The author covers a wide range of elements that affect children undergoing separation including their and their parents' feelings and reactions, how to help children in this situation, contact and living with individual parents and some thoughts about mediation involving parents and children both individually and together. The book is well written and easy to follow with some of the situations and the dilemmas that it cites as examples extremely touching.
Parental separation is doubtless one of the most traumatic experiences a child will suffer; arguments are probably familiar and the children will have most likely learned to live and cope with the situation. However, young children frequently can't understand what has happened and often lack the verbal skills to express the complexity of their, often conflicting, feelings. Children may presume reasons for the situation, making themselves the reason for the arguments or separation; parents give out mixed messages which the children find difficult to understand. Not only have they got the normal problems of growing up they have the burden of their parents' problems and actions to cope with. They face so many dilemmas; both parents are important to the child and they end up with conflicting love, trying to please both parents and trying not to hurt either parent.
So how can parents help their child? It is often said that parents know their own child best and they have probably spent their time trying to do what is best for their child, but during separation the emotions between the partners can often take priority over the feelings of their child. Nobody knows what someone is feeling unless they are told but, with the possibility of hurting a parent how can the child express those feelings? When they are feeling love and hate toward the same person at the same time how can they understand that? How can they express their feelings when parents won't listen? How can they know what is really going on in their lives when the parents won't tell them? To quote the author "Feelings are not good or bad - just feelings which are not helped by being ignored or put down".
When the separation does occur the ending of rowing is often a positive factor for the children. However, when the children are subjected to parental arguments at handover time they may wonder what the point of separating was! The author advises parents to at least be polite to each other as a lack of hostility can make it possible to have a warm relationship with both parents. However, all harmful consequences of separation are not inevitable. If children are valued by both parents and feelings are not forgotten or ignored and good parenting continues through separation, the experience doesn't have to be disastrous. Quality parenting by both parents and a lack of arguments will help the children to survive the break up. If children are valued and parented well by both parents and their feelings acknowledged throughout the separation then the experience doesn't have to be disastrous. There is also evidence to suggest that children who join groups that support children who are experiencing parental separation will be able to cope better. In these groups the children can speak freely about their feelings without causing harm to their parents.
This book gives a very good understanding of the impact of separation on children and suggests ways that these harmful factors can be lessened. Having read how the parents' actions can influence the child's current and future well being, and understanding the factors that can help the child get through the minefield of separation I feel better prepared in helping the parents achieve a better outcome for their child. One poignant sentence sticks in my mind as a father rather than a Family Mediator: "One reason dads find it difficult to maintain contact is because parting is so hurtful".