Yeah, two apts. Don't burden your poor kid with Balkanization in the same house.
Or better yet, put aside your tangential and pouty differences (you did say you two still love each other, right?) and raise your daughter in a loving "plastic-smile" home until she's 18.
The 50/50 split really doesn't work unless you live essentially next door. The kid needs stability during every school week, to make sure she always has her books, gym clothes, etc. That's why judges lean towards weeknights at one house, except Wednesdays at the other, plus alternating weekends. Also, it's SO much easier for the parents to plan their lives.
I had a friend in HS whose parents split the house with the mother on the first floor and the father in the basement. It certainly seemed a little awkward as they'd discuss how their mother would get upset every time their father brought a date or one night stand home.
They at least turned out alright so that wouldn't necessarily be a bad alternative.
With the two units in an apartment building, at least the LW would avoid having any contact with whatever dates her ex-wife brings home. Also, there's greater flexibility in case there's an unexpected scheduling change.
I dated a guy who co-parented with his ex-wife by living in a townhouse around the block, so he was still able to easily be a part of his sons' lives. The problem? His current roommate happened to be his ex-girlfriend. Lol. Not good! Needless to say it didn't work out.
As soon as the divorce clears and emotional upheaval settles, it should be fine, but a word of warning..during the divorce living close-by will put a huge damper on any new relationships. Been there and it was horrible! Had to be secretive and park around the block so it didn't look as if I was some type of mistress turned girlfriend, even though we met a year after his separation. Far from ideal, two nearby separate apartments is still much better than sharing a home, if you plan to ever be able to move on with life.
I think it's wrong to assume that it's better for the kid for you to stay but be emotionally a wreck.
Adjacent flats seem a good idea.
It seems to me the LW will have to swallow a lot of hurt if she's going to be there for her daughter. Her wife, or emotionally her ex, has gotten over her quicker than DUMRN has given up on the marriage; DUMRN's wife sees her as a coparent and 'always an important person in my life', always an intimate, but is looking forward to dating again--and frankly looking forward to sex with new partners. This isn't likely to be easy for DUMRN to go through ... it will be difficult for her feelings, and the practical arrangements for looking after their child will be thorny--her ex looks as if she's going to want more date nights more quickly than DUMRN. It might be best to face the worst in her mind now--and to be resolved that the marriage is over, that she's into a new non-romantic relationship with her ex. And of course to nail fair practical arrangements down. Then let her work out what she look forward to herself... What's good about the future?
Although it’s definitely important to provide your kid with a stable home, the definition of “stable” can vary a lot more than most adults seem to think. My parents divorced when I was 9, but I never once felt like my family was somehow broken; my parents were clear and calm when they explained the divorce to us, that it was a split between them, not between either of them and us, and they both took great pains never to badmouth or undermine each other (or our eventual stepparents) in front of us. My mom may have had custody, but my dad was always a part of my life, whether he lived in the same house or not.
And, here’s the part that I think especially applies to your situation: both of them are happier and saner apart than they ever were together, and that was blindingly clear to me even as a 9-year-old.
My dad has told my sister and I many times that he regrets not being a bigger part of our lives, so I think you may have a valid fear there. But from our perspective, he was there for us just as much as our mom was (hell, he made it to more of our choir concerts than she did, and she was our high school principal!). So, yes, you may have to give up some of the day-to-day exposure to your kid, and that may suck for you, but having two stable, sane moms absolutely won’t suck for the kid. (It sure beats having two moms who make each other crazy, or who have to act super fake to be in the same room without fighting!)
Some family friends divorced - a bad divorce. They have two kids.
They kept the house, the kids live there full time. Both my aunt and uncle have separate places they stay, trading a week on or off at the original house where they have the kids. So instead of the kids bouncing back and forth, they are.
This LW needs to figure out what she actually wants, then figure out what compromises she's willing to make.
I really like the idea of separate apartments in the same complex- especially if it's a big one where you don't have to be so aware of one another's comings and goings. One of my partners did this with his ex when they were first divorced, and it made things much easier for their kid. It doesn't have to be a permanent arrangement, but it might ease the transition.
