20 Apr
Is it So Wrong to Threaten Our Child with Divorce?

Dear Mouthy Housewives,

Several of my son’s friends come from divorced parents and he’s old enough now (9.5 yrs) to begin noticing the effects. We’ve had to discuss how he can’t see his friends as much because both parents must now work full-time and the friends have to spend every other weekend at different places, how this limits the free time each parent gets with the kids, etc.

That being said, let’s get to my real point. My husband and I are beginning to feel the effects of parenting on our marriage. You know, too much kid time and not enough grown up time. We rarely get to even sit beside each other on the couch! When we want to do something alone, like sit beside one another or have a private conversation in our bedroom, of course our kid wants to bust up in between us. So every now and then I’ll tell our son, “You don’t want mom and dad to end up divorced, right? We need some alone time.” Part of me feels like it isn’t right to say something to scare our son, but then again I don’t know how to relate it to a nine-year-old in a way that he 1) can understand that he HAS to let mom and dad have some time to maintain our bond and 2) lets us have it without drama on his part, turning the idea of alone time into just more parental stress and guilt. Advice?

P.S. We do get a babysitter, but after 12 years of parenting (we have an older child too), our monthly night out isn’t enough anymore and we can’t up the babysitting expense up right now. And we reeeealllllyyyy need to begin reconnecting as a couple. Help!


Privacy, Please!


Dear PP,

Listen, I don’t want to come down on you too hard here, because the truth of the matter is that most parents have said something to their kids that probably wasn’t APA approved. For instance, this one time, I told my five year old that I’d be his bestest friend in whole! wide! world! if he’d JUST PICK UP HIS GODFORSAKEN LEGOS. And we all know he’ll probably never be my best friend. I mean, I’m his mother. Plus, he’s not even old enough to be a designated driver.

That said, I want to be clear to you on this:

The part of you that feels bad for scaring your son with such a threat? LISTEN TO THAT PART.

Scaring or threatening children is never a good idea. Never. NEVER EVER. (Unless we’re talking about them dashing into the street to chase a ball, in which case, bring on the gory, terrifying details.)

The bottom line here is that it is not your child’s fault that you and your husband are having trouble finding time alone together. In fact, I’d say that puts you right in line with most families IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE. It comes with parenthood, woman! Is it hard to find time alone with your husband? I’m sure it is. But that’s your challenge to struggle with and overcome; it’s most certainly not your son’s.

Kids are smart and they are sensitive to this type of thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if he already senses that you’re resenting him for coming between your husband and you. I would strongly recommend you have a conversation with him (your husband included) and apologize for the remark. Explain to him that you are just having a rough time of things, and that sometimes even grownups make poor choices. It will hopefully put his mind at ease and also be a good learning experience for the lot of you.

In the meantime, girl, you need to get creative. Stay up late with your husband. Get up early. Take advantage of small moments to sneak upstairs for a quickie. Do whatever the hell works for you. And above all, be patient with the process, because it can take a while to adjust and find something that works. If it feels desperate, remind yourself that no marriage is without bumps (and in some cases potholes and sinkholes and earthquakes and the occasional echoing abyss) in the road. If it’s more than you can handle together, marriage counselors can be miracle workers.

Take a deep breath, pull yourself together, and go smother that little boy in some kisses.

Kristine, TMH.

23 Responses to “Is it So Wrong to Threaten Our Child with Divorce?”


Comment by Brett Minor.

I agree. NEVER EVER EVER say something like that to your kid. God forbid something ever happens and he actually believes it is his fault.

Set some simple boundaries (which as a parent you should do anyway). Why is your kid allowed to barge into your bedroom? Make that an off-limits space for him.

Find the time to be together. Every married couple with kids has this problem. Your issue is far from unique.

He could occasionally spend the night at a friend’s house or go off for any other activity. Take advantage of those moments.


Comment by Kim.

Well said, Kristine, and Brett.
I’ve never commented on on MH post, but I can’t keep myself from it this time.
Please, as quickly as possible, talk to him. Let him know that you did not mean that, and that you will not say it again!

Think about it this way – if he ever sees you and your husband disagreeing, about anything (even unrelated to the kids), he probably blames himself. God forbid you ever do divorce, but if you should, we all know it wouldn’t be his fault, but after hearing your threats about alone time, who do you think will shoulder the burden?

Growing up, my parents always drove it into me that we didn’t have the money for this, or that, etc. When they discussed money issues, I automatically blamed myself, and felt terrible about it. They almost separated one time, and I truly believed that it was because they had NO money because they spent it on raising me (we’re talking food and clothes here). I found out as an adult that my dad was just amazingly frugal, and we had plenty of money, he just chose not to spend it. Imagine my relif, after all those years of worry and stress!
That is NO way for a kid to live.

