I recently had a long conversation with a friend about relationship troubles, raising kids and the decision to stay or leave. She seemed to be facing so much confusion about the choices she needed to make. I felt empathy for her because I can only imagine how hard it is to decide if you should stay with the man you have kids with or leave because you simply are not happy with your relationship and you feel like your future with him is not promising.
I offered some insight, but not too much. It’s hard to give advice to a friend when you haven’t traveled the same path. But despite my lack of personal experience with making this particular decision, I do know women who have—many of them in my own family. Some decided to leave, while some are still with the partner who’s been making them unhappy for years.
It’s hard to watch someone resign to the idea of being unhappy, but it happens every day. And although it’s not always about the kids, it often is.
But where did that line of reasoning come from? Is being miserable really what’s best for your kids? How will they feel when they become adults and realize that you sacrificed years of your life for them when you didn’t have to?
I don’t know the answers to these questions for sure. Maybe your kids will appreciate your sacrifice and commit to doing the same if it ever comes to that. Or maybe they will feel the insurmountable burden that comes with guilt. I guess none of us can be sure.
I try hard to understand and appreciate both choices because it isn’t an easy decision to make. I also know that life is complicated and sometimes people stay for the kids because leaving would truly cause some damage to children who have already experienced enough instability in life. I definitely get that.
Yet, despite my desire to fully embrace and appreciate all options, I still feel the need to caution anyone about staying only because of the kids.
Here are five reasons why your kids can’t be the only reason for staying.
Your kids want to see you happy
Do you know what your kids want more than food, shelter and a home? They want to see you happy. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. When you are at your worst—miserable, cranky, annoyed with the world—your kids are at their worst.
They want to see the best in you because it gives them comfort. It makes them feel happy and safe. Your kids crave your affection and love. They want to bond with you on the deepest levels. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly hard to bond with someone who is consistently unhappy. Your happiness makes the world a better place for your kids.
You are teaching them to one day do the same
You certainly don’t want to teach your kids to settle for anything in life. No good parent wants that. But the thing about kids is that they learn by watching, not just by listening. So although you may make every effort to tell them what they should look for in relationships, that message will go out the window quickly if they repeatedly see you doing something other than what you’ve said. If you want to raise kids who won’t settle, you have to begin by showing them your refuse to settle in your life as well.
You are giving them a compromised version of yourself
No matter how hard you try to be the best version of yourself, you inevitably lose a part of yourself when you compromise too much in life. If you decide to stay in a situation that leaves you feeling sad, depleted, unfulfilled or disappointed, it will change who you are. And although you will always do your best to give our kids your best, they will end up getting a version of you that has been compromised.
You could be setting them up for some guilt
My mom walked away from my dad when I was 11. Knowing what I know now, she should have walked away sooner. But boy am I happy that she left him when she did. I think I would have felt some serious guilt if I knew that she put up with his crap for my entire childhood because she thought it was best for us.
Now I don’t hate my dad. He’s no longer with us, and I hope he’s in peace. But I can also tell you that he didn’t know a thing about how to treat a woman, and my mom deserved a whole lot better than the crap he brought to the table.
Staying or leaving should never be about ONE thing
Listen. If you are staying for the kids, and you have other reasons that sit well with your soul, it makes sense. And if you are leaving for the kids, and you have other reasons that sit well with your soul, it makes sense too.
Typically, however, the decision to stay or leave should not be made based on one thing (unless that one things is something like abuse or fraud). Weigh all your options, consider therapy, talk, pray and really think about what all of your lives will look like in 10 years if you stay or if you leave. Doing all of this will allow you to make a decision that works for you and your kids—and a decision that sits well with your soul.
BMWK family, do you think kids should ever be the only reason for staying in a relationship?