Staying Together For the Kids is a Good Enough Reason For Me

Comments 38
(Image/bhhook at Deviant Art)
(Image/bhhook at Deviant Art)

It was like I couldn’t catch my breath. I was afraid.

I’d never felt anything like this before. I stood over the bathroom toilet and vomited even though I wasn’t sick or drinking. But I felt seasick. Like a guy in a row boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico with no oars and no way to signal for help.

What the hell is happening to me?

It was the first time I’d ever experienced anxiety so badly that I threw up. It’s a feeling I got to know well during the run up to, and the aftermath of, my divorce. I puked a lot.

I still do sometimes.

You might say I’m a little unsteady.

I was 23 the first time she left. It was just for a week to visit her family in Ohio. After spending my entire life in either Ohio or Illinois with my parents, friends and extended family, I was totally alone for the first time ever.

I was in Florida 1,100 miles from the nearest person I knew. And I could really feel it. And I just lost it.

That’s the first time I realized how reliant I was on other people and how much I needed an anchor.

I grew up in this safe little Ohio town with a close group of friends, my mom and stepdad (who I met on my 5th birthday) and a big extended family.

When I wasn’t there, I was with my dad who I only saw a few months out of the year 500 miles away.

I think maybe when your parents split up when you’re 4, and live 500 miles apart, it fucks you up a little no matter how great the rest of your life is.

I used to think I was normal.

But then I broke inside and realized there’s no such thing as normal. Just a bunch of different versions of being human.

Mama, come here
Approach, appear
Daddy, I’m alone
‘Cause this house don’t feel like home

I spent every day of my life feeling safe and loved with my parents until I went away to college. I spent most of college living with one of my dearest friends from grade school and high school having the time of our lives. I spent my last year of college with the girl who would eventually be my wife.

When you get married, you officially leave the nest and build a new one. The most intimate of inner circles in your life (your parents—and siblings if you have them) moves out one rung on your circle, and your partner takes that place in the center.

She’s your new safety net. Your new normal. Your new foundation.

So when she flew back to Ohio for a week, leaving me alone far away from anything familiar for the first time, it was my first taste of isolation. It didn’t take, I realized, staring into a toilet and recognizing just how little control of myself I had.

That’s the part that scares you the most. I’m not in control. What might happen next?

I had always thought I was strong and steady.

But really, I was weak and fragile.

If you love me, don’t let go
If you love me, don’t let go

My mom left my stepdad while my wife was pregnant with our son. Mom called to tell me when I was on my lunch break. She cried. I cried.

Then I vomited some more and called my wife because I needed something steady. She left her office to come hug me. I felt like the biggest pussy imaginable. I was almost 30, for God’s sake. I’m supposed to hold HER. And I’m fucking crying on her shoulder?

I was just smart enough to know shit I’d been carrying around for 25 years was rearing its head.

I didn’t visit my mom for about a year after that.

But I had my wife. She’d always be there.

When we met, I was strong and confident. But now I was something else. I wonder if that scared her. I wonder sometimes if the fear and anxiety that started to build throughout my late 20s and early 30s made her feel unsafe. Like she couldn’t trust me to make everything okay, no matter what.

You can’t know it until you know it: When your insides break, you need more than another person to make it okay.

The only certainty I ever had in life was that I would never get divorced and put my children through what I went through.

That’s it. That’s the one thing I was sure of.

I had plenty of time to get used to the taste of failure while I slept in the guest room for 18 months feeling it all slip away one failed attempt to save it at a time.

I’d like to tell you I spent most of that time thinking about how hard it would be for my young son. How he could end up feeling so many of the same uncertainties and co-dependent tendencies I did if his mom and I divorced.

But I was mostly thinking about me. That I was about to lose the only thing I was sure about. Maybe it’s not the same for everyone, but when I got married, I thought of my wife in the same way I’d always thought of my parents. The person you can count on to love you unconditionally and always be there.

But then you realize it’s not true. I guess I really don’t know anything.

And then you’re back in that oar-less boat in the middle of the ocean, and the storm is kicking you around, and you want to start paddling but you don’t know which way to go because there is no home to go to anyway.

Hold, hold on, hold onto me
‘Cause I’m a little unsteady
A little unsteady
Hold, hold on, hold onto me
‘Cause I’m a little unsteady
A little unsteady

I hear a lot of people say that staying together for the kids is a bad idea.

If there’s heavy dysfunction like infidelity or physical abuse or addiction problems, I can co-sign with that. Exposing children to those things is not in their best interest.

