Divorce and Your Kids
Q: I've heard many divorced parents say: "Thank goodness our children weren't affected by our divorce; we were so civilized; everything is fine." You experienced divorce both as a child and as an adult
A: I don't think children are unaffected by anything that goes on in their parents' lives. You learn about love from two things: one, how your parents treat you; and two, watching how they treat each other. To me, whether the parents are living in the same house is secondary. There's been a recent study that showed that it wasn't the actual divorce, or the years of going back and forth between two houses, that damages children. It was the years preceding the divorce, when both parents were still at home and the tension between them was affecting the children. It's not the event of the divorce but the history of the whole marriage that damages the children.
Q: Some studies suggest that parents should stay together for the sake of the kids. Do you agree with that statement?
A: I could not disagree more. They're not looking at things holistically. They're looking at people whose parents got divorced, but they're not taking into account what made their parents get divorced, and how it affected them as children. I've never in all my years working with people had an adult say to me: "You know, my parents were miserable, they didn't have sex, they fought all the time, they never showed affection for each other, but I'm glad they stayed together so that my brother and I could have the illusion of a happy childhood." When I ask my audiences: "How many of you think your parents should have gotten a divorce?" three-quarters of all the people whose parents are still married raise their hands. I don't think that divorce is always the answer, but to stay together in an unhappy relationship
If you ask your seven-year-old daughter: "What would you rather have for dinner: ice cream or chicken?" she's going to choose ice cream. But you don't give her ice cream. She might be unhappy for a while, or think, "I have a mean mother," but as a parent, you're supposed to do what's best for your child, and you know that chicken is the healthy choice. If you ask a child: "Do you want mommy and daddy to stay together?" what do you think she's going to say? But when she becomes a teenager, when she's dating and trying to figure out who she is and how she should be treated by men, and all she's seen is that dad really doesn't like mom and treats her badly, then that teenage girl is going to accept scraps from a guy. She doesn't know what love looks like. She'll be mistreated, and it's going to be her parents' fault. How else are you supposed to learn what healthy love looks like? Where is she going to see it? If mom and dad get divorced, hopefully mom will date again, and will hopefully develop a healthy relationship. The daughter may miss dad a lot, but at least she'll see how a happy couple talk to each other and resolve their problems. And if mom and dad talk about their relationships, and include their daughter in what they're learning, that's even better.