There are over 73 million children in the United States under the age if 18, and 69% of them are living in a household with both of their parents. This figure does not count other living arrangements, such as having a single parent with an unmarried partner or living with their grandparents.
The second-most common living arrangement for American children is to live with a single mother. Since 1960, the percentage of children who live with both parents has gone done from 88%, while the kids living with a single parent has tripled during that time. Single father households have quadrupled, rising from 1% to 4% over the same period.
Although there can be reasons other than divorce (such as the death of a parent) which can create a single parent household, the majority of situations involve a decision for some reason to live apart from one another. Because there are tangible benefits to living in a two-parent home, some couples decide to stay together for the kids instead of pursuing a divorce.
There are significant pros and cons to consider when you start thinking about staying together for the kids. Will you be happy in that situation if your spouse or partner is cold toward you? Can you be an effective parent if your primary relationship centers around your kids instead of each other?
List of the Pros of Staying Together for the Kids
1. It can give you time to take a breather in your relationship.
When you decide to get married and start a family, then you don’t end the planning for your outlook on life in an instant. Having kids creates a lifelong bond to your partner, whether you decide to stay married or not. The moment that you need to tell a child that their parents no longer love each other, that one of them is moving away, and now they must spend time between two homes instead of one can destroy you.
By making the decision to stay together for the kids, you can take a step back from the situation. It is a chance to breathe and gain a new perspective on the situation. Maybe you’ll decide to separate or get a divorce in the future or maybe not, but at least you’ll still be focused on a common goal: the health of your kids.
2. Time tends to heal many wounds if you focus on forgiveness.
There are times when a couple struggles to make things work because of an adverse event in their relationship. Even broken couples can find new meaning in their life if they keep an open mind about the other person. Over 70% of married couples who say that they are miserable and considering a divorce find themselves in a happier position in 5 years or less because they find new ways to support each other and themselves.
One of the traps that a marriage can create is a need to support the other person without taking time to pursue things that interest you. Children are always a priority, but you must also be one too. By pursuing a new hobby, looking for common ground, and making a conscious effort to remove conflict from the home, it can become a healthy environment.
3. Your children will be less likely to divorce as adults.
Several decades of research shows that children benefit when they have two parents at home who can work out their conflicts with each other in healthy ways. You are helping your child learn the art of compromise and conversation as you manage a less-than-perfect relationship. If you can find moments of happiness with your partner or in your situation, then the effort will help your child do the same when they meet their partner as well. You are teaching your kids how to continue on in an imperfect world while getting to spend more time with them than you would if you were apart.
4. There are fewer behavioral issues from kids in two-parent families.
Even if there is some conflict in the home, children who live in a two-parent household have fewer emotional problems compared to kids who live in an alternative arrangement. There are many reasons why this is possible (and there is always the possibility of outliers), but the stability kids receive in this area can help them to focus on their education and interests without worrying about their family situation.
This advantage means that your kids are less likely to participate in delinquent behaviors when they reach their teenage years. They will be less likely to abuse alcohol or experiment with drugs as well.
5. You can provide your children with a firm financial foundation.
If you are staying together for the kids, then there are financial considerations to think about as well. When both parents are working, then there is more money in the household to support educational activities. You can enroll your children in martial arts, have them participate in school sports, and still have cash leftover for the occasional treat. This benefit also means that your kids are more likely to attend college or go to a university because there are fewer poverty risks associated to your household.
6. It can reduce the negative feelings that occur during a divorce.
Although some couples can divorce amicably, most parents find that this process brings out the worst in people. When someone feels hurt, then their anger creates a desire for retribution. You can find yourself creating a wide swath of destruction that includes your children without realizing what you are doing. That is why couples are encouraged to go to counseling or try other methods of marriage repair before choosing to go through with a divorce.
Even talking with friends and other loved ones can help you to find a different perspective on your relationship. If you can build a healthy marriage where you and your partner have the long-term health and happiness of your children in mind, then it could be better for your children.
7. You are supporting the health of your children by staying together.
When children go through a divorce with you, then they are at a higher risk to experience several physical effects compared to kids in the general population. There are higher rates of headaches, asthma, injury, and speech impediments if you decide to separate. Children are 50% more likely to develop health problems in a single-parent home compared to living in a two-parent family.
Kids who live with both of their biological parents are up to 35% more physically healthy than kids who have an alternative living arrangement. Teens in blended families or single-parent homes are also 300% more likely to need psychological help compared to those who live in nuclear families. People who come from a broken home are also twice as likely to attempt suicide at some point in their life.
8. Staying together can have positive educational effects for your children.
40% of children in the United States today are growing up without a father in their home, with many of them not seeing their dad once in the past 12 months. 26% of fathers live in a different state than their children. When both parents are not around, then your kids are twice as likely to drop out of high school compared to those who live in a home with both parents. There can also be positive influences on the grades your children can earn and how they perform on standardized testing for future college or class placement.
9. When you separate once, you are more likely to divorce from additional partners.
The impact of multiple relationships and marriages on children find that kids in this situation typically earn lower grades. Their friends even rate them as being less pleasant to be around. Kids who only live with their mother are 10 times more likely to suffer from bullying. When you take the first action to separate from a partner, even for legitimate reasons, then you are increasing the future risk of this happening again. Each additional divorce that you have leads to a higher risk of your next marriage ending the same way.
