Q. Although I have been married to one man for 30 years, I read your column every week. You seem to always bring it back to “Put the children first.” My thought is maybe if parents put their relationship first instead of everything focused on the kids, there would be fewer divorces! What do you think of that?
A. I think there may be a misconception here. This column is about dealing with exes, and the aftermath of breaking up and starting over. “Put the children first” (Good ex-etiquette for parents rule #1) is advice based on second or subsequent relationships — when you enter a relationship with a previous responsibility to your children already in place. If you have been married to the same man for 30 years, and you have children with that man, then the family dynamic is completely different.
However, there is some truth to your statement. Children must see the strength in a primary relationship to have a model they can follow in their own life. Whether it is their first family or a bonusfamily, what a child sees, they will copy — or pick a partner that produces familiar feelings generated from dealing with their upbringing. This is the reason children of victims of ongoing domestic violence often pick aggressive partners in adulthood. Or, someone who might have been raised by an overly controlling parent picks an overly controlling partner — not because they love the abuse, but because the feelings of dealing with them are familiar. The key is to identify those feelings and not pick partners that reproduce the dysfunction. Not an easy task.
That said, of course your reasoning is understandable, but you should also know the divorce rate has decreased over the years, not necessarily because fewer people are divorcing, but because fewer people choose to marry.
No one really knows the exact divorce statistics for the U.S. With so many marrying and divorcing, settling on an accurate number was impossible, so many states stopped reporting divorce statistics as far back as the late ‘90s.
Unofficially, in 2019, I can tell you I took a poll of my clients over a three-month period, roughly 200 couples, and 32% were married, 68% were not. All these couples, regardless of marital status, had the same problems communicating and co-parenting after their breakup.
Ideally, wouldn’t it be nice if all relationships were happy and no one broke up? But that’s not reality.
And since we are faced with breakups, “Putting the children first,” who are produced from these severed relationships, seems to be the unselfish thing to do.
Rarely do children want their parents to break up, even when dysfunction is painfully evident. So in their name, it’s our job to put them first and offer them the most loving life possible. Parents working together in the name of their children regardless of marital status is the key. That’s being a responsible parent and good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.