Many people stay together longer for the sake of the kids. But is it easier for kids to adjust when they are younger, or when they are older?
My ex-husband and I separated when my eldest was just under 3 years old and our youngest was only 8 months. I got a lot of comments from those who knew me and my ex, as well as strangers who I suppose were well-meaning, that we should stay together for the kids, especially given their ages. But, although I always felt a stab of guilt when those comments were said, my ever-present retort when I had the wherewithal to respond (rather than give a slight nod and walk away from the conversation), was is it really better for them if we stay together just because of their young age?
My parents divorced when I was 3 years old and my brother was 8. I don’t remember my parents’ marriage at all and have very dim (and probably largely made up) remembrances of their separation. I know there were times I was quite upset, wanting to be with one parent when I was with the other. I don’t remember these times, though; I know this only from talking to my mom.
My parents both remarried within a few years of their divorce and I grew up with two blended families. My dad had us every other weekend and Wednesday nights. In the wake of my own divorce, I wonder what the effects, if any, were based on my young age when my parents divorced.
My brother took the whole thing much harder than me and it has stayed with him his whole life. From my angle, I had it easier being so young. I simply don’t have memory of it all; it doesn’t mean it didn’t effect me (hey, I ended up divorced myself), but I am and always have been, eternally grateful that my folks didn’t stay together for the sake of us kids and that I was so young when their marriage fell apart.
In terms of my own kids, they are now 4 years old and going on 2. They have had had a ton of transitions in the past couple of years; mommy and daddy splitting up, living in the same house while my ex and I used the “nesting” form of custody, and two months ago, moving in with my boyfriend and living there when they are with me.
My ex and I share custody, pretty much 50/50 on an alternating week schedule. To add to the challenges, my 4 year old is on the autism spectrum and routine is so important to him. But, they have been amazingly flexible and by all accounts are doing very well, and I think much of this is due to how my ex and I have worked with transitions. Transition nights are hard for them, especially the 21 month old and daycare reports he is clingier on the week I don’t have him, but he is still a happy, cheerful, amazing kid hitting all his milestones and quick with a smile and “hieeeee” for everyone (literally, everyone) he sees.
Both my kids love my boyfriend and are comfortable in his home. My ex and I have made a concerted effort to minimize transitions for the kids. Both of us keep visual calendars using cut out pictures of mommy and daddy to show when it is a “mommy night” and when it will again be a “daddy night.”
At my house, we look at this calendar every night and discuss the schedule. Me ex and I also both encourage FaceTime with the “off parent” and my 4 year old now knows to ask to speak to daddy when he sad and missing him (thank you, technology!)
Is divorce “easier” for them? Yes and no. Right now, I don’t think it is. They don’t understand it and it’s confusing (despite repeated readings of “Dinosaurs Divorce”). Especially for my 21 month old who really wants his mommy a lot. But, it certainly is easier than the constant fighting my 4 year old endured for his first 3 years of life. And in the long run, I think it will be easier.
Like me, they won’t remember mommy and daddy being together and my ex and I will both (hopefully) have wonderful spouses who will love the kids and with whom we can model a healthy relationship for them. I think that is worth it’s weight in gold. For a myriad of reasons, that was not going to happen in my marriage to my ex.
When we split, my ex and I agreed on the nesting model after I had 3 months of primary custody, to allow the kids to age a bit before big transitions were made. This was not easy for me and my ex; sharing living space with each other’s stuff, even if it wasn’t with each other, but we made that sacrifice based on our kids’ ages. We also didn’t go to a week on/week off schedule until a couple of months ago, transitioning out every 3 or 4 days into the crappy apartment we shared rent on where the parent off duty would stay for 10 months. I think if people are intentional, divorce can be made easier on the kids, but it is never easy, no matter a child’s age. It’s not easy on anyone, including the parents.
I hope some day that my kids feel, like I have, that my parents actually made the best choice not only for them, but for me and my brother, for our whole family. I can’t imagine my life without my step-father in particular, a wonderful man who has enriched my life and was such an integral part in raising me. And my step-mother, a wonderful grandmother to my children. How lucky we are to have this big family, even if it isn’t what we are told is the ideal model, even it wasn’t what was planned. I hold these hopes for my children.
I think, if anything, me and my ex divorcing when our kids were so young has been harder on us than them. With children my kids’ age, you miss so much development and growth every single day. My ex and I try and keep the other updated with videos, pictures and even an occasional email of something funny one of the kids has said or done, but it is no replacement for being there. Also, this requires a lot of communication with my ex (not easy).
We do our best while being true to ourselves; staying in that marriage waiting for some magical age when the kids would be less effected by our divorce would have been a gigantic mistake for all involved and far more damaging. There is no magical age. This stuff is hard and it sucks and it will effect everyone. All we can do is our best as parents and no matter the age of the children, read the literature, work with counselors and try to address these topics head on with our children in order to mitigate those effects.