“Don’t stay married for the kids.”
I’ve heard those words from countless men and women who somehow found themselves on the other side of marriage — divorced, and whether out of a desire for non-coupled company or just trying to do the best thing, never hesitated to advertise the greenness of their grass. To be honest, I am pretty sure I’ve said those words myself. In a sense, I wholeheartedly believe them.
You shouldn’t stay married (just) for the children, because the reality is the damage done by two people who are legally together is sometimes far worse than the damage done by those two people after they have made the decision to part.
But if you were to ask me today, at this very moment in my life, why my husband and I are still married — my response would be for our children.
As someone who helped support her family while blogging about love and relationships, it feels odd to accept the fact that some days our love feels incredibly hard. Lately, it feels like we’re just holding on to each other and our marriage by a thread. But it’s a common thread. It’s our love for our children and the family that we’ve created together.
I think that no matter how strong your relationship is, you’re going to want to quit at some point. There will be days when you look at yourself in the mirror and wonder what you’re doing. How the hell did I get here? Is this what it’s supposed to be?
There will be days when you will tally up the good and the bad to see which one outweighs the other because you aren’t 100 percent sure anymore. There will be days when you want to walk away and the only thing keeping you from doing just that are the tiny hearts that beat in the neighboring room. So you keep showing up — for them. For the kids.
We tell our children often that our love for them is unconditional. “Nothing you do will change my love for you.” And we mean it. Loving our babies is easy. It’s what we were born to do.
But being a parent — that’s the hard part. We don’t get to tell our toddler mid tantrum that it’s “not working,” or that we rushed into this parenting gig. We don’t get to get mad and walk out on our precocious preschooler or remind our autonomous teen of their mistakes again and again. Instead, we never stop trying and vow that we never will.
It can be painful and grueling and some days you may find that you’ve shed more tears than your toddler. And still we declare that it’s the best kind of work. Because it is.
So when do we determine that our spouse is not worthy of the unconditional love we extend so freely to our sweet babies? When do we decide that our marriage isn’t worthy of the work that it takes to sustain it? When do we decide — I love you but not enough to endure?
Sometimes all you need is one reason to keep fighting.
A reason beyond your faith and your vows. Something tangible you can hold onto, something you can see, a reminder of the gifts and grace that abounds. A light that shines even in your darkest night.
Our children are blossoming before our eyes, in part because of the love and care that we have put into raising them together. Our family means everything to us, and because of that we stay. We understand the trials that we face aren’t forever, but family is. We hold on and we go to work, to repair, to rebuild, to reconnect and to find our way back.
There’s a lot at stake here.
We know the toll divorce can take on not just a couple, but their children. Like an earthquake, you can prepare all you want, but you can’t possibly know the scope of the damage until after. You can rebuild and mend, but everyone involved is forever altered, continuously rattled by the aftershocks.
Even so, if the relationship is causing more harm than good, sometimes you’ll have to let go, for you, your spouse and for your babies.
But, with the exception of a toxic relationship, if you can find one good reason to keep holding on, one valid reason against letting go — start there.
For some of us, our selfish tendencies have been regulated by the profound impact of parenthood. We love our children unconditionally. Yet we might struggle to give that same kind of love to our spouse. Motherhood has taught me that there’s still room to keep going beyond what feels like my wits’ end. Even when I’ve hit rock bottom, I’m not there all alone. This is marriage.
It’s looking into the eyes of my husband, eyes as tired as mine, heart as heavy all the while, united in our love for them, and being reminded that they are a reflection of the love we have for one another.
It’s choosing love and allowing our faith to guide and sustain us. We choose each other and allow our love to (re)fill us. We choose this family each and every day and allow that to be our reason. And with each day we press on, perhaps the distance between us lessens, the length of the thread shortens and we return to the days in which we held on to each other.
Because one day they may grow up and choose to plant roots elsewhere. One day it’ll be just the two of us. And my prayer is that we’ll be glad that we stayed for the kids. Because in staying for the kids, we ultimately stayed for us.