NZ Herald 11 October 2016
Family First Comment: “The effect of divorce on children is generally worse than we think, right across the social spectrum …. Divorce is much harder for children than a lot of adults realise.”
When no-fault divorce laws were passed, nobody ever asked “what effect will this have on children?”
It’s the same question that was never answered by those pushing same-sex marriage laws.
Splitting Up – A Child’s Guide To A Grown Up Problem, published by UK law firm Mishcon de Reya in collaboration with children’s charity Place2Be, makes deeply painful reading with its tales of distress, anger, self-blame and humiliation – all, for the first time, in the voices of the children themselves.
Yet psychotherapist Dr Stephen Adams-Langley, the charity’s senior clinical consultant, says they are fairly typical. “The effect of divorce on children is generally worse than we think, right across the social spectrum,” he says. “Divorce is much harder for children than a lot of adults realise.”
Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that the anxiety reported by these children isn’t remotely uncommon, according to Dr Adams-Langley.
Neither is the ignorance, or blinkered self-delusion, of the parents inflicting these “wounds without bruises”.
“Unhappy parents practise a number of self-deceptions that can have damaging effects,” says Dr Adams-Langley. “They might think, for example, that it’s possible to keep a failing marriage secret from children if the arguing is done when kids are in bed.
“Or that pre-schoolers don’t understand what’s going on and, therefore, can’t be affected by domestic strife. Both are myths.”
How to ease the impact on kids
Of course, there are good ways of handling a split. “Divorce is rarely a good thing for children, but it doesn’t have to be damaging,” says Sandra.
“If a child is comfortable and isn’t anxious, if they are involved in all the plans and they know that their life won’t be turned upside down – and that they won’t be used as a go-between – then they’re more likely to emerge from it unscathed.”
In first meetings with divorcing parents, Sandra asks them to show her a photo of the children, and then places it in full view on the table while discussions progress, “so that the children remain uppermost in our minds”.
If all parents followed this basic level of good practice, says Dr Adams-Langley, children might be spared an anguish they simply don’t deserve.
“Bad divorces are a huge problem for children’s emotional well-being. We have to have compassion and respect for the grown-ups involved, but they also have to be the bigger people.
“What I always say to parents is: ‘Let your love for your child be greater than the dislike or hate you feel for your former partner.'”
Sadly, in many cases – as these children testify – such obviously wise advice appears too hard to follow.
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