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Nora Ephron Says Stay Together For Your Kids

By Sierra Black |

Happy girls

Divorce is hard on kids, no matter what

Heather wrote a great piece yesterday about how kids growing up with divorced parents can turn out just fine. What really matters, according to the scant literature we have on the subject, is the emotional climate around a divorce. Do the parents treat each other and the kids fairly? Is the family system happy overall, rather than stressed and angry?

That makes sense. What kids need is a loving, stable home. The relationship between their parents shouldn’t matter that much, right?

My own parents had the most amicable of divorces. I never saw them fight when they were married, and haven’t ever seen them be anything but warm to each other in the 25 years since they split. We even went on family vacations together after their divorce.

Still, I couldn’t agree more with Nora Ephron’s post on Huffington Post today, where she exhorts parents to stay together for their kids.

Ephron writes:

…unless the par­ents are beating each other up, or abusing the children, kids are better off if their parents are together. Chil­dren are much too young to shuttle between houses. They’re too young to handle the idea that the two peo­ple they love most in the world don’t love each other anymore, if they ever did. They’re too young to under­stand that all the wishful thinking in the world won’t bring their parents back together. And the newfangled rigmarole of joint custody doesn’t do anything to ease the cold reality: in order to see one parent, the divorced child must walk out on the other.

A good friend of mine put this best to me, as we watched another friend go through a particularly hard stretch in her marriage: “Either you get to live the life you want, or your kids do.”

My parents lives are so different now, it’s hard to imagine they were ever married. How did these people even know each other? My dad lives in the mountains outside Tucson, where he makes crystal jewelry and listens to local jazz bands. My mom lives on the ocean in Massachusetts, and commutes to Boston where she’s an executive at a big health care company. They would never meet, today.

Given how different they are it’s impossible for me to wish them back together, or regret the choices they made. All our lives would be so unimaginably different, I couldn’t even be me writing this.

But it’s worth noting that as excellent as they were at loving my sister and I and keeping us close to both of them after the split, their divorce still hurt us. I’m *still* unearthing ways it affected me, more than two decades later. Kids really depend on the stability of their home and family.

Most kids get a stable home, actually. Divorce isn’t as prevalent as a lot of us believe. Ephron says divorce has been increasing since the 1960s, but that’s wrong. Tara Parker-Pope’s recent book on marriage, For Better, shows really solid data that the divorce rate has been decreasing steadily since the early 80s, especially among parents.

Obviously, not every couple will stay together. If a marriage is abusive, it’s best for everyone to get the kids and the abused parent into a safe living situation. Plenty of non-abusive marriages end, too, just because the partners lives change.

There are days when my differences with my own husband seem pretty irreconcilable. As a child of divorce, I’m vastly more likely to get divorced myself. I remind myself of that when I’m tempted to walk out the door. And then I walk back in and do my level best to make things right with him.

“Irreconcilable differences” are a real thing. It behooves parents to make an extra effort to reconcile theirs, though. Once you have kids together, it’s not simply your own health and happiness in the equation.

Photo: Pink Sherbet Photography

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About Sierra Black


Sierra Black

Sierra Black lives, writes and raises her kids in the Boston area. She loves irreverence, hates housework and wants to be a writer and mom when she grows up. Read bio and latest posts → Read Sierra's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Nora Ephron Says Stay Together For Your Kids

  1. sizzle says:

    Wow. I could not disagree more. I was raised by divorced parents and it was not a good situation. At all. But I cannot even imagine how much worse it would have been if they had stayed together. There was no abuse, and now 20 years later we actually vacation together. But these people should not ever have lived together, and I am glad I did not grow up believing that that two people who cannot stand each other should remain in a relationship. I always felt guilty that my parents got married because of me (shotgun wedding, if you can even call it that when the couple is composed of 30-year old law students), I would be a wreck if I knew they stayed together in a miserable union for over 20 years because that is what you do when you have children.

