Tags: Dr | Laura | marriage

Staying Together for the Kids? Yes!

Monday, 18 May 2009 11:36 AM

By Dr. Laura Schlessinger

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The first week of April had me visiting many of the major national television programs to talk about my new book, "In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms."

One typical concern various interviewers shared was the problem of taking care of children at home by a parent when there’s been a divorce, which generally results in day care and a working custodial parent . . . usually the mother.

I respond by pointing out two concepts I believe are “truths.” One, that the quality of love and attention of a parent is superior to that of hired help (nanny, day-care worker, baby sitter), and two, that children have the best opportunity to grow up healthy, happy, and functional with a married mommy and daddy. That some people can’t or won’t provide those things doesn’t change their importance to a child.

I remember when my husband and I decided to become parents. I specifically asked: “Is there any reason you can see after all the years we’ve known each other that you might decide to divorce me? Because if there is even an ounce of ambivalence in either of us to this marital commitment, we shouldn’t have a child and risk the quality of their lives.”

My follow-up joke was, “I would not consider divorce. However, if you see me driving a trash truck right at you while my face is scowling —look out!”

Sadly, too many folks don’t consider these issues out loud before they marry and before they have children. When the stresses of life pile up, their individual or mutual inability to live by their vows evaporates.

Of course, the bond may be broken irrevocably when violence, addictions, and/or infidelities occur.

However, most marital break-ups seem to stem more from long-term individual problems with being able to love, show compassion, share and be understanding and giving, while acting instead as though they were “sleeping with the enemy.”

I deal every day on my radio program with just such seemingly insurmountable barriers to a happy marriage — only to help people better understand the inner fears and egos that are getting in the way of their happiness.

I am convinced that the vast majority of divorces don’t need to happen and that most people do not find a pot of happy gold at the end of their marital dissolution. That’s because their original problems haven’t been solved.

It is, for example, typical of people to live their adult lives in the context of their childhoods instead of the here and now. I recently discerned one caller’s problem as her fear that, if she were all open and loving with her husband, it would mean that she no longer could protect herself from him. The “him” is her dad, who was brutal to her mom, and not her husband, who she admitted is a very wonderful man.

Without an intervention, like our conversation, her “coldness” might have driven her husband to leave her. The other threat was that her coldness would lead him to start behaving unkindly, to which she would say to herself, “See?! I was right not to trust!”

Staying together out of respect for the needs of a child to have the bonds to both parents and a role model for the potential blessings of his or her future is a perfect broth in which to create a family soup. Joint motivation in the best interest of something outside of yourselves is a great starting point.

The next step is introspection, combined with treating the other person “as if” things were the way we’ve only dreamed of. That means a kind word, a touch of a hand, a kiss on the cheek, a favor done without asking, a small blanket on his/her feet, a suggestion that your spouse relax in the tub while you get some household task done, or any act of generosity. You will feel the better for doing it. These acts are worth more than a million “discussions.” The response you get will motivate you to be and feel happier about being there.

Staying together is not enough, but it is the blessed opportunity to bring more joy and peace to your own life, your spouse, the children, and your family as a whole. Your extended family’s support is always a blessing, so saying nice things about your spouse to both sides of the family generates even more positive feelings all around.

While you are “staying together,” your children benefit from both mom and dad; don’t have to compete with your new “love interests” and other children you inherit or create; don’t have to live two lives; don’t have to exist in the middle of perpetual rancor; and don’t have to resort to drugs, alcohol, sex, and other misbehaviors to get attention or get back at you.

All of the preceding won’t make your divorced life much of a pleasure, if you think about it.

Yes, short of dangerous or destructive, I vote for staying together for the sake of the children, because everybody wins if you do it right.

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