January: the final straw?
January is the crunch month; decision time for many dissatisfied with their relationships. A less than happy festive break can often be the final straw. However, acting on heightened emotions and rushing to file for divorce or moving out of the family home is rarely the best idea. The longer term adverse consequences of family breakdown are rarely given headspace when negative emotions are bubbling away. Consideration of post-separation healthy family relationships is often non-existent in the face of acrimony, shame and anger. Negative emotions, hostility and witnessing conflict can leave children frightened, confused and even blaming themselves.
Family breakdown can and does have damaging consequences for children and parents.
A recent Sunday Express article reported on a Freedom of Information request from July 2013, which quantified the deaths of parents paying child support through a Government scheme. There is a presumption here that this untimely death of a parent is before a child reaches the age of 16 or 18 – when they complete their full-time non-advanced education. The FOI request included a number of questions about the mental health of parents, for which data is not collected by the agencies administering these schemes. However the Department for Work and Pensions response does state that child support payments:
“are based on the amount that the non-resident parent, would have contributed to the child(ren) had both parents stayed together. As this amount reflects the ability of the non-resident parent to pay, the assumption is that there is no implication for mental health or welfare.”
The causes of poor mental health and diminished emotional well-being are many, and interrelated. The links between financial difficulties and mental health are well documented, with relationship difficulty being acknowledged as one of the primary causes. On a routine basis, colleagues who work in mental and occupational health encounter the emotional distress that parents experience during and after separation – often in relation to contact with their children and/or financial difficulties. Typically, mum or dad do not choose to “leave” their child as suggested by the Sunday Express article. Parents can struggle to maintain their relationships with their children for many reasons. They can feel powerless and alone and this impacts on all spheres of their life as shown by the evidence in this recent research. This powerlessness also extends to concerns and fears for their children’s emotional distress, encountered routinely by teachers, counsellors, health practitioners, family and friends.
Family breakdown is never easy. This needs to be acknowledged by all our agencies and institutions, as well as by us as individuals. Acknowledging that this is so, and anticipating a difficult time ahead gives us the opportunity to address potential difficulties before they take hold. If separation or divorce is playing on your mind, seeking early therapeutic support instead of (or in addition to) legal advice could alleviate potential difficulties and ensure healthy, loving post-separation relationships for mum, dad and children too.
Guide available here: 5 STEPs to choosing a therapist