LW, if you move to a three bedroom house, that sounds like the best first step. Ask your soon to be ex, if she could not bring anyone home for say, six months, while you see if you can work thru your grief, might be good to be seeing a therapist during this time, and let new relationship patterns emerge.
Whichever way you go, you have to face your grief and re negotiate boundaries with your co parent and friend. If after six months, you haven’t shifted in your feelings, end living together and have fifty/ fifty custody of your child.
Or houses on the same street. Same idea. Don't know what LW's finances are. But yes, this concept seems like a good solution and I have actually heard of people who have done this and had it work.
You don't have to live in the same building (and if the flats are really adjacent, make sure the walls are thick) but living close enough that the daughter could walk from one house/flat to the other was a big advantage for me and my ex. If your daughter gets mad at you (and she will, especially as she enters puberty), she can go over to your ex's place with no problem; and vice versa when she gets mad at your ex. Most elementary school kids prefer routine and stability; so having a schedule like 1 week at your place and 1 week at your ex's will be fine once the daughter is used to it. You can stay in touch if, for example, you volunteer to pick her up from school every day on your "off" weeks. Finally, you and your ex need to stay cordial with each other....sit together at PTO meetings and school concerts or athletics. And most of all, never talk shit about your ex in front of the kid...that will come back to bite you, sooner or later. The process of divorce brings out the very worst in people, especially if lawyers are involved. just both of you keep focused on doing the best for your daughter and you'll make it. Good luck; you sound like a great mom!
I think the neighbors with any open door policy for the kid idea sounds great. Or the one where the parents switch and the kid stays in the house. But that sounds more expensive as I’m sure that the parents would each want their own place when not at the kid house. We did every other week in my family, which was awful, then switched to every other month, which was much better. Also lived permanently with one, and then due to financial reasons (I think) the other moved into that house. Personally as far as how I felt about my parents divorce or investment in parenting us, I never felt their divorce had anything to do with me (I have a hard time understanding kids older than 6 or so who can’t be reasoned with on that front), and I felt equally parented by both regardless of how much physical time was spent with either. Any difference in closesness I felt to one or the other had much more to do with their personalities and where I was emotionally at any given time.
I think staying at the same house, regardless of separate bedrooms, isn’t going to work as it doesn’t provide enough space for all involved. It is also likely better for the child to be with one calm parent at a time as opposed to two frazzled ones.
Adjacent apartments may also be too close for that reason.
When I moved out I remained in the neighborhood, though far enough to provide space for all. (15-20 minutes walk, few minutes by car). It worked for us though it should be noted that it was a soft divorce, one we talked about for a while and executed without any lawyers. It wasn't always easy though.
Dan's suggestion is quite imaginative and sound. Well done, Dan.
But remember the recent LW in a small town who couldn't deal with having an ex living even less nearby? If either adult member of the couple feels like living so close might be even slightly less than comfortable for them, then separate, live well-separated from each other. Being free of the aforementioned discomfort could be worth reducing kid-time to 50% (rather than being an uncomfortable adult). Kids of separated parents get the benefit of having parents who are happier than they would be with unhappy parents, and get higher quality time from each parent (and in time perhaps their new partners too) during their respective 50%'s.
I like the two apartments idea. When I was going through a divorce, we shared a house for 12 months and there was any icy silence all the time. We had no kids, but it would have been really bad if they'd had to be part of that every day.
I knew a couple that did adjacent townhouses in a situation like this. It seemed to work out pretty well for them and the kids. They even managed to share the Wi-Fi.
Buy or rent a duplex. More privacy than apartments, usually a yard to play in.
Wealthy pair of women.
All I can say is... financial situation dependent, there's alot of great advice here. Definitely don't stay together for the kids. A house of unhappiness, whatever form that takes, fucks children up. And turns them into fucked up adults. I can attest.
Living nearby, but not nextdoor, is the key IMO. If you are too close (like literally can see one another's houses) then you end up with fights over boundaries.