But what about the rest of us? The ones who just die from a thousand little pinpricks?

The people who are bored. The people who are angry. The people who are scared. The people who are sad. The people who are confused. The people who are lost.

Those people need a good reason to fight for it.

If you won’t do it because it’s the right thing, or because you vowed to do so, I think doing it for the kids is a pretty legit reason.

People always say (including me): “I would do ANYTHING for my kids!”

Fuck you.

And fuck me, too.

Because we won’t love for them.

But maybe it’s because we don’t know how.

Because no one ever showed us.

Because they didn’t know how either.

Mother, I know
That you’re tired of being alone
Dad, I know you’re trying
To fight when you feel like flying
But if you love me, don’t let go
If you love me, don’t let go

Author’s Note:

I was at an X Ambassadors concert Saturday night having an amazing time. They’re incredible and are going to blow up in 2015-’16 and you should buy their albums. The band played this song. It’s rare for a song to grab your soul and squeeze, especially in that surreal environment.

But it did. So I had to write this post.


38 thoughts on “Staying Together For the Kids is a Good Enough Reason For Me”

  1. I too am divorced and I get what you’re saying on many levels, especially in posts like this one. I have to ask your thoughts on something because I believe you have written about it in some fashion. How do we teach our kids to be “happy” about ending a marriage if it truly doesn’t work anymore? I think that as parents going through divorce, we see it from the losing aspect because we are supposed to be providing a healthy relationship model for our kids and what do you know – we believed in our marriages from the start. We happened to change and our marriage followed suit. For whatever the reason a marriage ends, how can we be good teachers if we’re staying together in a loveless state or a disconnected state and believe it’s the best for the kids? I’m honestly looking at how that teaches kids that if marriage is “lifeless”, it’s acceptable. I don’t think that is a good example and that’s where I question if staying together is good for the kids. I think the hard work is to get along and lovingly talk about the reasons for divorce. I haven’t done that though. I’m not that advanced psychologically or emotionally. This heartfelt post just brought up those thoughts again. This was beautiful. You really inspire great thoughts. Thank you, Jayne

    1. I know this might sound like bullshit. I don’t even know if I’m right. I just believe I am because I KNOW what everyone else thinks is normal and acceptable (a 60-whatever percent divorce rate) is wrong.

      There should be no lifeless, loveless marriages. Husband wakes up in the morning and asks: “What can I do to make your day better? I love you. I love you because I decided to love you just like I did every day of our marriage before today, and just like I will every day ’til death do us part.”

      He gives more than he takes.

      Wife wakes up in the morning and does the same thing in reverse.

      Both people feel loved, served, cherished, respected, honored. Both people feel the life satisfaction that can only come from unselfishness and a servant’s heart.

      Intimacy grows.

      And we feel “happy.” It doesn’t look quite like it does on TV. Because that shit isn’t real.

      And our kids learn how to do things the right way. They learn first-hand, how to navigate the road less traveled.

      This is what I believe needs to happen for people to live happily ever after. Most people aren’t willing to do it for the same reason smokers don’t worry about lung cancer and obese people don’t worry about diabetes and heart disease.

      They decide it’s too hard.

      I think it’s a choice, Jayne. And most of us learned the hard way.

      And now, all we can do is ready ourselves for the next opportunity and try again.

      Thank you for reading and leaving this thoughtful comment. 🙂

      1. Your thoughts never sound like bullshit. I feel as you do. I just started to think how we that divorce sometimes come from the p.o.v. of “stay together for the kids” and that is a good idea if you still can be a good example of a relationship. Honestly though, that’s idealic and ideals are ideals because they aren’t the norm. There seemed to be another step of How to teach that people can make mistakes when choosing a partner. Give it all that you have but if you still can’t remain married, it’s possible to divorce well. ( I could be being selfish because I wish it had been easier to divorce. ? I don’t know how anyone can predict how their spouse will change and think through time. That’s why I say it’s a crap shoot, especially when you add children into the dynamics. I like how you see things and I always enjoy reading your blog.

        1. I hear that a lot. That I’m an idealist. Because in the real world, things are grimy and messy and things often don’t work out as they’re supposed to.

          Sometimes maybe we do just marry the wrong person. Because we are young and don’t know how to enforce our personal boundaries.

          I don’t know how to divorce “well,” certainly. Because I wanted to die. But in some ways, minus all the living together and sex, I think people can divorce well no matter what.

          In terms of personal achievement, I’m not more proud of myself for anything than I am my ability to be kind, polite and gracious in this divorce.

