General Question

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

What has been your experience with children and divorce?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (30614points) June 9th, 2011

I’m divorced, and I have children. My divorce was the result of hiding my sexuality behind alcoholism for many years. When I came out of the closet and took away the veil of inebriation, I found it impossible to stay in a heterosexual marriage.

When we split up, my ex and I shared custody of the children, and they would live with me half the time. They came to my house every other week and spent the other weeks with my ex.

Ten years down the road, I’m happy to report that the outward signs are that our children are very well-adjusted. They have friends. They get good grades in school, and they have interests that keep them busy outside school.

I ask this question, because I have a non-Fluther friend who’s thinking about getting a divorce. He has 3 children. This article suggests that there aren’t too many differences between children in divorced households and those in households with both biological parents present. But these statistics paint a much bleaker picture.

What’s your take on the question? Have you experienced divorce? Can you tell us a bit about your story?

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27 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

My oldest is from a previous marriage. I left his father when he was around a year old. Since then, he’s been fathered by my current husband and my mom as well as extended family. I’ve had another child as well and because of so many caretakers (which isn’t everyone’s situation, I realize), my oldest has always been in a stable environment. All negative interactions with my ex are kept away from his eyes and ears and we’re both committed to that. Just an hour ago, I’ve had yet another fight about him being incapable of communicating whatever his scrambled mind wants to do with the kid when he says he’ll ‘take care of him this evening’ (which, apparently, meant I’ll take him from pre-school and walk him over to your home and stay there for a half hour”) and I’ve given up on having any respect for his ass long ago. And I’m sure he thinks I make a big deal about everything like actually needing money and parenting from him but he’s pretty harmless, overall, and I can squash him if any of his crap starts to seep into my kid. Over the years, he’s learned he has 2 dads, one bio and one that’s actually there to raise him.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

My husband is not divorced, but he does have children from a previous relationship. In my experience, kids are resilient. Our particular situation happened to fall into the category of less desirable ways that a split can go regarding kids, and they are still well adjusted, happy, smart, loving kids. As they get older they have actually come to not only accept, but enjoy having such a large family. Yes, they have two sets of parents, but they have come to see it as just even more people that love them.

Bellatrix's avatar

I have @hawaii_jake and kudos to you for managing the process so maturely. I don’t think we did so well. My ex chose not to see his children for the first few weeks after our separation. He felt “it would be better for them to have some distance”. I had to plead with him to spend time with them and especially my son who was under 5 and was very confused and stressed. Since then, we had periods where he saw the children at weekends and when he chose not to. He then moved states and really hasn’t seen them since and in the last five years plus hasn’t sent them cards or made phone calls and hasn’t seen them at all. I have had total care with my second husband for a very long time.

I personally believe children need both parents and parents should place their children first. Both parents should do this. The person with the dominant care role should not use their children as pawns and the other party should make sure the time they have with their children is positive and a priority. My children do not want anything to do with their father now and that makes me very sad. I have often asked them if they want to phone him, to visit him, but they say no. I think they justifiably feel abandoned by him and there is anger there. That is a sad.

In saying that, I while on my own and later my second husband and I have tried and I think succeeded in providing a very stable environment for them. They are happy and well adjusted and doing well. I personally would prefer they had a connection to their father, but they are coping without it and choose not to seek this themselves. I hope in the future they can mend those broken connections (if they choose to). So, I think you and your partner have done very well and I think young people can survive less effective parenting if they do have a strong and stable environment to live and grow up in. Not all children have that stability though. I don’t think there is a simple answer to your question because there are so many variables.

nikipedia's avatar

My parents divorced when I was about 12. My father was not interested in custody at all, and my mother was very mentally ill. She was completely unable to care for my sister and me, so once my father left our household quickly decayed into an extremely unhealthy and dysfunctional environment.

So my parents’ divorce ended up being a very, very bad thing for us kids. It would have been mitigated significantly if my father had taken any kind of parenting role after the divorce, but in reality what happened was that we were left with no functional parents, and it was a disaster.

Seaofclouds's avatar

I am divorced, but I think my situation is a bit different than some. There aren’t any shared custody or visitation issues because my ex-husband doesn’t want anything to do with my son. My son hasn’t seen my ex-husband in over 8 years. He doesn’t even remember him since he walked out when my son was 10-months-old and last saw him when he was 13-months-old.

My son has always had some wonderful male role models in his life and now he has my husband as a father. To my son, my husband is his dad and to my husband, my son is his son. My son knows that his real father walked out and he’s asked questions in the past and I answered them the best that I could. He doesn’t ask questions anymore and hasn’t had any issues from the situation that we’ve found so far. I always wonder what the long term effect will be (if any), but I’m glad he isn’t showing any issues so far.

