Why staying together 'for the sake of the kids' is the worst thing that parents can do
Staying together isn’t best (Picture: Erin Aniker for Metro.co.uk)

When I announced that I was splitting from the father of my kids three years ago, the reaction I got depended entirely on how much people knew of the backstory.

Only those very close to me were aware that the relationship had been a sham for years – intimacy and affection was long gone and my pleas to sort things out had been soundly ignored.

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Despite this, we parented well together and somehow got on OK as friends.

To those who only saw the situation from a distance, everything seemed as though it was ticking along just fine – because of this, a certain level of surprise at my decision to cut the cord was understandable.

But what shocked me was just how many of those people thought I was overreacting when I explained why I wanted out.

It was made clear by some that ‘wanting a mutually appreciative relationship and not getting it’ wasn’t seen as an acceptable reason to split up with someone when you have kids – in fact, it’s apparently verging on being selfish and shallow.

A too-common response was, ‘but the children will be so upset – and it’s not like he’s aggressive or anything’.

Many people over the years have told me that they were deeply unhappy in their relationships, but ‘it’s not bad enough to actually leave’.

I was in the same situation for probably the last two or three years of the 14 I spent with my ex. But this self-imposed rule of ‘not bad enough’ only ever seems to apply to those with children – when child-free couples decide that enough is enough, it’s accepted as being a mature way of dealing with things. Split up, stay friends and just move on like adults, etc.

Why staying together 'for the sake of the kids' is the worst thing that parents can do
(Picture: Mmuffin for Metro.co.uk)

With children involved, the stakes are higher – and all too often, the opinion seems to be that so long as a relationship isn’t actually violent then the best thing is to put up and shut up for the sake of the kids.

How is that a good thing?

A relationship can be poisonous – from either side (it’s not just men) – without being physically abusive. And however pleasant your partner is in other ways, if staying with them is making you cry yourself to sleep at night then it is deeply unhealthy and you need to get out.

But when you have children, it’s often easier to stick with the depressing status quo in order to avoid upsetting them.

You dread telling them that their secure family unit is coming to an end and it’s you who’s made the decision to pull the plug. No one wants to be the one to break their own children’s hearts.

But what’s the alternative? Are you really supposed to just sleep walk through life until the kids grow up and leave home, your confidence and self-esteem eroding on a daily basis until you’re nothing more than a shell of a person, waiting for the day you can escape? Do people honestly think that children don’t pick up on their parents’ mental and emotional state?

Personally, I can’t see any advantage to martyring yourself for the kids’ sake, nor do I think it helps them in any way.

Why staying together 'for the sake of the kids' is the worst thing that parents can do
(Picture: Getty)

Surely it’s better to lead by example – which means having the strength to show your children that it’s OK to admit when things aren’t working out, and to change the situation for the better.

Isn’t it better to have happy, separated parents than to live together ‘as a family’ but with at least one of the adults on the verge of miserable tears all the time?

The relationship I had with their father was certainly not what I would ever want for my boys, so what good would it do to let them think otherwise?

If anything, it risked making them think that it was OK to put up with unkind treatment – and if they saw me living like that with no apparent complaints, wouldn’t they eventually do the same to a partner of their own?

They’d have been shown that it was OK for their mum, so there would be no reason for them to see how wrong it was.

Some may still struggle to understand my argument, but I have an advantage here. I understand this situation from a child’s point of view as well as an adult’s because my own parents came close to splitting up on many occasions throughout my childhood. And to anyone who thinks that kids don’t notice what the adults are getting up to in private, hear this – kids see everything

I didn’t need to listen in on their conversations to know that my parents were hopelessly mismatched – it was clear to anyone who bothered to look.

They adored each other as people but were an appalling combination as partners. Yet they kept floundering on, thinking they were hiding the anger and misery but failing completely.

Why staying together 'for the sake of the kids' is the worst thing that parents can do
(Picture: Liberty Antonia Sadler for Metro.co.uk)

They eventually announced their separation when I was in my 20s and had already left home.

When I asked why they’d bothered to hang on for so long, I was informed that they’d stayed together for the sake of my brother and I.

So now it was our fault? They put themselves through years of unhappiness and their only explanation was that it was because of us? I love both of my parents dearly, but in that moment I had to fight the urge to bang their heads together and demand to know what the hell they were playing at.

A parent should never foist the responsibility for them putting up with a miserable relationship onto their own child’s shoulders.

Adults should be making decisions for themselves, not putting up with crap relationships and then implying that they only did it for the child’s benefit, because the implication then is that the adult has sacrificed their happiness for that of the child, which in effect makes the child responsible for their parent’s misery.

Not fair, people.

I made the decision to break our family up not just for my sake, but for that of my children.

I want them to grow up with the strength and emotional intelligence to know when to say ‘enough is enough’ and to extricate themselves sensibly and kindly from a situation that isn’t doing anyone any good. I want it for them and I want it for their future partners.

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