Do Children Ever Get Over Divorce?

This week my 8 year old cried. She said she wished that her Daddy and I were still together. Not an unusual wish for a child whose parents are separated, but what surprised me is that we separated over five years ago. She was two at the time and probably can’t remember us being together yet when she gets sad and worried about everything going on in the world one of the feelings she has is that everything would be better if her Dad and I were still together.

two hands on top of each other. the female hand has a wedding ring and engagement ring, the male hand has a wedding band. The photo is black and white and partially blurred  to illustrate divorce

I’ve told her I wasn’t happy. I’ve tried to explain that the rose tinted thoughts she has of her parents being together aren’t real, but it made me wonder if children ever get over divorce.

My own parents divorced when I was little, too little to remember them ever being together. It left me with a strong belief in the importance of marriage and that when people divorce they just haven’t tried hard enough. If your parents divorce when you are a child it seems to have one of two impacts: a deep belief in the importance of marriage, or thinking marriage is meaningless. I’m definitely in the first camp.

Such has been the importance of fidelity and marriage to me for most of my life that I have even stopped reading books if it became clear that the main plot was about someone having an affair. I did not want to know.

Funny then that I would end up divorced. 

Well maybe not so funny. I think the importance of a home, relationship and marriage became so important to me that I might have ignored the early warning signs that would have told me there might not have been a golden future ahead.

I left my marriage after being unhappy for some time. I left before I lost me entirely. It was probably only after my own marriage broke down, as an adult and a mother, that I appreciated what my parents had gone through. For the first time I recognised what my mother had experienced: the guilt and a battle to choose between stability for her children and her future happiness. 

As an adult I look back and accept my parents divorce was the right thing. It’s hard for me to even see how my parents worked together as a couple. It was hard for me to grow up with my mother on the periphery of my life, but it wouldn’t have been any better living with two miserable adults who argued all the time.

I know now that staying together for children and putting your own feelings aside isn’t the right thing to do and I wouldn’t wish that for anyone I loved, but it’s not something I could understand as a child.

As a child I could see happy families with the mum and dad all living together. As a child I felt a constant division because I could never have all the people I loved together. Birthdays, Christmas, at all my important life events there always had to be a choice of which loved one I would spend it with. At my University graduation, my wedding and my daughter's Christening I had both my parents present, but as two separate identities, not one. I felt I was missing out, but would it really have been any better if they had stayed together?

I know now that marriages need a strong foundation and a lot of work. The longer you stay with someone the more differences you discover between you and the more you find that annoys you about them. If you are lucky and you have that strong foundation you will also find more to love about them. You forgive them for the annoyances and you compromise on differences. If I have learnt one thing from my divorce it's that if you don't connect regularly with your partner they can become a stranger and it becomes too hard to find your way back. So maybe I didn't try hard enough, but neither did my ex.

I used to feel mum guilt when my daughter called for her Daddy or wished that he and I were still together, but I rarely do now. Neither he or I were happy and we both are now. My life would have been very different if I had stayed. Some aspects may have been better, but I fear how depressed I would have become and how much I would have resented my daughter and husband. I have no regrets about leaving.

I expect my daughter to continue to believe that everything was great before her parents split up. I won’t be surprised if she grows up believing that if we had tried harder we would still be together. I actually hope she always believes that we should have stayed together, because the only thing likely to change her mind would be going through the same situation as me and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.


If you liked this post you might be interested to read this post about changing my name after divorce.

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