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What are children learning about relationships and love when parents separate?

(50 Posts)
serialangstyposter Mon 25-Apr-16 23:01:31

I know it's a bit wimpy to ask a theoretical question and ask that you be kind... but patience would be appreciated. This isn't intended as a criticism of advice on this board - far from it - but rather a desire to understand. Likewise it's not criticism of anyone's choice.

It seems to me that posters are often challenged on what children are learning from being raised by parents in a relationship that isn't entirely happy. But I wonder what children with separated/divorced parents learn. Don't they lose all security? Don't they learn love isn't forever? Won't they always know that someone they love could leave any time. Can they really understand the difference between parents love for each other and parents love for a child? I think it's all family to a child and they may feel that all relationships, including those they have with their parents are vulnerable. Don't they experience one of the worse forms of loss early on?

I'm rambling. I just don't think the flip side of the issue gets answered. Maybe that's because these are obvious thoughts. After all there are repeated posts about staying together for the children.

Arfarfanarf Mon 25-Apr-16 23:07:50

Hopefully they learn that people dont make these decisions lightly and generally try to work things out but that nobody should stay in a relationship that makes them utterly miserable or in which they are being abused.

I think the fairytale love is forever can be damaging if what it creates is the belief that you cant or shouldnt leave a terrible relationship.

Of course it is hard on children but good parents recognise this and help the children And bad parents? Well, they would cause suffering whether a couple or separated.

Do you have children? If so then ask yourself if your child came to you in tears because they were so unhappy, despite counselling, trying, talking or came to you with bruises, would you say stay in the marriage because love is forever?

The reality is that sometimes things dont work out. You cant shield children from that.

magnificatAnimaMea Mon 25-Apr-16 23:15:47

serialangstyposter my parents modelled a bad relationship for me, as well as frequently criticizing other people who divorced, for many of the reasons you've posted above. What that taught me was that (1) marriage is a prison that you stick to out of duty to society, (2) "security" means suffocation by controlling, abusive parents, and (3) love is basically an illusion describing codependency.

It took until my mid 30s for me to work out how to have a decent relationship. I might never have had one without considerable mental health help from the NHS. I wish my parents had had the guts to divorce.

mushroomsontoast Mon 25-Apr-16 23:24:17

When my exH and I split up, I told the kids "we decided we don't want to be married anymore but we're still friends and we both love you very much". Although the "friends" part was a bit of a stretch at the time, 2 years on, we are perfectly amicable. They see him every week, we chat at handover, I make him a cup of tea, I still take the DC to visit his parents etc. I hope I'm demonstrating to them that there are many different types of families, and modelling mature, adult behaviour.

The DC are secure and happy, their little world makes sense to them. They were quite young at the time, so I think they barely remember a time when he lived with us.

Arfarfanarf Mon 25-Apr-16 23:25:47

Same here, magnificat. My mum appears to basically be waiting for my dad to drop dead and my dad teeters on the edge of total mental collapse.
They would have been much happier to be brave enough to call it a day. Instead they just co exist in the same house their unhappiness so thick in the air it chokes you.

ouryve Mon 25-Apr-16 23:34:33

They hopefully learn that it's OK to not stick around in a crap relationship which makes everyone unhappy.

HandyWoman Mon 25-Apr-16 23:38:22

I think there is no doubt divorce can rock the world of children. I'm saying this as someone who's been separated nearly 3yrs. My kids certainly questioned who they were for a bit. And ex was crap and barely saw them initially which really made things worse for them. Also I was really hurt and the whole thing was very difficult. However I'm not sure it 'teaches' anything specific that doesn't get thrown up occasionally in life for people, young and old. For example it's like a bereavement that they grow through - some sadness will always remain for my children. But they grow around the loss, relationships are readjusted, the atmosphere is certainly a million times calmer and better at home since. My kids are probably learning about both of their parents as individuals. In a way that kids with both parents at home don't until after they've left home. My relationship with them is very close because of the dynamic being just 3 of us. My kids are happier because I am happy - I have no regrets actually. I'm the person I should always have been and that's a remarkable bit of role modelling for them. It's the story of our family with the same life lessons as all other big losses and changes that get adjusted to.

