Sunday 21 January 2018

Marriage break-ups can leave children struggling for answers

Few things sadden me more than a family splitting up

Last week I read the sad news that Victoria Smurfit and her husband of 15-years, Doug Baxter, filed for divorce in California. The couple issued a statement from their LA-home, saying: "We have always been a tight-knit family unit and we are both committed to maintaining that going forward."

The couple has three young children, and confirmed: "Our children are our highest priority, so to protect them we will not be discussing it further. Change is difficult enough."

I'm not terribly interested in celebrities' lives. They do a job, just like the rest of us, and behind closed doors are normal people facing their own disappointments, successes, highs and lows.

Victoria Smurfit's story caught my eye as she was pictured with her three beautiful children, aged 10, seven and six. Victoria's parents divorced when she was 16.

I was 14-years-old when my parents broke up and, to this day, I can't help but feel a sadness when I hear of a child's family breaking apart.

My own childhood was one of utter happiness: my parents were married for almost 18 years and seemed madly in love, both to their children and to their circle of friends.

You can imagine then, the shock my mum got when she learnt, out of the blue, that my dad had been having an affair for several months.

On the day our lives changed forever my dad's mistress rang our house and my mum answered the phone. It was like a movie scene - the fall-out in slow motion. We had never heard our parents fighting. We had never seen our mum upset. We hid in my bedroom and cried.

Within weeks my dad was gone.

He moved to England and has lived there ever since. Choosing his new love over his wife, and, most puzzlingly, over the three children he adored, he turned his back and walked away.

Our teenage years are a blur. Dad came home every month but our reunions were miserable. Despite looking forward to them we weren't emotionally equipped to deal with our abandonment. The pain and anger my brothers and I felt towards him, coupled with our vulnerable ages - 12, 14 and 15 - meant there was much crying and shouting.

My broken-hearted mum tried her best to keep her views on our dad to herself. She no longer recognised the man she had married, nor the wonderful dad he had been. Shocked that he had left her she was even more astonished that he could walk away from his kids.


Despite being devastated by her loss she chose the admirable path of acknowledging that he would always be our father, and refused to badmouth him around us. It was a tough but courageous decision.

In her statement last week Victoria said of her husband: "For 15 years we have been the best of friends and we continue to be, not only for ourselves but for our family."

I don't wish to know the reason for their divorce, nor is it anyone's business, but it's heartening to hear of their determination to respect and support each other for the sake of their family. One hopes the pair will find their friendship easy to maintain, as it will play a key role in protecting their kids from the inevitable pain that comes with separation.

I only forgave my dad properly in my early 30s. I have a good relationship with him today but becoming a parent to three children of my own has opened up a lot of old wounds. Marriage break-ups damage children, and the fall-out lasts longer than you ever dare imagine.

Last month, as I was cooking dinner, I found myself crying. My husband had our daughter on his knee and was singing Puff the Magic Dragon to her. Though he didn't know it, this was a song my dad often sang to us as kids. The tender scene broke my heart and I left the room sobbing, astonished that my dad's departure could trigger such sadness 27 years after he left.

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