Staying together for the sake of the children?

Last September we posted a guest blog by Sarah Tucker, author of the book ‘The Playground Mafia‘.  Her guest blog was the most read and commented on the Netmums blog of  2011, causing much lively discussion and debate.  Sarah has written a new stage play, this time exploring infidelity and the effect on children, especially when their parent’s new partner becomes the talk of the playground.  In her latest guest blog she asks the question ‘Should parents stay together for the sake of the children?’. We’d love to know what you think.

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As my midlife crisis hits, I find myself increasingly surrounded by women and men who were

Mummy Mafia

The Playground Mafia by Sarah Tucker

once seemingly happily married with children who are now splitting up because of adultery.   Blame it on boredom, life change, opportunity, lack of self esteem, lack of communication, I have heard every single validation and excuse for why it happens. Everyone has a voice and an opinion. Except when children are involved. The children do not.

I’ve turned the book I wrote, The Playground Mafia’into a stage play, combining some of the research for my latest novel ‘The Infidelity Bible’ into the script. The characters discuss the impact of children knowing that their parents are being ‘special friends’ with someone else who isn’t their parent.  It’s a delicate subject, but one I wanted to address albeit in fictional form.

It is a subject many are forced to address with their children. There is the difficulty of deciding when to tell your child about a new partner (you or your ex) and how best to break the news and then introduce them. Many of the research interviews I’ve done reveal partners who introduce the new partner with what I could only describe as ‘indecent haste’.  My ex did so with our son.

I asked psychologists about this, and what effect it has on our children.  Their response was that children watch the behaviour of their parents like hawks. Mum and dad are the first role models, and whatever the media thinks, the prime role models over and above footballers, or their wives.  If these role models are saying one thing and doing another it can be very confusing.

Infidelity has become mainstream. From football players to rock stars from royalty to someone you know , a neighbour, a friend, a relation…the list goes on – and these are only the ones we know about.

I have interviewed child psychologists in my research and they say, dependent on the age of the child, anything they may see or hear can be blocked out, like a blip in their memory.   If it is one moment, they may forget it.  But if it is talked about, say in the playground (as it is in my play) it’s a different matter.

If the child is older, they are able to understand what is happening but their concern is for themselves.  Many worry that they just won’t see mum or dad very much anymore.  Whatever the age of the child when they first become cognicent that their parents may not always be around they become more independent, more self reliant, realising from an early age that they need to be.

I speak from first hand experience. My own parents having nearly broken up when I was three years old, but choosing instead to stay together because they had a little daughter. My parents were married until my father died many years ago.  I, on the other hand, divorced my husband when our son was three because of adultery. I’m pleased that as he was so young, he is unable to remember when his mum and dad were together.  Having researched the novel, however, I feel perhaps he does remember, just chooses not to.

Staying together for the children is a subject that causes a lot of debate. That’s why I’ve written about it to explore all the options, the excuses, the should haves, could haves, would haves. The arguments I have heard, both for and against are very powerful and poignant.

Whatever the grown ups think and say, most of the children would like their parents to stay together. And having interviewed the parents, without exception, where the children are concerned, the parents speak of unrelenting regret.  But they still do it.  As a psychologist I spoke to commented, the child’s voice and opinion is the only one the unfaithful partner never genuinely takes into consideration. And it’s the one voice they should.

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Do you agree with Sarah Tucker? You can comment on the blog or discuss it on this thread in the Netmums Coffee House. If you are going through a separation and divorce you can find support and advice with Netmums or why not visit our online Separation Advice Clinic where trained supporters are on-line to help and advise. Sarah is a single mother and lives in South West London with her son and two tortoises you can find out more about her on her website.

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16 Responses to Staying together for the sake of the children?

  1. Anon says:

    I’ve currently been forced to accept separation. My ex walked out on me on New Years Eve. I have 3 boys under the age of 3, within days of walking out I received a letter from solicitor stating I have prevented contact, he has handed notice to the boys nursery that they will no longer attend, frozen bank accounts, put a tenant in house, is seeing a girl. Despite all of that I still feel I should stick out the marriage for the sack of the children. I know and understand they need a father. On the other hand my friend has said that I’m crazy and when they grow up and realise what he is like and witness various events they won’t thank me and I’ll regret it.

