The silent pain of children torn apart
The ongoing saga of the mother who was thrown in prison – and then given a presidential pardon – for denying access to her son’s father, upsets me immensely.
It is not the mother-in-a-cell image that I find disturbing, nor do I feel sorry for the father who claims to be deprived of a relationship with his son. But I am terribly upset for the son, who has lived his life in a parental battlefield and has missed out on his childhood, with even his Christmases turning out to be scenes of arguments.
I’m hesitant to write about this. I have been through a separation myself, and I have a child, and I am afraid of parting with too much of myself when writing about it.
But the fact is that this story reflects a very crucial aspect of our society, which we repeatedly fail to acknowledge: separations and divorces are taking place (or not, because parents sometimes decide to stay unhappily together for the sake of the child – an absurd idea, if ever there was one) and in the midst of all the long drawn-out conflicts, it’s the children who are suffering.
Parents have to understand that children will always love them both, equally. Children – and I wish I could put this on a billboard and paste it all over the island instead of those foolish electoral ones – should never be made to choose between one parent and another. It literally tears them apart.
A friend of mine grew up with his parents arguing all the time. Then they’d confide in him and expect him to take sides. “Every time one of them tried to turn me against the other, it broke my heart in tiny pieces,” he says.
And I see it happening around me all the time. Children cannot and should not be adults’ confidants: that’s what peers are for.
Which is why when the mother of ‘Duncan’ (as he has been nicknamed by The Times) said: “I didn’t say good things but neither did I say anything bad”, my heart sank. You can’t go about your daily life, ignoring the second most important person in your child’s life.
As a parent, it is our job to encourage a positive relationship with the child’s other parent. It’s not about fake-praising the other parent – it’s about acknowledging their presence. Because no matter how terrible the pain of the break-up was, the burden of that pain is the parents’ and theirs only to carry, not the child’s.
Let me state this clearly: it is not easy to keep your wits about you and not be engulfed in the bitter fighting. It is tough.
There are long stretches of time where, as an ex-wife or ex-husband, you are a mess, because let’s face it, no separation can be really amicable except in Hugh Grant movies. It takes years to get back on your feet – and to let your heart out of the little jar where you put it in for safe keeping.
I was, perhaps, lucky. When I was separating I was blessed with two soulful lawyers. They guided me and helped me to put my life back on track and their advice is still serving me well six years down the line, and for that I shall be eternally grateful.
I also had the benefit of hindsight from friends who had gone through the separation of their parents. A friend of mine only saw her dad at intervals because he lived abroad: “I was lucky I could negotiate these things openly, and talk to both parents about what I wanted to do, and so I was very positive about living in two households. It was all very democratic,” she said.
But without the proper support structure, is not easy to keep your focus on the child.
It makes me very angry when I think of all that money wasted on the divorce campaign. The islands’ authorities – and that includes the Church and the Government – would have done a better service to our community if they rolled up their sleeves and used the money for a campaign to help couples to separate in the most decent manner possible.
Which means putting an end to decades of conflict, which is about the saddest thing I can ever think of: to spend long years hating someone’s guts rots your soul to the very core.
Let no one be a doormat: everyone should get the rights which are rightfully theirs. However, separating parents should have two simple aims: to ensure that they don’t end up bitter and to keep the children’s serenity as their priority.
We owe it to ourselves and to our children because they will be the future parents, and whatever example of parenthood we’re passing on now will be their legacy.