision that in time would be ok. I didn’t know that at the time though – there was a period of questioning myself, anger, sadness, disrespect – a lot of taking sides. Some things I still stand-by doing, others I which i would have done. But thats life, right.
Things have changed a bit I think, society has made it acceptable for people for to change their minds more readily today, not settling for what they don’t want, which can be good, and bad because we also live in a world of constant comparison and ‘grass is greener’ but sometimes it really isn’t. Initially I feel there is this need / pressure to stay together through anything ‘Think of the kids’ – you want the best for your children – but sometimes, if you know things are not right it’s better for the kids to be around stable, happy people rather than a forced situation.
“We are not discussing it – for the sake of the children – its not fair on them” – maybe its not fair on them that you are not confronting the issue. If you are not happy , they will sense that, you will not be the happy mother or father you are around them – is that fair on them? You are naive if you think that no one has gone through this before. Someone will have and someone will again. you are not alone.
I believe that If you are not happy in a relationship, you should firstly try and work out why and what you can do to resolve it. This should be done together, you are in it together to work at it together. Children need a happy family, a family and home that works – it unfair on them to grow up in a house of lies or regret, anger or sadness. I work to make my marriage work for us all, the children, and my wife. And myself – you have to be happy too.
So much pressure is put on you to succeed as a partner, parent, lover, friend. and you know what, sometimes we get it wrong. A lot of the time we get it wrong – that’s because its fucking hard.
Simon, aged 46, Manchester
Simon has been married for 14 years and has two children aged 12 and eight
There must be loads of parents out there who hit a rocky patch with their partner and immediately dismiss any thoughts of a break-up because of their children. We all want the best for our children and that tends to mean (according to society anyway), that they’ll be better off with a mother and a father figure in their lives. Whether this is true or not, clearly comes down to the strength of the individual marriage. Also, some relationships might get to a point where all the couple have in common is their children – but that might be enough to stay together as there’s nothing more important than your own children. Plus, it’s a pretty good thing to have in common.
It’s a tough one. If staying together is only delaying the inevitable, then perhaps it’s better to split, but who can make that call, as all children will inevitably react differently. One child might adapt perfectly well to a split, but another might rely on their parents’ foundation, no matter how rocky it is, and upon a breakup, spiral to what in hindsight, might have been an avoidable low. Also, if a child is repeatedly seeing their parents argue, live separate lives and not displaying any affection, then the child’s perception of relationships, love and parenting might be distorted.
My children’s happiness is more important than my own, so, I would try and stay together if I felt having us (as a married couple) behind them was best. For their sake, I’d try and ensure that when around them, any issues with the marriage aren’t having an adverse effect, but, and it’s a big ‘but’, this obviously might not work and have the opposite effect. It’s a tough call and one that is going to vary from family to family. My parents remained together despite their unhappiness, but it was blatantly clear, even to us children that were deeply unhappy under the surface. Perhaps in their case, they should have called it a day a few years earlier but who can tell just how things might have turned out.
My parents split when I was about 16. It was inevitable after so many years of leading separate lives. They weren’t alike in any way and looking back, god knows how they even got together in the first place! They remained together for as long as they did (25 years) because of my younger sister, but upon the split, she became a little reckless (she’s fine now, don’t worry – a very lovely, happy young woman). I was old enough to understand the split, I was expecting it, what I couldn’t get my head around was my mother having an affair and destroying my father. Twenty years on, he’s still a shadow of the man he once was and that’s what hurts. Looking back, in their case and in hindsight, perhaps they should have split earlier, before anyone else became involved and before my sister had an opportunity to be at an age where she could see opportunities to use their split to her advantage, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Beatrice, 51-years-old, Bath
Beatrice has two children aged 20 and 23. Shewas married for 10 years but is now divorced.
I was married for 10 years although we actually separated during that time for a couple of years and then tried again for the sake of the children. They were very young when we first separated – one and four – and then when we actually got divorced they were five and eight. That was in 2002 so the children mostly grew up with us apart. I don’t think my youngest has many memories of us actually being married.
Trying to make it work for the sake of the children didn’t work for us. We are both passionate people. We argued a lot and this was upsetting for the children. They hated hearing and seeing us argue and that we were more focused on our problems than we were on them. When we finally got divorced I think we were able to start to look at our lives and our relationship more positively and the children certainly got more of my attention. I am sure that in an ideal world the children would have liked to have grown up with both parents happily living together. However, I think they accept that we were all better off living apart and they are far too clever to have been fooled with a lie. Interestingly my ex husband stayed with us for several months a couple of summers ago. The children made it perfectly clear that us getting back together again would be their worst nightmare as they could see why we were so wrong for each other.
I think one of the most positive things is not to divorce each other’s families. My in-laws are still my in-laws and I love them dearly. I think this sense of family has also helped my ex husband and I to build bridges in our relationship. I can now appreciate all the good things about my ex and don’t focus on what happened between us. I can honestly say we are good friends – more like siblings than ex partners and there is that love between us even if we still fight sometimes. I think when you have known someone for most of your life and you share children and family with them that is a good place to be.
Ben, 36-years-old, London
Ben has been married for five years and has two children aged three and one.
Relationships and marriage seem to have become more disposable for both those with and without kids, and I’m sure some parents going through a rocky patch bail out sooner than they should because divorce doesn’t have the same stigma it did years ago. That has positives and negatives, on the positive side, people aren’t staying in unhappy relationships where they might once have done, but the negative is perhaps some give up without giving the relationship a proper chance. When you have kids your instinct is to give them a stable ‘family’ environment and to perhaps stay together for the kids, but as a child of divorce, I think this is the worst thing you can do for your children. A happy environment is much more important that what society deems normal for a family.