    I’ve accepted the separation and due to proceed with legal proceedings but it breaks my heart that my husband has done this to the boys. My eldest is 3.5 yrs old and all he talks about daddy being a naughty daddy, his heart hurts and his daddy has left him!

    • jay says:

      wow am so sorry to hear this. could not just read and not reply. it will be his lose when the boys understand and dont want contact with him. xxx

    • Jerri says:

      Having two young boys and bringing them up without their father around all I can say is that it will get easier. My boys have no memory of their father and so we have gone through phases where they have spoken about him being an astronaut, a motorcyclist and even dead. Now the older one is six going on seven and the younger one has just turned five and they don’t mention him. They were so young when it happened they don’t remember.
      Separation is painful and messy, but one day you may well find yourself turning around and being thankful for how things have turned out.

      Best wishes xxx

  2. ANON says:

    I grew up with my parents together as my mum stayed because she thought it was best. Not really knowing the massive affect it would have, and had on us ta the time to see her be treat so badly by our own bad. It was mostly physcological sp? abuse that was witnessed. How I wished my mum had ledt many years before she did. I suffered very bad depression because of it. I do not blame my mum however, she still brought us up with so much love and I idolise her. She has since become a strong woman who I know would not ever let a man treat her like that again!

    So im my experience I would say it depends if both parents still love each other, and what is/has gone on. It really can do a whole load more harm to stay just for the sake of the children. All I ever wanted was for my mum to be happy 😦

  3. Komal says:

    Hi,

    I can’t believe this as I am in the same situation as yours…my husband left me 5 months back and I have a 3 yrs old daughter..I have no relatives or friends here and I feel so isolated as I can’t even go to work…he told me that he is looking to file the divorce but hasn’t taken any steps yet…I am being calm and waiting for him to come back due to my daughter as she is very much attached to him and is crying out for her dad…I am too stressed and don’t know how to get him back..he is also into a relationship but is not ready to accept it…

    Pls do feel free to talk to me anytime…I do understand how u feeling and it’s best to talk it through..I am seeking legal help and if u need any help on how to get that or anything else pls let me know…

  4. actuallymummy says:

    The whole thing must be so stressful for the children, as well as the parents, and however amicably it is settled I imagine it shapes the child’s view of love and family forever. So I am largely on the side of staying together. However, I remember the abject feeling of dread whenever my parents began an argument. I always thought I would be in trouble somehow, and I often thought they would split up, and that terrified me. Whatever people decide they absolutely must think first about their children.

  5. Helen Dewdney says:

    I fully support parents staying together for the sake of the children when it has a positive effect on the children but I divorced my husband for reasons other than adultery and my daughter, 7 at the time, now calls my partner (not met until years later) “Dad” and describes him as an imeasureably more positive and supportive “Dad” than her real one. I have supported my Ex’s parenting efforts but he has not stepped up to be a good father to our daughter and now she has someone who is, she makes her feelings clear. What worries me is the effect of inconsistant parenting which I believe may be more damaging than divorce.

    • Helen Butt says:

      I agree with this. The original blog seemed to imply that people get divorced primarily because of adultery, which may or may not be true, but there are many other reasons, such as domestic violence. (Incidentally, infidelity is a form of domestic violence.)
      Then, even if adultery is the cause of the marital breakdown, there isn’t much you can do if your partner walks out on you, is there???
      Incidentally, my ex-husband was a gambler, so I have 100% no regrets about saving our daughter from a life of misery (as well as the risk to her life due to his recklessness).

  6. shilpa says:

    My heart cries out for all the kids that r forced/made seperate from their either parents. I have grown up w/o my real father as my mum divorced when i was only 2 yrs. As a child, I always wanted to see my real father,but as i grew older respected n valued my mum’s decision. Ironically, today i m at the same situation with my 2 teenagers. I did everthing and anything for the sake of my kids to give them a complete family, as i have lived myself in a broken one.Like there is always two sides of the coin good and bad. I have put a brave face for 15 years of marriage but don’t think can go any further with a men who once loved me but now is abusive,cheating and uses me as n when he needs.
    Am I doing wrong?

