Grandma’s View on Staying Together for the Children

Staying TogetherCarolyn Hax, in “Feeling Distance in the Marriage but Sticking it out for the Kids,” October 18, 2013, in the Miami Herald, gave one of the best answers this Grandma has ever read of Ms. Hax’s columns.

She was asked:

Dear Carolyn:

 Is there an age at which divorce causes more or less damage to children? My kids are in elementary and middle school. My husband and I have grown apart and live like friendly roommates. I’m very unhappy, but I think the kids perceive our home as warm and secure.

 Sometimes I think I should just stay with my husband until our youngest child goes to college, but that will be in 10 years. I don’t think I can hang in there that long. Will the kids be able to handle it better if I wait until they’re in high school?

 For the Kids’ Sake

Ms. Hax’s answer did not address the question as to age in which divorce causes more or less damage to children.  It seems that the children in this family are past babyhood.  This Grandma says the younger the better for the children to adapt to a different family structure.  The children who suffer the most from a divorce are adult children.  They question whether their parents were ever happy and whether their childhood memories of good times are a sham.  Teenage children suffer much as they are going through their own crisis period and cannot handle the extra angst and stress caused by parents going through the extra angst and stress of a divorce.  Additionally, their own teenage lives are their concerns and they worry how the divorce will affect them financially.

Of course, this Grandma disagrees with one of Ms. Hax’s major suggestions.  The wife should not say anything of her unhappiness to her husband, until she does a few things first.  Then, the unhappiness should be addressed in counseling, not directly with the Husband, after the wife does a few things first.

Ms. Hax addressed the true issues. First, children will adapt to a divorce so long as their parents do not fight and conflict is minimized.  The likelihood is that the husband does not even know anything is wrong with the marriage and the shock of being asked for a divorce might send him into a tailspin and the family into conflict.  The children will be destroyed by parental conflict. Second, this Grandma agrees with Ms. Hax that divorce is a last resort and other things should be tried first to restore the marriage to one that is good for both parents.

Third, it seems to this Grandma that life has interfered with the intimacy of the marriage.  No surprise in our current society when both parents work and raise children.  Raising children is hard and interferes with the intimacy of the marriage.  The wife expressed sadness.  Sadness is a stage of the process of dissolution of marriage.  Fortunately, it is an early stage and the marriage, at this stage, is easily repaired.  There is no issue of wrong selection as the parties are “friends” and just have to be restored to “best friends.”

A good way to restore intimacy is to go away for twenty four hours once a month, away from the house and the children, with no electronics or cellphones.  The first thing the wife should do is plan a few months of once a month respites and “surprise” the husband with the sequential mini “24 hour” vacations.  Of course, grandmas should visit and help with this plan, especially as extra spoiling opportunities.

This Grandma says the second phase of restoring the good marriage  is marital counseling.  That should come once intimacy has begun to be restored and both parties are invested in the relationship, first appointment after three respites in a row.  At this point, the parties have spent alone time sharing good memories and intimacy.  The commitment to a happier marriage is then easily addressed, when both parties are happier and remember why they got together in the first place.

The old grandma phrases apply: “the grass is not greener,”and “keep your own problems, rather than exchange them for new ones.”  The children are in a warm and secure home and all that is needed, from what the wife says above, is “warmth” restored to the marriage to keep that secure family home intact.

Here is what Carolyn Hax said:

The kids will handle anything better if you demonstrate compassion, resourcefulness, selflessness, wisdom and integrity.

Which means I don’t see any best-case outcome here unless you first try – really try – to restore these friendly roommates to husband and wife. Which means saying to this spousal roommate .?.?. something, anything, to open his eyes to the extent of your unhappiness, and inviting him into the process of reversing years of mutual emotional neglect. Find a talented marriage counselor, a reputable and inspiring marriage retreat or seminar, or just watch a season or five of “Friday Night Lights” together. Seriously – it’s like a marriage clinic, with cheerleaders.

I realize it’s inherently offensive for a third party to declare from on high (actually, quite close to sea level, if you must know) that you don’t “deserve” a divorce because you haven’t worked “hard” “enough” to “save” your marriage. I also think misery can be its own justification to leave a relationship, for many reasons – among them that kids don’t automatically thrive in households with “very unhappy” parents just because both parents happen to live there.

However, you put the stay-for-kids option on the table, so respect your own reasons and keep it there, with one tweak – do it for yourself, too.

Notching years into your Maytag like some kind of domestic castaway, though, is a cop-out; don’t just stay till it’s societally palatable to leave. Instead, take that concern for your kids’ emotional health and back it with everything you’ve got. Recognize that you had your reasons to choose this man as your life partner and father to your children. Accept that some of the reasons were probably good ones. Then, put in the effort to find out whether any of those reasons can be revisited, rethought, repurposed or retrofitted into some form of personal satisfaction. Maybe not the one you thought you wanted at 21, but one that fits who you’ve become.

Virtually every marriage left untended will get weedy. It’s actually the better ones that decay into what you have, warm detachment, because there is actual warmth – plus enough maturity between you to coexist in peace. An army of professionals in the divorce industry, from lawyers to judges to shrinks, stands ready to reassure you that these two qualities are not in abundant supply and not to be lightly dismissed.

Maybe you call it faint praise that your husband is someone you get along with, are invested in and who isn’t mean to you – but, from on low, I call it a chance.

This Grandma likes her own answer better, of course.





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