List of the Cons of Staying Together for the Kids
1. It can serve as a poor model for a healthy relationship to the children.
Staying together for the kids can be beneficial if a couple has strong spiritual beliefs, powerful feelings for family cohesiveness, and the levels of high conflict are minimal. If parents in this situation can live in harmony and prefer to remain a family to support their children, then it can be a healthy situation.
Many parents in this situation have a heightened pattern of conflict in the home. There may be disconnection between the couple. These traits serve as a poor model for a healthy relationship, adding stress and anxiety to the life of their children. It can even be the trigger for behavioral issues, depression, and overall development.
2. It can place children into an unsuitable family role.
Children are very loyal to their family. Even in situations of abuse, most kids are hesitant to leave their home because of the love that they have for their parents. If you are staying together because of the kids, then the fights that you have with your partner will cause your kids to take a preventative role in their interactions with you. They will attempt to get in-between you and the other parent during a conflict, attempting to shift your attention from each other to them.
This task is not part of the healthy development of a child, but they will perform it anyway out of loyalty to you. They are not becoming mature or “growing up early” with this situation. It is potentially harmful to their long-term health.
3. It results in even higher levels of negative escalation.
When children receive exposure to escalated conflict in the home, whether it is behavioral, physical, or verbal, then it can have an adverse impact on their self-esteem. Many kids blame themselves for the arguments that their parents have, which affects how they perceive themselves as an individual. Any volatile situations that still have you considering staying together for the kids, such as an addiction, alcohol abuse, or an affair can hasten the degradation of self-worth that a child has when they see you fighting.
4. It creates more angst in the home that can impact a child life in multiple areas.
Kids know if you made the decision to stay together just for them. They understand the times when their parents do not love each other. Their perception of hatred is profound, and they will confront you when there are moments of high tension. You’ll hear comments suggesting that you should hold hands or kiss more often. You might get asked when you don’t love the other parent like you did before.
This angst can impact the grades of your children, their performance in athletics, and their participation in after-school activities. If you are staying together just for them, then the outcomes you create could be worse than if you decided to separate or pursue a divorce.
5. It does not reduce the risk of violence toward the child.
When you decide to separate or divorce instead of staying together for the kids, then you are removing the children from the anxiety that forms because of the conflict that you have with your partner. Kids need to have a supportive relationship in the home that is warm and loving, so the parent who removes them from a place where there is conflict and the threat of violence is proof of your emotional connection with them.
The basic needs of every child include a desire to feel safe and secure. There are times when you might have no choice but to leave because there is no other way to ensure their safety.
6. It teaches children that marriage is about being separate instead of together.
Marriage (or a domestic partnership) should be about working together to solve problems, provide resources, and offer stability. When you decide to stay together for the kids, then you are also teaching them that staying together is about being miserable and disliking their other parent. It can be healthy sometimes to have moments of independent in your relationship, but you should not be living a separate life.
Teaching children that you can live with one person but have a romantic relationship with someone else will increase the risk of this cycle occurring with them. It teaches them that instead of putting in the hard work to find places of compromise and togetherness, it is okay to be lazy and accept the unhappiness that happens in your life.
7. It shows children that fear can win.
The primary reason why couples choose to avoid divorce even in unhealthy situations is because they are afraid to be alone. Even a trial separation means that you will need to live differently tomorrow than how you are today. That might mean having less income, living in a different home, or even working a different job because you need more money to make ends meet.
Divorce also means that you’ll be spending less time with your kids since you are sharing time with them. Couples who divorce and try to create amicable relationships afterward often find that the fear dissipates as you experience life in a new way. Don’t let a fear of the unknown prevent you from taking the actions that might be best for you and your children.
8. It causes you to put your life on hold until you reach your deadline.
Parents who decide to stay together for their kids often live with the hope that they can restore their relationship between the moment of their decision and the deadline they set for themselves. No matter how hard you try to run and hide from this issue, your kids are going to know that you are not happy. They can tell when you feel like your life isn’t fun or fulfilling.
That is no way to spend your life until you reach whatever arbitrary deadline that you set with your partner. Waiting for the kids to finish high school or college, which are common milestones that eventually trigger a divorce anyway, means that your life is on hold until then. It might be better to initiate the divorce, even if your partner objects, and start the process of moving on.
9. It does not usually produce the intended results.
Your children deserve to see your strengths and weaknesses. It is okay for them to know that their new life is going to feel different if you decide to separate, but life will still turn out all right. Many parents often put their divorce on hold because their children take the circumstances in ways that are challenging to watch. It can be enough to cause you to change your mind because you see their misery.
If you stay together just for your kids, then you could be doing them a disservice. You are punishing them by trying to save them without even meaning to do so because you start living a life that you do not want. Kids don’t want to be the reason why their parents are miserable, which is the usual outcome that occurs in situations like these.
Verdict on the Pros and Cons of Staying Together for the Kids
Many couples decide to stay together for the kids during the holiday season because they want their children to have at least one last, memorable experience as a family. When the first business day of the new year comes along, that tends to be when the phone calls occur in the offices of divorce attorneys. The surge in volume can be as high as 30% in some years when parents finally decide to separate.
If you are in a low-conflict marriage where the home is harmonious for the children and you can find a way to be happy, then staying together for the kids can be helpful. Your efforts can create common ground with your partner that can even help you to repair your relationship over time.
Divorce isn’t the worst thing that parents can do to their kids either. Fighting with terrible words, hatred, or violence while staying married is actually worse. Trying to make it work doesn’t always work. It may be more complicated to separate or even involve step-parents one day, but it might also be what is best for your kids.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Masters Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.