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‘My parents are happier apart’

Photo: Jason Borg

Photo: Jason Borg

Sarah Mallia tells Kristina Chetcuti that children adapt to different situations.

Sarah Mallia was on the brink of teenage-hood when her parents separated.

At 13, it was a shock for her and her 10-year-old sister. However, they were not surprised, considering that for the previous two years, the house had been full of tension and constant arguments, she says.

“All of a sudden your parents are not together anymore and they are basically living two different lives. Of course it’s a shock.”

However, she says, as the months passed by, everybody adapted.

“As children, our lives kind of sorted themselves out, and we realised we were better off with our parents separated – they were happier, and as a result we were happier.”

This is something she believes in: If parents are not happy, then neither are their children.

“After they separated, I never wanted them to get back together. For me it meant more happiness (to see) them apart,” she says.

This has made her appreciate that there is life after separation. Once the decision was taken, she says her mother and father were mature enough to understand that the children needed the presence of both parents and worked out a way so that neither would miss out on quality time.

In recent years, Ms Mallia has made the choice to live permanently with her mother in Rabat; however, for several years she divided her time between the two households.

“It didn’t particularly bother me, it was only when I got older that I felt the need to have a more solid base, and they are both very understanding of my decision,” she says.

Both her parents have now settled down with other partners, both of whom she “loves a lot”. She points at a painting of her father’s partner gracing the living room.

Does her mother not mind?

“No, as if. They have both moved on. My parents weren’t meant to be together. I see love now, when I see them with their partners. Before I couldn’t see it,” she says.

Ms Mallia points out she is not ‘pro-divorce “Divorce and separation are very ugly things,” she says, “but in certain situations they are the right thing.”

She believes society needs to stop being hypocritical.

“People work very hard to keep a marriage going; the last thing people want is to break up the family,” she says.

In fact, she does not subscribe to the argument that couples would have a laxer commitment to marriage if the divorce law goes through:

“People work their utmost to save a relationship, let alone a marriage.”

Does she feel, having lived through her parents’ separation, that divorce would be painful for kids?

“It’s not the divorce which would be painful but the actual break-up,” she says, stressing that for children there is a lot of pain even if their parents’ stay together in an unhappy marriage.

What of the social impact on children with parents who are no longer together? Had she ever stood out because her parents were separated?

She laughs: “Nowadays we are not in a minority at all. I have several friends whose parents are separated. It’s hard to be bullied just because your parents are separated,” she says.

Would divorce curb the space offered by separation for couples to reflect and work hard to get back together?

“Yes, it’s true, separation is a space which allows for people to get back together, but let’s face it, how many actually get back together?”

She believes that if people wanted to reunite, whether divorced or separated, they would do so.

Moreover, for children, divorce would signify the end of the line: “At least children would stop hoping that their parents are going to get back together, and would be able to move on,” she says.

Ms Mallia insists that divorce is not only about getting remarried but also about ending a marriage.

“In Malta’s eyes my parents are still married. Why should they be labelled ‘poġġuti’? Why can’t they ever have the rights and security of a married couple?”

“It’s about commitment at the end of the day. If people want to commit, they will. My parents’ commitment to their partners is still going strong after so many years.”

She believes that by rejecting divorce, society would be denying some people the opportunity to have a loving relationship. “Are we going to tell the husband or wife who has been betrayed, that they can never find love again? Sometimes you just don’t find the person you’re supposed to be with first time round.”

Ms Mallia, who is reading psychology, says that love and relationships are a fundamental part of our lives which should never be denied: “Do we want a society made up of unhappy people?”

Has the breakdown of her parents’ marriage put her off this lifetime commitment?

“No,” she says decisively. “I would like one day to be able to say that I want to be with a person for the rest of my life. If I look around me I see there are a lot of marriages that succeed.”

Ms Mallia considers herself as a very spiritual person and strongly upholds good and civil morals: “Remarriage doesn’t remotely go against my morals. If anything it’s a value,” she says.

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