Children need to know that they were born from love.
When a couple runs into difficulties in their relationship, and even reach the point of a separation, the priorities change. The most important becomes taking care of the weakest ones in the family: the children. They, who have been called to life through their parents’ loving encounter, need both of their parents present in their lives on a daily basis.
Therefore, if a couple is thinking about breaking up, they need to make an effort to maintain an ongoing relationship. If it’s not friendly, it should at least be civil, out of respect for their children. They can stop being a couple, but they will never stop being the parents of their children, and those children really need them both. Of course, the ideal is that they not break up at all, but life is complicated. Sometimes, even when they’ve done all they believe they could, there are circumstances that can make it impossible for them to continue on together.
When parents explain to their children that they are going to separate, it’s important to make it clear that the children are not to blame for thebreakup. Many children think they are somehow the reason for the separation, and feel guilty. Others try to behave extra well and please their parents, thinking that if they do everything Mom and Dad want, they’ll get together again. Children need to understand that the burden isn’t on them, and it’s crucial to reassure them that even though they may be living apart, Mom and Dad will always be there for them – and then the parents need to back it up with actions.
In addition to making it clear to their children that they are not separated because of anything the kids themselves have done, parents must take into account another great concern the children may have and assure them that they are the fruit of their parents’ love. No one marries so that it will go wrong or fail. Even when a couple marries with doubts or in circumstances that are not the best, there is a desire for that union to go well. And there is love—more or less love, and more or less perfect, but it’s still love. The children were born from that love, and nobody can take that truth away, even if the parents were not able to keep their love alive as a couple.
What if, apart from separating, it turns out that the marriage is null? Nothing changes, as far as the children being the fruit of their parents love. They went to the marriage wanting their relationship to be good but, for some reason, the relationship that arose from their “yes” was not marital. How can that be the case? Because, as we saw in another article about annulments, marriage only takes place if a series of requirements for maturity and freedom are met. Those requirements may have been missing due to a variety of circumstances, preventing a valid marriage. But even if their “I do” did not give rise to a valid marriage, that does not mean that there was no love between them, or that their children are not the result of a mutual love they shared at one time. In fact, the Church considers those children as legitimate, as if the marriage had existed.
I know that none of this is easy to understand and live, but I often meet people who consider starting an annulment process and don’t do it, for fear of their children’s reaction. It’s very understandable, and it shows great sensitivity and respect for the children. But knowing the truth of one’s personal situation is always better than living in doubt.
And, although it’s not easy and they might not understand it at first, you can help your children to understand, little by little, the reasons that led you to start a process that will lead you to take separate paths, but which will not take away the truth that they are children of love.
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