Personally, I think how the children do with the divorce is very dependent on the situation surrounding the divorce. My parents split up when I was 18 and my brother was 16. Their split lead to a lot of animosity from my brother and I toward our parents (mostly my brother took my dad’s side and I took my mom’s). It was ugly for a few years, but luckily things are much better now for most of us. In the years leading up to their divorce, there was a lot of fighting between the two of them and my brother and I saw all of it. The fought about just about everything. It was horrible. Their split ended up being for the best, but the way it all went down was horrible.

geeky_mama's avatar

On reading your question..and the first few answers.. I wonder if the “bad” statistics aren’t dated from a time where divorce was more “taboo” and hence more like a death in the family (like when MY parents divorced – my mom has never talked to her former mother-in-law ever again, even though they were very close before my parents’ divorce).

When my folks divorced (in the mid-eighties, around the era of Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink) it was a bad scene. It was a long drawn out court battle and I recall having to testify in court. There were nasty accusations, bitterness and acrimony..and in the end what I took away from it was:
-Parents are human and make mistakes.
-I never want to get married because I don’t ever want to be divorced.

That said I was GLAD they got divorced because we weren’t functioning as a family for a few years before their divorce anyhow. They fought a ton (as far back as I can remember) and I don’t recall them being happy together.

Perhaps in my case it was also that my parents’ divorce coincided with my own adolescence – and that’s a stage in life where many children learn that parents are not always perfect. I just saw it in a harsher light – and as a result decided: “Hm. I’m on my own here. Better figure out how to take care of myself because my parents are distracted, our family life has imploded and now both parents are kinda f’ed up.”

As strongly as I felt about never getting married (ha! funny to think back on THAT now) I ended up not only married, but married to a divorced man with a child.
Our attempts to co-parent in a triangle with his ex have been a mixed bag.. but my step-daughter is thriving nonetheless. She’s well adjusted, brilliant, funny..doing well in school..has friends and interests.. and I know she knows we love her.
I wonder if she’s so well-adjusted because she’s had a stable life for the most part living with us. She doesn’t remember a time when her (bio)parents were together – they were split up before she was conceived, divorced before she was 1…and she doesn’t remember a time without me.

So – I guess I’m with @Seaofclouds—divorce and it’s impact on kids must have a lot more to do with the extenuating circumstances (age of the kids, acrimonious nature of the separation or not) than anything else.
And, I think there are cases where it’s actually BETTER for kids for their parents to divorce than stay together…where it’s a dysfunctional family and it actually benefits the parents AND the kids when some change (that might start with a divorce) takes place..

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

My experience has been that it’s not so much if the parents are divorced, so much as how they handle it. If one or both parents does exactly what you’re not supposed to, like using the child as a pawn, a go-between, a confidant, telling the child lies, discussing money or sex with the child, etc, then it’s going to be an issue. If they both make an effort to not, then it probably won’t be so much, especially long-term. My parents got divorced when I was 18, and it really, really, really screwed with me, but both parents literally did everything you aren’t supposed to do and made up some new ones for parents not to do. I’ve been told that they had a “high conflict divorce”, which is basically a nice way of saying that Hollywood celebrities sling less mud than they do. Had they kept me out of it and acted appropriately, well, they wouldn’t be them and we’d all have better relationships in the first place, but I think it wouldn’t have taken such a toll on me.

SuperMouse's avatar

My divorce has been final for almost two years and my boys seem to be doing pretty well. I think my current husband I have managed to keep enough of an upbeat attitude and stable environment that the boys feel loved, safe, and secure. My husband is a wonderful man I and I know that our love and dedication to one another is setting an example of a healthy, functional relationship that they have never seen before. It helps that he cares deeply for them and has a knack for parenting that is a gift to me and these boys.

I looked at both of those links and of course both of those websites have an agenda. The second one cites statistics that are anywhere from 15 to 30 years ago and some of them just seem kind of silly. It would be absurd to deny that divorce impacts children, but I think it is up to me as their mom to do all I can to mitigate the damage by loving them and providing a secure and happy home for them. I know for sure that I am a much happier person than I have ever been before and there is no doubt in my mind they recognize this and it is good for them. When I am a happier person, that leads to me being a better mom.

It is still too early to tell what the final results will be for my kids, but I just keep on loving them, giving them all kinds of attention, and modeling a healthy, long term, loving marriage for them.

