When I was 10 years old and my dad told me he was divorcing my mom, I don’t think I reacted like I was expected to, with heartbreak and tears; instead, I felt calm. I did cry a bit, but I knew the divorce had been a long time coming.
Looking back now, as an adult, I can say for certain that my dad’s choice to leave my mom was the best one, both for himself and for me. The person I’ve turned into, despite being a “child of divorce,” is one far more successful and happy than what I might’ve become had my mom remained a constant in my life.
There are a lot of reasons I feel this way, of course, and I want other parents to know that divorce isn’t always the end of a child’s happiness, or the promise that your child will turn out angry and traumatized later in life. Sometimes it may even be for the better, whether the child realizes it at the time or not.
1. The Spouse Spends What They Don’t Have
Should one of the parents have a habit of maxing out their credit cards, taking money from the other parent, foregoing the family’s needs because they saw something online they had to have, a big problem is being invited into the family home.
The breaking point for my father was when my mother quit her job to go on a vacation, without any plans for the future, without any job to return home to. Instead of considering what risk it put the family in, she instead decided that she would worry about that later. Nevermind paying the bills, the mortgage, buying food, buying gas… should one of the parents not line up with the financial desires of the other, there’s more being put at risk than simply not being able to go out to dinner or the movies on a weekend.
Should this be a parental example in a child’s life, there are chances the child will either become a “spendaholic” as well, or perhaps turn into a money-miser and refuse to spend the money on the things they actually need. Both are extremes, and both are unhealthy habits to develop. After all, for the first decade or two of their lives, parents are a child’s only access and training in terms of money handling – so if one spouse performs differently than the other, it only invites confusion.
2. The Spouse Is an Addict
While this may seem obvious, many people don’t understand the kind of influence an addicted parent can have on a child. Whether it’s prescription pain medication or alcoholism, children see what the parents do, and by their nature, will imitate.
In terms of alcoholism and having an effect on your child, there is a fine line to walk. A parent doesn’t have to be a raging drunk every night in order to have an effect; they don’t have to be arrested with an unusual DUI charge they don’t have to have the fridge stocked full of booze. When a child watches an adult drinking alcohol, they should be learning how to do so responsibly, as well as when times are considered “inappropriate/appropriate” for drinking, how to be safe while getting tipsy, etc. If your spouse or significant other doesn’t involve their position as a parent into their drinking habits, it may be a red flag.
3. The Spouse Remains Ambitionless
Particularly for children reaching their older years of adolescence, it’s incredibly important that they have a parent who shows ambition, and drive to achieve their goals, whether that be in the home, at work, or life in general. Children who set personal goals are more likely to achieve them if they learned healthy success-related habits from their parents.
Should one of their parents not show these traits, however, it can lead to confusion and questioning. They will see one parent working hard to meet their goals, and the other who might remain in bed watching TV all day, and soon they may begin wondering, “Why should I have to do anything I don’t want to, when Mom/Dad doesn’t?” “Why would I want to get a job when mom/dad doesn’t have to?”
Children learn from what they see and experience, particularly in the household. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand how mixed signals such as these could be so detrimental to their lifelong outlook and ability to reach their goals.
4. Children Misunderstanding What It Means to Be “In Love”
Two parents do not have to be constantly at each others’ throats in order to demonstrate an unhealthy relationship to children. Should you and your spouse keep from showing affection, intimacy, and general happiness while together, there’s a possibility a child’s opinion on “healthy” relationships might be skewed.
For example, a toddler grows up with two parents who are unhappy with one another – whether that is because one spouse refuses to participate while the other initiates, or the two simply no longer click as a couple. With this relationship, the toddler might never see their parents kissing, hugging, giving one another compliments, holding hands, all of the small things that show affection between two people.
And so, as the child grows, they may find themselves alienated from the world of dating and relationships, because they simply have no idea how such things are supposed to look and supposed to work. Without the guidance of their parents’ example, they might struggle to build actual successful intimate relationships for themselves. This unfortunate perspective can even extend past dating relationships into friendships, and even their methods in treating animals or pets. They may become a “hands-off” pet owner, because they simply never learned how to be affectionate and caring physically – and anyone with a dog knows how troubling that might be for a pet.
5. Children Can Finally Understand What It Means to Be “In Love”
While this section is less of a warning sign and more of a merit, it’s a continuation of my points in number four.
A lot of parents fear what’ll happen when/if they ever remarry, and how a child might treat their new stepparent. Had the child grown up in an unhappy, unloving, and unaffectionate household, however, the change of pace will be a breath of fresh air, and a lesson in how a marriage is actually supposed to be.
Instead of only knowing marriage to be an emotionless relationship, they’ll see that, in fact, marriages are supposed to be about mutual love and care, as well as support and communication. With this new example in their lives, they will be able to develop new ideals concerning relationships, changing their overall opinions from marriages being “void of feeling” to “a commitment based in love and respect.”
On top of finally experiencing what it’s like to witness a successful relationship, your new spouse will likely also contribute in teaching a child better habits that they may have never formed whilst under the same roof as their previous parent. Goal-setting, financial responsibility, the things that they might’ve garnered the wrong idea about while mimicking your previous spouse.
While divorce is a sticky subject all around, there is no cut-and-dry end product that children of divorce are destined to end up as. Not all children develop addictions, struggle in their personal relationships, rebel against their single parent, struggle in school or at work…. For a lot of kids with divorced parents, the divorce might’ve been the only thing keeping them from ending up as another statistic, or a part of one of the groups listed above. Once the bad influence is removed from their life, only then are they able to learn what it means to be good, forgiving, affectionate, and successful.
If you’ve been considering divorce for some time, but are hesitant because you believe it may leave a bad mark on your children and their future, instead take a look at your relationship from their point of view, and their point of view as an eventual adult. Does your spouse exhibit symptoms and habits that might lead your children down a path less than ideal? If so, it might be time to take the plunge.
Kelsey’s parents divorced while she was young, and she was raised by her single father, to which she carries the utmost respect and love. While a child of divorce, she wants to show people that it’s not always an end-of-the-world situation, and can actually end up being ideal for both spouses and the family as a whole.