The decision to divorce, especially when children are involved, is one of the most difficult choices a person can face.
Having been divorced with children for more than six years has given me the perspective that couples should not stay together for the sake of the children. Of course, I preface that with a strong belief that couples with children should try everything available to them to work out their differences for the sake of the children; but choosing to stay miserable "for the kids" doesn’t do anyone any favors.
Many people I have talked with regarding divorce seem to believe that staying married for the sake of their children is the right thing to do.
Some even believe that the best time to leave is when their youngest goes off to college. Interestingly, there is a term for this phenomena and it's called: Empty nest divorce. But I have to wonder: Is this the right time to leave your marriage?
When I divorced, my youngest was 12 and my next oldest was 20. The 12-year-old was in middle school, and my 20-year-old was in community college. My youngest (now an 18-year-old young adult) is in her senior year of high school. She, thankfully, is past the fallout of divorce and instead is obsessed with which college she will choose, how to juggle her busy school workload with extracurricular activities, a part-time job—all while trying to sustain a social life. Other than the typical senior year stress, she is quite adjusted to her life.
Let's face it: there is no perfect time to divorce. In fact, according to Dr. Conklin-Danao, a clinical psychologist and divorce coach, "College-aged children often have a strong reaction to divorce that parents are unprepared to handle."
We all want our children to be happy, and well-adjusted. In fact, a friend of mine announced to her son a few years ago that she and his father were divorcing when the young man was home for Christmas break. He had a difficult time. For him, it felt like a death, and home was no longer home. He found out his father was having an affair, and he sided with his mother. After a lengthy legal battle, the father refused to pay for college. The young man ended up leaving his school and commuting to a college near his mother.
I think it would be wise for parents to remember that your college-aged child is adjusting to a lot at this stage of life, including living on his or her own for the first time, making new friends, and living in a new community—which is a huge transition. Being thoughtful about when you make your announcement of the divorce will help them ease into the transition of their new life, allowing them to focus on themselves and not their parents.
Having read many books and articles on the subject, I would say there are as many variations of opinions of when to get divorced, or if you should get divorced, as there are shades of colors. But one opinion shared by many that resonates with me is that it doesn't make sense to stay together for the kids, since no one benefits from living in an unhappy home. Over the course of day-in/day-out, year after year, the messages we send to our children accumulate and take root, increasing the likelihood that your kids will repeat the very same patterns they have seen in their home growing up.
One prevailing fear many parents have of divorce with children is that the act of divorce, in and of itself, will damage the children. Of course, any upheaval in our children's lives should not be taken lightly. Yet, very few people consider the consequences of children growing up in unhappy yet intact homes, as the children witness conflicted, unloving, and uncooperative parental relations. Children tend to model what they see in their parents' relations. Certainly, as parents, we want better for our kids. Yet, the likelihood is that children will sway toward similar marriages.
Worse still, many parents claim their kids don't know anything is wrong within their marriage; and while that may or may not be true, the irony is that they will, therefore, normalize what may be a mediocre, disappointing, or conflicted marriage. I have always believed that, to be the best we can be as parents, we need to model a level of authenticity in our lives—one in which we face our challenges and struggles and don't succumb to fear. Isn't that what we want for them? To stay true to themselves?
The good news is that, although divorce is hard and often extremely painful for children, long-term harm is not inevitable. Most experts agree that, although the breakup is usually painful, the majority adjust well over time. And, truthfully, unhappy parents do not tend to raise happy children, and unhealthy relationships that "stay together for the kids" when their marriage is destructive tend to produce children who have unhealthy relationships as adults.
The choice of staying for the children is naturally yours to make. Speaking for myself, I did not stay, because staying was just too unbearable no matter how I tried to repair the relationship; and from my vantage point, my children are happy and thriving after divorce. But, only you can answer that very personal, deeply troubling question: should you stay or not?