@Mynewtboobs, thank you for your honest answer. When I read stuff like that it just reinforces how much my behavior matters in this situation. When I read your post I couldn’t help wondering if your parents purposely waited until you were 18 to make it “easier” on you. Oh the irony…

blueiiznh's avatar

My feeling is that whether from a divorced house or not, it has more to do with whether the environment is healthy and caring or hostile.
There is no reason to keep children in a non divorce situation for the sheer sake of not divorcing. It is natural for them to want to have both parents together. It is also not abnormal to have their schoolmates and friends be in both situations.
Many families that stay together for the sake of not divorcing are only keeping their children in a toxic environment.
They need to be nurtured in love and care. So as long as the environment is caring, no parental alienation going on, then they will be fine and well adjusted in either.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@SuperMouse No, they didn’t. It was more that once I moved out, things didn’t get better, so my dad stopped blaming me for all the unhappiness in the house. That, and he appears to have simply woken up one morning and decided he wasn’t happy and it was best if he had a stereotypical mid-life crisis.

SuperMouse's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs what an awful experience, I am sorry you had to go through it.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I’m the child of divorce as are several of my longtime friends. Most of our experiences have been of being thankful the parents split up (finally) but having little structure or thought laid out for support and responsibilities.

The most common thing I observe around me know when people divorce is the couple in their haste to get away from each other, move the kids away from friends and schools where they have security.

BarnacleBill's avatar

I think the statistics are skewed by all the people who divorce because they’re “just not happy” in the marriage, but when divorced, continue to not be happy and put the kids in the middle of the arguing that continues between the parents. Kids pick up pretty quickly on a sense that whoever gets the kids, loses in the deal. Parents have to make an extra effort to put the kids first, not in terms of buying them stuff, but in being available to them, being on time, proactively continuing to communicate with them, and in being nice to the other parent.

I think when one person in a marriage has genuine symptoms of unhappiness, like drinking, sexual orientation, whatever, and the divorce makes the person a whole person again, kids pick up on that and are good with it. It makes them not have to choose between which parent is the right one to love; it’s okay to love both, because both parents make that possible.

josie's avatar

I hung in with my marriage until my children were 16. I figured at that point, they were driving and could choose where they spent their time. I told them up front that I was leaving and that it had nothing to do with them. I did not criticize their mother (even though she was a moron).
My youngest has already told me he understands why I left. My oldest understands too, but he is not as open with what is on his mind.
Here is something that people do generally talk about.
As a male, with sons, I did not want them to see me subjected to my wife’s jealousy, irrational possiveness, insecurities, repressed childhood anger, and lust for spending money (she quit working after the honeymoon) as if that was desirable or even tolerable.
I left for myself mostly, but also to demonstrate to them that they should not put up with that bullshit.

john65pennington's avatar

Short answer.

Never hide anything from your children. They are smart and can figure it out on their own. Let them in on every facet of the divorce. Many children feel guilty, that the divorce is their fault. Ask you children how they feel and truly listen to their answers. They have to vent and you are the person they want to vent to. Take their questions and answers seriously. A divorce is monumental to children. Some think their world is coming to an end.

Haleth's avatar

Let them in on every facet of the divorce.

I disagree. My mother took this approach when her second marriage was coming apart, and there were a lot of things I would have rather not known at that age.

My parents divorce(s) weren’t that painful in and of themselves, but their behavior afterward was tough. They let their feelings over the divorce get in the way of doing what was best for us, and that caused problems.

I think that as long as you’re willing to work together and be on the same page in terms of raising your children, things will be just fine. Plenty of friends my age also have parents who have divorced or remarried, and things have gone well because both parents were still committed to the children.

Most of the problems that stem from divorce probably come from parents shirking their responsibility after the marriage is over. I have a friend whose dad never raised her or paid for anything from the age of two onward, but gave his second family a loving home. The only difference I can see in the situations is his attitude toward their mothers; he let that color the way he treated his children. It happens all the time, but one of the universal things about becoming an adult is realizing that your parents are human.

@hawaii_jake, it seems like you’re going to make a good-faith effort to do what’s right for your kids, and that’s the most important thing here. Good luck.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@john65pennington Let them in on every facet of the divorce. No. Please don’t. Seriously, do you children actually need to know that you’re trying to prove that their father hid assets? If he really did, and you can actually prove it, then maybe they’ll find out from the legal proceedings. But up until then, you’re just a bitter ex-wife who’s spreading lies and rumors about their father, and indirectly saying that the children are bad as well. My mother told me every single little thing in the divorce, and I found out that most of it was unsubstantiated claims against my father, but it really hurt me both before and after I knew that it was total crap. I’m not saying don’t tell them anything, but really don’t tell them anything – why should they have to go through the hell that is a divorce along with you? Is that some sort of punishment for being related to you? Can’t they find out when they get married and divorced how crappy it is – do they really have to find that out before they’re really mature enough to handle it?

aprilsimnel's avatar

Most of my friends whose parents divorced were sad. But this was the 1970s, when parents divorcing was new enough that there was an entire genre of children’s fiction devoted to the topic. I was raised by a never-married single person, so while I felt bad for my friends, I didn’t know what to say or do to comfort them.

