I was rifling through Tween's rucksack this evening in the vain hope that I might find some - any - crumpled up information about a cricket tournament that he is in tomorrow.
Instead, I found a brown envelope with his school report in.
Wondering how long it had been festering in there, and why Tween hadn't told me about it, I opened it up. In all honesty, I knew it would be ok; he's bright, happy, sociable - no issues to speak of.
But as I ripped it open, and saw a glimpse of the glorious adjectives within, it was like I was Charlie opening my Golden Ticket. Sunshine literally burst forth. Violins played. There were key changes, and boy bands standing up and stepping forward.
100% attendance. Words like "gifted at literacy", "wonderful mathematician" and from the head teacher, "an amazing report." His class teacher said, "he is one of the kindest and most polite boys that I have ever met."
You're sick of this now. I would be. Another showy-offy mum, using her own son's achievements to bolster her own self esteem. Obviously you're right, but I do have a point to make, which is this:
When you announce to the world that you are getting a divorce, the question on everybody's lips is, "But have you thought of the children?" The inference being that divorce destroys children.
There are stats coming out of our ears that seem to back up this theory. This article from the Telegraph says that divorcing parents tend to play down the effects that their divorce is having on their children. And this article talks about a Relate survey which showed that 60% of parents thought that divorce had had a negative effect on their children.
Statistics don't relate to you, personally
I say PAH to statistics. Pah and botty burp and turdy breath. Because (and I'm sorry to sound a bit Woodstock about this) it's not really about numbers, but it's about our own circumstances, our own lives, and how we communicate with our kids.
For all the articles about how appalling divorce is for children, there are equal numbers throwing advice at us on how to treat our kids during a break-up. Some are bollocks, but this article from Help Guide is good. It's all down to communication. Tell the truth (without crossing The Line - more about The Line below). Say 'I love you'. Don't criticise your ex partner in front of them. Listen to them. Tell them it will be ok.
Divorcing with children forces you to be a grown up. Suddenly, your parenting skills have to shift up a gear to deal with this scary hurdle of complex communication which you need to negotiate with your kids.
Telling the truth to your children is right - but not warts and all. There is a line drawn in the sand, and it's not to be stepped over. "It's really sad, but Daddy and I don't love each other any more" is a bit different to, "Daddy put spyware on my PC so he could watch my every move because he thought I was having an affair (that means sleeping with another man). I wasn't then, but his suspicion and other events, including my own stupidity, eventually did drive me into the arms of another man..."
Filtering is key. Don't cross The Line.
The safe side of The Line probably includes:
- Objective, factual stuff. For example, plans for where everyone will live, how Daddy and Mummy will look after them. Even explaining that money will be tight, so there might be fewer trips, and xbox games. Less meat, more baked beans. But reassuring them that everything will be ok.
- Explanatory stuff. Why are you splitting up? Maybe: I fell out of love with Daddy because I felt unloved. Daddy and I didn't talk enough. It was my decision, but it was nobody's direct fault. I was becoming very unhappy and I was worried that, if I didn't leave, I would get very ill.
- Feelings. Initially, I talked about how sorry I was. How, although their Daddy and I weren't in love any more, we both loved them MORE THAN ANYTHING in the whole world. How special they were (are) to both of us. How we will always love them. How absolutely none of this was their fault.
What is the other side of The Line? The stuff that you shouldn't mention to your children?
- Derogatory stuff about Daddy. He won't pay for what he's promised to pay for. He never turns up to school events. He doesn't pull his weight in terms of childcare.
It's so tempting to mouth off in front of your children. My mum used to do this in front of me - and still does it occasionally. It still hurts me. Now that I'm in my 40s, I stick up for Dad, but when I was younger, it was confusing and hurtful. I've remembered every single word - and I hold it against her.
- A new relationship. Boyf is reticent to get involved with the boys and initially, I was very unhappy about this. I really wanted a live-in partner for all sorts of reasons; love, sex, warmth, practical help, fun, adult conversation... but in fact, in retrospect, it's been much better for the boys to have just us three grow as a family unit. We are close, and it is lovely.
And guess what? I remember my mum having loud, noisy sex with her new partner, in the next room. I remember it vividly even today. Every detail. And yes, it screwed me up. In fact, it's only very recently, since I've been writing this blog, that I've realised quite how much.
Be a proper parent
And what else? All the other stuff that you would never talk to your kids about anyway; real money worries; security concerns; problems at work. Don't treat them like friends. Don't just dump on them, however low you are, however lonely. Remember that you are still their parent, now more than ever, and not their mate. They are not your sounding board.
Show them and tell them you love them. Laugh with them. Tell them how proud you are of them.
But what if you did not choose this divorce, and you are in the midst of misery yourself? What if you can barely pull yourself out of bed in the morning, never mind think about the mental well-being of your children?
There will probably be a period of recovery time when you'll not be the best parent. Don't worry. Do your best with your children - they will see that you are struggling and will want to help. Get medical help if you feel it is out of control, or if this period of 'grief' (because that's what it feels like) lasts for too long. Pull on the good will of friends and family; at times like this, people will want to step in and prop you up. But above all else, make sure your children know that you love them, and that none of this is their fault. That you will be better soon. That everything will be ok.
Divorce makes you pull your parenting socks up. It forces you to take a good, long look at how you interact with your children. There will be a lot of biting your tongue, of thinking before speaking, of suppressed crossness with your ex. But there will also be wonderful times which only lone parenting can produce; adventures with just you and the children that you've all planned together; successes at school that you've helped bring about; and silly things like growth charts on the wall.
Divorce does not destroy children. Bad parenting probably doesn't help - but bad parents are not exclusively single parents. With your support - and the support of your ex - they will achieve exactly what they were going to achieve when you were together. Who knows? The experience they've had might make them even more resilient; what they have learned about change and loss and love might have a positive effect on their future. We just don't know.
But I can tell you this. You - and your kids -
Will. Be. Fine.