So many good people feel compelled to stay in atrocious marriages because they don’t want to be the one to pull the plug and leave and hurt the children. There’s no denying that divorce is painful for children. It’s not something I ever want to be flippant about.
But modeling dysfunction is also painful to children. They see more than we think they see, despite our best efforts to protect them. Whether that’s a raging NPD, or a badly lopsided, unreciprocal relationship, or stumbling across the affair(s) before you do — kids sense fuckupedness too.
We model spackle to them. They may begin to see the world in terms of the Powerful and the Chumps. And hey, it’s good to be king! If relationships are about one person appeasing, accommodating, doing more than their share — then a smart kid is going to look at that example and conclude — it’s better to be the Winner who gets stuff, than the Chump who just gives and sucks up. Entitlement can be contagious.
There’s also such a scary view of single parenting, at least here in the States, with much moral opprobrium, which just angers the hell out of me. I know so many terrific single parents, and I’m sure you do too. Hell yes it’s a hard job, but it can also be a rewarding job that turns out some great kids, every bit as much as the Intact Family.
One of the best things about being a single parent is that you get to parent your way, with your values. If you’ve been dealing with a wing nut, it’s so freeing to not have to parent around their nonsense any more.
Chumps who are on the fence to leave — listen, it’s totally okay to think the “kids are resilient” and take the brave step to end a toxic relationship. It’s okay to comfort yourself with the thought that they will be okay and YOU will be okay, better even.
You aren’t leaving a marriage to marry a floozy, or drink yourself to death, or quit your job and become a motivational speaker. You’re leaving your marriage to save yourself and those kids. Yeah, cheaters love to say they are also saving themselves — oh, how could they carry on with the oppressive bonds of monogamy without cake! Bullshit. They’re indulging themselves, chasing rainbows. Chumps, you are actually, truly SAVING yourself. There is nothing selfish or self indulgent about the painful work of divorcing someone when done honestly.
The kids will be okay, because they have you. As I say a lot here, remember, it just takes one sane parent. A lot of kids don’t even get that.
This column ran previously.