  7. golfstrom says:

    I’m a bit biased because I have just decided to split up from my husband. No adultery on either side.
    Have I thought about my child and his wellbeing? Yes, for the past 3 years I was desperately trying to convince myself that this is what I want, that I should be happy and grateful. Did I feel happy and grateful? No, I felt like I was making a sacrifice of myself and I was dying inside. And fighting, and seeking revenge.
    And I remembered my mum, who did make a sacrifice of herself. She is now 64, 43 years married to my dad and utterly miserable.

    I was a depressed teenager. She wanted me to be her best friend, she wanted me to give her validation, she confined in me her disappointments with my dad. It took me a lot of time to realise that emotionally they had been divorced for years. And it took me a long time to find my own way in life.

    So no, I don’t think it is better to stay together for the sake of the child, even if there is no adultery. Because sooner or later someone will start to cheat just to get some joy in life. Or they will make everyone in the family, including the child, pay with passive-agressive demands for validation.

    Do I realise that my child is going to pay for my choice? Yes, yes I do and I regret that. But having 2 prices to choose from, I believe I have chosen the smaller one.

  8. Jazzberry says:

    My parents divorced when I was 11 due to infidelity and I can honestly say that I still went on to have a happy adolescence, regularly seeing both of them. I think it was because we were all sat down and explained what was happening (as we were older this was probably a bit easier) and were never left in any doubt that our parents loved us and we could see either of them whenever we wanted. I only remember one argument between my parents and I’m grateful they didn’t ‘stick it out for the sake of the children’ as I think this would only have caused resentment and negativity in the long run. I am in my twenties now and think I now have a ‘realistic’ view of marriage – I still believe in it, but I am under no illusion that it is easy.

  9. mel says:

    when I left my abusive husband after 10 years of marraige , my 10 year old daughter who witnessed much of it was so happy, the younger two didnt really understand and cried for their dad which was sad, but i stayed with him that long for the kids, then ultimatley left him for the kids, so they could grow up in a safe , happy home with no fighting or aggression.
    and now 10 years later i know i made the right choice.

  10. charlene says:

    Hi my parents spilt up when i was 1years and they had werid reliship since they still talk and very friendly till this day. My dad let her live with use when things have bein bad. she has 2 others kids which are my half brother n sister. At this moment i keep asking myself i am are me my partner 2gether for sake kids. W both bein throw so much i brought his son up from age 4years he know 8years i have had 2 children with him. I did cheat at begining are reliship i have lied to him about money. me and his son struggle at min seening eye to eye. We bein at point where we nearly split but i carnt make my mind up if this reliship going to work. The reason i lied to him cose he seems fly of the handle so i dont feel like i can talk to him. Or he very judgemental

  11. Sarah says:

    I have read all the comments with recognition and a sense of the innate strength of women. Divorce lawyers turn into psychics they must see the same trend of behaviour over and over again. I often feel in Wedding magazines and Mothercare magazines should include ‘health warnings’. When my ex and I separated I just focused on what would be good for my son and realised I needed to be strong for him and for me. And it was very much up to his father to the extent he wanted to be involved in his son’s life. My concern is I did not want my son to feel rejected and abandoned, because essentially when the mum or the dad walks out that is exactly what they do. That baggage hangs heavy long into adult hood and children are credited with being incredibly resilient at the same time as being incredibly sensitive ‘like sponges’. Sensitive and resilient? If there is physical abuse, and I take on board the comment about infidelity being physical abuse (it’s also emotional and spiritual), it’s best the children are taken out of the toxic equation. The balance is wanting them to know their parents, spend time with them, know that they are loved, and learn from their mistakes, and not copy them.

  12. karen says:

    hi my partner and i split up nearly three year ago my four year old as never suffered . as i have been the one person there all the time.

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