KIDS AND DIVORCE

Divorce Child, a work by Javad Alizadeh, Irani...
Divorce Child, a work by Javad Alizadeh, Iranian artist.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When children see their parents going through a divorce, they can react in many different ways. They can withdraw into themselves or they can exhibit bad behaviour which is difficult to deal with at a time when the parents may be very stressed or at a low ebb physically and mentally. There are strategies to help deal with tantrums, aggression and rudeness, but it takes team work between the parents and other family members.There may also have to be a compromise when it comes to discipline.

Throughout this difficult time, it’s important to see things from the child’s point of view. Children in a situation like this are going through a trauma. The family is breaking up and this is traumatic for everyone but especially for the children. It often leads to deep insecurities that show themselves in aggression, mood swings, bad language and rudeness. When parents let their own anger and bitterness affect their children, things can go from bad to worse.

Try to understand how your children feel. That’s a big ask, but it is essential. Children always feel that because their parents have parted, they are in someway to blame for it. They often fear that the parents may stop loving them because they have stopped loving each other. They feel scared that they might have to choose which parents to live with and feel lost and abandoned when one parent moves out. Bad behaviour can be a cry for help. Children needs to be reassured and know that both parents still love them and that they will never leave them.

However, bad behaviour need not be excused. If you as a parent feel bad about what has happened, it will not help your child to excuse bad behaviour. It won’t make them feel better, if you let them get away with things. Giving in all the time will erode your authority and make children feel even more insecure. They must be able to rely on you as a parent and to know that you are still strong and able to make decisions on their behalf  and for their own good. So gently ticking them off and explaining that you will not tolerate bad behaviour is a proactive thing to do.

Some parents use the good cop/bad cop system when they were a family unit. This doesn’t work after a split. One parents may be too easy going while the other ups the discipline, causing confusion and unhappiness for the children. Parents must sit down and discuss how they will work together and compromise, so that the children feel secure with both of them.

It doesn’t matter what has happened between the two parents, they must present a united front to the kids. This applies to the relationship between the children and any grandparents, too. It is imperative to rise above any bitterness and not criticize the ex-partner or ex-grandparents because to do this just upsets and confuses the children.

Divorce has long-term effects for families. Staying civilised and reasonable is the only way to make sure that children come out of a painful and potentially harmful event without too much long-term damage. Parents need to draw upon all their resources and stay mature and cooperative when making decisions about their children. After all, you may divorce each other but you cannot divorce your children.

 

 

CAN POST TRAUMATIC STRESS RUIN LIVES?

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.
Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Post-traumatic stress is a condition that can creep up on you without you knowing. It’s a serious anxiety disorder that is caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events that happen to you in an unexpected way. There are many events that may cause a person to suffer PTSD. Here are just a few: Being involved in a war or any military conflict where you might see the violent death of others or experience injury yourself, serious road accidents – you may not be physically hurt but the horror of what might have happened can produce PTSD, terrorist attack, personal assault – such as mugging or rape, natural disasters, being held hostage or violent death.

The condition can follow the event immediately, or can happen weeks or years afterwards. PTSD can happen at any time when someone feels extreme fear, horror or helplessness. It does not usually occur after events such as a divorce or the exam failure. The symptoms of the condition can include feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt. The event experience may be relived in flashbacks or nightmares and dreams. Concentrating can become difficult and insomnia may occur.

The symptoms of PTSD may be so serious that they can affect a person’s daily life. Yet that person may be unaware of what he/she is suffering from. They may simply think they are going insane or just not managing their lives properly. PTSD affects up to 30% of people who experience a traumatic event in their life. It can happen at any age and even in childhood. Treatment is available but its success depends on the severity of the symptoms and how soon help is sought after the traumatic event.

It is important never to negate the after-effects of any traumatic event, even if it happened to you months or even years ago. You may not be aware that you need help or you may be being treated for another illness, such as depression. The possibility of PTSD should be carefully investigated when anyone goes to a doctor with symptoms. GP’s are often not trained in recognising the condition and may simply hand out antidepressants. There has been an attempt to raise awareness of PTSD in recent months, because of the number of soldiers returning from Afghanistan with the condition. But how many people realise that a car crash can seriously affect you and produce severe PTSD. The website below can give you help to recognise the symptoms of PTSD.

http://www.moodjuice.scot.nhs.uk/posttrauma.asp

EVERYBODY SING!

