Family setup: How divorce ruins children – Fridah Kemunto
It has been eight years since Fridah Kemunto separated from her husband. She had been married for 13 years. She was in an abusive relationship and says she had stayed for the sake of her children—hoping to give them a complete family.
But she feared if she stayed any longer, she would not live to see her three children grow up. “So I had to make a decision because I figured it was better being apart than subjecting my children to fights and endless arguments,” she says.
Kemunto says she doesn’t regret her divorce. But she has one regret though… “I did not take time to think about how the divorce would affect my children now aged 20, 17 and 14,” she says.
The long custody battle made it worse. But even if she got custody, her children have never related with her the same way they did before, especially her first born daughter who accuses her of robbing them of a father’s love and affection. It was so bad she preferred going to a boarding school, just to escape from her presence.
“After the divorce, my ex husband re-married. In the first few months he used to check on the children, took them out and paid their school fees, but as months passed by, he cut communication with them,” narrates Kemunto.
Divorce introduces a massive change into the lives of children no matter their age. Witnessing loss of love between parents, having parents break their marriage commitment, adjusting to going back and forth between two different households, and the daily absence of one parent while living with the other, all create a challenging new family circumstance in which to live.
Caleb Juma 22 comes from a broken home. His parents separated when he was 12. Ten years down the line and Caleb’s life has never been the same again.
“My parents went their separate ways in 2009. My world came crumbling down. I was so broken; coming to terms with my parents’ separation was not easy.
I withdrew from many things; I wasn’t the charming boy everyone used to know. Even though I live with my dad, I still have a hard time moving between my father and mother. I feel torn between them,” explains Juma.
Juma says that he has been having trouble with relationships, especially when it come to the opposite sex; he got into drugs when he was in high school and blames that on his parents’ divorce.
According to studies by American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, most children believe they are the cause of their parent’s divorce and would often try to mend the relationship.
Janet Kinya agrees. She feels like she was the one who caused her parents’ divorce. “Before my parents divorced, I kept hearing them arguing about my school fees. This popped up in each of their arguments.
Finally, after they divorced, the guilt that I might have caused their separation won’t let me be. I keep feeling that I was a burden to them, that’s why all their arguments ended up with them complaining about me,” laments Kinya.
According to Dr Geoffrey Wango a senior lecturer of counselling psychology at the University of Nairobi, the whole process of divorce causes major effects in children’s social, emotional and psychological well-being.
“Children are always not prepared for their parents’ separation. It can be a cause of emotional turmoil for children, their performance at school deteriorates, they have poor peer relationships, they may develop low self-esteem and some even turn to drugs. Older children become easily angered and irritable, some become violent. Young children look isolated most of the time,” explains Dr Wango
He says that children no matter how young know when everything is not well. “The most important thing parents should do for their children after a separation is to reassure them that everything is going to be fine, hold discussions using simple language, especially for the young ones who may not understand.
Constantly remind the children that the divorce had nothing to do with them and assure them of your love for them no matter the situation,” Dr Wango advises.
Fear of abandonment and concerns about the future can cause a lot of anxiety. But helping your child feel loved, safe, and secure can reduce the risk of mental health problems.
Also, don’t put children in the middle. Asking them to choose which parent they like best or giving them messages to give to other parents isn’t appropriate. Kids who find themselves caught in the middle are more likely to experience depression and anxiety.
When parents then get along fine after the divorce, it can become even more confusing for the children. They wonder why parents couldn’t make the marriage work.
That’s why the whole idea of cooperative parenting sometimes makes so little difference to children. It’s how they perceive the divorce that matters, not how the parents think they perceive it.
There are cases, however, when divorce affects children positively. “In many cases, mainly where there have been high levels of conflict between spouses, divorce brings a form of relief,” says Beatrice Nderitu, a sociologist.