TaLisa’s parents divorced when she was a child. Here’s what it taught her about how parenting and relationships intersect.
My parents muddled through a divorce during my early high school years. I was the eldest of three children, with two younger brothers, therefore my parents’ divorce involved five people.
I distinctly remember the conversation when Mum and Dad sat us down at the table, talking about a temporary break whereby Dad would move out for a month. A month turned into a year turned into a divorce.
No child is completely unaware of their parents’ emotional state, and my parents had been unhappy for a while. As sad as the break was, I wasn’t opposed to it, as I knew the status quo wasn’t good for any of us.
I have two distinct emotional memories from that time. First, I remember the fights. I remember seeing the hurt between my parents, who were trying to make it work and repeatedly making failed attempts at playing happy families. The unbearable feeling at the time came from hearing the words they said to hurt each other. This tore me in two. I wanted to protect each from the other. This memory is my saddest from that time.
Second, I remember hearing my mother crying one night, when they were a fair way down the track of separation. I cannot remember what I did, I think nothing, but I wanted to hug her. A child is a quick healer. They might cry, throw tantrums, sob, but I believe they will get to the acceptance stage far quicker than the parents will. Children will often have an inkling that something is amiss, put it together, and accept the outcome.
If you are breaking up for the right reasons, it will benefit the child to have parents with a chance for happiness again, rather than remaining in an environment in which happiness is impossible. It will be better to go through the awkward years and arrive at a better place than to string out hurt in a family dynamic.
A child is a versatile creature, but we adults are far less pliable. We will dwell on the wrongs we believe were done to us and feel the painful emotions far longer than the child will.
I think parents mistakenly put the children first in these situations. I don’t see this benefiting anyone, as it seems only a Band-Aid. If parents are happy, the child will be happy in the family environment. Happy parents are the foundation of a child’s happiness. A shiny gift often will provide a momentary distraction, but no matter how shiny, the gift will go no way toward preventing sadness if the child sees that the parents are hurting.
For husbands and fathers emotions may be more difficult to manage and address in themselves and their children. Getting to the core of your own happiness can be a difficult task for most men. Many prefer to distract themselves than deal with these emotions. Unfortunately it is this often uncomfortable path of self-rediscovery that will give you the best future.
My takeaway points for any breakup that involves children are:
- Give the relationship everything you have and do so with a counsellor. Not always a fun idea for most men but this will keep arguments out of the home. Remember, when your emotions are high and you are both less likely to ‘fight fair’, this will keep the situation on a level, respectable grounding.
- Once you have made the decision that separation will take place, and you are both committed to it, get separate dwellings and divide assets as quickly as possible. The longer you string it out, the higher the chance you will hurt each other unnecessarily, which will affect children with its on-flow effect.
- Talk to the children together. Continue to be parents who support each other regarding the children. Decide together on matters concerning the children and support each other. Spend time with counsellors working out how you can continue to do this as the years go on and in the initial discussion with the children about the split.
- Continue to talk to your children and ask how they are doing.
- Don’t lie to the children about a breakup. Be honest; they know more than you think. Find the right time and be clear, but don’t go into too much detail.
- Work through the uncomfortable emotional talks and prepare for them in advance. If you acknowledge that these discussions are important and need to occur, you are better prepared to tackle them as needed rather than shying away and having them recur.
- Don’t stop treating the children like children in a divorce. Even if a child seems to be taking sides, don’t take it out on them or hold it against them. What seems obvious might not be so. Remember, they are doing their best to deal with very complex feelings, so cut a lot of slack in this regard. Also, once a child accepts a breakup, they can make decisions for no emotional reason at all. They may choose to live with one parent of the other simply because their dwelling is located around the corner from the child’s best friend.
- If your partner did most of the organizing for the family activities, think about how you can keep these activities up during your time with the children. Prepare in advance to continue to spend quality time with your children.
- Put yourself first. You are no good at fully supporting someone until you are in a good place. When you are back in a happy place, the children will see and feel this and ultimately make their life a lot happier, too. Yes, remember the children and make decisions with this in mind, but don’t stay together for the sake of the children.
It is a messy and difficult experience, but treat everyone as respectfully and fairly as you can during a time of separation. Allow time for everyone to be hurt, but make decisions about what you all want your future to look like. When you make decisions, keep in mind everyone involved, but don’t sacrifice your happiness in this process; it will only end up hurting others later on.
Image: Jim Pennucci/Flickr (note: this image is a representation only and does not depict any individuals associated with this article)