Lyn Ferrand

This was me. It feels like a thousand years ago. I was giving a recital of music by Kurt Weill; wonderful songs including one called Schicklgruber which apparently was Hitler‘s real name. In those far off days, I lived to sing. As a four year old child I would sit in the garden and listen to my sister,  a professional opera singer, belting out arias by Verdi or Puccini in our large sitting room. In the summer she would open all the windows and her sweet voice would drift across the garden. She gave up her career to become a wife and mother – that’s what you did in the nineteen fifties and I know she regretted it. I never achieved my goal, to become a serious singer myself. I sang professionally for a bit, but never made it my total focus. I still sing, but only for the sheer joy of it.

Singing is magic. It can raise your spirits in a moment. And everyone can sing. It’s gratifying to see so many choirs springing up, where voices of all ages can have an airing and kids can learn to understand the power of the human voice when combined with other voices or musicians. I have seen singing transform lives. Any good music teacher will know this. Something amazing happens to children when they start to sing together in a choir. Their confidence goes up, their attention in lessons improves, their social interaction with others soars and they become more rounded human beings.

Singing works as we get old, too. I have seen people with quite severe Alzheimer’s disease respond to a song, especially one they heard in their youth. Sudden moments of lucidity can be the wondrous outcome of a singing session. Yet many care homes simply expose their residents to the cacophony of Radio 1 playing endlessly in the background. It is any wonder that the reluctant listeners withdraw into themselves and into the jaws of the disease?

Babies love to be sung to. I sang constantly to all mine. Not just nursery rhymes and children’s songs, but opera. Mozart was a favourite. Now I read that exposing your baby to Mozart’s music can actually improve intelligence. I don’t know if this is true, but it certainly sent them to sleep and made them calm while listening!

Every day, in shops, in lifts (elevators), in many public buildings we are forced to listen to musac; non-stop pop that makes me want to scream. Why can’t we hear the works of the many young and innovative composers that are writing the good stuff today? I am not a music snob. I like much of what is main stream music, but the ear and the mind benefits so much from a wider choice of music if it could be made available.

I will never forget the beauty of my elder sister’s voice. She died in 1989 and I will never hear her sing again, but the memory of those songs, the sound of her voice is locked in my head. When I sing, there is something of her sound in my own voice. Probably on the same genetic map, but subtly different. I sing to my grand children, I sing in the shower, the bath, the garden – God knows what the neighbours make of me! I have joined a choir and sing my heart out once a week at choir practice. I come back uplifted, energised and happy! It’s a cure-all and I love it!

WHAT LIVES ON?

Drury Lane Theatre
Drury Lane Theatre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tragedy in a family is never forgotten. I watched a TV film today, about the commemorative cruise to the place where the Titanic went down 100 hundred years ago on 15th April 1912. My own mother was 12 years old at the time and I remember her telling me how she and her siblings reacted to the news. On the cruise ship that sailed to the exact spot where the great ship hit the iceberg and then sank, were many of the direct descendants of those who lost their lives in that cold, dark ocean all those years ago. It was very moving to see how affected they were, even though they had not known their relatives who perished.

And so it is with all of us. Long before I was born, my mother and father lost two of their children; my brother who died in an accident at the age of two and a sister who died of whooping cough at the age of three years. Those deaths resonate with me as if I had known my sister and brother and been alive at the time. So often, I wonder what my life would have been like, had they lived? I have looked at old and faded black and white photographs of these two babies and felt a huge sense of grief and loss for them and our relationship that never was.

Every day, television shows us war and calamity.  We can turn off the TV and do something else; go to the pub, eat some chocolate, pretend that everything is fine out there. But, after every death, no matter how it happens, there are people grieving and experiencing that overwhelming sense of loss, somewhere. Some people are lucky enough to reach adulthood without ever having to go through the experience of losing someone close. They may be well into middle-age before a parent or grandparent dies. They are very lucky.

Death is a huge mystery. Personally, I don’t think it is the end. That has nothing to do with any religious belief I may hold, or to a desire to see ghosts! I really do think that something, some essence of every one of us, continues, be it in the memories of those left behind, or in the dust of the universe. Perhaps I am being naïve? A dreamer? Maybe losing so many of my family throughout my life has made me desperate to believe in something, anything to ease the grief? Who knows. But sometimes, when I am feeling very low, as we all do at certain times, I feel my father at my side. I can’t explain the feeling, I just know he is there.

