Dealing With Divorce: Should You Stay for the Kids?

mother and father working at the breakfast table with their son

Should you stay together for your kids? Find out here. |

When your relationship has reached a point where you both know it isn’t working out anymore, your first thought might be to get a divorce. However, when kids are thrown into the mix, the decision to leave is tougher. Should you stay for their sake? If you decide it’s best to leave, when is the best time? The Cheat Sheet asked divorce and parenting coach Rosalind Sedacca to share her thoughts on whether to stay or go when kids are involved.

The Cheat Sheet: Is it a good idea to stay in a relationship because you have children? Why or why not?

Rosalind Sedacca: Not if the relationship isn’t healthy for you or the kids. Studies have proven that parental conflict harms children more than any other factor. If parents are fighting, bad-mouthing, or in other ways disrespecting one another around the children, the kids will be negatively affected and emotionally scarred. Parents are role models for their children. If children live with parents in conflict or who live in a loveless marriage, children are exposed to negative experiences about marriage and relationships that can last a lifetime.

parents walking with their child

Young children often have less trouble dealing with divorce. |

CS: If you do choose to leave, how can you decide on the best timing?

RS: There’s never a best time to leave a relationship. However, you should be physically and emotionally prepared first. Many families wait until summer for the actual transition to two homes. They prepare the children in advance and let the school know, so they can take advantage of school resources. It’s advisable to work with a divorce coach to guide you along the way and help avoid damaging mistakes. Learn how best to break the divorce news to children before taking any action.

child coloring at the kitchen table

Younger children may be able to adjust better. | Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

CS: Does the age of the kids matter?

RS: Yes, younger children adapt more easily than older kids and teens. But there are many factors that influence the impact of divorce on children besides age. Good communication skills are essential for parents. Put yourself in your child’s shoes before making any decisions and reach out for help from divorce professionals who are child centered. Not all attorneys have your family’s best interest at heart. Focus on mediation if possible.

young children eating at McDonald's

Breaking the news can be tough. | Kristian Dowling/Getty Images

CS: How does being married versus just dating affect the decision to leave when kids are involved?

RS: It’s the depth of the relationship with the children that counts, not whether one is married or not. If the children are emotionally connected to the adult caretakers, they will experience hurt, pain, and loss when a breakup occurs. Use the same emotional strategies whether you are married or not.

child watching a movie in a theater

Allow your kids to express their true feelings about the divorce. |

CS: How can you prepare the kids emotionally during relationship turmoil?

RS: Talk to your children and listen to them. Don’t judge them for their feelings or make them feel wrong. Be compassionate and never share adult information with children of any age. Also learn effective co-parenting and communication skills. How Do I Tell the Kids About the Divorce? provides wisdom from six psychotherapists on how to break the tough news to children. There are other valuable websites with articles, advice, and tips to prepare your children.

Couple talking about the possibility of divorce

There are ways to make sure your kids can cope with the divorce. |

CS: Anything to add?

RS: Ask yourself these questions before making any divorce or breakup decisions:

  • Do I love my children more than I hate or dislike my ex?
  • Would I be making the same parenting decisions if we were still married?
  • What will my kids say about how we handled the breakup when they are grown adults?

These are key questions that will keep you in line as you move ahead, especially with co-parenting. Also watch your kids closely and report behavior changes to experts as soon as they occur to help your child better adapt to the changes in his or her life.

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[Editor’s note: This story was originally published September 2016]