  2. marantz says:

    Your Post was incredible.Thanks for the post. yes I too agree that kids need a loving home But the relation between their dad and mom should not create an obstacle for them to grow up and become a responsible citizen
    A book specially written for parents with problems in weaning their baby

  3. shesameanie says:

    I’m so tired of all this, “oh, stay together and that equals stability.” NO IT DOES NOT. My parents stayed together and I am still unearthing issues I have to deal with because I watched 2 people remain entwined unhappily. Use some common sense. I highly doubt most people who’ve divorced with kids in the picture made the decision without taking their chid(ren)’s well being into account.

  4. Jean says:

    Actually, we are a self centered culture. Many people think about how things will affect the children, many do not. Staying in a relationship, finding a way around differences, takes a lot of consideration and work. Something this country doesn’t encourage: If you are unhappy, move on to greener pastures . . . .

  5. cindy fetch says:

    Divorce is devestating to children. My children were devestated by their father and me divorcing. My parents are still married after 65 years of unhappiness. Neither situations are healthy for children. What we need to learn from these scenarios is that marriage is not just about the two people saying, “I do.” Marriage is about the little people who join that union. I believe the most important question someone should ask themselves before they get married (or before they decide to have a child) is “is this someone I want to be the father/mother of my children?” If you’re married and you’re unhappy with your spouse, talk to a professional and find out why. Take your spouse along and find out why there’s discord. Don’t let things fester. While these steps might not save your marriage, you will have taken healthy steps to make a decision that will effect you and your children for your lifetimes. And, if divorce is inevitable, you may have picked up some tools to help you and your children survive the change.

  6. Amy says:

    Thank you for this post. I get so tired of reading “The kids turn out fine!” It’s just not that simple.

  7. jenny tries too hard says:

    You know, the rates of divorce may be decreasing, but the number of children born to never-married women is increasing, and the children of those unmarried couples experience much of the same deal—financial instability when the family splits into two households with two rents/mortgages, twice as many utilities, travel expenses related to visitation, shuffling back and forth, emotional conflicts about trying to appear “loyal” or having to choose between parents, etc.—when their parents split up. In fact, in my own life more than half the kids I know being co-parented by in two homes aren’t children of divorce but children of non-marriage. So, rates of divorce aren’t necessarily the thing to look at when you say that most kids do get a stable home.

    Other than that, I totally agree. My parents divorce was really heart-breaking to me and my brothers. Aside from pretty dramatic tension and dysfunction, no, young kids don’t really know that their parents are that unhappy/unfulfilled in their marriage. Young children are supposed to be a little self-centered. All they know is that everyone is suddenly unhappy, because most divorced couples (that I’ve seen) are still fairly unhappy for the first year or two while they figure out this new life. My brothers were 9 and 10, I was 7, the first time my parents split up (they got back together and split up again a few years later) and we never saw it coming either time. So I really do hate the “your kids want you to be happy” argument.

  8. Bec says:

    I knew they were unhappy. It was the waking up in the night to overhear them arguing downstairs that gave it away. Aside from a tough period of transition, our lives were all improved by divorce. My parents are friends to this day, 20 years later. And if they hadn’t divorced, I wouldn’t have gotten that awesome baby brother from my mom and stepdad. But I suppose Nora Ephron knows what’s best for every family, everywhere, and we should all feel pressured to get in line and be perfect. Isn’t that what the Erica Jong article just taught us?

  9. bob says:

    I appreciate these discussions, as uncomfortable as they make me, because they help me keep things in proper perspective.

  10. jenny tries too hard says:

    Bec, that would qualify as pretty dramatic tension, I’d say. Could even be emotional/verbal abuse depending on what-all was said. Of course divorce is better than that; couples trying hard to fix their problems is better than both of those.

