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At which age are children old enough to not be affected by their parents getting a divorce?
I’m an only child, separated from my half-sister in age by 15 years and my step-siblings by about 20 years. My parents got divorced when I was 2, and they still really dislike each other over 35 years later. It causes all sorts of headaches, and we generally hold separate events for various sides of the family at holidays because no one really wants to be in the same room with one another.
I have friends and family whose parents got divorced when they were in their early-to-mid teens. Same story as me, though, and same set of problems, and a lot of them are still “picking sides.”
I have friends from nuclear families where the parents hate each other and stayed married “for the sake of the kids.” They have really unpleasant holidays — worse than mine.
Finally, I have friends from both divorced and nuclear families where everyone gets along pretty well. Here’s what I’ve learned — how the kids turn out has way more to do with how f—ed up the parents are in dealing with each other than the age of the kid.
It’s always going to be hard on the kids. And, yes, some people are way more resilient than others. The important thing — really, the only thing — is for the parents to remember that they’re still the role models for their kids at any age. It’s their responsibility to go out of their way to accommodate the other parent (if possible; I have some friends who’ve had to get divorces because of substance abuse issues, and in those cases, it’s probably not possible in the short run). You’re both still the parents, and even when you re-marry, you’re still the parents. You made a lifetime commitment to your kid by having your kid, and you’ve always got to act in their best interests. And you’ve got to be able to separate your hatred of the other person from what’s in the kid’s best interests, which is really, really hard to do.
The important thing — really, the only thing — is for the parents to remember that they’re still the role models for their kids at any age.
There are no sides. From the kid’s perspective, you’re both in the wrong. This is true even if one parent precipitated the divorce through some action (e.g., cheating), as happened in my case — kids are smart enough to know that it takes 2 to tango. All of my friends who have divorced parents have felt this way at some point, which is surprising, because it’s one of those things where you’d think that everyone’s experience is different.
Trying to win the kid over with cheap tricks, such as talking negatively about the other parent, asking probing questions, speeches about what it means to be a parent, or trying to buy the kid off with lots of toys (or whatever) are all bad outcomes. So many people I know (including me) have been caught in these cycles, and they’re just completely destructive. All they do is destroy trust, over and over, and it’s harder to rebuild that trust each time, no matter how much you want to and try to.
Buying lots of stuff was the worst, in my experience, because it showed me that I could make my parents compete with one another in a really tangible way. It made me stop thinking of my parents as parents. Parenting isn’t a competition. The thing that gets a kid out of this cycle of negativity is demonstrating love and respect for the other parent, because the kid still loves and respects the other parent. Otherwise, the kid ends up hating both parents for a long, long time.
I wish someone had told my parents this 35 years ago, so if you’re reading this and getting a divorce, please keep it in mind and have some difficult conversations with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse about it. And, even though it’s impossible, trust that your soon-to-be-ex-spouse wants the best for your kids, too, unless you can clearly demonstrate the opposite (e.g., they are abusive or have a substance abuse problem, not that they’re just a jerk, since of course you think that they’re a jerk. Lots of people are jerks and still care about the people they love).
Finally, parents need to know that even tough relationships get better. I get along really well with all 4 of my parents now (2 parents, 2 step parents), but it definitely took a long time for everything to get into a decent place, and there are still flare-ups. It’s a process — for all of us.
Jonathan Brodsky is the former SVP of Chicken Soup for the Soul and fmr Director at 1-800-flowers. Read more from Quora below: