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For better or worse?

The good news is that I won't be talking budget; the bad news is that I'm going to join the divorce debate. Frankly, I am fed up with reading articles and listening to people going on about the trauma flung upon kids when their parents separate.

Yes of course it's a trauma, but isn't it more of a trauma for kids to live day in day out with a couple who fervently hate each other's guts; or worse, parents who are totally indifferent to each other?

There was a national sharp intake of breath when a survey revealed recently that about 37 per cent of Maltese schoolchildren live with a single parent. When compared with data of only six years ago - when 92 per cent of children lived with both natural parents - this was deemed as 'a figure which shatters the perception that Malta has a strong family core.'

Yes, the traditional mum-dad-and-two-kids-plus-dog family has been shattered. But my question is this: Does that mean that the family unit has been shattered? I doubt it.

In truth, kids are fine as long as they have a primary carer parent who is a constant in their life. If this primary carer has the backing of a strong extended family, and if it means that kids are growing up in a more tranquil environment, then we should be celebrating this news.

As islanders, we like to hide behind our religion. People who claim to be scandalised by the divorce issue throw about moral and spiritual arguments that make me want to shout "out of order, your honour."

If you are Catholic and abide by your religion, then divorce needn't be the 'big bad wolf'. It would just be another civil law. Nobody is going to make you get one if you don't want it. Of course, being Catholic is still no guarantee against a painfully failed marriage but in that case you can always go for a Church annulment.

Maybe we are afraid of divorce because it would then be evident that, in reality, we're not the practicing Catholics we'd like to think we are. Or maybe we are still blinkered by social stigmas. About a year ago, I was present at a Mass where the village youth group performed a couple of roleplays.

Two situations were acted out: a wife beater who finally saw the error of his ways was forgiven by the wife and they lived happily ever after; and a daughter of a separated couple was 'abandoned' at her nanna's while the mother frolicked with a boyfriend.

By the end I was seething, because it was so clear to me that women in our society are still perceived as the ones who have to forgive and compromise their happiness. If they don't follow this path, we promote the perception that separated parents are irresponsible.

The roleplays were sadly put up by teenagers, which makes you think whether this is the message we're putting across. Is this the way we are training our future adults - by instilling in them the fear of social stigmas?

Our main concern is what the neighbours think. But here's a fact: people always gossip, even if you're a saint. And yes, it's hard on kids.

But then that's why we are parents - to give our children the tools to deal effectively with the blows of life. We cannot protect children from the ways of the world, otherwise they won't survive in the real world.

Staying in a marriage because of the kids is totally not on. We stay in a marriage because we fully love, respect and trust the other person. It's time we admitted to ourselves that we might not yet have divorce in this country, but if one counts the separation statistics then we're pretty much there with the rest of the world.

It doesn't matter if we're not yet ready for divorce. What's important is that as a society we look at the harsh reality and stop being concerned about having families which look perfect on the outside but in reality are a shambles. That's what is really damaging to kids.

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