  11. Manjari says:

    I agree with jenny tries too hard, and I think you can suggest that divorce is hard on kids in general, but still might be better for some kids than staying in a tense situation. If there is an abusive situation, or even betrayal, infidelity or something equally serious, then I think divorce might be the only option for some couples. If everyone gets along well, and your marriage has just lost it’s spark or you suddenly feel like you “want more” or something equally vague, then it seems like divorcing could be kind of a mean thing to do to your kids (if they are already used to the family as a whole).

  12. BlackOrchid says:

    I just read the Ephron essay, and her point is really not so cut-and-dried as all that. I don’t think she’s advocating for people to stay in loveless marriages for the sake of the children AT ALL. It was an excellent, honest essay about her own experiences, that’s all. The part about infidelity particularly resonated, with her usual combination of breathtaking honesty and easy humor.

    Anyway, I hope you guys have read it. It was a good read.

  13. michelle says:

    Everyone has such a thin skin on this board. Nora’s not saying that people should never get divorced, but rather that they shouldn’t take it lightly. Same thing for never-married parents who have kids but can’t sustain a relationship. In our culture many people just separate rather than deal with the issues in their relationship. Many others stay together, but unhappily, meaning they also never deal with the issues in their relationship. Both situations are bad for children, and the common theme is parents who don’t have relationship skills and are not used to having to work at something. I actually think there should be more discussion in the culture on how to have a healthy relationship/marriage, because all we really learn in the culture is dysfunction and narcissism. All engaged couples should get premarital counseling, so they go into marriage with reasonable expectations, they know how to handle conflict, and they learn how to recognize and deal with common marital problems (money, sex, etc.)

  14. Marj says:

    The thing is, to stay together amicably for the kids, requires cooperation on both sides. How often does it happen in cases of divorce, where both parties would stay together as a happy family for the kids? Not often. Also, would the parents be allowed to date? Would it become an open marriage with two friends at the center instead of two lovers? Seriously, people don’t usually divorce so lightly, especially when children are part of the equation, to make this feasible.

  15. Leoti says:

    My parents got divorced when I was 20 and to be honest, I couldn’t have been happier about it. I only wish they’d done it sooner because as wonderful as they are on their own, they downright suck as a married couple. They’re happier, healthier, and all around better people 5 years after the divorce. At first there were hurt feelings and a lot of bitterness but they’ve talked and worked things out and now they get along better than they did when they were married. They’re actually friends! My father goes out to dinner with my mom and her fiance (who is a really great guy and honestly a much better match for her) once or twice a week and they all have a great time.
    And I’m happy for them but its bittersweet. I’m glad they can enjoy each other’s company now but I wish they’d gotten their act together in time for us all to have enjoyed a healthy, fully-functional family. I don’t remember a single day of my childhood that they went without fighting. Mostly it was my dad screaming at my mom for no good reason or seriously overreacting but I cut him a lot of slack. Having a mood disorder can make you act like a jerk if you refuse to get help for it. There were a lot of issues in our home life but dad pretending that he was ‘fine’, insisting that it must be someone else’s ‘fault’ if something was wrong – that was the biggest.
    Do you know what that does to a kid? To see that day in and day out for 20 years (27 in my brother’s case)? I’ve been in therapy since I was 16 and I’ll be in therapy for a very, VERY long time to come. My brother has been to jail. Twice. He’s been to rehab once. He lies, steals, does drugs, and after several DUIs, it will be YEARS before they let him behind the wheel again (which makes it pretty hard to get to his job now that he’s FINALLY starting to get his head on straight).
    My mother had that ‘stay together for the kids’ mentality and now that she sees how far it didn’t get us, and how much better EVERYONE feels, she regrets not getting out a long time ago. Her leaving is what made my dad see he needed to address his illness. It was the kick in the pants he needed to get better so he could start mending his relationship with his children. I know that if she’d left earlier, I’d be in a better place right now – we ALL would.
    Every family is different, that’s what I’m trying to say. If you can work it out, great but sometimes you just can’t. Go with your instincts, don’t ignore the reality of the situation, and don’t try to force things to work out you’re not both on the same page and willing to put in the (equal) effort because that will only hurt your children. I know.

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