Likewise, I disagree with the idea that a kid being able to go back and forth at will is a good thing. Kids will use this to their advantage- especially as they enter the middle school years which will happen very soon. Kids need structure and boundaries and routines. A week here then a week there, consistently implemented by loving responsible parents who don't let their own relationship drama interfere with their parenting, is just as structured and secure for the child. The kid knows where they will be, and it will be as normal for them as any other arrangement. If you are more flexible (in and out at will) then the kid will be more likely to play to the two off one another. And it's not even intentionally manipulative on the kid's part- just like, hey I don't want to eat this, mama b lets me eat pizza, or I get screentime before homework at mama a's house so I want to go there, etc.
So I'd say, yes in the same neighborhood, maybe even on the same block or in the same building- close enough the kid can safely walk between them but not close enough that you can see one another. But stick to a strict routine of week on week off so that the kid has structure and consistency. Yes, if the kid leaves her jacket at home a when it's b's week- easy you can just walk over and get it- but kid doesn't get to decide where to sleep each night. The majority of children do not thrive with that much choice- they need the structure. And it'll be easier for both parents as they get on with their lives if they can plan- knowing well ahead of time when you have the kid is really helpful.
As to the feeling like you are missing out on half her life, you aren't really. From the kid's point of view, you will be just as involved. You just have to really make sure you communicate with the other mom. Embrace it. The nice thing about coparenting is that you get a full week to yourself which will be super handy as you re-enter single life and rediscover who you are outside of a marriage. Most everyone I know who is a parent half-time absolutely loves it because you don't have to be ON all the time and you have free time and down time. Best of both world's.
And yes, in a few years (when the kid is around the age to start highschool) you are going to have to renegotiate this anyway.
I agree with EmmaLiz: I would do same block, not same complex (unless we're talking about a large suburban complex that is basically akin to the same block) and I would still set boundaries about time. Maybe do a few nights where the whole family eats dinner together and then other nights alternate: mom who picks up from school isn't on for dinner that night (so almost every day both parents are seeing the kid).
As an fyi, one of my good friends had divorced parents. They did the same block thing and everything went well. From the outside the divorce was amicable and being on the same street was easy. I'm sure there was some drama (there always is) but enough space while being close probably helped cut down on that drama.
@7 (libster) - you beat me to it. 100% agreed. Living in a confined space with two parents who clearly don't want to be together and make each other supremely uncomfortable will place a huge burden of stress on the daughter. Take Dan's suggestion, if you can afford it.
In most of the divorced families I know, the kids tend to live in one parent's home, and go to visit the other parent at set times (weekends or vacations). I don't think too many do the "one week on, one week off" method. Especially with older kids, who don't want to be bothered with that. At a certain point, the kid becomes old enough to decide where s/he wants to live.
Since the LW says she'll go nuts being around her ex-wife, the two apartments idea seems a non-starter, unless they're in different parts of the same complex.
Great suggestion, Dan!
Most divorced couples I know share 50/50 custody and live within a few miles of each other. That doesn't necessarily mean they don't see their child for a week at a time. Sometimes the "off week" parent takes the kid to/from school or some other activity, sometimes has a dinner or two during the "off" week. Sometimes the schedule is set to alternate more frequently than weekly, like every 2-3 days.
I'm giving this lesbian couple the same advice I'd give a hetero couple: put the welfare of your child first! A breakup will be detrimental to your child's well being, so if there is any way the two of you can "peacefully" coexist and provide a loving, home environment until your child is much, much older, that would be the ideal solution. However, if there's a lot of animosity between the two of you, a lot of arguing, fussing and fighting, breaking up for the sake of the child and coparenting would be the better solution.
The suburban answer might be houses on streets that back on each other. The house with the backyard adjoining ours used completely different roads to get to most local places.
