DIVORCE DIARIES: 'My mum stayed with my dad for my siblings and I. Now, I'm in the same position.'

Welcome to Mamamia's new column, Divorce Diaries, where Dr Gabrielle Morrissey answers questions around love, loss and relationship breakdowns. If you have an issue you'd like advice on, email us at — you can be anonymous of course.


My mum didn't divorce my dad until my sister and I were grown up and had moved out of the house. She's always said she didn't want to make a choice that would hurt us so directly. And I feel like I had a decent childhood, even though it was clear my mum wasn't happy for years. I knew she was unhappy but if someone had asked me when I was a kid, if I wanted them to split up I probably would have said no.

Now as an adult, I find myself in a marriage that is doomed - I've tried everything to fix it and save it and there's just no way we are going to last.

We fight every single day and I don't think we like each other very much. It's hard for me to see the man I married when I look at him and I hate all the fighting. We have two small children and I feel selfish not staying in the marriage for them like my mother did for me.

Is it better to stay for the kids? Am I being an irresponsible mother choosing happiness over the family unit? Is it better to end a miserable marriage no matter the pain to others or wait until the kids are grown up?


If we turned the clock back even 50 to 70 years, the answer would be short and obvious: "Stay for the kids."


For many decades, marriage, as supporting a family unit, has been seen as the gold standard and most stable foundation for raising children. Even your use of the word "selfish" points to that old, slow transition from women as property of marriage to subjects tied to child rearing, to recent liberation, independence and free choice.

Still, we aren't yet at equality in many areas of life: gender pay gap, domestic labour, violence and abuse, child-rearing responsibilities, and career trajectories, to name a few. And we still have conditioning in a society that women are primarily responsible for raising children and keeping relationships happy, harmonious and together.

While you're here, find out when these people knew it was time for a divorce. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

These notions that "a woman's place is in the home" and that such a thing as "women's work" exists, are what keep women in marriages that are unhappy "for the children". The persistent thought that children thrive best in a two-parent family unit home, regardless of their emotional health, continues to dominate society despite research to the contrary


There is a lot of evidence, from around the globe, that dispels the belief that an unhappy marriage is the best choice for raising children (a leading reason why women still stay in unhappy and even abusive relationships).

So let me repeat, emphasise and underscore: staying in a marriage as an assumed best option for the children is an ancient presumption, rooted in archaic, unresearched generalisations about gender roles, the capacity of women, and the low to no understanding of the effects of trauma, toxicity and an unhappy home on children.

Your mother made this choice, and she was likely a product of the thinking of the time. This is not the case. Children raised in a toxic environment, with unhappy parents at the helm, are proven to be less stable, less successful and have poorer outcomes than those raised in happier, calmer homes, whether by single parents, blended or non-typical family units.

When children grow up experiencing family dysfunction, exposed to trauma in their parents' interactions, witnessing unresolved conflicts and unhappiness, and being drawn into arguments and tension, they are more likely to experience mental health issues, behavioural and emotional regulation problems and academic disengagement and challenges.

While it is difficult to navigate children through the dissolution of a marriage and understand new family patterns, it is less damaging than continued exposure to the misery and dysfunction of a family home that is toxic for them. And, while you say as a kid you may have chosen for your unhappy parents to stay together, that's because kids crave stability and familiarity and aren't mature or grown up enough to understand the abstract concepts of time helping to adjust to new situations.


Your mother no doubt did the best she could in the context, circumstance and time she was in. Not surprisingly, her choice still influences you. You are now worried about making a personal choice. You now see your happiness as selfish.

Research tells us as long as children are stable and nurtured, they will be more likely to be well-adjusted regardless of the family unit - residence context. But research is one thing and ultimately the choice is yours: it's your happiness and mental health, your children, your home and all the personal factors you need to consider about your family.

Research can tell us there is the best time and the best way to balance happiness and child rearing and marriage, but the best for your own family, children and self is unique for you - separate to data sets, your mother, psychologists, mother's groups and advice givers. Gather the information you need to make an informed decision, that's best for you, and trust yourself.

Feature Image: Getty.

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