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Old 18-02-2004, 02:25 PM
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The impacts of marriage breakdown on children

By PETER SOLO KINJAP
(UPNG psychology student)

Marriage breakdown is a widely prevalent issue in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere in the world alike. In the homes where marriage breakdown is threatening or is actually happening, the effect is too much on the children than on the separating parents.

The proportion of children who come from broken homes is quite high. One would imagine that the situation would be common enough today for it not to pose impossible difficulties for the young people involved. They would certainly not be alone among their friends having to cope with this system. I find that parents who are contemplating separation often comfort themselves with this thought: "Other children have coped, and therefore ours will."

There is also the idea that, while a broken home could be devastating for the younger child, the teenager will cope with it more easily. I have known parents whose marriage has been very rocky or unsatisfactory for years, postponing separation until the children are adolescent. Sadly, I think it is incorrect that separation is easier on teenagers. In fact, depending on other circumstances, the reverse could almost be true. Appearances can be deceptive where children are concerned. They give the impression that most of their interests lie outside the home, that their friends are the really important people in their lives, that they have most things together now, that they don't need their parents as much as they they need their fiends.

"Sure, we may be in conflict with them a lot of the time, kicking against the limits they set for us," says Dora Martin, " but we still need them very much." The thirteen years old girl goes on to say something else quite important - something which most children of her age will admit, if pressed, but parents don't always understand. "We still need their rules as long as they are reasonable. I think most of us would feel a bit scared if there is nothing to
hold us back."

However, Dora isn't getting the clear, but loving guidelines she needs any more, because her parents are separating - and the experience is absorbing all their energy, so there's not much left for poor Dora.
"They are only thinking about themselves now. What about me? They don't care what I feel." she added thoughtfully, "I suppose I don't respect and trust them

like I used to. I think they're selfish and immature." Dora has a lot of
pressures on her at this time in her life. Feeling that her parents are so
wrapped up in what is going on in their lives that they no longer bother to think about her troubles, certainly intensifies the effect of these pressures.

In our childhood, the fear that our parents will spilt up is still high on our
list of things to dread. We see it happening to some of our friends, and we pray it won't happen to us. We become watchful of our parents' relationship and worry excessively about any friction or unhappiness we observe.

Am I saying parents should stay together for the sake of the children? No. I would never go as far as that. Nor would I say that separation is not sometimes easier on the children than the stresses and strains of a destructive relationship. I am also aware that parents are humans, too, and have a right not to wait indefinitely for another chance at happiness, if the present situation is unbearable to them.

I am saying that parents whose relationship is breaking up should continue to be good and successful parents, whatever is happening to them as partners. They should also take into account realistically what the effects are likely to be on their children if they separate. They should avoid hiding behind wishful thinking such as "It happens to so many relationships and other children cope."

Yes, most of them do cope remarkably well, but many are left scarred to some extent. When people decide to get married or live together permanently they choose, and usually publicly proclaimed, an on-going commitment to each other. When they produce children they have made just as deep a commitment to them - one which last at some level for ever, but at a high level until they reach adulthood.
Children are not yet adults, and the parents' commitment to the children's well-
being is still as important as it ever was. It has, though, to be balanced
against the parent's commitment to themselves and their right to happiness. If separation seem the only way to go, then parents need to consider carefully some of the points mentioned above.

On the other hand, children can threaten the marriage too. It is easy for
parents to recognize their obligations to dependent children. In empty
relationships, the partners to some extent put their own lives on hold while the children obviously need them; and, maybe without realizing it, they hold their wings limply at their sides and "hop" around in the smaller world of the children.

When parents see their children setting directions for their lives, they
begin to think their parenting task is nearly over. The woman who may have had a job, but kept a career on hold, begins to go ahead. New people, new instructions, new ambitions! They produce a heavy feeling of movement. The man who has given so much in time and energy working to provide for his family often finds this pressure lift a bit.

Just as it is often too late to remedy bad parenting when the children become teenagers, so it may also be too late to repair an empty relationship between
the partners. The seeds are sown early in marriage. What sort of harvest they
will yield may not be revealed until the time is drawing near for the children to leave, and for the "parents" to become "partners" again.
For a child to leave the warmth and love of both parents or one is not so easy. To leave a 'home' for sometime is very hard forteenagers. 'Home' is often thought of as one of the sweetest in our language and to the children, it is the image of warmth, safety and peace.
Not only parents separation affect children, but rather there is more
violence in homes than we realize. Sometimes it is occasional - perhaps associated with alcohol - takes place between spouses. Other times the children themselves are involved.

By the time these children are adolescents they will have become aggressive themselves, or have become emotionally defeated, or will have left home for other unsatisfactory conditions. The imagination of these scenarios is better hidden in most affluent or influential families.
The children of violence homes almost always become disturbed adolescents, and usually have problems as adults. Reaserch revealed that a proportion become violent themselves. Probably a larger proportion take on a "victim" attitude to life. By this I mean that they are afraid of people, expect to get hurt, and tend to try to please people to keep the peace. Their own feelings and needs take second place to their fear of provoking anger in others. Inwardly,and sometimes outwardly, them blame others for their difficulties.

Still another group are almost the opposite in the way they feel, but quite similar in how they behave. They tend to blame themselves, feeling worthless and powerless. They, too, may try to please others, and sell themselves short in life for the sake of peace. Others remain paralysed by fear and never achieve their potential.

Virtually all teenagers with background involving violence later have
difficulties in making lasting or positive relationships. Either they join up
with other "victims", and become a source of fear to the community, or they form a sub-culture of failure. Many tend to make relationships in which they will again become victims.

Peter Solo Kinjap is a freelance writer and a psychology student at the
University of Papua New Guinea.


P.O Box 409
UPNG, NCD
Ph: 326 7270
Fax: 326 7187

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Old 14-03-2004, 06:37 AM
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A little critque.

This is a significant issue especially in western countries where divorce rates have soared in the last 10 to 20 years.

This article would have been stronger if there were references to studies in journals so that concrete evidence is discussed rather then emperical evidence.

The issue of divorce and the social dynamics involved are pertinent and in PNG it would be interesting to see how the Wantok system features in settling the factions of separated families.

Are there any significant studies in PNG with regards the impact of marraige breakups on children?
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