Imagine the scene. Actually, if you’re divorced, you won’t have to imagine it, as it’ll be etched in your memory forever.
You’ve plucked up enough courage to tell someone – a good friend, perhaps – that you have decided to divorce. You know that once you tell this person the news will go viral. It is a big moment.
You cough. Deep breath. And say, “Brian and I are getting a divorce.” This is it. This, you’re sure, is when the floodgates of support open and you can release some of that stress you’ve been feeling into the loving arms of a good friend.
Instead, your friend looks shocked. The colour drains from her face. And she says, looking at you as if you’ve completely lost your marbles:
“But have you thought about the kids?”
You are gobsmacked. OF COURSE you’ve thought about the kids. You’ve thought about nothing else for the last six years. You have probably stayed with your partner for the last four years because you didn’t want to hurt them, split the family, ruin their lives… There are awful stories and some pretty damning research into the effects that divorce can have on children, from children blaming themselves for their parents’ split, to even considering suicide.
When your marriage is at the breaking point, you balance out the options. Stay together, and yes, the family is whole, but two depressed and warring parents could seriously damage your children in the longer term. Split, and no doubt your children will initially have a rough time. But there is (I believe) potential for happiness round the corner.
I’ll tell you a secret. When I started writing this article I had a very black and white picture in my head about my kids. Yes, I thought, they are definitely happier now. The family is fractured, that’s true, but their mum and dad are so much more content (albeit separately) that the homes we all live in are genuinely warm and loving places. My children seem very happy. They are doing well at school. They crack jokes, enjoy each other’s company, are polite. All seems hunkydorey.
But. And here’s the thing. I was too nervous to ask them. To just say, “are you happier now?” Or, “What was good before, and what’s good now?”
So, over tea this afternoon that’s just what I did. And their answers were interesting.
My teen who is 13 said that there were good things and bad things about the change. The worst thing for him was that we had moved houses, and he still didn’t have a good friendship network in the new area. But the good thing for him was that he saw more of me and his dad; he said that he ‘knew us better.’ And that, because we were happier, then that made him feel happy too.
He’s right, I feel like my relationship with both my boys has blossomed since the split. We are a crack team of three; we help each other out and have had some wonderful times. I was depressed when I was married; now I’m not and I feel able to take the boys on adventures that previously I wouldn’t have dared do. I am braver now, and I want to show my boys how challenging yourself in life brings all sorts of rewards.
My Tween, 11, was more practical. “There’s much more variety now,” he says, “and we do loads of different things.” With a bit of gentle probing, he said that his Dad having a trampoline and a ping pong table, and me having a quiet street for cycling and a park at our doorstep made for the perfect recreational set-up! He also said that he likes the fact that his Dad and I do very different things with them during the weekends, which perhaps, we wouldn’t do if we were a ‘whole’ family.
But his major happiness now is that we have a cat. This may seem like a minor thing, to you and I, but he has always wanted a cat. When I was married my ex put the stoppers on it. But now we have a cat in our house and he dotes on her. She sleeps on his bed, sometimes on his chest, and their relationship sometimes brings me to tears.
I am not saying that my children wouldn’t prefer to come from a ‘whole’ happy family with parents who love each other. Of course, that would be the ideal. But coming from a broken family verses living in one? That’s a different matter entirely.
You might very well question whether my kids would tell me if they were unhappy. My answer is that you’d be right – I don’t think they would. But I think that any parent can tell if their kids are unhappy, or not content, or not at peace.
And I think my kids are doing just fine.