Screwing Your Kids in the Divorce

When people you know go through a divorce, much is made over who gets what and who loses what. The ex-wife gets the house. The ex-husband gets full custody of the kids. But here’s a constant that’s most upsetting: The kids almost always get the shaft.

Mood music:

Parents don’t usually mean for this to happen. They start out determined to shower the children with love and shield them from the ugly stuff as much as possible.

Then, as the proceedings drag on, the parents look for ways to hurt each other. What better way to do that than by using the children as pawns?

When my parents divorced 30 years ago, they did their best to shield us. They sent us to summer camp, though I really hated that. I just wanted to go play on Revere Beach.

They got joint custody. We stayed with Dad during the week and Mom on weekends. In the summers that arrangement was reversed. Dad got the house.

As the years went on, my mother grew increasingly bitter toward my father. This is understandable to a point. Her oldest son died. How can a parent be expected to think clearly when that happens? But she blamed my father. Actually, she blamed my stepmother: some baseless bullshit about my step-mother not inserting the adrenaline needle properly during my brother’s final and fatal asthma attack.

After that, if my father stared at her the wrong way, she threatened to get full custody from him. She did this on a weekly basis. I don’t think it hurt my father as intended. He held all the legal cards. But it sure as hell hurt me. I would constantly worry about never seeing my father again.

Looking in the rear-view mirror as an adult, I hold no bitterness about it. Not anymore, anyway. I realized I would never move on until I forgave them. We all fail. I have too many times to count. I also realize she was just venting most of the time.

But when I see kids caught in the middle of a marriage in trouble today, I always return to the scars of childhood, real and imagined (when you’re a kid you imagine things, and if you grow up to be a head case like me, you REALLY imagine things).

I bring all this up because I know of a couple troubled marriages right now where children are involved.

In one case the parents are working hard to be honest with the kids and make sure they know they are loved. I don’t know what will happen to that marriage in the end, but I give the parents  credit for trying to keep the emotional scars off their kids. If the marriage fails scarring will be inevitable. But the parents can do a lot to soften the blow.

Then there’s the other case. One parents tries to hurt the other by deciding not to babysit when scheduled. Of course, in this case it’s not babysitting. It’s parenting.

Then one parent has the child for the weekend and lies to the other about where they’ve been.

It’s not for me to get into who is right or wrong. I’m biased because I’m only getting one side of the story.

All I know is that it makes me sad. I can only pray that this child escapes with as little damage as possible.

Nobody likes it when someone’s marriage hits the wall. And when lawyers are brought in, you can expect ugliness to ensue because the lawyer’s job is to make sure his or her client wins.

Of course, in these situations, nobody wins. Some marriages need to end because it happened for the wrong reasons to start with or there was abuse. And sometimes people just change and what happens happens.

I just hope the kids make out OK at the other end of these dramas.


15 thoughts on “Screwing Your Kids in the Divorce

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  2. I realize I’m a bit late to the party, here, but I figured I’d leave a comment.
    This cuts to the core of me pretty deeply. When I was around nine, my parents divorced. Before that, there were many nights I spent listening to them argue to the point of shouting. One night, I actually got the courage to walk into the living room and tell them I couldn’t take any more of this. I still wonder if that moment might have accelerated the eventuality of divorce.
    Anyways, after they separated, they were both in a pretty serious bout of depression. I wanted to be a big boy about this and usually ended up holding them when they cried and being the person they vented to. The venting was something that I shouldn’t have been around for. They pretty heavily trashed each other through me and I was never able to truly look at my parents in the same way. Besides this, I also suffer from my own mix of OCD. My social shortcomings tend to conflict with my desires to not enrage people and lead me to where I am today, a decade later; afraid of confrontation and depressed about not being able to fix myself.
    One other especially big thing came out of this; I swore that I would have a marriage that was successful. That I wouldn’t ever try to take divorce as an easy way out and that I would remember that loving someone is never easy. Unfortunately, this has also led me to taking dating to seriously. I look too far into the long term and usually only become attracted to a girl after I’ve known her for a while and become close friends. You can see where that might lead to difficulty.

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  8. It seems discussing the downside of divorce is now frowned upon. I’m glad to see this article. In a marriage with four kids, I’m amazed at how often people propose divorce as a solution to our marital problems, without mentioning effects on kids. My kids would not handle a divorce well and my wife already engages in parental alienation. If she forces a divorce on me, hell would break loose.

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  10. It’s unbelievably difficult to watch your kids get hurt & know you have a role in it. It’s even worse to see a parent so steeped in their own misery that they have seemingly forgotten how their behavior can impact their kids.

  11. Bill – this strikes a personal note as well for me. I didn’t see my Dad from the time I was about 8 until I was 35. He died about 4 years later. While I blamed him more than anyone for it because I believe no one can ever make you desert your kids, it was a very tough situation growing up. It also has had a huge effect on my own parenting and marriage situation, as I would rather cut off both my arms and legs before I would leave my kids. For anyone who has been married as long as I (20 years), you know that it is not always easy!
    On the other hand I coach a lot in youth sports. I am blown away by the numbers of kids from divorced homes. The sad part is I an usually spot the kids who are from divorced homes just from their behavior. It most certainly has a huge effect. Over the last few years many of our friends have gone through divorces as well. Universally it is the kids who suffer most.
    Just a sad fact in our society today.

  12. A troubling subject, as too many of the students I see on a daily basis come from divorced homes. It’s sad and you’re right…it’s the kid(s) that suffer.

    I know movies don’t do the subject matter justice, but in 1995, there was a movie called Bye, Bye Love that I always think of when I hear the word “divorce”.

  13. This hits home. I didn’t see my father for 30 years because of a ridiculous situation between my parents. Note that I am 36. And, when I finally saw him, he was in a coma and eventually passed. That creates a lot of mental distress for a kid; even an adult kid.

    I wish I knew more parents that were able to put the kids first. However, one of my biggest lessons in life is that even parents are human. Being a parent doesn’t always make you the most omnipotent, selfless person, even if it SHOULD. The good news is that most kids don’t expect their parents to treat them perfectly; they expect their parents to treat them fairly. My boyfriend is currently in the divorce process with his ex-wife. He has an amazing 16-year-old son. They treat him like a man in this, but understand that he’s still a kid. He’s allowed to voice an opinion. He’s allowed to choose when he visits his dad and when. He’s given time with both of them. He’s never put in the middle, neither of them talk trash about the other to the kid, and they make sure their arguments take place in private. Still, the kid is affected. It’s hard for him. He had to move to a smaller house with his mom, he has to get used to not having his dad around every day, etc. I don’t think there is any way that a child can’t be effected by a divorce. I guess all that parents can do is try their best.

    Thanks, as always, for a thought-provoking and insightful post.

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  15. Before you can be a responsible parent, you have to be a responsible adult. Far too many adult revert back to juvenile behavior when faced with emotional impasses in life.

    I have a friend in paticular who is going though a very rough patch right now, and he has two children in the mix. His wife ASKED for the divorce (and often used it as a threat in the past as well … see juvenile behavior reference). Now they are in the mess of the breaking apart and the kids are being very much impacted.

    Nothing is pretty when it comes to emotional separations, be that of a husband/wife or significant other/significant other. I can’t agree with you more in regards to trying to lessen the blow for the kids, and I have to say WAY TO GO to the parents who are trying to stay honest, the kids might not get it now, but I’m sure it will help in the future.

    Not sure if I said much, but again….. Bravo to you Bill for putting it out there.

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