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Divorce doesn’t signal the end of the road for positive parenting PDF Print E-mail
(1 Vote)
Written by Meher Marfatia   

The city has been witness to a spate of divorces and break-ups in recent times: the rock-solid Dhodys split up, there’s trouble in paradise for Aditi Gowitrikar and Muffazzal Lakdawala, supermodel Ujjwala Raut’s marriage with Craig Maxwell Sterry is over and hotelier Vikram Chatwal and his wife Priya are working on theirs.

With all the stress of a marriage falling apart and the burden of ugly court battles, couples need to go the extra mile to bring up well-adjusted kids. “Patience and tenderness is what’s needed the most, as there are a million mixed questions in your child’s mind,” says model Aseem Merchant, whose daughter Sasha was just seven when he divorced wife Mamta Raja. On her part, Mamta shares, “Cherish co-parenting as your main and continuing priority. Both parents should shower more love than ever before.”

Become the cushion for the blow, suggests media man Rohit Watsa. “Take on the strain of a failed relationship, rather than let it fall on your child’s shoulders. Be available to answer anything. If you don’t know the answer, make it a miniproject to find it.”

According to psychiatrist Pervin Dadachanji, what fits a host of queries is an explanation along the lines of: “Many children’s parents divorce. Our marriage did not end because one of us is good and not the other. We both accept responsibility for the break-up.”

For Watsa’s ex-wife Vandana it’s crucial that 13-year-old Mantra receives balanced attention. “Opting for joint custody with flexi time gave her a sense of belonging and equal dependability. We’re hands-on parents, without making a bouncing ball of our daughter,” she says.

ACTIONS, NOT WORDS

Merchant admits it’s not easy. “No doubt there’s great pain and egos involved after separation. But if you truly care for the child, all else eventually pales.” Of bitter parents who turn children against an estranged spouse, he adds, “The harm done is only to your child.”

Most traumatised kids simply soldier on, bearing the brunt of confusing loyalties. And the simmering stress explodes in defence mechanisms — like adults, instead of showing sadness by crying, kids resort to anger and rage.

Yo-yoed between two squabbling parents, inner fears spill onto anxious behaviour patterns. One youngster playing “House-House” had to endure hoots of laughter from his gang. They were choosing who would be mum, dad and the kids, when he burst out: “I’ll be the divorce lawyer”.

To steady the emotional see-saw, sensitive kids even cook up stories. The child of two divorcing lawyers insisted his mother was doing brilliantly enough in her legal practice to be summoned to England to work — that explained her absence.

Other kids prefer “separation” over the dreaded ‘D’ word. When faced with taunts in the classroom about a broken home, they retort: “My parents are separated, not divorced.”

SAY WHEN…

Every family dynamic is unique, with no one-size-fits-all answers even from counsellors. Views vary on when it’s wise to reveal facts fully. Raja and Merchant waited till their seven-year-old turned 12. Watsa stuck to a “need to know” approach, keeping things easier to digest. “This isn’t a permanent solution, you keep working at further explaining the break-up as the child grows older,” he says.

The load gets heavier for pre-adolescents. Already at an age of prickly perception, their angst doubles on sniffing marital trouble. When Yasmin J told the story, her child was 11 and single parenting was tough. “That still gave me the confidence of being the better parent without any question of one-upmanship,” she says. The upside of the struggle has been pride in raising a mature daughter with whom she shares complete understanding. “I paid my maid more than I earned as a teacher! Supportive friends pulled me through. And I always consulted my child on plans.”

BE THE LISTENER

Ask, not tell, agrees Jennifer Lewis in Don’t Divorce Your Children. “Your child is your best resource,” she recommends. Rather than telling children they are not responsible for divorce, invert the idea. Ask if they feel responsible. The same goes for inputs on decisions like visitation schedules. This doesn’t mean agreeing to every request; it’s listening to what is important to the child who then feels included.

Divorce doesn’t have to be a life sentence for kids. If the decision marks the end of a marriage, it signals the start of another kind of family. It’s a tightrope to walk, no doubt, but with a little understanding and care, the parent-child equation need not change even if the husband-wife relation does.

PSYCHOBABBLE

Solicitor Sanober Nanavati

sees several clients dangling children as leverage to get even with each other. Most kids naturally hope parents re-unite. It’s tricky handling this.“While this is the saddest part of divorce, the pointers come from children. Prepare to sit a child down and frankly say, ‘We won’t be living together now. Who would you like to stay with?’ Try and follow what you hear.”

 



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