What is it really like… going through a divorce with young children?

Divorce with children, parenting

I grew up in a family which seemed to be teetering on divorce from my earliest memories. Somehow, my parents managed to keep it together until I had finished university – a very noble effort – but I often wondered would things had been better, or easier, if they had just bitten the bullet and divorced when my sister and I were young children? Would we have noticed more, or less? Been more or less messed up? But more precisely, what exactly is going through the head of a parent who is divorcing with young children in the mix of parenthood?

So many questions, and I only have speculation in response. And so it’s those wonderings that are the subject of this issue of the “What is it really like….?” series – as I get in conversation with Robin, a fellow blogger and author of The Queen of Quite a Lot – about what it’s really like to go through a divorce with young children in your parenthood life.

Can you tell us a little bit about your family?

At the present time, I have been remarried for 5 years, my children are a 21 year old son, a 17 year old son, a 16 year old daughter, and I have a 25 year old stepson. My boys do not live with me which I will explain later, so for the past 6 years my daughter has been basically an only child during the week.

Can you tell us a little about what happened during and after the divorce and how your children factored into that?

My ex-husband is a great guy, and a great dad. He just was not what I needed in a mate for myself. We were married four years before starting our family, and nearly 12 years before the divorce was final. When I decided I wanted out of the marriage we split up for several months, then reconciled to see if I was making the right choice, then split up again about five months later. Then it took about 10 months to get everything finalized. By the time it was all legal and over, the kids were aged three, four and nine.

The littles really have no memories of us ever having lived together as a whole family. We had a very amicable divorce, with him taking legal guardianship of the oldest child and me of the two little ones, but joint custody. We have always worked out visitation to accommodate work schedules, holidays, and now that the kids are older to go along with their schedules.

You hear a lot about things getting bitter in divorce. Did this happen to you?

Things were not pleasant for a time during the separation up until it was all final. I was the one that wanted out. He did not. My family did not want us to split. I got blamed for ruining my children’s lives (by my mother) and everyone in our little tiny town seemed to try and talk me out of it. But once it became a reality of what was going to happen, things got better.

How did your children deal with the divorce? How did it impact them? And what did you do to help support them during the divorce?

My eldest son had the hardest time with it. He was eight the first time we separated. He could see how much it was hurting his dad. He would ask me why I wouldn’t let daddy come home. He developed a bad stutter which he has to this day as an adult (and which I have to live with knowing I caused.)

When I moved away to my current town, 75 miles from where we lived then, he wanted to stay in the smaller town with his dad and his friends and his school. He was 10 by then, and with other factors in his life, I knew it was the best thing for him (and I was right) but it was one of the two hardest things I’ve ever done.

He went through some counselling at school to deal with it all during the divorce, and his dad and I were always supportive and there for him. The other two were so young that they really don’t know a life where we were married and all living together. Us being divorced is all they remember.

My second son went to live with his dad when he started the 6th grade because he was having trouble being bullied and not standing up for himself at school. After a lot of discussions we decided to let him try the smaller school and have some time in a “manly” home with his father and brother. It was the best decision I ever made for him. He came out of his shell and flourished in the new school. He is still a “mama’s boy” and spends every possible weekend/holiday with me in our town, but living there, with his dad has been so good for him.

What do you think is the single hardest thing for children to get their heads round in a divorce?

For my oldest, he just couldn’t understand why. And I really don’t think anyone in my family could. His dad is a wonderful man, a great friend, would do anything for anyone. But as a husband he was lacking in several areas, and after over 10 years, I finally realized that I deserved better and I also did not want my daughter especially, to grow up thinking that the marriage we had was what she was to strive for herself one day…that she would also deserve better.

So in your eyes, is divorce always the utter disaster for children that it is made to seem? Or can it sometimes be better than parents trying to “make it work”?

For us, I think it was better, because if I had tried to make it work “until the kids got out of school” (as my sister suggested…even though my daughter wasn’t even two at the time!). I think *I* would’ve become bitter and ugly. I am now in a loving marriage.. the kind I want my children to have when they get older.

With the children in mind here, what was life like after the divorce? How did they learn to adjust, and how long did it take them to adjust?

Financially it was hard. I am a teacher, and in our agreement I forfeited child support (long story). So.. we did without a lot. No cable TV, no gymnastics, no dance lessons, no karate lessons, no camps… we ate mac and cheese and hot dogs and fish fingers for months. We’d go to McDonald’s and I’d get one combo meal and the three of them would split it and I’d go without. My parents would help out when they could. But.. we made it.

The littles adjusted from the get-go, because they were little and didn’t really know any different. They would cry when I’d leave them at their dad’s on his weekends/nights to have them…they both have always been “mama’s babies”. The oldest pulled away from me for awhile.. we lost our close relationship, but it has gotten better as he’s gotten older.

What is the hardest thing, as a mother, going through a divorce?

The doing it all by myself. The loneliness. The exhaustion. A year after the divorce I moved away from our small town where their dad and my parents lived, to a bigger town 75 miles away where we knew nobody, to take a teaching job. It was the right move, but it was hard at first. A couple years later I met my now husband, and we dated for five years before getting married and moving in with him.

What advice would you give to mothers going through a divorce?

Seek out other women, friends. Don’t try to do everything by yourself. Take help when offered. Let some things (expectations) go and just enjoy your kids. Don’t rush into another relationship. And when you do find someone else, make sure he is good for your whole family, not just for you and your needs.

Did you go through a divorce with young children? Can you relate to the above? I’d love to hear if this resonates with you….

