For The Sake of The Children
Barrington Brennen, 2005
Barrington Brennen, I am going through divorce and my
children are right in the middle of it. My friends are telling me to stay with
my husband at least for the childrenís sake. They feel that the divorce will
do great harm to them. How can I stay when my husband has terribly abused me and
the children both emotionally and physically for more than ten years. He has
also threatened to kill me at least three times. My oldest child who is twelve
is suffering greatly from all the pain. Are my friends right? Should I really
Barrington H. Brennen
Dear Friend, your friends are wrong, really wrong. Run
for your life and the life of your children. Please do not stay. It is a mistake
for couples going through marital difficulty and abuse to make a decision to
stay together just for the sake of the children. Staying together will only
prolong the pain and misery, adding to the dysfunctional development of the
growing children. Why would you want your daughter and son to witness more
abuse? More harm will be done if you remain in such a relationship than if you
left. If staying together for the childrenís sake means that the two of you
will work out your differences to better the marriage, then by all means stay.
It is better for married couples to parent their children. But if there are no
plans to better the marriage and both parents only plan to "put up with
each other" until the last child leaves the home, then that will be the
greatest mistake ever made. If staying "for the sake of the children"
becomes eventually "for the sake of the marriage" then that
can be a plus.
Married couples who stay together just for the sake of the children and plan
to divorce when the children become adults make two false assumptions: 1) They
falsely assume that their continual marital difficulties and abusive behavior
will not affect the children now or later in life. 2) They also falsely assume
that when they get divorced later in life that the divorce will not affect their
adult children. Research indicates that adult children who experience their
parentsí divorce are affected dramatically just as children are and sometimes
even more. Two years ago, a husband and a wife, both forty-two years of age,
came to me for help when their parents divorced after forty-five years of
marriage. It was a painful ordeal for them. Usually grandchildren, family
rituals, and traditions make divorce much harder for adults to bear. In addition
research indicates that boys who witness abuse are one hundred times more likely
to become abusive husbands. Girls who witness abuse are one hundred times more
likely to become victims of abuse. Therefore it is safe to say that staying
together just for the sake of the children is not a wise decision. Staying
together must be for the sake of the marriage itself and the children. This way
the children will have a better chance of growing up as healthy normal human
beings. God bless the single parents who struggle after a divorce to provide a
healthy, loving environment for their growing children.
It is important for me to share with you some of the ways in which domestic
violence or physical and emotional abuse can affect children. Children in
abusive families are known to have low self-esteem, aggressive behavior, no
motivation, nightmares, violent play, and suicidal ideation. They also have a
greater chance of being involved in substance abuse and truancy.
Although divorce might be the answer to bring healing to hurting hearts and
troubled children, the whole truth is that both divorce and abuse are painful
for children. Drs. Judith Wallerstein and Joan B. Kelly, psychologists,
conducted a ten-year study of children of divorced parents and found that
"if children are deprived of one of their parents, or if the parents
quarrel and compete with each other, children are more likely to have lower
self-esteem and psychological damage. . . Every study on the impact of divorce
depends to a large degree on how parents behave and on parentsí attitude
toward each other. In spite of this, it is difficult for many men and women to
separate "husband and wife" issues from "mother-father"
issues. They do not realize that although divorce ends their marriage, it does
not end their parental relationship."
Children do take divorce very hard for they are extremely attached to both
parents and most children want their parents to stay together. "When
parents separate, it knocks the props right out from under their children."
(Kelly, 1997). Children and adults go through the classic mourning process after
divorce as if someone close to them had died. "First there is disbelief,
then anxiety, anger, sadness and depression, and eventually, if given
reassurance, acceptance of the divorce and healing." (Ibid).
It is important for parents to realize that they are not divorcing their
children, just each other. Although they are no longer married they will always
be parent partners. Their children have the right to always have both parents
The following is the Children Bill of Rights of Divorced Parents:
- The right to be treated as important human being, with unique feeling, ideas and
desires, and not as a source of argument between parents.
- The right to
continuing relationship with both parents and the freedom to receive love from
and express love for both.
- The right to express love and affections for each
parent without having to stifle that love because of fear of disapproval by the
- The right to know that their parentsí decision to divorce is
not their responsibility and that they will continue to be loved by both
- The right to continuing care and guidance from both parents.
right to honest answers to questions about the changing family relationships.
- The right to know and appreciate what is good in each parent without one parent
degrading the other.
- The right to have a relaxed, secure relationship with
both parents without being placed in a position to manipulate one parent against
- The right to have both parents not undermine the others parentís
time with the children by suggesting tempting alternatives or by threatening to
withhold parental contact as a punishment for the childrenís wrongdoing.
- The right to experience regular and consistent contact with both parents and to
be protected from parental disputes or disagreement. (Divorce Online, 1997)
Barrington H. Brennen is
a marriage and family therapist and board certified clinical
psychotherapist, USA. Send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or
write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit www.soencouragement.org or
call 242-327-1980 or 242-477-4002