If the main reason you are putting off separating or divorcing from your other half is because you are - understandably - worried about the effect this might have on your children, then a recent poll by the organisation Resolution may just make you think again.
Conducted last year, the organisation for family lawyers, which champions a non-confrontational attitude to family law, found that 82 per cent of children they interviewed aged 14 to 22 said they would have preferred their parents to separate rather than live together in an unhappy relationship. That’s a huge number and not surprising when you realise that one third of children who responded said they would have preferred to witness their parents not criticising each other in front of them.
One of the 514 young people interviewed whose parents had either separated or divorced responded by saying: “Children will often realise, later on, that it was for the best.” We reckon this attitude is far more common than parents realise. And actually, as children gain maturity, it becomes a reassuringly familiar refrain.
Even Resolution’s chairperson Jo Edwards echoed this by stating: “Despite the common myth that it’s better to stay together for the sake of the kids, most children would rather their parents divorce than remain in an unhappy relationship.”
Are our children more resilient than we believe?
So what does this mean? Does it point to the fact that children are more resilient than many of us allow ourselves to even consider? Or even that our offspring understand the benefits of separation more than we think they do?
Unlike when many of us now in our 30s or 40s went to school, the classroom of today isn’t packed with children from nuclear families. Quite the opposite, believe it or not. In fact, often the child who isn’t from a ‘blended ‘ family can actually end up feeling like the outsider. In other words, many children today – whether rightly or wrongly - see separation and divorce as ‘a way of life.’
But that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable, of course. There are countless mediation services out there to consult. Sometimes though - especially when it comes to physical or mental abuse - separation and divorce is the only sensible and safe option for both parents and children. And no-one is disputing that.
Children want more say in their parents’ divorce/separation
Meanwhile, another survey, this time from the government’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed that 60 per cent of children interviewed said their parents hadn’t consulted them enough when it came to splitting up. This was mostly to do with which parent they ended up living with. Again, not surprisingly, a huge number – 88 per cent – said they had no choice in this matter. This is understandably a major issue for children. Why should this be? Do children still automatically stay with mum – and why? Do dads not feel they can cope? The jury is out…
Divorce and separation will never be the fault of children
The big fear for most parents when it comes to separating is that the child believes it’s ‘their fault’ ie that perhaps if they’d been better behaved their parents wouldn’t have split up, or if their school reports had shown greater progress it would have made a difference to the outcome. That’s because children often aren’t mature enough to form rational beliefs. And which is why they must be told over and over again that the separation and divorce is nothing to do with how they’ve acted or what they’ve said.
A telling outcome to the Resolution report was that one third of children interviewed said they’d have liked their parents to consider how they, as the child of the warring party, felt.
Do Dads suffer most after separation?
Which parental relationship suffers the most after a separation? According to this report it’s the father-child. In fact, most children feel it’s the uncertainty around their own future that leads to stress amongst children, rather than the divorce itself, according to many marriage guidance counsellors.
Parenting expert Sue Atkins insists it is the lack of knowledge around what’s happening with their parents divorce or separation in terms of what that means for them which leads to children feeling confused and disempowered.
Official ONS figures show there were 111,169 divorces in 2014 (the latest statistics). That represented a fall of 3.1% compared with the previous year and a decline of 27% from a peak in 2003.
The number of divorces in 2014 was highest among men aged 45 to 49 and women aged 40 to 44, which suggests any children involved were older (at least of primary school age).
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Psychiatrists have published a factsheet for parents about the effect on mental health for children of divorced and separated children. Advice includes reminding children both parents still love them and that the responsibility for what it happening is not theirs. Practical tips include reassuring children it’s ok to ask questions and reassuring them that both parents love them. Reliability is a biggie too – when a parent says he or she will turn up they should to reassure the child that they can trust what their parents say – despite all the turmoil.
But possibly the biggest issue is to let children know that you’re listening to their views but that the final decision lies with the parents.