Juan @29: I could not disagree more. A breakup will not be detrimental to the child's well-being. Seeing an unhappy relationship modelled as an example of what is "normal" will damage that child's future relationships for the rest of their life. Couples don't owe it to their children to stay together. They owe it to their children to split as amicably as possible, to not trash each other to the child, to share custody fairly, and to show them by example that it is okay to end a relationship if you are not happy. Besides, DUMNR hasn't got much choice here; her wife has already decided to leave. So your advice is bad in more than one way.
When my ex & I split up, we did this for custody: I had kids Mon & Tues, She had them Wed & Thurs and we alternated weekends. That way they had a regular, predictable schedule, but weren't separated from either of us for an entire week at a time. It also gave us long weekends every other week for trips and such.
I agree with BiDanFan @31. Children aren't helped by seeing a resentful, unhappy relationship as "the norm." Two nearby parents who are happy is a far better situation.
A friend of mine in high school had parents who did the "two apartments" solution. It worked well for him and seemed to work well enough for the parents. They weren't in the same physical building, though, they were at opposite ends of a fairly large complex. They were still neighbors, but that extra few feet of distance meant they probably weren't going to run into each other while taking out the trash.
Curious2 @17: I think you're comparing apples and oranges. The previous letter was from a woman whose ex was abusive, and they had no children. There is no reason whatsoever her ex should have been living anywhere near her. This situation is different: there is a child involved, and I will agree with everyone that the child's welfare comes first. There has been no abuse here, just an "alienation of affection," as I believe the divorce lawyers call it or once did. In other words, there is very good reason why these ex-wives should live conveniently to each other, and no compelling reason why they shouldn't. Opposite case from the small-town kinky girl.
It may not be possible for you and your ex to find two (affordable) homes--whether apartments, townhouses, or houses--in that close proximity, but I think as long as you are within a mile or two of each other, get along reasonably well, can be flexible, still act as a "family" (i.e. both go to all school-related events or the kid's athletic competitions, dance recitals, plays, art exhibits, etc. as a unit, sitting together, not forcing your child to choose between running up to one mother or the other post-whatever it is), and are willing to make multiple trips to pick up whatever gets "forgotten" at the other parent's residence, you should be okay.
Whatever custody looks like, it's possible for the parent who doesn't have the kid sleeping at her house that night to pick the kid up after school and go for hot chocolate-and-homework time, or any number of little activities that keep the two of you close.
My ex and I have always gotten along well, and I can think of several times when one of the kids wanted to do something on a weekend--and that thing only happening that particular weekend--that they were with the parent who wouldn't especially enjoy that thing (call that parent "parent A"), but the other parent ("parent B") was enthusiastic, so even though the kid was technically with parent A that weekend, and in fact slept at A's home that night, parent B and kid did that thing together by day.
There are lots of ways to be in your kid's life daily, but I'd also recommend using the time when you don't have custody to make a separate life for yourself: take up a forgotten hobby, see old, childless friends, make new friends, start doing something that has always interested you but which the full-time demands of parenthood made difficult to participate in, join a book group or a just-for-fun sports team thing. Because sooner or later, your kid is going to prefer spending time with their friends, and one day, go off to college, and you need to have your own life.
The only I thing I would really advise against is living so far apart from your ex that when it is your weekend with the kid, the kid can't see any of his/her friends and spends the entirety of the weekend with the parent, missing things like birthday parties or outings with friends who live closer to the other parent. (I think this often happens when one parent stays in the formerly joint home and the other moves far or far-ish away, too far to want to participate in the activities that are close to the original family home. It also can be a factor of one parent getting far more time with the kid in the original home and the other only seeing the kid something like every other weekend.) Because then the kid can view being with that parent with resentment, as it keeps him/her from doing things with friends.
Such a great idea. I love seeing parents who co-parent so well too. It means the world to the kids.
LW seems to dread the idea of divorce, which is understandable, I was terrified myself. Yet nowadays when asked about my marital status the reply is, “happily divorced.”
Those days weren’t always happy though. One thing that helped me tremendously in the early stages of divorcehood was my involvement with a group of people that shared their joys and struggles and helped each other. In my case that group was a 12-step fellowship that is still not officially recognized by the local SL authorities, though I’m sure there are many other groups out there.
