Should We Stay Married for the Kids? | Ask Athena | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Should We Stay Married for the Kids?


Dear Athena,

I have two really young children with my husband. We've been married for eight years. The marriage is at an all-time low. We get along OK, but we fight a lot, too. We fight at night when the kids go to bed. It's boring, and we haven't had sex in months. We are pretty miserable. The kids are the best — they are what keep us together. I know we should get a divorce, and he knows, too, but we are thinking of staying together until the kids are older and live on their own. Some people think it's a good idea, and some don't. I think I could make it work until they are older. I don't know. What do you think would be best?


Kids Before Us

Dear Kids Before Us,

No, no, no, no, no! You should not stay married because of the kids. Absolutely not.

I know you want what's best for the children, for sure. But what's best for you is what's best for them, at least in this matter. How will your kids know what's best for them in the future? How will they learn to navigate life with a strong sense of self? They need to learn that from their parents.

The best way to teach your kids anything is to lead by example. When they're little, you are the center of their worlds. If you are confident about the choices you make, they are likely to follow suit. You will teach them that some decisions are hard, and that sometimes a little heartache is the price we pay for true harmony.

Your children will define their future relationships by many of the rules and values you uphold now. If you stifle your needs for the next 15 to 20 years "for their sake," they will learn that putting aside personal happiness and well-being is what marriage and commitment are all about. Compromise is crucial in a family and a marriage, but it shouldn't be at the expense of joy and love.

You may be worried that the kids will resent you two for breaking up. Or maybe you're anxious about shared custody or how they'll cope with change. All of these are valid concerns. It would be hard not to see your kids every day. It might be confusing for them to have two different homes and routines. But what at first is unfamiliar and confusing ultimately becomes normal. If they have two reliable, confident, cooperative parents, the kids have a far better chance of turning out fine.

And consider this: If you and your husband stayed together, unhappily, until your kids were grown up and they eventually discovered that you did so for them, they would feel bad, guilty and maybe even betrayed because their parents lived a lie. Don't let that happen.

As the old song goes, breaking up is hard to do. But not being honest and true to yourself is even harder.