From the April 2016 issue

Why Parents Don’t Need to Stay Together for the Kids

You shouldn't stay married for the kids, a recent study finds. In fact, older kids report being better off when their parents split.

Remember the Al Green ’70s hit, “Let’s Stay Together”? He croons about “loving you whether times are good or bad, happy or sad.” They’re nice sentiments. But they’re not reality for many. In fact, 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, the American Psychological Association reports.

Still, some couples stick it out – “for the kids.” But should they?

“Staying together for the kids is kind of an old, outdated adage that people still use,” says Cynthia Reynolds, executive director of First Family Counseling with offices in Bingham Farms and Detroit.

And that’s not always best for the kids, a recent UK study finds. Teens and young adults ages 14-22 would prefer for their parents to split up instead of staying together for their sake.

“It’s more common for (older kids) because they are more mature and they usually have a more realistic view of how a relationship should be,” Reynolds, a mom to two biological sons and two adult stepchildren, says.

Older kids may have already experienced their own relationships that did not work out and have a better understanding about why relationships end.

“Younger kids usually want their parents to be together no matter what,” Reynolds says. “It’s a totally different dynamic.”

Survey says

Eight out of 10 of the teens and young adults polled – all of whom had experienced parental separation or divorce – would prefer their parents split if they’re unhappy, says the study, first released late last year by a London-area family-law organization called Resolution. It’s not much different in the States.

“Children look to us as their first teachers,” Reynolds says. “If we’re modeling, ‘Stay in a relationship that doesn’t work and be miserable,’ that translates into, ‘Stay in a job and be miserable'” – or stay in your relationship and be miserable.

It’s not necessarily the best example to set. When you’re in an unhealthy situation with your spouse, kids will pick up on that. “You can’t really hide things when you’re living with children in the same home.”

Also, 31 percent of youth polled said they wish their parents had been less “horrible” to each other – and them – during their separation or divorce.

Reynolds says it’s important to be nice, respectful or kind to your soon-to-be ex, because that person is still related to your child. As for your children, “Keep them out of it,” she adds. “They’re not getting divorced. You’re getting divorced.”

Separate lives

While getting divorced is more widely accepted today than in the past, Reynolds urges couples to do everything they can to “repair relationships before disposing of them.” Get counseling or go on a retreat. Seek examples for conflict resolution, which is important to pass down to your children.

If you’ve decided to go separate ways, be mutually respectful and mature.

For starters, don’t discuss adult issues with your kids. “It is none of their business; it is your business as a couple,” she says. “They did not decide that you’re going to get married. They should not decide that you’re going to be divorced.”

Also, do not expect kids to feel the way you feel about your spouse, and avoid delegating the responsibility of the children onto one parent. “You are both equally responsible,” she says. Your kids still have to be raised.

If you get remarried, don’t force your children to accept this new person as a parent figure. Conversely, don’t do just what children want.

“A lot of times, people say you have to base your decision for the kids. You don’t do anything to harm the kids, but everyone in the family unit is important,” Reynolds says. So don’t exclude your new spouse from a family trip because of the kids. It can’t be all about them in your next relationship.

“This is the new norm for us with blended and step families,” she says. “We have to do things to make this work everyone.”

Art by Mary Kinsora

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