I agree – get creative. I’m betting he has a bed time, and it’s earlier than yours. Get netflix and some popcorn and watch a movie together, or catch some episodes of a show you like. Does he sleep in on Saturday? Have breakfast and read the paper with your husband. All parents have this issue, but it’s certainly not the fault of the children, who are just acting like children!

sisterfunkhaus Reply:

Why should they have to get creative or wait until he goes to bed? He is nine. He is totally capable of entertaining himself while mom and dad have time together. The world does not revolve around him and he needs to learn that. Mom and dad need to set boundaries with consequences.

Our child went through this phase when she was four. We did exactly that. Now she is happy that mom and dad love each other so much and doesn’t get jealous at our time alone, or when we sit together on the couch. She gets that we were a couple before she came. She also knows that we love her b/c we tell her and she gets lots of hugs and kisses.

I don’t get why parents are so afraid to put their foot down and just say, “No! This isn’t happening. If you keep it up, you will have X consequence.”

Kristine Reply:

I think this is a great point! I think maybe I assumed the mom had tried all these options, but perhaps I overlooked the obvious. She should absolutely set boundaries without guilt. In fact, it’s a much better way to deal with the problem than using threats.

Kim Reply:

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that the child shouldn’t entertain himself from time to time. However, I just feel like threatening DIVORCE if he doesn’t leave them alone is a bit much.
We don’t know the whole situation, frankly. She says that the child is dramatic and wants to be with them all the time. Maybe he doesn’t get much face time with mom and dad due to schedules or what not and just genuinely craves the attention, and needs time with mom and dad as much as they need time with each other.
I’ll admit that is the case in my home, and I’d feel bad telling my kids that I need time with Daddy when really, I’d rather us spend time as a family, and spend time with Daddy later after the kids go to bed. My apologies! My apologies!

Kristine Reply:

I can’t reply to you below, but just wanted to say: no need to apologize! You make good points, too!


Comment by Kelly.

It’s great that you and your husband love each other and are making it a priority to spend time together. Setting boundaries for your son about when he may and may not interrupt is modeling healthy behavior, appropriate delineation between children and adults, and actually giving your kid the reassurance of knowing his parents love each other and enjoy spending time together. If he’s old enough to understand what divorce means, he’s also old enough to understand what a healthy marriage means. It sounds like you may have some guilt over the fact that you’re “taking back” some autonomy from your kids and re-identifying yourselves as a couple. Don’t feel bad about that. You’re actually doing something that will strengthen your household and your family.


Comment by sisterfunkhaus.

I don’t think you should say that. It’s a bit harsh.

Next time you need some time, tell him that for the next 30 minutes, hour, whatever, it is mom and dad time and that he is expected to entertain himself in his room or wherever. Tell him that if he bothers you, he will receive x consequneces. I would make him write sentences or sit on his bed for 15 minutes. Something like that.

It’s okay to set boundaries with your kids. You are the boss. If your child is getting in the way of alone time, it is only because you let him. If he has consequences, sooner or later he will figure out that you mean it and he will stop.


Comment by StephanieG.

I agree with the comments about setting some boundaries – you’ve got be in charge at your house. That means in charge of your time alone with hubby, and in charge of your kids. If you’re not, please get that way.

It is totally unfair of you to play the divorce card. Children bear so much of the guilt when they watch their parents’ marriage implode. Please don’t add to the burden he’s already carrying.

When you spend time with him, make it quality time. Listen to him, look at him, be WITH him, not just in the same room with him. If he’s having his needs for attention met, he’s more likely to give you the space you need for your alone time with Dad.

Good luck!


Comment by Plano Mom.

Just wait a small little bit, and I can assure you he will NOT want to be in the room when you snuggle and cuddle. Our 13-year-old has reached the age where his parents never kissed because he can’t stand the embarrassment of thinking about it. Then all you need to do is start searching for romantic movies on pay-per-view, and he will disappear.

As for the threat, don’t do it again, but forgive yourself when you do. No one ever said motherhood was equal to sainthood. Children can be whiny button pushers more often than not, and most certainly can send us to new heights of snarkiosity.

Plano Mom Reply:

Oh, and as a child of divorced parents, I want to propose that there are SOME advantages to divorced parents, only one of which is Christmas that lasts a couple of weeks. Threatening to divorce doesn’t have the horrible stigma you may think it does.


Comment by MomofTeens.

My Husband travels for his job. My children don’t get to spend a lot of time with him, nor do I. So when he is home, there is one simple rule.

When Mom and Dad are in their room, leave them alone unless you are bleeding, have a broken bone, or near death. Everything else can wait for the half hour we spend catching up on issues that we need to deal with.

Now yes, my kids are 17 and 13, so they tend to leave us alone for the 30-45 minutes it takes us to have an uninterrupted conversation. However, your son is 9 almost 10. I am fairly certain he has an iPod, iTouch,iPad or some variation of the sort and a bicycle he can ride around the ‘hood for 30minutes while you and your Husband spend much needed quiet time together.

Rules are rules. But telling your son that it is his fault if you get divorced because he barged into your room is ridiculous. Why is he able to barge into your room? Do you barge into his? If you do, fair warning you are going to regret doing that when he is around 12-13.

