Belfast Telegraph

When parents separate children are left with the pain

By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Almost everyone is furious with the new Family Justice Review led by David Norgrove, previously an economic adviser to Margaret Thatcher.

Fathers who campaigned for the legal right to shared parenting did not get what they wanted. The bestselling author and father Louis de Bernières said the recommendations filled him with "horror and despair".

Mums who are left to carry the entire parenting burden and second wives are fuming. Grandparents - also denied legal access in the review - are apoplectic.

There are splits within the Cabinet too. The Prime Minister says the report does not reflect the pro-family values of the coalition. The state treads on broken glass when it tries to find ways to support disintegrating households.

There is no easy way to part and no clean parting of ways, not for a great many of us. I am and have been, I hope, a good wife, but am totally rubbish at divorce.

So that he knew what he was getting into, I warned my second husband that there would be an unending emotional tempest if we ever broke up. It is the only bit of sympathy I can muster for my ex-husband. More than 20 years on, he must wish I would just shut up, move on.

Some spouses can do that. Divorce is now as normal as the buying and selling of homes or updating mobile phones. There is an etiquette, you see - we must all be friends and share parenting for the sake of the children.

That phrase belies as much as it is meant to evoke. For the sake of the children, married men should not take that flirt for a drink, to a hotel room, on that clandestine holiday, or embark on an affair then ask for divorce because they have fallen in love, all too easily done and justified.

Every minute they spend with the mistress is time they take away from their children; every tryst is another wound inflicted on their marriages. For the sake of the children women should not behave that way either, or choose to end a marriage for flimsy reasons. This view will upset friends, relatives, colleagues, perhaps bosses and neighbours and does, I admit, sound dreadfully judgmental and old fashioned.

No one should have to stay in an oppressive, violent or mutually corrosive relationship to death. Maureen Waller, in her book The English Marriage, describes the suffering, trapped wives of all classes who could not legally leave greedy or vicious spouses until the laws were changed.

But now divorce has become an exit of convenience for our individualistic and self-indulgent society and that can't be right.

Couples lie to themselves about the pain they are inflicting on their kids and most can only think of parental 'rights', like getting half the house and the joint savings.

We are caretakers of our young and have no absolute 'rights' to them. I would not have co-parented my son with his father, but I never stopped contact.

In the early years, though, I kept my child away from the mistress, partly because it was unbearable for me and partly because his young heart would have been even more divided.

Children want their mums and dads to be together and, if that can't happen, most want as normal a life in one home, not to be divvied up day by day.

Listen to Andrea, now 13, someone I interviewed when she was a happy six-year-old with newly divorced parents: "It's all my fault, they fight. If I wasn't there it would be quiet, like. I am cut in half, I have two rooms, two pets, two Christmases, but that cuts me up. Where do I live?"

So she cuts, cuts, cuts and her arms are maps with streams of blood. Her parents still think they are doing it all for the sake of their child. Norgrove warns them - and millions of others - it isn't. Hard though it is, they should heed the message. For the sake of the children.

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