Difficult Choices: Children and Divorce

“Will my child(ren) be okay?” When our Bethesda family therapists work with clients who are struggling with their marriage and contemplating divorce, this question is bound to be asked of as they struggle with the enormity of such a decision .  As a therapist, I am not given a crystal ball along with my license to practice, so this question can be very difficult to answer.  My parents divorced when I was a young teen, and I think most people would assess that I am “okay.” However, I know the struggles of children whose parents divorce, and I know what the research tells us about the effects of divorce on children. A quick internet search will reveal to any searcher the many deficits experienced by children whose parent’s divorce.  They may fall behind in areas ranging from physical health to educational success to mental health when compared to their counterparts whose parents stay married.

The good news is that generally these issues become less significant if parents work hard to minimize the negative effects on their children.  This means never using your child as a tool to communicate, this means establishing a civil (at a minimum) post-divorce relationship with your ex, this means making decisions with your child’s best interests in mind despite your own feelings about your ex, their new spouse, etc. Another huge aspect that impacts everyone is finances.  Divorce is expensive in the short and long-term – you now have two households to support with the same amount of income that once supported only one household.  Money is stretched thin (unless you are a particularly well off couple) and this impacts the amount of money you have to spend on your kids – including money for vacations, after-school activities, and college tuitions.  These financial concerns can extend well into adulthood as they pay-off student loans or can not borrow money from money-strapped parents for down payments on houses. Every couple should weigh the problems in their marriage against the risk that their child’s health and future opportunity might be diminished.   Obviously, issues like domestic violence and child abuse make this decision clear cut but, oftentimes, it is a question of your own satisfaction in life.  Not to say that isn’t an important consideration because a parent’s happiness can impact their child’s well-being as well.  The question to ask yourself might be, “What is my responsibility in figuring out how to be happy with my spouse despite our differences or the lack of connection I feel?”  The work falls on the parent’s shoulders to minimize how any issues in the marriage impacts their children and divorce should never be a quick, simple decision. I have no idea what my life would have been like if my parents had not divorced – there is no way of knowing if I would be happier, healthier, better adjusted.  Maybe I would not even be in the field of work I have chosen! I definitely know that there are stresses and financial burdens I would not have had otherwise but, on the other hand, I look back and can not imagine my parents together!

What I would ask of each of my  Bethesda marriage counseling clients who do not have a clear cut reason to leave is to put all efforts into working on the marriage before making that final decision. I will admit that, perhaps, I am biased based on my training and my life experience – my dad, struggling with dementia and the demise of his second marriage, confessed to me that he regretted not trying harder with my mom.  He didn’t give marriage therapy a chance but realized his mistake too late in life.  Perhaps that is why I am passionate about this issue, but I am sure you all would agree that living with regrets is not your goal.  Give it your best efforts, ask your spouse to do the same, so you both can live with no regrets.  Whether you are successful in saving your marriage or not, your kids will come out of this with two parents that worked together (and will continue to do so!) for their child’s best interests.

Lindsey Hoskins & Associates offers family, couple, and individual therapy in downtown Bethesda, MD. Call (301) 200-5290 or email hello@lindseyhoskins.com to discuss how we might be able to help you!