Teach him or remind him that he needs to knock before entering someone else’s personal space.

Also, you and your husband need to MAKE time, like Kristine said, stay up late once a week, get up early with him, MAKE TIME for your marriage. He needs to do this as well. You don’t always have to leave the house. Just tell your kids that you are off limits from 7pm to 730pm every Tuesday and Thursday night and you are off limits from 8-9pm Every Friday night. (obviously change the times as you see fit). It will be rough in the beginning but when you lock yourselves in your room and they CAN’T barge in they’ll get the hint and eventually learn you mean business.

Karin W Reply:

I love this – I also have a blanket set of emergency items. When my kids interrupt me while I’m on the phone or having a conversation with my husband when he’s home (we’re moving and he’s gone ahead to start his new job), I stop what I’m doing, say “excuse me” to whoever I’m talking to (modeling good behavior here) and ask, “Is there blood, broken bones, fist fights (sadly an issue, not with my kids but the kid 2 doors down and he’s taken swings at all 3 of my kids), or fire? No. Then it can wait. If you need help remembering, write it down.” If they push it, I will not answer favorably when interrupted.


Comment by Just Me.

Do you have friends with kids? Create a babysitting pool with them. Set up rules about how you accumulate credits by babysitting other people’s kids and use them when you hire someone to babysit your own (or make it totally open-ended and hope everyone does their share). That way you can ‘hire’ a sitter without paying.

Setting limits for your son is great, but it’s even better to know you have a sitter sometimes and it won’t cost you.


Comment by Mom on the Verge.

I suspect that the boy is becoming extra-clingy because his friends are all losing their parents. Or at least parents, as they knew them.

Reassure this kid that you’re in NO danger of divorcing, and that he can back off a little.


Comment by Erin@MommyontheSpot.

The comments on this post are the best! Threatening is never good (especially if the unthinkable happens, and he’ll blame himself forever). I also think it’s totally OK to set boundaries. On Sundays mornings, we tell the kids to watch some TV while we catch up over some coffee. I’m not saying that this is ideal, however, since becoming a parent, you take your snippets of grown-up time when and where you can!!


Comment by Kelcey.

Excellent advice.
Door lock. Done.
And the kid is 9. He can definitely sleep over a friend’s house from time to time.


Comment by Preeva Tramiel.

Did I miss the part where you talked to your husband about this?
Because if the TWO OF YOU, TOGETHER, set limits for your kids, you will get your alone time.

You ask how you can act so your child:
1) can understand that he HAS to let mom and dad have some time to maintain our bond and 2) lets us have it without drama on his part, turning the idea of alone time into just more parental stress and guilt. Advice?

First, try telling him what you need. Then, whenever he gives it to you, even by mistake, praise his behavior. Third, ignore his drama.

And do it WITH your husband. Give yourself cue cards, Send notes. Email him, whatever. And don’t be afraid to put your feet down. Be sympathetic–you can be sorry for your child for dealing with the change, but don’t stop setting those limits.


Comment by Disgusted.

That is so wrong. Don’t do it again. On the plus side, I’m left wondering if a divorce might not be a good thing…especially if he can live with his dad and get away from your psychological abuse.

Leeloo Reply:

Wow. Uncalled for

Disgusted Reply:

So you’ve made it clear in your blog you are having trouble with your own divorce and that’s rough…but it doesn’t mean that everyone else really SHOULD remain married. Uncalled for is what she’s doing to her kid.


Comment by MOm Again.

everyone is focusing on the alone time the parent’s aren’t getting, I’d like to deal with the together in front of the children time, the can’t even sit next to each other on the couch time. Deal with it the same way. Set the new rules, and enforce them. The new rules being that Mom isn’t constantly on call to be Mom. Sometimes, she’s Dad’s Wife, and sometimes she’s her Own Damn Self. Being no longer the mother of small children, sometimes, Mom can have her regal spot alone in the best chair, or sometimes she’d rather sit beside Dad on the sofa, and sometimes still, she’d like the close company of one of her boys.

The boy is clingy because he is 9 and the baby and pretty well aware that he’s not a baby at all. He can see his older brother marking out the path he’s starting on. Dad really needs to put in a presence now for how good men treat women respectfully, not forcing themselves on them and demanding attention, recognizing the woman’s need for attention, or the lack of it.


Comment by garthgirl8888.

My parents are divorced, and I just have to comment on this even though it’s way old.

My parents are divorced, and hands down it has been the worst experience of my life. Please, please, for the love of [insert here something that’s meaningful to you, like YOUR SON], do not ever do this to a child. Would you tell your child “Be nice, or Mommy might just have to kill herself”? Didn’t think so. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the experiences are exactly alike, but still- don’t threaten your kids. Heck, you probably wouldn’t say “Don’t do fight with your friends! You don’t want Mommy to move you to a new school, do you?” and surely we can agree that moving schools is much less traumatizing for a kid than divorce.

Bottom line: if you want your kid to leave you alone, just say “Can you please leave us alone for [insert time period].”

Consider Checking Out...