          My son may learn a lot of poor behavior from me. But mistreating his mother is not going to be one of them.

          So I guess I feel like even if the divorce wasn’t the smoothest thing imaginable, there is still an opportunity to demonstrate love and grace to your children even amid painful adversity.

          And I might call that “divorcing well.”

          1. I would definitely call that divorcing well AND it does teach your son some good things. Honestly though, children interpret things from their young perspectives and could be thinking something different altogether. We do the best we can. I’m working my way up to talking to my kids about their thoughts about the divorce…to see if I can clear any thoughts out and just to see how they are thinking. I’m nervous because I can be hurt but I need stay in that neutral respectful parent position. I doubt that I’ll be hurt but you never know. Thanks for listening, Jayne

          2. Thank you kindly Sir. Do you think that you’ll turn your site into a dating experience site? (It’s a scary thought in my opinion – to do a website on that )

          3. That’s what I thought it was going to be when I started. All my initial posts were about that until I started unloading my divorce baggage.

            I named this blog Must Be This Tall To Ride because I’m 5’9″ and all the online dating girls wouldn’t go out with me.

            So now I hate online dating, which is totally unfair, but true, nonetheless.

            We shouldn’t let people judge our value based on 100 words and a few photos in a Match profile.

            I’ve since met and gone out with a handful of women. I chose to not write about them for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I care about and respect them.

            If I ever meet someone I see seriously and for a long time, I imagine she will be a regular subject of my writing.

            And maybe that will be fun. 🙂

          4. Not if you live within driving distance of me. You have to be 6’2″ and misspell a lot of words. 🙂

  2. first: what a song. emotional and evocative.

    staying together for the kids… well, it is a start. my partner stayed with me after infidelity “for the kids.” it’s all he had for a reason in the wake of my choices. thing is, you can’t live that closely with someone and completely ignore all the good in them. he and i have major differences, even as fundamental as what it means to be connected on any significant level. but we are in a dead heat for who adores our kids more. and passing them back n forth n disrupting their stability is too high a price, so we stay together. and lo and behold, once that is decided, we begin to see the reasons we are good together. the reasons we care for each other, and the things we love about us as a family.

    we will never be perfect. i am far too low maintenance to please him and he is emotionally pretty unavailable. but we care for each other n respect each other deeply.

    could we find more or better with other partners? sure. there are lots of humans out there. but what we have is a family. and we want to keep it.

    i would NEVER have suggested someone stay for the kids until that is exactly what i did.

    1. I am a fan of the premise of this post but I am even more of a fan of your comment. Thank you for sharing this story! I wonder how many other people would find greater motivation later on if they would only first make the unselfish decision to stay together for the children. I have always wondered if this could happen and now I know. 🙂

      1. I completely agree. My story is similar…. we aren’t head over heels in love anymore but I love him enough but most importantly my kids so much that I try to put aside my pride and find the good again. My family is good.

    2. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Haunting almost. Really like that band.

      I’m not privy to the details of your personal life. You’ve mentioned many times about a past relationship with someone else.

      There are many reasons people break. I love the stories of struggle and redemption where people crawl out of the mud and soldier on.

      Think of one time, when doing the difficult, pride-swallowing, sacrificial thing wasn’t the best-possible choice.

      It always is.

      And I applaud you and your husband, and am happy for your children.

      Things that happened yesterday don’t get to decide what we are today, or what’s going to happen tomorrow.

      We get to decide that.

      I admire very much the choices you are making today.

      Thank you for sharing with the rest of us.

  3. Always love your writing, but the band? A glorious bonus. Thank you. My husband always finds the new bands and it’s a treat for me to casually throw out a name, “You know? The X Ambassadors? They’re on the cusp, baby.”
    Which makes me wonder, have you heard Micah P. Hinson? (See what I just did?)
    Marriage is a complicated thing to comment on when you’re in the middle of one. I do like what the first commentator said though. Whatever happens in our lives, perhaps it’s most important to show kids how to move through it awkwardly and authentically and in the most healthful way possible. Not that we dump our grown-up garbage on them, but that we model ways of coping and healing that are healthy. Life isn’t always going to be a straight path but we can teach them how to navigate and that’s invaluable.

    1. your final paragraph is great. whatever we go through in marriage (in life!), authentic honesty is what we should model. well said!

    2. X Ambassadors are no joke, Jen. Their first full-length album debuts one week from today. It’s going to be awesome.

      I don’t want to act like I know about marriage and parenting. All I have are unproven theories.

      I just know when you begin and end with selfless, sacrificial love, and get the same from your partner, everything tends to work out swimmingly.

