Sunday 30 November 2014

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

I have mentioned here before my parents’ divorce when I was a teenager. What I haven’t done is give details of the long, tortuous process their separation was. One reason is simple to understand: what I reveal about my personal life is I want other people to know. To me there is still such a thing as privacy. The second reason is that the leading characters in what was a three-actor play are still alive and kicking and although my parents can’t speak English (my dad can mumble a bit in it) I wouldn’t like anyone to translate a post in which they are misrepresented. The third reason is that I am still trying to come to terms with what happened in the build-up to my parents’ marital disintegration and the conflicts that ensued thereafter. This post addresses this very third reason.

The trigger for this column was the results of a recent survey published this week by an association of family lawyers called Resolution. Its chief focus was on the damage divorce does to children. According to the poll, some of the harmful effects to youngsters caused by separation were an increase in drug consumption and academic failure, amongst others.

I agree with the study in principle. But I would have also liked to have seen a link between an unhappy marriage and the same effects described above in relation to divorce. Whilst parents splitting up permanently can be detrimental to the mental, physical and spiritual health of a young person, a marriage where there is a lack of respect is equally poisonous.

Think of the little people, please
 When I look back on my childhood, I remember seeing around me friends whose parents had separated. With the sole exception of two (including me), the majority of my mates lived in single households. At that point I had close to twenty friends, enough for two baseball teams with a couple of pinch-hitters on the bench. They felt jealous of me on account of my status as the child with the – still – two married parents, but I saw no reason for their envy since I was the only one who knew what was going on at home. What went on at home was a mix of hostility, rowing, bickering and cheating (my dad on my mum). The fact that this situation stretched for three or four years made it worse. This is, I believe, where the sanctity of the marriage institution comes into question: is it better for a couple to stay together for the sake of their children or go their separate ways and stay on good terms? Resolution’s survey does not address this issue, but why should they? Imagine polling the same amount of young people who averred to psychological, emotional and physical trauma as a consequence of their parents’ divorce and asking them what the situation was like when their folks were still together. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to find out that the damage started earlier, probably long before family lawyers got involved.

My experience was far from unique. I have spoken to other people who survived marital breakdown when they were younger and most of us seem to arrive at the conclusion that when our parents finally read the last rites to their relationship we felt liberated. I know it sounds selfish and unfair but the almost absolute silence that greeted me at home eevry day after my dad upped sticks and moved with his mistress was soothing. That the din that eventually replaced the peace was a combination of my adolescent hormones conflicting with my mother’s anxiety is not relevant to this post today.

When it comes to divorce and its effects on youngsters, I think that sometimes people rush to make comments that lack empirical evidence, either because they are after a soundbite or because deep down they want to uphold the values and morals of institutions they still regard highly, i.e., marriage. It is fair to say that there are amicable separations in which there is minimum damage to children and marital unions that are really a sham. The latter ends up causing more harm and hurt than we might think. That is one survey whose results I would like to see.

© 2014

Next Post: “Killer Opening Songs”, to be published on Wednesday 3rd December at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. A delicate subject, Cuban. If I had to choose I would opt for peace and quite with a single parent but it's not that simple,is it?. In my days with the Probation Service I did a certain amount of work with the Divorce Courts where great efforts were made to ensure children of broken marriages were given - almost - as much consideration as their parents when settling a divorce. Certainly their welfare was uppermost in the minds of welfare officers. Unfortunately, no-one can ease the path or pain, not even for those on supervision orders.

  2. First of all, apologies for the little glitches. Since yesterday blogger has been playing up. If you are on wordpress, I have left a comment on your blog which you might or might not have read. For some reason when i comment on wordpress using my blogger ID my comment does not come up.

    Thanks for your comment, Valerie. This is indeed a very delicate subject. There were many things I left out on purpose. It's only as a grown-up and after undergoing counselling that I was able to deal with some of the hurt caused in my childhood and early teenage years. Sometimes I have heard school staff who work in secondary schools referring to certain children as "outstanding" or "proper" or "well-behaved" for being the first to turn up at the school gates. Sometimes these children are there way before the school opens. Based on my own experience I know that in many of these cases the school is the only refuge these children can find. Being extra-early has nothing to do with loving school (very often these children lag behind academically), but all to do with the atmosphere at home. They can't wait to get out.

    Greetings from London.

  3. I've seen some pretty nasty divorces in my day, especially with my parents. But I was old enough not to care as I was almost out of the house anyway lol

  4. i echo your feelings on growing up in an unhealthy relationship...what are the kids learning then...and if no one is going to step up and try to make a difference in the relationship then it is dead anyway...and it becomes a futile effort to stay together for the kids sake....

