The Problem With Staying Together For The Kids

I once overheard my father tell my mother, "The kids are all I have in this house." It wasn't flattering to hear. It just made me deeply sad.
10/29/2014 03:08 pm ET Updated Dec 29, 2014

Mom and dad don't like each other. They don't make small talk. They don't chuckle about last night's episode of The Cosby Show. They don't even acknowledge each other's birthdays. The dinner table discussion is strictly kids-to-parents, never parent-to-parent. They sleep, smile and even vacation separately. And they live in the same house. But at least they love me. This is my collection of mental notes before I had turned 5.

As an adult, I absolutely get it, why unhappy marriages linger for the supposed betterment of the children. The intention is good. But if we're being honest about it, people don't stay in bad marriages because they believe it's what's best for their children. They stay in bad marriages because they personally don't want to be separated from their kids. It makes complete sense, but that doesn't make it right.

While there certainly are benefits of having both your parents in the same house every day, two people who aren't in love with each other anymore are bound to clash, causing unrest, friction and ultimately an uncomfortable environment for children to grow in. It happened to me, and sadly, someone, somewhere reading this is inadvertently allowing it to happen to their child as well.

To be clear, this blog is not meant to toss my parents under the proverbial bus. I never have, nor will I ever, blame them for falling out of love. And it's flattering to think they both refused to leave the house so they could spend more time with my sister and me. That said, I once overheard my father tell my mother, "The kids are all I have in this house." It wasn't flattering to hear. It just made me deeply sad.

I was already an adult at age 20 when my parents officially separated. It still hurt. But naturally, I had seen it coming and to a certain degree had expected it. As they began their new lives living separately, I noticed something -- relief. It was as if my mother and father had collectively been holding their own heads underwater and finally rose to the surface and could breathe once again. They were noticeably happier people, and in turn, so was I, despite the inherent feeling of despair that comes with a divorce.

If you're currently debating whether or not to stick with a marriage that's not working for the sake of your children, there are a few things you need to know...

Kids pick up on more than we realize.

As I mentioned, I have a deluge of memories stemming from my parents' relationship. It manifested itself in days of silence, bitter arguments and ultimately living two completely separate lives, despite sharing an address. Once they were no longer Mr. and Mrs., all of the unpleasantness went away. There was no awkwardness, no resentment. Amazingly, they got along quite well. It left me wondering if life would've been different had they cut the cord a decade or so sooner.

Be honest with each other about your future together... or lack thereof.

The worst thing you can do about a failing marriage is to ignore that it's failing. Because ignoring it for one day turns into ignoring it for two weeks, then a year... you get the picture. Talk. One conversation can be the catalyst for taking steps to improve the marriage or collectively deciding all parties would be better served by a separation.

Two happy separated parents are better than two miserable together parents.

I am not encouraging anyone to leave their spouse. But you are neither doing yourself nor your children a favor by sticking around and projecting a rotten attitude day after day. If there is love between the two of you and you're both willing to work at it, there is certainly value in staying together despite the struggle. But if one or both of you have already checked out, you're only tarnishing your children's memories with angst.

When I was 20, right around the time dad had moved out, I was rummaging through some boxes looking for old photos. I came across a rather official-looking piece of paper with my parents' names typed across the top. It was their marriage license. Since they never celebrated their anniversary, I had no idea when it actually was. I couldn't believe my eyes. I looked at the date on the paper and then to the calendar on the wall. That day was my parents' 25th wedding anniversary. Astonished, I shared the news with my mother, who was equally unaware. We shared a pained grin and a shrug. It was a sad, yet appropriate, moment.

Devastatingly, mom passed away in 2012. But dad remarried in 2008, and by his own account, has never been happier. I'm thrilled about that. I only wish my existence hadn't indirectly prevented that happiness for so many years.

If you're having marital issues, do your children (and yourselves) a favor and address them. Or run the risk of one of your kids uncorking deep-seeded feelings in a HuffPost blog. Just saying. Communicate. Not communicating is never the answer.