      Always great to hear from you.

  4. This could be a very polarizing premise. I am with you though. I especially appreciate the vulnerability in your story. Thanks for always digging a little deeper and sharing what’s true and real and raw. I say it too often probably, but you really know how to draw people in and make us feel like we aren’t the only person feeling pathetic. . . that was meant to be a compliment…not sure why it doesn’t quite sound like it. . . I’m SUPER busy this week and I’m working with scrambled eggs for brains….<3

    1. I’m sure there are many people who disagree with it. I think a lot of people find my whole “Love is a choice” philosophy to be mostly nonsense. I think most people can’t get past just how dark and ugly it all feels sometimes. I can’t really blame them.

      Adulthood is so much harder than anyone ever tells you.

      But I meant what I said. I think two people who just “fell out of love” can get it together with a little want-to. And I think children are a wonderful reason to make that choice in the absence of other reasons.

  5. Damn straight Matt. Too few put their money where their mouth is so to speak. Kids aren’t enough on their own but they are one hell of a motivator. I’ll never forget when Alisha was spewing that we should split so the kids would see us be “happy separately”. I said a) you’re assuming a lot there that we would be happy separately especially having done that to them b) the kids will see real love by seeing us fix wounds and right wrongs and make sacrifices not by seeing us chuck it.

    1. I don’t want it to sound preachy. I just want to encourage people to fight for their marriages. I think kids are an excellent reason to do so. Especially if you’re of the “I would do ANYTHING for my kids” ilk.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. 🙂

  6. Oh and she went on a bit until I said “you keep assuming he “stayed for the kids” but in fact I did, and I have no regrets because he has made it worth the effort.”

  7. I’m not sure I’ve ever read something that hit me so hard in the chest. Like knock out my breath hard.

    1. I haven’t quite figured out what I want to be as a writer. But the closest I’ve come to having an answer is: I want people to feel something.

      It matters to me that you felt something.

      Thank you, Mandi.

  8. My parents divorced when I was young so I always did the visitation thing. I knew one day that would be different for me because my marriage would be the best and would stay intact so my kids wouldn’t have to do that visitation thing. My kids could just come in the room and watch television with mom and dad at the same time!

    Up until she walked out I thought staying together for the kids was the right thing to do but when that rug gets pulled out from under you it’s a bitter pill to swallow. I don’t know about you but I felt like I totally dropped the ball on that.

    1. I literally failed at my No. 1 goal in life. I’ve been trying to deal with, and process that with a confident smile on my face ever since.

      It’s always great to hear from you, Vince. I hope everything is going relatively well for you. I know it’s up and down and hit and miss. But I hope the good days are more frequent and the bad days, less so.

      Thanks for checking in, sir.

      1. no…you did NOT fail at your primary goal…your PLAN failed and so you have created a new one, a better one, a more realistic one where you will be a better version of the man you were who had such lofty ideals about marriage and relationships. Your son will see from your example, how to treat someone you love, how you value his mother, how you LEARNED from your mistakes…and when he is a man he will thank you for being man enough to be accountable for your actions and for fighting to be positive instead of wallowing in bitter. No, you did not fail at your primary goal…you rose to the challenge. And THAT is worth everything when it comes to showing your kids how to live a life.

        1. Sometimes very well-meaning people say nice things and try to encourage me, but it doesn’t feel very encouraging.

          This was not that. It was one of the most encouraging things I’ve read or heard in the past two years and it means a lot that you took the time to write it.

          Thank you so much for that.

          1. you are welcome…just remember that your job is to raise a man. and men have to deal with difficult choices and decisions that they make and impacted by those of others. It’s how you deal with the trials of life, that make you into a valuable person. It’s easy to angry and let bitterness swallow you. We see it all the time. You know how hard it is when you are slammed with depression and fear; when you lose all hope and the reason you live is taken from you. It is infinitely harder to make the conscious choice to fight for every step forward you take, not even knowing if it will lead to a better place. What you felt was perfectly acceptable considering what happened to you and the example you are setting for your son is a beacon on how to work through bad things, in the right way. If no ones told you lately, let me say that I am proud of how you are conducting yourself; it speaks volumes of your character.

  9. That was a really, and I mean REALLY great blog. I have just started to blog myself and I have been reading what others have wrote. Typically family related and children inspired and then I find this…which hits home for me. I was raised in a household that was built around this concept. My mom and dad TOLD me the only reason they were together was because of my sister and I. Me, being the younger sibling. They had a good run at it I will add, but not before mentally screwing my head into a wall with a jack hammer. They fought all day, every day. I have seen more glass throw against the wall then any child should. I’m not going to write a blog in your comments but I needed to get the point across.

