The boy who came in today had two parents with him. It was only halfway through the interview that I realised his parents had been divorced for some time but now worked together and came together to meetings about their son. There has been a big change in the way parents who are no longer together care for their child, so this morning’s couple were not unusual. Neither is the fact that they did not work like this for the first three years after the separation, but barely spoke. Their joint attendance does not predict future attendance either. Sometimes parents continue to come in together, sometimes attendance is erratic with the non-resident parent promising the earth and not really managing to sustain that. Sometimes, the most wonderful arrangement of people come to appointments i.e. father, mother’s partner, grandparents on both sides, an aunty who works with children, and, once, Mum’s nephew who ‘had a GCSE in Psychology’.
Of course I understand that parents do not necessarily stay in love, or even together, for ever. But the man and woman started a child together and remain parents for ever, whether they choose to acknowledge that or not. Every child is entitled to love and care and guidance, and most would prefer to receive this from their parents. When parents have separated shortly before or after the birth, the child is less affected by changes in the personnel around him or her, but when the child is able to remember that both parents used to live together, they are often seriously damaged by the fact that one parent has gone. They think the parent left because there was something wrong with the child; they think that the parents doesn’t want to see them because they are horrid, or naughty, or mean or stupid. When the absent parent does that thing of making an arrangement and not turning-up, they feel doubly unwanted.
Have you ever seen the child sitting, dressed-up and excited as the clock ticks and time passes, until eventually the parent who is there suggests that they change out of their good clothes and go and play. The poor children often do not even complain, because a] it is possibly their fault and b] it will hurt the parent who is there even more. I have met children who were taken by train to meet a parent who just didn’t come. It’s not nice.
There is a lot of bitterness during a separation: things are often said unkindly, people are blamed, children may be brought in to the argument. But the children did not choose for this to happen. They should be a priority. They may be very badly damaged if you treat them as anything less. Surely they are more important than a CD collection, furniture or an ill-judged friendship.
The boy today was glowing between his parents. They do not live in the same house, they have new partners, but he is sure that they love him. It’s a good start.