Sorry if I'm repeating what someone has already said...
Every kid and every family is different, but you can't overstate the importance of your emotional and mental health for your kid. In my situation (as a child), my parents "stuck it out for the kids" and we were all miserable. I grew up wishing every day they would just split up. They finally did right after I moved out at age 18, and I had the sardonic feeling of "well great, finally - wish you hadn't waited til I moved out." I know my situation was a common one, too, as I've heard it many, many times from others.
As for my stepdaughter, her mother got away from the father when she was 3 years old, and I'm 100% certain it was the best possible thing for her and, if anything, should have happened sooner. (Whether or not I had come into the picture, as I did when my stepdaughter was 4.)
Again, every situation is unique to a point, but I hope LW remembers the impact that caring for her own mental health and her wife's will have on their kid.
One more note: For Pete's sake, no matter where the two of you end up, make sure you're both in the same school district!
People tend to use the word "comparing" too liberally. I wasn't comparing anything. I was reminding (that's why I started with the word "remember") everyone (including the LW) that the closer ex'es live to each other, the greater chance it has of being difficult enough to detract from (at least one of) their happiness, and in turn their child's.
(I simply think) most ex'es want to be separated enough that they aren't gonna run into each other (except during childcare business). Dan suggested the same apt. building; for most that's too close. I don't recall there being enough info in the letter to tell us they'd both be cool with it, so (by mentioning that other LW) I was simply reminding people of the kind of emotions people have (usually not so extreme though), because most split couples would be best advised to live no closer than the situation mentioned by Malevolent AI@34 (wow, by copy and paste into a text editor with another font I just realized he's not Alfred, he's Artificial Intelligence!) where "they probably weren't going to run into each other while taking out the trash" because "They weren't in the same physical building...they were at opposite ends of a fairly large complex".
As a child, I remember going to sleep night after night hoping my parents would get back together. I could say 'praying', but that would wring the withers unnecessarily.... And things were practically worse, more liable to error and failure and panic--in that there weren't two people e.g. to earn a living and cook an oven supper--supper was late, the meat was chewy, the rice was glutinous, and my father was flustered, emotional, snappish. (The reason my parents' marriage broke up was his persistent, selfish unfaithfulness--something I did not understand until adolescence ... well, maybe never).
In a residual or reverting way, I take some of the comments on this thread as saying, 'don't worry--your breakup won't have an adverse effect on your child'. I think it may, but that the parents can mitigate this; and also think that people are saying this to salve their own guilt, not as a clear-eyed analysis of the past. What I would say to the LW is, 'do what is best for EVERYONE, including yourself, all things considered'. This is a maybe counter-intuitive follow-up; but I don't think DUMRN's love for her child should put her in a situation she can't bear. If she's going to have to spend the next ten years inwardly recoiling at her now-partner, disliking small things or habits, chewed up when her ex has dates or fucks, winged by the failure of the relationship, unable to move on ... no--no, don't do this to yourself, even if an inner voice says you're putting yourself before your child. At the same time, be realistic and open about how you might toughen up. Perhaps, as well, come forward to your ex, a woman you still love, with your worse fears--for your emotional life, supposing you will both be there for your daughter e.g.--well, what do you dislike about your ex? 'I'm afraid you will watch trashy television with our child and not force her to do her homework', 'I'm afraid you will disconcertingly expose her to a lot of short-term lovers', 'I'm afraid you'll caricature me in her eyes and turn her against me'. Whatever. People do turn their children into the repositories of their critical thoughts about their partners, sometimes obliging kids to take sides; this is one of the bad things about separation.
"As a child, I remember going to sleep night after night hoping my parents would get back together"
I'm sorry you had to go through that, Harriet. (I'm sorry all the children of divorce did.) My parents never divorced (but I know about half of marriages do end in divorce) so it's helpful to hear.
Doesn't change my mind though, I think most of those environments would be /more/ toxic for the kids if the parents didn't divorce.