I think when parents are using the kids as pawns in a game and all the rest of it - it's not divorce to blame but immature parents.

serialangstyposter Tue 26-Apr-16 00:13:53

Its really useful to consider others experiences/views. thanks.

I can't work out what I take from my own childhood. Like others my parents had a dreadful marriage and I often wished they would split - but then they did once I left home and I realised I was glad they hadn't when i was younger. It is a painful process. There are too many complications to work out feelings that help me in my adult decisions, eg, one parent subsequently lost all contact, which of course doesn't have to be how it happens.

I think I am so reluctant to willfully cause a painful experience to my children - that of course might be unavoidable at other times, eg bereavement - that I cannot trust my judgement to make the best decisions for my family.

rememberthetime Tue 26-Apr-16 07:21:23

There comes a time when you have to put yourself ahead of everyone and that is always better in the long run. Kids really do get that eventually.

serialangstyposter Tue 26-Apr-16 08:04:31

It's so impossible to weigh up/guess the impact of our choices on our children. Eg, Haven't argued in a long time but I could count in one hand the number if times we've hugged in the last few months. Not easy to see what's best for children at all.

If I was just to consider myself I'd stay and risk we eventually sort things. It's not really the time for taking a decision. I should stop thinking!

Fidelia Tue 26-Apr-16 08:12:14

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

whattheseithakasmean Tue 26-Apr-16 08:19:21

Don't they experience one of the worse forms of loss early on?

I certainly did sad my parents divorce deeply damaged me for years, but perhaps that is because of how it was done (mum had affair with family friend, never lost opportunity to bad mouth dad to us, including their sex life (eeew) but left us with him while she went to one bedroom flat with an utter arse who bitterly resented me and my sister. Oh, it was just wonderful).

I would say, if you are going to do it, better do it when the kids are young & can get used to it or when they re older & have left home. Mid teens when they have exams is the worst, I think (especially the day before an exam. Thanks, mum).

FlounderingWildly Tue 26-Apr-16 08:43:01

Please do feel free to come and join us on this thread There are a lot of us pondering very similar things and going through these emotions.

RaeSkywalker Tue 26-Apr-16 09:15:16

My auntie has taught my little cousin that you don't have to stay in an EA, PA relationship. That abusive relationships are unhealthy. That it's ok to walk away. That bravery comes in a million forms and his mum is the bravest of all. And that she loves him more than anything.

He is surrounded by healthy relationships also- my parents, DH and I, and my DB and his partner. Children don't just learn from their parents relationship.

rumbleinthrjungle Tue 26-Apr-16 09:23:05

Yes, it absolutely shattered my belief in security and that someone who loved you would always be there. That was the worst and hardest part.


I gained a strong belief that there are ok ways to be treated and not ok ways, and that normal, good, healthy and loving relationships do not look like what I was living with. And most importantly I got the perspective that when you're part of a family good things happen and bad things happen and that you stick together and get through it together. No one is responsible for it being a 100% perfect experience at all times, and with all bad experiences its about how you get through it and move on from it. The other plus as a child in the situation is that I have individual relationships with my two separated parents of a depth and quality that I don't think I would have had if they had remained a couple. There's no getting away from separation being a very sad, hard thing for everyone in a family but life goes on.

Wadingthroughsoup Tue 26-Apr-16 09:26:01

A friend of mine stays in an abusive marriage despite being desperately unhappy because she believes she is setting the right example to her children that 'people shouldn't just give up on each other'. It breaks my heart as those children are being greatly damaged by what they see and hear in their home.

FluffyBunny1234 Tue 26-Apr-16 09:30:15

As a child I lived with a constant knot in my stomach
Who's going to blow up next
What mood will mum be in
What atmosphere will there be
It was fucking awful I wish they'd seperated

ricketytickety Tue 26-Apr-16 09:34:05

In some cases the parents have to separate. In my case I was abused and he threatened both our lives. So at that point I had no choice. I was still devastated at losing being part of a couple. My dc was happier to begin with as the atmosphere at home drastically improved. What she doesn't know is that she was much safer too. She struggles with abandonment.