Maybe that is why those people on the cruise ship were so moved when they reached the place where their relatives died, in the middle of the Atlantic ocean? Maybe the essence of those who lost their lives on that terrible night, is still there? It can be so comforting to feel this; to feel that the loneliness of being alive can be in some part, assuaged by the sensation that those you loved and who would have loved you, even if you never met them, are still, in some form, there…

I remember a story I heard when I was a small child. I had a sister who was an actress. She was in a show that was playing at Drury Lane Theatre, in London. The theatre is supposed to have many ghosts and to be haunted. One afternoon, between the matinée and the evening performances, the chorus girls and boys decided to hold a séance in the Green Room. My sister, a staunch Catholic, refused initially, to take part. But she was young and easily persuaded to join the fun. With the group, she put her finger on the upturned glass on the table and waited for the glass to move towards the letters of the alphabet placed in a circle around the table. Much to her horror, the glass did move and after a ten minutes or so, the letters it moved  towards were indecipherable. Just as the group was about to give up, the letters of the name of one of our cousins, who was Italian and lived in Italy, was spelt out. Following the name, was a date, a few days earlier. My sister had kept quiet about her Italian heritage – it was just after the war and the Italians in the UK were looked upon as enemies. Everyone round the table wondered who the person with the Italian name could be. My sister remained silent. That night, after the show and when she returned home, she told my mother, who dismissed it and told her off for taking part in such nonsense. The following day, a telegram arrived. The cousin named had died, on the very day that had been spelt out.

It took some time for the family to recover from this and the death of this relative, who was only 40 years old when she died. The story was told to me when I reached my teens. I still feel the loss of that cousin, although I never knew her. Somewhere, she lives on. You could say, she lives on because I have this story in my head? I think there is more to it. That is too simplistic for me. Ancient people worshiped their dead ancestors  and respected their memory. Today, we see so much death on TV and in films, real or acted out, that we have forgotten how to respect this strange and inevitable process that we all will experience, one day. It seems odd to me that something so certain, is shown at every opportunity in the media, in video games, and on film in a way that encourages us avoid the reality of it, at all costs. I guess that is a safety valve? But can it also lead to a total disrespect for life? The young man who murdered so many on a Swedish island recently seemed to be living in a fantasy world. To him, watching people die as he shot them down in cold blood, was like watching the figures on a screen in a game. What a terrifying thought this is; that a human being can be so detached from death, that he feels no remorse and can disassociate himself totally from the act of mass murder. How sad it is that humans can be so compassionate, so clever, so creative but also, so distant from their own humanity.

 

 

LOSING YOUR GRANDPARENTS THROUGH A DIVORCE

Research has highlighted that nearly a third of all children aged 11 to 16 say they can share things with a grandparent that they cannot discuss with a parent. Another research report shows a strong link between the involvement of grandparents and a child‘s well-being. By refusing to acknowledge the importance of the relationship between a child and his or her grandparents, denies many children the normality they crave. Despite earlier suggestions that grandparents would be given legal rights to maintain contact with their grandchildren after a divorce, a recent report by David Norgrove, a government advisor on family law has indicated that no change in the law is necessary at this point in time. He considered that the current system of grandparents asking the court’s permission before they made an application should remain because the test allowing a person to make an application where they have played an important role in the child’s life, isn’t onerous.

The report went so far as to suggest that some grandparents can often cause further friction during and after divorce proceedings by placing additional demands upon parents and children. The leave test is a method of preventing this. As it stands, grandparents have no automatic right to maintain contact following  a parental split and almost half will face the heartbreak of being completely cut off from their grandchildren.

However, in the majority of cases, contact between grandparents and grandchildren can be achieved without the court’s involvement. An agreement can often be reached between the grandparents and the resident parent as a result of negotiations. But what if one or both of the parents refuse to negotiate or even have contact with the grandparents? What if a parent makes promises to allow the children to see their grandparents and then break those promises? The grief and sadness this causes to both the children and the grandparents is enormous. It is akin to a bereavement and creates years of unhappiness and a real sense of loss for both children and grandparents. Another research project suggests that it can even cause early death for grandparents and create illness, both mental and physical in the children, who often grow up to suffer from depression and other mental illnesses.

Of course, there are some grandparents who should not see their grandchildren, as in the case of sexual, emotional or physical abuse, but like parents who are dangerous to their own children, thankfully the numbers are small. In most cases, grandparents and grandchildren give each other unconditional love that strengthens the child’s sense of self and encourages self-esteem and trust, during a time of great difficulty for any child – going through a divorce. At this time, children need stability. They need to be able to trust their parents to maintain contact on their behalf with loving grandparents. Their trust in their parents can be irrevocably damaged if  parents show animosity towards or neglect of their children’s beloved grandparents. In later life, such children may find it hard to make and sustain relationships.

What happens during childhood stays with you for the rest of your life. There will always be parents who split and divorce, but if parents can show compassion and understanding and realise that their children need the comfort that a loving relationship with their grandparents can give, then the damage can be limited. Parents and grandparents must work together for the sake of the children. It is a partnership that will benefit everyone involved.

The legal expertise in this article was provided by a solicitor, but should not be relied upon. If you need advice in a similar situation, contact your family legal team.