@43. curious. 'Toxic'? What does that mean? It's a placeholder word, an 'I'll-say-this-so-I-don't-have-to-think-about-it' word. A getting-myself-off-the-hook word. My mother was highly conflict-averse. She shielded me from any difference, any argument, with my father. Hell, she shielded him from most of her dissatisfaction--subliminating her feelings of rejection into a Catholic concept of earth being suffering. When she went back to her own family, things were immediately worse for a child. I was no longer in her company most of the day in the holidays. No baking. No nature trips. She found it easy to look after a child creatively, lovingly, with composure. My father found it hard. Because he was rich, a great I-am at work, and found it hard to face being poor at relationships. Yes, any toxicity, any resentment, any dysfunction was removed from in their no longer interacting in front of me. But most of the time they had been civil; they had spoken to me rather than speaking to each other.
Separating parents need to think about the practicalities for their child. Like, will they eat similarly in the two homes? How will the kids' mealtimes and laundry and homework be coordinated by separate parents? Any differences will be prised open by needy kids looking for advantage--'but Daddy lets us eat pizza and watch Netflix!' And this petty gaming, on everybody's part, will snowball emotionally. The laxer parent will represent the stricter as an unloving killjoy. The richer parent will try to buy the kids' love with toys. Divorcees typically, though, don't realise they're getting into all of this because it's not always the case that they're sufficiently functionally separated to be able to arrange a nearly-seamless home background for the kids.
DUMRN's situation is unlike that of most separating exes. Her wife wants a Platonic relationship of cohabitants. That would leave DUMRN 'a wreck', she fears. What about her partner provokes this reaction? How much of it can she mortify, for the sake of her child?
Harriet, as I already made clear @43, I have sincere sympathy for what you had to go through, but...
"'Toxic'? What does that mean? It's a placeholder word, an 'I'll-say-this-so-I-don't-have-to-think-about-it' word. A getting-myself-off-the-hook word."
That's bullshit. It wasn't any of those things, it was /shorthand/ for what previous comments had already said (and you knew they'd said, because you referenced them @42). But I may not have felt a need to add to them (at least in this thread; I forget), so since you ask:
I think the decision to 'stay' together for the kids is for most people a poor one. Most of the time the resulting 'together' ends up being poisoned with something ranging from mean-spirited bitterness some degree of aggression of violence between the adults. That environment is not something to water a developing child with, let alone that they will then be fertilized with the guilt of this shitshow being suffered by the adults FOR THEIR quote unquote benefit.
But I didn't need to tell you that, you made that argument YOURSELF @42 (after the phrase "counter-intuitive follow-up"). And you went on to make that argument in your 2nd paragraph @44. You make good arguments for how adults should do better and be better, and I support them. But given that the kids are the priority of every one of us, and that the reality is that most adults WON'T do better and be better, I say don't stay together "for the kids" unless you can do so with genuine joy instead of traumatic ugliness.
Traumatic ugliness is nothing to be taken lightly. Trauma stays with one. At least one of my parents never should have had children.
Hey LW - fuck you for - right off the bat - thinking that you could be entitled to any more than 50% of the remainder of your child's childhood simply on account of your 'feels', but totally okay w/ depriving your soon-to-be-ex of the same. I hope your STBX fights for and wins majority custody.
I grew up with separated parents who lived next door to each other. They were correct with each other but being so close by made them neighbours who had to deal with each other. It would have been better for me if they had lived around the corner from each other. Close. But not that close to each other. They separated for a reason.
Now I am separated from my kids’ mother. I have 50/50 custody. We tried various arrangements.
I now love having a week off to be just me and a week to be the best dad. I do all the errands when they’re not with me and I’m always fresh. I missed them so much for the first year of Week on / week off. Now I love it.
Twice a month we have a midweek sleepover where one child stays with the other parent - so weeks alone and weeks with our youngest child mid week (dependent on our child’s wishes).