  5. Creo que crecer en un hogar que no reina el amor, el respecto y la paz en un matrimonio es tan malo como vivir en un hogar roto por el divorcio, marca a la persona seguramente.
    También depende en la edad que se vive la separación o más bien el no llevarse bien en una pareja.
    Un feliz domingo.

  6. Hello greetings.

    Very thought provoking post. My views on the subject is as follows.

    People who cannot adjust and live together for life should not get married and have children. My parents did have enough quarrels with each other on silly things, but they stayed together and brought us up. They are both dead now, my father died first and then my mother. We are all grown up and well settled although we felt very uneasy and upset when they fought.

    The children are parents responsibility and therefore it their responsibility to make sure that the children are comfortable and happy although they don't get along. Mature parents understand this but irresponsible parents don't.

    What is the solution. I saw a quote in the Face Book. It said that girls are nice and good but wives are nasty because God made girls and man made wives.

    Best wishes

  7. John Donne wrote: "No man is an island, entire of itself ...."

    He was sort of right, but we each are an island, too, with our own experiences which shape and mold us as individuals. I grew up without a father, my parents having divorced about the time I began school and having separated even a few years before that event. As a result, I have few memories of a father and, although there were occasions when it was difficult or embarrassing to be fatherless, I often say I had a perfect childhood and a happy one growing up in a house with a mother and grandparents. There were few arguments and no real fights involving anyone -- at least, until I entered my teen years and became a bit rebellious.

    My contemporaries who had fathers often had difficulties, some not unlike those you describe, CiL. The children who I actually felt badly about were those who lost their fathers somewhere along the way through death. In some respects, they lost both parents because the mother was gone from the home more often under such situations for educational and work-related reasons. This happened to one of my three best friends when he was fourteen, and I think boyhood friendship was the only thing that kept him going until he adjusted.

    We each play the cards we are dealt.

    You are in a thought-provoking mood these days, CiL, and have produced another interesting post.

  8. I am certain that you are right. A toxic relationship is bad for everyone in the vicinity - and worse I think for the children who are caught up in it with no power to change any of it. 'Staying together for the children' used to be considered the right thing to do - but I wonder. I suspect it often did more damage. More insidious damage.

  9. In the ideal world, a child wouldn't have to endure a divorce or a toxic relationship between parents. You do a good job or exploring this difficult terrain.

  10. I was brought up by parents who should have walked away from each other long before I arrived on the scene. (Well, to be honest, my mother should have left my father. He was a bully and could see nothing wrong with that.)

    And then I divorced from my first husband when the girls were 10 and 11. Oh the guilt - but we both worked so hard at keeping things civil for the girls and now we are good friends. (We were always better at being friends than being married.)

    Then I remarried, imported stepdaughters, and then my second husband died. That was truly crap. But I'm so proud of the resilience of my daughters. They've not had the childhood i would have wanted for them - but they cannot have doubted that they were loved. (I'm not sure my father was capable of love.)

  11. I totally agree. I divorced my first husband specifically because I didn't want my daughter growing up in simmering hostility and unhappiness. Despite her initial resentment, I have never regretted it and now that she's older, she understands. My parents were like yours, arguing, backbiting throughout my childhood. I remember wishing they would divorce but they never did. (catholic) They are still together and locked into their old patterns that have softened with old age. I believe they would have been better off separated but it wasn't my decision to make. I made mine and know it was for the best for all parties involved.

  12. A delicate subject for me, and I like Joseph's comment. My parents separated when I was just 9 years old...and I was (and am) an only child. It wasn't easy, but there was no longer any yelling going on and there was indeed peace.

    I was married for 15 years (1983-1998), have no children, and my husband was the one who decided he wanted a divorce after 15 and a half years.

    Since then, I have moved on with my life, and he married a second time, and this time his wife divorced him. He is now in his third marriage.

    Not having wanted to go through another marriage I decided to not remarry.

  13. Thanks for your kind comments.

    I,too, am an only child - just to my mother, mind - so I think that maybe that was a factor in her thinking when it came to decide whether to stay or to go. By the way, the "stay or to go" was down to my dad as he had to share our flat with my late nane, my auntie and her daughter. I think that lack of privacy in our house was an element of discord between my folks.

    Have a great week you all. Thanks for your contributions, they really mean a lot.

    If you are on wordpress, don't think that I haven't visited your blog. I just tried now again and my comments have not come up at all. Sorry.

    Greetings from London.

  14. Hi--First, I am so sorry that I missed all of your comments at my site--they were going into Spam, which I don't check very often, and I was getting no notification of them at all. I don't know why that happens--at any rate, thanks very much for your persistence! As well as your very kind words.