I think staying together for the kids is a mistake. Kids can sense when something is not right and it’s not fair on them. It doesn’t matter how cordial a couple are to each other, when the love has gone the dynamic changes and I’m sure this has an effect on kids and their own views on relationships. I think parents should make an effort to work on their relationship if they’re having a rough patch. My parents divorced when I was eight or nine and there was, and still is a lot of animosity there, at least on one side, and this definitely affects children. It has made me much more keen to make sure a relationship is working and to not take my wife for granted. I desperately want the stability for my children that I didn’t have growing up. But at the same time, I don’t want them to grow up in an unhappy household. Our house is full of love and laughter, if that stopped and the marriage couldn’t be saved I would rather we went our separate ways and be happy. I would still need to be involved everyday though, being able to split amicably is really important when you have children if you can’t make it work. Something my parents didn’t have and that made it very difficult, there was a lot of negativity around.
I think it is definitely better for parents to be happy apart than unhappy together. However, I think it is really important that both parents continue to play an active role in their children’s life and where possible stay close geographically. My mum moved away shortly after my parents got divorced and while it was only a couple of hours in the car, when you’re 10 years old, that feels like the other end of the country. I remember being very upset at my mum being so far away. If I were ever in that situation, I would stay close to my children and be involved every day as much as possible. I think it’s also important for couples regardless of whether they have children, to be happy. Yes you should work on the relationship, because relationships take effort ad compromise, but ultimately life is short and no one should be unhappy. A little idealistic perhaps, but happiness at home impacts on so many aspects of our daily lives, it’s crucial.
SarahLou, 37-years-old, Arundel
SarahLou is 37-years-old and has a daughter, Boo, aged eight. She was with her partner for 15 years, married for nine, and they are now separated.
I think once kids are in the picture, it automatically becomes bigger than the two of you. I do believe that two parents are better than one IF they are happy in themselves and with each other. Any partnership takes a lot of hard work, especially during hard times, and the work is particularly worth doing with kids in mind, but I don’t believe that they should be a reason to stay together when all’s said and done.
My own parents split when I was 22. My mother had stayed believing she was doing the right thing by my brother and I, but actually, it did a lot of harm in the interim and aftermath. As the eldest, I was very much caught in the middle throughout my teens and felt unbalanced in my family roots. When they finally split up, as a young ‘adult’, I could understand and sympathise with their reasoning, and wanted the best for both of them, but equally, it ripped those roots right out. Because I was an ‘adult’ no one ever asked how I was or felt about it. I was devastated but couldn’t express that, and it took a long time (and counselling) to recognise and allow myself my own feelings of loss, without feeling selfish about it.
During my own separation, I very much felt it was my duty to actually put our daughter to one side. If we were going to work things out; we had to be fighting for our relationship, not our family, otherwise we weren’t fighting for our own happiness, and I believe that is essential to being the best parent you can be.
I 100% don’t believe parents should stay together for the kids. I do believe, however, that it is of vital importance if it comes to separation, that all feelings are put aside to ensure that the children are put first during this time. That means allowing them questions and providing honesty and openness relevant to their age; providing assurance and reassurance; not making promises you don’t know you can keep; and ensuring they are not put in the middle of any arguments, arrangements or decisions that need to made. As adults, we may have our differences but it’s so important to communicate and behave fairly when it comes to the kids.
It’s unlikely I’ll know how our separation has affected our daughter until later down the line, but what I do know, is that she seems to have adjusted well with our honesty, support, amicability and ability to communicate with each other at every stage. She remains a buoyant, happy and wonderful girl, who has taken it all in her stride. Meanwhile, I have become a stronger and happier individual, and believe we are both better parents for it too.
Yassameen, 24-years-old, Bristol
Yassameen’s parents divorced when she was 2-years-old, she is not yet married herself, nor does she have any children.
My parents were together for around 12 years before they separated. I was around two-years-old. I remember a few trips to Butlins when we played house again a few years later but he never lived with us again. I remember being used to him coming and going, although I knew that this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. I am the youngest of five children and I remember the atmosphere in our house was very emotionally charged. There were lots of arguments and the older ones would always be in a bad mood afterwards.
My also remember feeling uneasy. We were a family but when my Dad was there I knew he wasn’t meant to be there. That we were all acting. I remember feeling disappointed because I would place so much on these times together and they always disappointed me. I would battle for his attention but always felt on the outskirts, and would always feel sad afterwards.
Despite that I definitely think it was the best decision for me and for them. It was a very volatile and violent relationship. I think if they stayed together longer, it would have had a really negative impact on all of us growing up. There were certainly hard times for both of them. My mum struggled financially and emotionally – I’m sure it wasn’t her dream to bring up five children by herself and more than most could have coped with – but I think she is happier now than if they had stayed together. My dad struggled too in his own way, I know he believed he should be there, as head of the house, head of his children and I think that has plagued him for a long time.
It was definitely hard growing up in this situation, I had a lot of resentment, anger and hurt. I’m from the generation of divorced parents. That’s no doubt brought our generation emotional issues like insecurity, identity crises and a whole host of other issues to battle through but I think you can get through that as long as you know you’re loved and you have their support. Even if it’s only from one of them. I’m probably still dealing with the affects of their decision today. But I think it would have been harder to grow up in a house with them, resenting them and watching them resent each other. Marriage is an imperfect concept because there are so many stages in people’s lives, our needs and our wants change all of the time – that you can’t possibly know whether it will work for life. When you reach adulthood you start to understand your parents more. You want them to be happy. You understand that they wanted to be happy.