I imagine it’s different now, so that while there’s private trauma, a lot of other kids are in the same boat, and it’s not as shameful as it used to be, and there’s a lot more resources for families in this situation to help the children understand that a divorce isn’t about them.

_zen_'s avatar

I had a conversation with my son the other day. He said that although his parents are divorced, he felt he had had a very happy childhood. Partly because he didn’t know any different, as his parents had divorced when he was very young.

I have no wisdom nor advice to depart – just to love your children with all your heart.

And that sometimes we learn from rhymes.

No more rhymes, and I mean it!

Plucky's avatar

I really think it depends on the two people that are divorcing. There are plenty of healthy divorces. Sadly, there are much more unhealthy divorces (these are the ones that tend to hinder a child’s wellbeing).

My parents divorced when I was about 4. So I never really remembered them together. It was normal for me. Their divorce was messy though. A two year custody battle ..to which my siblings and I were put in foster care until the courts decided. For the next 7 years, I got to listen to my dad, and stepmother, talk about my mom like she was demon spawn. My mom never spoke ill of my dad like that in front of us kids. They constantly argued over dates/times of visitation and sleepovers. It became a wicked card for my stepmother to play ..one she used often. The thing my siblings and I wished for most? The never-ending bickering to stop.
As a young teen, I vowed to never marry or have children. Mostly because of the actions of my parents. As a child, I watched 5 couples in our family get divorced. Family gatherings on my dad’s side were quite something ..that’s for sure.

As an adult, I have watched my brother go through divorce. This was/is absolutely horrible. The divorce went through a couple years ago. They have young daughter together (shared custody) who has just started therapy because of how bad it has been going. My brother is like our dad was with our mom. Except, my brother is irresponsible, vindictive and a marijuana addict. He hadn’t seen his daughter for 8 months until last weekend. Only because I was responsible for her (her mother trusts me more than anyone else in our family). He blames the mother ..as he always does. He won’t take the court ordered drug tests (to see his daughter) because he knows he’s not clean. He has not paid child support for a year because he is unemployed ..he comes up with every excuse not to work. It’s not the first time my brother has left fatherhood behind. He has a 15 year old son, with cerebral palsy, somewhere too. But that’s another very long story. His fiance makes the money. They have child together that just turned a year old. They treat him like royalty.
Any ways, I’m rambling. My point is that he has really started to mess up his daughter. The daughter started asking questions about whether or not her daddy loves her, why he loves the baby more ..and what she did wrong ..etc. For a while she was acting out at home. She was having nightmares. All because he blames everything on the mother and won’t take responsiblity as a man and father. None of us are comfortable with him being alone with his daughter because of what he might say to her. Which is why the mother is trying to change the visitation to supervised again. He seems to do everything he can to not see his little girl. Yet, all he does is complain about how much he misses her. I am so glad my her mom decided to get her counselling. It’s going very well and she’s really starting to seem happier again.

Sorry for my rant. It’s been hard for me to watch my little niece, whom I love so much, go through this. Divorce sucks (especially for the children involved) when one or both parents are uncivilized ignorant morons.

Other than all that ..if the divorce is done in a civil, respectful and caring manner (and stays that way), I think children can be absolutely fine in the long run.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@PluckyDog Not that it’s really any better, but I doubt it’s the divorce that’s making the daughter ask those questions as to if he loves her, why he doesn’t, what she did wrong, etc. Sounds like he’s the kind of dad where she’d be asking those questions even if the parents were together.

Plucky's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs That’s the thing though. He was wonderful with her when he was still with her mom. His daughter absolutely adored him ..and he her. Even though he was a really bad husband ..he was a loving dad. But then it all changed when the divorce started.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@PluckyDog That sucks. I’m so sorry for her. I just wanna wrap her up in a big bear hug.

Plucky's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs Yeah. Thank you ..and she’s just sweet as can be. :)

john65pennington's avatar

Mynewboobies….......You are correct. My intentions were to advise their children why their dad is not with them anymore, not the gory details of mistrust in marriage.

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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

This is a GENERAL SECTION question, folks. Let’s keep it on target, please.

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