When Breaking Up Is Best For The Kids — Coping With Divorce Guilt

Breaking up the family unit can be heart-wrenching, especially when children are involved.

Mother and child reading on the floor fizkes / Shutterstock.com 

Breaking up the family unit can be heart-wrenching, especially when children are involved. If your relationship has reached a point of no return, and you're holding on because of your children, you could be making a huge mistake.

Leaving the familiar can be difficult. Accepting reality and admitting it's time to stop the madness can be tragic, but it doesn't mean it's NOT time to tap out. 

It's no secret that destabilizing the home is disruptive. Subjecting yourself and your offspring to a hostile, unstable environment is far worse.


Doing psychological harm to one's children is any sane parent's worst nightmare. However, that's precisely what you're doing when you willfully expose your child to ongoing, escalating turmoil in a toxic, hostile environment. 

Sometimes living apart is better for everyone

It is far better for children to see two functional adults living apart who love them than to live in a home with parents who are stuck in a cycle of constant chaos. The last thing you want is for your emotional dysfunction to become your child's default mode.

RELATED: 4 Brutal Reasons It's So Hard To Let Go Of Someone You Love, Even If They're Toxic


Kids never forget what they saw you do

The first form of communication a child learns is not words. Before your child utters their first word, they’re well on their way to mastering the interpretation of facial expressions accompanied by pitch, tone and inflection. From the toddler years through adolescence, kids pay far more attention to how you say what you say than the actual words that come out of your mouth.

Beginning with the ages between 3 and 7, your child is encoding “everything” significant they see and hear. This is especially true when they are constantly exposed to an out-of-control adult having meltdowns. The yelling and screaming, pouty and sad faces, cursing and hyped dramatic episodes become deeply embedded in the child’s long-term memory. 

Moreover, the over-the-top dramatics that kids observe their parents saying and doing are the future source material for costly reenactments later in the adolescent and early adult years. These malformed imprints become their default-mode behavioral patterns for dealing with anything stressful or problematic.


Put bluntly, your daily dysfunction becomes their default mental mapping.

There is nothing more harmful to a child's psychological and emotional well-being than exposing them to your crap because you lack the courage to leave a toxic relationship.

Not only does your decision to stay together put both you and your offspring in harm's way, but you’re also setting the standard for how they will allow themselves to be treated, how they treat others, and especially how they will manage stress and anxiety and abuse later in life.

RELATED: ‘I Just Can’t Let Go’: How Childhood Trauma Can Affect (Unhealthy) Adult Relationships

Kids blame themselves for your BS

When parents are frustrated, detached, and checked out, children not only see this as the status quo but in many ways, especially in hostile or apathetic environments, the child(ren) begin blaming themselves for their parent's problems. This is because immature adults don't take responsibility for their actions, so the children do it for them. Kids absorb the emotions and especially the anxieties of their parents. It's been proven over and over again; this will show back up later in life.


Little girls tend to "marry their fathers," while boys tend to find women that act like their mothers. Some mothers form an indulgent relationship with their sons during these dysfunctional relationships.

She's creating an entitled man for some woman to have to take care of. He's going to expect all women to overly compensate for him, just like his mother did due to her broken state. 

In the same breath, when Daddy is mad at Mom and detaches himself, the daughter feels that sense of betrayal or abandonment. So, when she grows up, that young lady tolerates things from men or someone of the same sex with a masculine presentation, all based on what Dad did or did not do because Dad wasn't mindfully aware of his behavior.

RELATED: 3 Surprising Ways Our Parenting Can Cause Terrible Damage To Children


When is it time to leave? 

Toxicity and emotional or physical abuse are pretty damn good signs that it's time to walk away. But not all relationships end with people at war. Sometimes, people simply outgrow each other.

When parents stay in relationships that may not be filled with toxicity but are stagnant, they teach a child not to expect more. They're teaching mediocrity. Mediocrity is the worst of the best and the best of the worst. Is that what you really want for your kid(s)?

If your relationship has become apathetic and it's chronic, meaning that it has been that way for months or years, perhaps it's time to accept that fact. More than likely, this season is over.

RELATED: When These 10 Things Start Happening In Your Relationship, It's Time To Break Up


Protect your children from toxicity 

Going through a divorce is hard, and there's no easy way out. The greater truth is that nothing will make the guilt go away other than time. 

Don't try to make it up to your kids by overindulging them; don't ignore their feelings and needs by withdrawing and going away. It's okay to ask for help. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of being a mature adult who understands that we don't have to fight all of our battles alone. 

If your ex-partner is a fool, you must accept that you can't change or control anyone's behavior but your own. Take control of yourself and make the necessary changes. Be the best version of yourself possible. Make it your mission to assure your children that they have at least one sane parent who chooses stability over stupidity. 

Lastly, don't look for a replacement dad or mom. Jumping into a rebound relationship to validate yourself is a horrible idea.


Allow at least 6 to 12 months to pass while getting to know the new person. Before introducing anyone to your kids, validate their character, core values and morals. Put mildly, think things through before you act, or you're right back where you started — in another happenstance relationship.

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Communicate and listen to your kids

You have to do the right thing for the right reasons. Even if you do the right thing for the wrong reasons, it's probably not going to turn out well.

Have appropriate level conversations for the stage your child is in, and give the kid the opportunity to be heard so that you can understand how you're affecting them and how your actions are causing them to feel. 


What matters most is to let your kids know your decision to break up has nothing to do with them and that you love them.

Use your breakup as an opportunity to teach your children to make decisions for the right reasons, even if the decision is painful. Teach them that every decision and action has consequences. By the time they get to where you are, they don't make the same mistakes.

Lastly, make sure they understand that they never have to settle for any form of abuse, toxicity or mediocrity in their lives. Lead by example.

RELATED: Parents Who Raise The Most Successful Kids Communicate With Them In One Specific Way


Dr. D. Ivan Young is an ICF Credentialed Master Certified Coach, Certified Professional Diversity Coach, National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach, and a Certified Master MBTI Practitioner.