A Family Breakup Affects Us All
By Jill Curtis
Author of Making and Breaking Families, The Way Ahead for Parents and their Children.
You know, and I know, of many couples with children who have divorced or have separated. No one needs to be reminded of the number of men, women and children who have, or who are, experiencing the breakup of their family.
Divorce is no longer an issue which can remain in the family. It becomes more than a private matter between the couple involved as the children, other family members and friends all become affected by the fall out. The ripples spread far and wide. The shock waves begin to be felt, and it is upsetting to hear another family has been torn in half. If one, or both partners have been talking to close friends or relations, it can be a delicate path for friends to decide whether to come down on one side or the other. The urge to put one of the partners in the role of a villain can be tempting, but the reality is that this does not help anyone. Be a sympathetic ear, by all means, but if you are truly a friend, then an honest appraisal of the situation may be the most helpful.
There are periods either prior to or during the breakup of a family when the children, of every age, do need to talk to someone outside of the immediate circle. Children afraid of hurting either their mother or father may be left with unanswered questions, and this is where a grandparent or other close relation can step in. There are ways of helping children to put their anxieties into words. Often a gentle open-ended question couched in a non-threatening way can open up the floodgates and be a great relief for children who are bursting to ask what is happening and even what is going to happen to them if their parents part.
The time has passed when we as adults could fool ourselves by saying children don't notice what is going on, or that children are resilient and will cope with a major upheaval in their life. Children are affected deeply by changes within their family. They do need to know what is happening and to be told in an age-appropriate way.
Teachers, and other carers, can play a very important part at this time. Hopefully they will have been informed by the parents of the family situation and can keep a special eye upon a child who is having to cope with a difficult time at home. A skillful teacher or baby-sitter can help by keeping a distracted or depressed child involved in an activity. I have been told that some teachers, aware of the home situation, may send a brief note home with a child to comment on how the well the child has coped at school that day. Children who have to move between one parent and another at weekends may show some of the strain on a Monday, often exhibiting signs of exhaustion or anxiety. Only by being kept informed by the parents of the ongoing situation can the carer or teacher be on the lookout for these signs, and be able to interpret them correctly.
Keep an eye, too, on other children in the family. If a cousin's mother or father can leave, and not take their children, what is to keep their own family safe? Again, according to age, children will need an explanation of what is happening to their cousins. It may be a time when they need extra reassurance and demonstrative love from their own parents. Remember that children talk amongst themselves and the version of events your children hear may not be an accurate but one colored by the misunderstandings of the children involved.
A divorce in any family is a signal for us all to rally around. Because there are now more marital breakups it does not mean that each and everyone is in any way less painful. When any family is in the centre of a crisis, it is up to all of us to help in any way we can. After all, the children are our future and deserve our undivided attention and support. It is our collective responsibility to protect the children involved in divorce, whose foundations will have been rocked. The adults may well be divorcing each other and not the children, but it won't feel like that to them.
Jill Curtis is a psychotherapist and author of Making and Breaking Families, The Way Ahead for Parents and their Children.
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A Family Breakup Affects Us All
Monday, 12 January 2009
A Family Breakup Affects Us All By Jill Curtis Author of Making and Breaking Families, The Way Ahead for Parents and their Children. ...