Getting the tone right

Here at PFL we have just read a review of Penelope Leach’s new book Family Breakdown. Penelope has written widely on the topic of childrearing and has sold more than 2 million books worldwide. The review, from the pages of the Daily Mail, has – as you might expect – a slightly patronising tone. At the same time, it has to be said that Ms Leach’s salient arguments about the damage divorce can do to the children who endure their parent’s separation. We’ve written before about the outcome of research into the impact of divorce, and we have also offered you advice in supporting your children. We have even offered a reading list for kids of separating parents. So we haven’t shied away from telling you how it can be for your kids. But in the case of Penelope’s new tome, we found ourselves feeling a little uncomfortable about her approach to ‘telling it like it is’.
In her Daily Mail article the author shares her own experiences of her parents divorcing, and argues that no matter how careful or well-meaning parents are, divorce will always harm children. She talks of the lasting effects of having divorced parents, from educational underachievement, to the increased likelihood of divorcing themselves. She criticises parents who share the care of their child, arguing that they are undermining the secure attachment of their child to their primary carer, and is adamant that parents should do all they can to avoid trying to turn their children against the other parent.
Now, I am also the child of divorced parents, and I am aware of the research outcomes that Penelope is referring to in her piece. Ultimately, divorce has been a feature of the family landscape in the UK for long enough for all of us to be aware that it however liberating it is for one or more parties to the marriage, it is always a complex experience for the kids. Trouble is, we’re not sure how much it helps parents, who at a low ebb and wrestling with a heady mix of difficult emotions, to know all this. There is something in the tone of this piece that leaves us as readers feeling ‘well, we’re doomed to get it all wrong – what terrible parents we must be’.
By the time you reach our door, we know, here at PFL, that you have already been through the emotional wringer. You are probably already doing a pretty good job of beating yourself up about the way things have turned out. Thus, no air of judgement will hit you as you enter the premises. Instead you will find a professional and respectful team who recognise your worries and concerns, and can support you in bringing about as positive a solution as is possible in the circumstances. And while we take issue with the tone of Ms Leach’s piece, there is one message contained therein with which we whole heartedly agree. When it comes to the kids, accept that it will be a rocky road and you will get things wrong, but be sure to express your feelings for them; as she says ‘[be sure they know that] however difficult the pain of a break-up makes it to say: both of you still love them.’