Enjoyed reading this post? Please do give it a little share on your social networks and if you’re so inclined, you can read other issues in the “What is it really like” series on the dedicated page here.

And if you’re reading this, going through tough times and need to connect to other mums without judgement, reach out to the awesome #Mommitment group on Facebook here.



  1. Wow, thanks for this post. Everyone’s story is different when it comes to separation, but I strongly believe that if you are not happy in your relationship, if it is not the right relationship for you, then the kids won’t be truly happy either. It is a hard decision, but you have to live the life you need to lead, rather than a lie. You can’t live a lie for the people that matter to you most. They need honesty and authenticity from their parents.

  2. what a refreshingly honest and real post – Loved it. As a divorced parent to young-ish children the hardest part is feeling like you’re breaking them somehow, even when you know rationally its not your fault. That old chestnut called mummy guilt is a pain!x

  3. Always interesting to read these kinds of posts as I am divorced too. It’s good to hear various points of view. Thanks for writing about it. #fartglitter. (Annie from My Inner Onion).

  4. Such a refreshingly, honest account. I’m sorry there wasn’t a little less judgement and a little more support from the community. I hope anyone going through this can find a good network to help!
    Thanks so much for linking up to #fartglitter x

  5. Wow this is a great post! Explains a lot what it is going through a divorce. This is not a subject that has happened to me directly but it has happened to all my siblings so I understand it very well. I guess the loneliness after a divorce is definitely the hardest part. Things are of course harder and you are not longer a team of two but just one. Also rebuild your life takes time plus trying to explain to your kids what has happened is also a hard task. At least this story has an ex partner that has behaved correctly. There is also the story of other women that don’t have any support from their ex partners and had to bring up their kids completely alone with no financial support!! Each story is different!! Thanks for sharing this at #KCACOLS. I love having you here! Hope you join me again next Sunday! 🙂 xx

  6. Great post and so honest. My parents stayed together until I left home and in all honestly they weren’t happy together so I think would have been better to do it sooner rather than waiting. Thanks for linking up to #justanotherlinky xx

  7. I am so glad that I read this! I know several couples who divorced and it was amicable and I’ve been separated for three years and we get along but she hit the nail on the head with why she got divorced. I’m right there with her. While my ex is a good father, he and I together aren’t good people. We seem to bring out the worst in each other and that affects our parenting. Now that we are not together, we are much better parents and our kids are a lot happier. It’s been a struggle, especially financially, but in the long run I am happier and so are my boys. I do strongly believe that sometimes the best thing to do is to leave the relationship. Be with someone who brings out the best in your, not the worst in you. Thanks so much for writing this post! It’s so nice to know I’m not the only one who gets along with my ex and I’m not the only one who has family who disagrees with my decision, except my family disagrees with me getting along with him. I know, weird right? Visiting from #anythinggoes

    • So pleased that this post made you feel that you are not alone. Hats off to Robin for sharing so candidly…

  8. This was such an interesting post. My parents were never married – they split when I was younger and other things happened – I don’t see my mother anymore. Her choice not mine.
    My uncle is currently going through divorce – but his soon to be ex-wife has involved the kids and turned the kids against him – and she is trying to get every single penny off him. I am unsure with marriage- do I want to marry my partner or not? I think the divorce part scares me (if that would happen of course).
    Thanks for linking up to #justanotherlinky

    • So interesting…we are not married and don’t think we’re likely to as happy the way we are. We both have a maybe healthy (??!) fear of things going down hill once pen is put to paper!

  9. Divorce can indeed be very hard, but it’s much harder on the kids. Being able to wait until the kids are much older can make it easier on them though. Then they are more mature, have more knowledge of the world, and are less likely to blame themselves or worry about you leaving them.

  10. Thank you for that information. I have a 2 1/2 year old and I really liked the going away or coming home idea. this is a hard time on all of us and it is comforting to know I am not alone.

  11. I divorced my first husband when my son was only 2. We were childhood sweethearts and had been together since we were 18 and during our University and early work years spent a lot time apart then suddenly bumped into each other again by chance, got married and immediately had our son. But it just wasn’t meant to be. I was so sure it was wrong and just wanted out. I was the main bread winner at the time so money wasn’t an issue it was more a case of this is a bad atmosphere for a child to grow up in. I was a single working mum for a couple of years before I met my now husband. It is tough being a divorced parent but it is better than being in a toxic relationship. The best decision I ever made. x

  12. I did not expect to read such an honest account. I think it is very wonderful of you to write about you experience and how it has affected you as well as your children. Thanks so much for sharing so much. This has a lot of wonderful advice that those going through a difficult phase like this one will love.

  13. Marriage and having a kids are the best thing that could happen but divorce is the worst thing that could ever happen to a family especially if there are young children.

  14. Divorce is challenging a can makes us feel heartbroken; however often time is the best choice for the entire family including children. Children notice and sense disharmony between parents which is not a good relationship model.
    Thank you for sharing your story, you made the best choice for you and your children by ending a toxic relationship and divorcing. It takes courage to end a toxic relationship and it is an action of self-love and love for your children

  15. I divorced when the triplets were 2 and Zach was 1. To have four age 2 and under as a single mum has been tiring. But it’s tougher to be in a marriage that isn’t working and is causing pain. I’m glad I did it when they were little as they have not been affected – this is their normality.

  16. This is one of the great article about divorced matter. Definitely some great tips and advice to keep in mind when going through this experience. Divorce is something that is becoming more prevalent in Western society. Thats why this article will be more informative and helpful to the people, I think it’s useful for many those who are looking for such info,I really appreciate this post. Thanks for sharing this valuable information.

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