Divorce: doing it for the kids

“For our children to thrive, they need to witness their parents living happy, fulfilled lives. For some people, it may be that marriage problems are compromising their happiness.” Divorce coach Lucy Williamson on why separating is sometimes the best thing for the kids…

Lucy Williamson, 40, is a mum of three and a divorce coach. She lives in Cambridge.

Even as a child, my raison d’etre was to have children of my own: I couldn’t wait to become a mum. As for many of us, parenthood is quite different from what I expected, not least because five years ago I decided to leave my husband.

It’s well-known that 42% of marriages end in divorce. I never thought I’d be part of this statistic, but I am; and my children are part of the 65% whose parents divorce before the child’s eleventh birthday.

While divorce still carries stigma and hints of negativity for some people, I actually find these statistics encouraging in some ways. If that sounds odd, allow me to explain: if your marriage is bad, in may be unwise to ‘stay together for the children’. Recent research attests to this and it’s my personal experience, too.

‘The lives we lead are the lessons we teach’

For our children to thrive, they need to witness their parents living happy, fulfilled lives. For some people, it may be that marriage problems are compromising their happiness.

I feel strongly that children should be front and centre of decision-making and future planning, but staying in an unhappy marriage does not make you a ‘better parent’ and nor does it protect your child from the emotional harm you fear they may suffer should you separate.

Witnessing conflict between parents is far more damaging to children’s mental health than divorce itself, which can affect them for years to come. So, rather than staying for the children, the children could be the reason you opt to get divorced. Making the recognition that getting divorced is the gateway to a happier family life takes courage.

I stress that you owe it to yourself and your children to try everything to rescue or repair your marriage before considering divorce as an option. ‘Try everything’ might include personal counselling or marriage therapy; or perhaps reshuffling roles in the home. There may be a particular catalyst that helps you make a decision. If after all that you remain miserable and unfulfilled, separation may be the best way forward.

Deciding to divorce is a highly personal decision and you need to be sure it’s right for you as a family as well as an individual: this takes time, and in an ideal situation would be a joint decision shared by both parents. More usually, one person leads the process. It’s not unusual for conflict to occur which can temporarily dent your optimism for a better future, but this tension does not mean you’ve made the wrong decision.

Yes, divorce is a big change for children. This is why I support parents to get through the process as swiftly as possible, so the new chapter can start and you can all find your way back to happiness. When I quip that single parenting is not a one-person job, it’s because it takes a village – just as it did when your first child was born and you fumbled to find a footing in the strange new world of motherhood. There are some amazing single parents in the world, and sources of support and guidance to help you move from one proverbial chapter to the next.

The divorce process usually takes several months. Though it’s normal to have lots of questions, there is plenty of support available to help you navigate the emotional and legal hurdles you encounter on the way.

In our family, my former husband and I bring our three children up together-but-apart, in two homes. This has been the best for our children. It was a really rocky ride to begin with, so much so that we ended up in court more than once. Time heals… Things move on… You grow and change and maybe find new love. My children are far from unusual: many of their classmates also have separated parents, and ‘two homes’ is normal for them.

As a mum, I am relieved that it now feels normal to divide my time between single parenting and freedom. This took some getting used to – it’s easier with clear boundaries and protocol for communication, and when you trust each other. I am a stronger and more positive person than I was when I was married, though I did not feel strong and positive overnight.

Despite a difficult divorce, my children have strong relationships with both me and their dad: for us, divorce was definitely the right decision.

Lucy Williamson is a divorce coach for parents. She supports them as they get divorced, helping them to navigate the emotional overwhelm & decision-making so they can do what’s best for their family.