Divorce Part 3 - For the Sake of the Children -- Article by Barrington H. Brennen


For The Sake of The Children, Part 1

By Barrington Brennen, 2005


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Question: Dear 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 stay?

Answer: 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 love them.

The following is the Children Bill of Rights of Divorced Parents:

  1. The right to be treated as important human being, with unique feeling, ideas and desires, and not as a source of argument between parents.
  2. The right to continuing relationship with both parents and the freedom to receive love from and express love for both.
  3. The right to express love and affections for each parent without having to stifle that love because of fear of disapproval by the other parent.
  4. The right to know that their parentsí decision to divorce is not their responsibility and that they will continue to be loved by both parents.
  5. The right to continuing care and guidance from both parents.
  6. The right to honest answers to questions about the changing family relationships.
  7. The right to know and appreciate what is good in each parent without one parent degrading the other.
  8. The right to have a relaxed, secure relationship with both parents without being placed in a position to manipulate one parent against the other.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 barringtonbrennen@gmail.com  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



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April 26, 2000, TAGnet/NetAserve / Network Solutions

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