    I’m sorry that any of that happened with you. In the end, kids will suffer more in the long run if you stay together and fight in front of them.

    1. Thank you very much for reading and the nice comment, sir.

      I absolutely agree with you that, sometimes, kids will suffer from being exposed to a lot of dysfunction.

      I just like to encourage spouses to fight for their marriages, and I think, despite the protests of some who would disagree with me, choosing to love one’s spouse even when it’s inconvenient is a good thing. And using children as motivation to do so is as good a reason as any.

      My best wishes on your new blogging journey, sir. I’m just over two years in, and it’s been an extraordinarily rewarding and fulfilling experience in many ways.

      1. You are extremely welcome. I did grow up in a dysfunctional home, I have to admit that in my parents decision to stay together until I was 17, it gave me a lot of hope that they would work out. Now, my dad is re-married and my mother is dating. They are both happy and the fighting has come to and end. I agree with you on staying together for the children and fighting for your marriage, when it comes to me. I can’t speak for everyone on that matter but I will say this, I will do anything and everything to stay with my wife. She is the love of my life and my Best friend. I related to your blog so much actually that I felt the need to tell my wife just how much she means to me and then had to show her the blog, therefore; caused a chain reaction. It’s people like you, who stand up for what others throw away so carelessly, that ultimately make a difference.

  10. Pingback: Divorce is Bad, but Some Things are Worse | Must Be This Tall To Ride

  11. Love this. My husband left – abandoned – me, just ME, not the kids, after 7 years of marriage. Would do anything, he’d say, for the kids. But he was unsteady, made poor choices, had an affair, blamed me, sued for kids, cut me off all finances though I was a stay-at-home mom and had given up my business to move with him across the country away from family and friends for his job. It was the WORST of circumstances and I was beyond angry, sad, destitute. But…I knew he was lost. I knew he was afraid while still on his high horse. I knew he was hurting while he was hurting me and I didn’t give up on him no matter how hurt I was (though I came close). I decided it was worth it to TRY, for him, for me, for the kids for at least a year. I decided to love him through it all. I searched and prayed and found resources to help me learn how to work on myself (we all need improvement regardless of “fault”), relate to and better interact with my husband, and be respectful to and honor my husband in court rather than going for the throat as even some family members wanted me/my attorney to do. God honored my decision to, as best as I could, “let no man tear asunder what God has brought together” – and 4 years later, we are a testimony (there are MANY more out there!) that marriage CAN be saved from the brink of divorce despite affairs, boredom, etc., that LOVE does win, that it takes serious WORK but is totally WORTH it!! Since reuniting after that horrendous year of separation, we’ve seen more blessings and miracles happen in our lives and our marriage has been better than it ever was because we both know we’re broken people, we’ve seen each other at our ugliest – and still love each other because love is a choice, not just a feeling, love IS unconditional – we’re REAL with each other now, we put God first and love ahead of every issue.

    Many believe the lie that starting over is easier and kids go relatively unscathed from divorce. Statistics prove otherwise as we see an exponential rise of divorce rates in subsequent marriages. Children of divorce have emotional baggage. I can attest. Isn’t showing your kids how to fight for your marriage better than how to quietly disassemble it as if it never mattered enough under the guise of “if I’m happier, they’ll be happier”? I tell you from first hand experience – it IS. That is the example to give our children, not a “healthy” cop-out about how people change and that makes it OK. (Of course people change, life is organic, and we’d scoff at vows that said, “…so long as we both remain exactly the way we are right now.”) It sounds nice, pandering to one’s “happiness” which divorce will never actually bring, but in the end is just an excuse not to try, not to hope, not to be an advocate for real change in yourself and your marriage, not to stand for anything. They know it deep down. And so do we. My kids are grateful I fought through the tears, that I hoped for a renewed marriage, that I found my strength in God to pick myself back up every time I fell in despair. My husband is glad I did. He loves me now more than ever. And I him. It IS better to try “for the kids.” Have SOME reason to hold onto, and just TRY.
    Thank you for this post among all the garbage of excuses. It’s raw, real, and transparent. Thank you.
    (For anyone going through hell and wanting something better for their marriage, one of the resources I found invaluable was Marriage Max boot camp. I’m NOT affiliated with them, and there are other good similar resources but I got the most out of that.)
    Sincerely wishing you the best,

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Matt Fray

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