@46. curious. You still have to say what 'toxic' means for you in the context of a now loveless marriage. Two people who have no substantive conversation with each other, who don't talk about their hopes and fears, who don't broach their interests--whose conversation turns only on practicalities concerning the children, and is never more than civil? That's glacial; but it doesn't sound 'toxic'. To a child younger than 11-12, it can seem normal; and it's likely to be a hell of a lot better than the parents splitting, one unfamiliar and less comfortable new home, dislocation, the revelation of unhappiness and loss of certainty. In these circumstances, it is self-deception for a separating parent to think 'I wanted to model a good relationship to my child'. They had it before--with the child, in its unquestioned closeness and security, if not with their 'spouse'.
Or does 'toxic' means overtly, scarily fractious? Scary for the kid(s)? Do they see the adults arguing? Is one parent verbally or physically abusive? There are lesser grades of a rankly bad relationship. Partners may have insidious or just obvious habits of derogating whatever the other does--criticising their cooking, mocking their friends and family, never finding their career efforts good enough. But how privy are the children to these? Almost as a certainty, they will become more privy, when the restraining effect of 'having to put a good face on' a bad marriage is removed, and the kids want to know why Mom and Dad have split.
Just to be clear, I'm not attempting to distinguish between situations that warrant a breakup and those that don't. I'm not saying parents have to mortify their own desires, estrange their own feelings, sometimes eat shit, for the sake of their children. I am saying, from the perspective of someone who had a formatively difficult childhood, that I've noted that some divorcees retreat into euphemism rather than acknowledge the pain their splitting has caused their kids.
"a now loveless marriage. Two people who have no substantive conversation with each other, who don't talk about their hopes and fears, who don't broach their interests--whose conversation turns only on practicalities concerning the children, and is never more than civil?"
You think two people will usually do it that well? I don't. I think there will usually be the negative stuff I mentioned too. (I wish I hadn't posted @46 before I got the writing cleaned up/clearer, but I think my meaning might have been clear enough I needn't repeat myself.)
Yes, as you can see I already (somewhat mis)wrote in my 4th paragraph @46.
"There are lesser grades of a rankly bad relationship."
Of course. Thankfully I see that you, like me, don't want to attempt to specify the precise threshold necessary ("not attempting to distinguish between situations that warrant a breakup and those that don't").
"But how privy are the children to these?"
(Oh, well-chosen examples.) If they hear that stuff, or see it's body language, that's harmful/frightening/traumatic/etc. And in the case of most such parents, the kids will hear/see it.
"some divorcees retreat into euphemism rather than acknowledge the pain their splitting has caused their kids"
True. (Everyone does that about everything they do. Surgeons don't tend to acknowledge even to themselves how difficult it is to heal from every scalpel slice they make. No one wants to dwell upon the harm they create, that would get in the way of their life-satisfaction.)
How sure are you, that had your parents (the people they were, not the people they should have been)(parents that chose to split up) NOT split up, that the effect of the behavior between them that you'd have been exposed to would not have been even more traumatic and negatively transformative for you? I'm just pointing out of course that an alternative universe is not as easy to imagine the effects of as the universe we've lived in. It could well have been much worse for you.
In any case, I think a large % of the people who have kids together (even if they stay together happily!) shouldn't have had kids in the first place, at least not as soon as they do.
Harriet, you want specifics that are also generalizations, and you can't have both.
I'll tell you specifically what being a child of parents in a "toxic" marriage was like for e. Not abusive nor particularly damaging in the larger scheme of things- my parents are flawed people who took being parents seriously enough that they tried hard and were pretty responsible, but their marriage was a failure by the time we were still very young though they stayed together much longer for our sake. In my adult retrospective opinion, they should have been a life-changing fling for one another and not attempt a long term relationship. But you asked for specifics. I'll tell you some shit that comes to mind.
First, an undercurrent of resentment around everything. As a kid, you don't understand it, you just know that people are unhappy and that saying the wrong thing / having the wrong experience can set off more extreme emotions than they should, even when they aren't directed at you. You aren't an idiot so you notice there is something going on beneath the surface, but you also don't understand what it is.
