Six Degrees of Separation
Christine talks parents
When I was a kid, I loved going to neighbors BBQ’s, where a friend’s parent would host the evening’s entertainment. I loved the welcoming and familial atmosphere, along with the mouthwatering smell of meat being grilled (apologies to any vegetarian readers out there!) It was only later in life, when I hit the late teenage years that I realised why I craved and enjoyed those events so much.
My mam and dad split up when I was nine. Although they provided myself and my siblings with both love and security to the best of their ability, there was a prevalent feeling of tension and discontent within the family home. Arguments were a given. Family holidays, although they had their good moments, were overall a disaster. All in all, there wasn’t particularly a great sense of ‘family life’. The neighborhood BBQ’s gave me this sense of feeling. Two parents, outwardly anyway displaying a TEAM effort – now THIS was a sight that made me feel…well…safe and happy.
In a home where their is constant conflict, you do not feel 100% secure. Okay, I felt ‘safe’ in the sense that I had a home, my parents were financially secure and I knew that they did love me. However arguments between parents carry with them an undeniable sense of unpredictability into the home. One minute there is quiet and the next, two people are blue in the face from shouting at each other. There can possibly be physical violence (thankfully this was not the case between my parents) and/or objects thrown or smashed. All in all not a very good environment for a child to be living in.
However, marriage separation, which may ultimately be the final outcome of a marriage where there is conflict on a daily basis, can also cause a child further distress – if it is not handled appropriately by the parents. For example, a child can be placed as a pawn between the two adults by one of the parents, or both. Anger and bitterness are two toxic emotions, and when exposed to a child, can really wear down their sense of safety in the world.
Unfortunately, I was exposed to a large portion of these emotions following my parent’s separation. It resulted in countless arguments with one particular parent, and ultimately feelings of disappointment, frustration and distress. Yet, having gone through my own relationship breakdowns, I can see that break ups are not black and white affairs. Anger, in particular, is an emotion many of us feel when something we have invested so much of ourselves in doesn’t work out. So, is it bordering on unrealistic to expect the child to not be exposed to some form of hurt/bitterness from either side?
I think a lot of children (including adult children) feel as if their familial situation is completely out of their control. However, we need to remember that our parents are not perfect and that sometimes in life, they will have their own opinions/discontentment about their relationships and may not be able to keep these to themselves. Therefore, we need to make a stand when their behavior is upsetting us.
My advice? If you’re parents are splitting up, and you find yourself stuck in the middle, write them both a letter explaining how the position they are putting you in is making you feel. Try not to be accusatory, but at the same time state your case. Our parents are only human, and thankfully in the vast majority of cases they do not set out to intentionally cause us stress or pain, so make them sit up and take notice of how their actions are making you feel. Of course you will want to support your parents during this time; however this should not be to the detriment of your wellbeing.
Another tip would be to not enter into any negative discussion with either parent about the other. If you have already explained to your parents how you feel, either verbally or through a letter, and they continue to talk negatively about each other, then say nothing. Leave the room. Put down the phone. Disable the Skype connection. Whatever it takes. You don’t have to be a constant soundboard for either of your parents when they conduct a character assassination on the other parent just because they are hurting.
In all likelihood, you will love both your parents equally no matter who is at ‘fault’ for the breakdown of their relationship, and you should not have to listen to such vitriol or be in put in the position of having to defend the talked about party. Remember that just because someone is your parent, you don’t have to have a relationship with them if they are not willing to respect YOU and YOUR feelings. You are within your rights to take a break from them or to keep a distance if their actions are damaging to you. So please, don’t feel guilty if you are left with no other option but to temporarily cease communication with your parents during this time. They will likely miss you very much and look to themselves for the reason of your lack of communication. This will hopefully result in their attitude changing.
Finally, talk to someone. It’s such an obvious one, yet so many of us fail to do it out of fear or embarrassment. Our Census released two years ago found that the number of divorced and separated couples increased by 22.3% between 2006 and 2011, so remember that you are not alone. This isn’t the 1950s where people view marriage breakdown as a taboo subject. Its part of life. Unfortunately some would say, but ultimately what good does a marriage full of conflict do for anyone?