    Now to your thoughtful post--these are such hard questions--I myself am divorced, and I am pretty sure that there was greater peace at home than in the time leading up to the separation. That said, it was terribly painful for my children, and really I felt very badly that it happened. (It was not really in my control.) They have both done well, but these are such traumatic things--especially as they are often followed with real economic breakdowns too--(not always, but sometimes certainly--it is hard to support two households.)

    I guess it has a lot to do with the reasons for the break-up and the aftermath--some people get themselves into nearly identical situations, but without the parental loyalty in the second spouse--that can be so terrible.

    And I think some people just divorce too readily. But I do not say that was your parents' case! Just that I think people do need to understand that sometimes the separation relates to things about themselves as well as the spouse--though I don't know if I'd apply to my situation. (Ha!) anyway, thanks so much for your thoughtful posts. K.

  15. Indeed a very thought-provoking post and quite a sad one. There is no (good) answer, but I would say that perhaps parents who have to display their conflict in front of the children are selfish and even cruel. Another thing that I find cruel for everybody and seems to be the norm here in Quebec, is shared custody; the child being torn between the two parents, a few days with one then a few days with the other, and so on. Then such a life feels normal to the child and it feels tormal to him to repeat in his own adulthood what he's seen as a child.
    Greetings from Montreal :-)

  16. Definitely an interesting subject. I am lucky that my parents have remained married to this day. But you are right in that many of my friends had single parent homes and I was looked at as "lucky". I think it is really sad to see a marriage break down which is why I want to be absolutely certain before I say "I do!"

  17. I was one of the few in my class at school who lived with both parents. However, I can't claim to have had a particularly happy home life. My parents were almost continually bickering, and to make matters worse, my brother and I were often expected to take sides - which was the last thing either of us wanted to do!
    I have to admit to wishing they would go their separate ways when things became really bad - if only to give us some peace...rather a selfish attitude in retrospect!
    Perhaps here lies the reason I have always been rather cautious when forming relationships...

  18. ".. sometimes people rush to make comments that lack empirical evidence." That is so true on so many topics from your delicate subject here to politics, religion, etc. A fine post.

  19. I feel very blessed that my ex and I parted on very amicable terms and remain good friends through fifteen estranged years and a few relationships each. He is still the man I trust more than any in this world. Our sons spend family time with each of us apart and together. Both his family and mine still include the other in events. We get along with each others significant others and I can honestly say we've never felt distaste for one another. It is my belief that our kids suffered less because of our respect for one another than they would have if we had had a toxic relationship and/or breakup.

    That having been said, I have seen others divorces and the turmoil it has caused the kids.. even adult or near-adult kids. I've seen damage done by one parent badmouthing the other in front of, or to the kids. I think that it's beyond selfish and cruel.. no matter how true the words may be. A parent is a parent for life - regardless of how long they stay a husband or wife. That sort of rhymed but it was unintentional. ;)

    Good thought-provoking post.

  20. I was a child of divorce--but they divorced when I was 5. I think there are worst things that can happen to a child. Verbally/physically abusive fathers, parents who fight constantly where the children can hear, dads who never, ever come home because they're always "working"...that sort of thing. I often wonder if children who grow up without any adversity at all actually benefit from that... If I'd always had everything handed to me, I doubt I would have tried as hard as I did to get published despite many rejections.

  21. I wonder if parents should indirectly try to ascertain their kids' views on their divorce before deciding whether to go ahead (assuming the kids are old enough to have formed an opinion that is). Children are very good at sensing underlying dynamics, and as you say I believe they usually know if the situation actually is intolerable. So often I suspect that people divorce over horrible but essentially temporary storms, they are infatuated with someone, or their pride is hurt, etc. - issues which are not a good basis for wrecking their kids lives. What bothers me more is actually that many parents don't pay enough attention to issues about intrroducing step parents. I know that there are many wonderful ones, but the only two dreadful examples of child abuse I've seen in my own circles both involved jealous stepmothers who felt nothing was too bad for their wretched step child, in each case their main fault was competing with her or her own kids in some way.

  22. So true - sometimes people forget how these things can affect the children.

  23. Luckily, these days there's not as much stigma on divorce, which has likely saves a many a child from an extremely unhappy home.

  24. I appreciate your tact and honesty on this issue. Divorce is stressful but so is living among unhappiness, especially if there is domestic violence. My friends whose parents divorced grew up well and have married happily. Divorce is more ubiquitous these days, but I wish people wouldn't be so judgemental about these personal choices. I am lucky to grow up with parents in a happy marriage and have that for myself now.

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