Second, the situation described above creates a constant state of anxiety because the cause and effect of things in home life don't seem to connect so you feel like you are always walking on egg shells.
Third, moving out of the emotional and into the tangible, it means that plans don't really work out. Let's say you've planned to go to the beach or to visit a relative for the weekend, but a few hours into the trip something happens (that the kids don't understand) and everyone is turning around to go back home
Fourth, we witnessed few fights but we were aware of them sometimes. More than anything, it was the aftermath of the fighting.
Fifth, notcing parent time spent apart and liking it. When we'd go with my mom to visit that side of the family it was all cool and fun and natural for everyone. The warmth and relaxation and just feeling of secure belonging was there. Likewise, when we'd go with my dad on some outdoor adventure, he was fun and attentive and obviously enjoying being a dad and teaching us stuff. I liked both of my parents better and felt more secure with each of them when they were not together.
No we did not eat similarly with my dad's side as with my mom's. They weren't even from the same culture, so this was not new for us. We ate junk with my dad. We ate amazing homecooked, usually veg, meals with my mom. Did this seem confusing? No, why would it? Children are not cognitively deficient, they know different people eat different stuff.
I think some of the problem is that some households are very controlling, organizing their kids' every action, being involved in everything, and then there is conflict about stuff like screen time or routines or whatever. I question how much that shit actually matters. We went to school, came home, played, had loads of freedom as teenagers- what we had in terms of structure an security was a pretty good relationship with both parents (SEPARATELY). I think there is a lot of class difference here too. No one had the time to keep up with diets at one another's houses or screen time.
There is no way to generalize from this shit. You constantly wished your parents would be together. I constantly wished mine would stay apart. What is healthier for families is DIFFERENT- do what works for your family. Staying together is not always that.
@50. curious. How frequent do I think it is? For parents to do the silent thing, not to communicate, not to have much of a relationship, to be hollowed-out, not have sex--but stay together 'for the sake of the kids'? Very frequent. I think millions of parents are doing it--it's one of the defaults. And I'm not saying that it's either wrong or right--that 'parenting together so that--hopefully--the kids don't notice anything' shouldn't be the bottom line--as opposed to 'somewhere dry to stay--walls where the rain doesn't come in and a kitchen you can organise as you like' or 'a sexually fulfilled and growing relationship'. Instinctively, though, I do wish there was another default. Rather than the 'hollow marriage', a norm of two parents being monogamish, each getting their unquestioned date night once a week, might tend better to the happiness of parents and children.
If my parents had split later, I would have been exposed during puberty to the effect of a man feeling entitled to cheat on a stay-at-home wife (e.g. and I can infer in my case, the man's deceptiveness, self-righteousness and entitlement and the woman's pain and sense of an unreasonable betrayal). As you say, it's just not clear whether this would have been better or worse than my experience. In all events, I would have gone to a boarding school at 12 anyways, to break up the pattern of spending no more than two years at any school.
@51. Erica. There's no right answer. I agree with you when you say that. Your childhood certainly sounds uncomfortable. Unhappy parents are either damned if they split or damned if they don't. We have on one side your feeling anxious that something's about to go wrong, or being incomprehending if it does go wrong, against my sense that something HAS gone massively, incomprehensibly wrong--and being pulled alternately towards each parent, into some league in which I was the custodian of all the ex's defects ('your father does things without thinking'), without a hope of being able to understand what these were. Actually, they bad-mouthed each other more than this.
In the absence of other explanations, I believed it when both said that the marriage had broken because the other parent didn’t want to be with me. This will be a possibility, it seems, especially when parents behave creditably and the separation is amicable.
I think you are onto something when you say that splits might be more disruptive for children when they have helicopter parents. But then can you tell parents not constantly to be watching over their children? When I was young, you could switch career e.g. from teacher to lawyer in your mid-20s for free in Britain (at the taxpayer's expense). It’s harder now. Parents think their kid has to be high-achieving from the age of four to wind up with the hedge-fund job or medical specialism internship at 25. They're probably right.
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