The impact of separation

Marriage is a big commitment. And when things go wrong, it is difficult to pinpoint the reason. Separation seems the best way out. However, when parents are separated, it leaves a big impact on children.

Question 1: I am a 17 year-old-boy. My parents are separated, and I live with my mother. My father doesn't speak to me and my brother. I feel unhappy when I see my friends' fathers attend our school functions, pick them up from school. etc. My mother is a good person, but I miss having a father. I have arguments with my mother over small things. This is becoming a frequent thing. Sometimes I am very irritable with my friends too. I have this constant urge to fix this situation of my family somehow. Please help!

Answer: Hello! As a growing up youngster, it is natural to want a father playing the role of a friend. Absence of this leads to sadness as you have explained, especially in a social situation. When you mentioned school functions in the plural. I have to assume that it is at least a couple of years since your parents' separation.

Whatever might be the reasons for the separation it is not at all correct for one of the parents to completely disengage from children, who have grown very attached. This is where it is also important for you to know that your father's sense of irresponsibility towards children and wife could have been one of the reasons for the discord.

1. Instead of pining for the love and affection that you believe should come from your father, focus on the love and care your mother is giving to you and your brother.

2. It is not always that a father, who is a part of the family is actually as participating in the father's role.

3. It is good to have a father figure, who can guide you in your choices or simply to lend an ear. Sometimes teachers, sports coaches, uncles and even neighbours take this role if only you are ready to accept them without any judgement. Caution is over-dependence.

4. While you are acknowledging that your mother is good, your arguments with her could be stemming from the anger that maybe she could have worked harder to sustain the relationship with your father. Think in the context of responsibility.

5. Do realise that your mother has taken the role of both father and mother, it must be exhausting her. Help her in helping make a good life for you all.

6. It is not your place to fix anything as you did not cause it to break.

7. Try to see from the perspective of the parent, who is doing the job. Your empathy is a natural deterrent to the arguments.

8. Your friends are a part of your support group. Try not to get irritated. Do not hold it against them that they have what you are seeking, a father's love. I am sure a group of good and well-meaning friends can help you tide over all this.

9. This is the age to expand your horizons along with focussing on the career choices and the efforts towards that.

10. Depending on your affordability join some extra courses. Do some voluntary work. Involve and engage your brother if he is younger. The three of you need to work in tandem. All the best!

- Vasuprada Kartic, Anthroposophic Counsellor and Psychotherapist.

Question 2: My parents are divorced. I spend weekends with my father and weekdays with my mother. I am in class 11. My mother struggles to make ends meet for me and my sister, my father doesn't help at all. On weekends when I visit my father, he says really bad things about my mother and criticises her character. My grandparents (my father's parents) also day bad things about her.

My father has remarried and drinks every day. I hate going there...but cannot avoid due to a court order. I feel depressed and cry even in school. How can I change this?

Answer: Dear young friend, so young, and so much to bear with! When parents separate, the law permits shared custody. And that's what you are experiencing, shared time with both your parents. When separation is unpleasant…unpleasantness follows…the criticism, the competitiveness, the need to prove oneself to be the better parent.

When separation is inevitable for whatever reason, it's the only etiquette that dictates that the separated parents do not undermine each other. Especially when children are involved.

I'm sorry that you have to go through this...the trauma of parents separating, and the hurt of having a parent undermine the other parent.

As you have mentioned, it is your mother who is taking care of you and fulfilling your needs both emotionally and financially. So, it must really hurt to listen when she's being torn down.

Let me try and help you through this.

1. Not visiting your father is not an option right now or so it seems to me. So, when you do visit him, try and see if taking your schoolbooks with you and spend time there studying or reading, so that your interaction time with your father or the rest of the members in the house is limited, helps.

2. Who seems to be the most reasonable of all in your father's house?

Try and spend more time with that person. Reduce the interaction with the rest.

3. Try telling your father or anyone who you can have this conversation with, that you are getting affected by the constant criticism.

4. Try and involve your father otherwise. Cricket? A film? A long drive?

Let him see some friendship and affection from you...the knowledge that you dislike him would make him bitter, resentful and abusive.

5. Gently stick up for your mother, she certainly needs the support.

6. Be there for your mother, she is dealing with a lot.

7. Though it's really, really hard, try to divert your mind from this mess...pick up a book, try learning something new, a sport? Anything that can take your mind off things. Won't take your problems away...but gives you a break from all the morbidity.

8. Please understand that adult interactions and relationships can sometimes be complicated and it's best to sometimes let things go.

9. Don't let anger, hatred and animosity cloud your mind, you have a good life ahead, make the most of it.

10. Concentrate hard on your studies. Your mother is working hard to ensure a great future for you. Make her proud.

11. Try confiding in someone. A friend, a teacher, a counsellor, anyone who makes you feel secure...sometimes opening your heart lightens the burden.

12. Talk to your mother about taking therapy together...she probably has burdens too that she might want to share. And take advice for.

13. Don't let all this turn you into a bitter young man...try your best to stay positive and do well.

14. See if you can try and forgive the bad parts, not easy, but might help lift some burden.

15. After you turn 18, many decisions are open to you...take sound advice and choose wisely. Take care!

I'd like to add a small note to all the adults out there.

16. When adults decide to end relationships and move on, the most affected ones are children.

17. If separation seems inevitable, being sensitive to the children's psyche, their emotions, and their needs is extremely important.

18. Unpleasantness leaves a lasting scar on their tender minds.

19. Prepare children for the separation.

20. Do not fight over who gets to keep the child.

21. Decide amicably after talking to your child about it.

22. Never indulge in emotional blackmail.

23. However unpleasant the relationship was...you both owe it to your child to meet on neutral ground to discuss the child's future.

24. Please provide financially for the child.

25. If a parent decides to move on...make sure you discuss this with your child and acquaint the child with the new stepparent.

26. Above all don't use the child as a scapegoat to get back at each other.

Children need lots of love...make sure your child gets a lot of that. From both of you!

- Dr Purnima Nagaraja Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist. Dhrithi Wellness clinic

- Do you have any relationship-related queries or issues with your friends, loved ones or family? For informed advice by professionals, send in your questions to features.thehansindia@gmail.com.

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