I think how the children feel depends on how the adults behave. Initially my dc was happy with the split, I explained it to her and she was very accepting. Until it became obvious as she grew he didn't love her the way she needed him to and that confused her. She hoped it would be different if we got back together. But in reality what she hoped and what would happen were very different. I knew he could never love her the way she wanted him to because he is abusive and probably has some sort of personality disorder.

HPsauciness Tue 26-Apr-16 09:37:30

I don't think necessarily that divorce means you learn love isn't forever, not all love is forever anyway, but some is enduring and I haven't found having divorced parents has made me doubt that possibility.

niceupthedance Tue 26-Apr-16 09:45:30

My mum got married four times. It taught me that love is a triumph of hope through adversity! And also that I didn't want my happiness to be determined by having a partner.

ricketytickety Tue 26-Apr-16 09:45:37

If there isn't abuse or an affair, counselling might be an option. Talking and getting some time as a couple again. If the parents still love each other but are stuck in a rut they should talk. But if one partner refuses to then they have already checked out of the relationship.

niceupthedance Tue 26-Apr-16 09:45:38

My mum got married four times. It taught me that love is a triumph of hope through adversity! And also that I didn't want my happiness to be determined by having a partner.

serialangstyposter Tue 26-Apr-16 12:52:02

I've just had a chance to read all the comments posted. I've posted before and I'm always struck by the strength of posters who have taken decisions or had change forced on them and work through it to forge a new life. While I flounder. Floundering I've had a read of the other thread. Good to know I'm not the only one floundering.

I think what I take most from comments is that life does go on. I am reminded of occasions over the last couple of years where I have been amazed at how adaptable and resilient my children are. I need a bit of that strength.

I'm sorry for those with bad experiences and grateful for the chance to read and learn from them.

I think if I could stop being scared of the big decisions I might not even want to make a change. I might find I want to work through things anyway. But I'd know I'd be doing that because it makes sense rather being paralysed through fear of causing my children pain.

elliepac Thu 28-Apr-16 06:43:42

I stayed in an ea marriage for many years to try and not break the children's hearts. They loved their dad. But whilst he was an ok dad, he was an arse to me. I often wonder how much of it they picked up on. How often they would hear him in one of his 'moods' and shouting and be worried about it. It was not modelling a good relationship. Eventually 2 years ago, I took the plunge and left. My biggest and only priority was to ensure they were ok. So despite the reasons being much deeper than that, we told them exactly what another poster said that we didn't love each other like mums and dads should anymore, that we were still friends and that we both still loved them. We have (well at least i haven't..don't think he has either) never bad mouthed each other in front of them since we split, we are civil when we see each other and parent together (ie sing from the same song sheet, if there are issues we work together ie ds had a slightly dodgy report from school, exh came round and we talked about it with him together). DS was 11 and took it ok and has been fine. DD did struggle at first, she was 6 and it took time but she got there.

Now, 2 years down the line, both exh and I are in new relationships. Mine is so different to my marriage and i feel i am now modelling a good relationship for them with someone who genuinely appreciates me and loves me. Exh i think is a better parent now than he ever used to be. I did everything with them and he barely spent quality time with them. Now he does. And his new partner is good for him, a better match than me and since she came on the scene he is much more interested in the kids and is happier. They see a lot of him.

The main factor i think is how you handle divorce. Accepting that whatever went wrong in your reltionship, they still need a relationship with their father and rhat should be the priority.

Summerlovinf Thu 28-Apr-16 07:49:57

I felt that my children gained respect for me when I separated from their father. They still have a close relationship with him but also learned that you don't need to stay in a relationship where there is cruelty and abusive behaviour. They also got to experience a calm and loving household where their needs are high priority, rather than those of their over-needy and demanding father.

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