Friday, July 15, 2005


One of the points I make when speaking is that often parents are the last two people to whom a child will honestly confide their feelings about divorce. Here's a great article to elaborate:

London Telegraph
July 7, 2005

What does a child really feel when his parents divorce? The BBC gave10-year-old Ben a video camera and asked him to confide in it. For hisfamily, Olga Craig learns, the results add up to an uncomfortable evening's viewing

Boarding school, Ben Gedye has decided, could solve all the anxieties and dilemmas of his 10-year-old life.

"If I went away to school,'' he says solemnly, "that way, I wouldn't hurt Mummy when I wanted to spend time with Daddy. And I wouldn't hurt Daddy when I wanted to be with Mummy. I would be, like, away at school not hurting either of them.''

Life, as Ben discovered somewhat painfully when he was just seven years old, is full of such difficult choices.

His problem is that even if he had the opportunity to make them for himself, he would still be torn.

He would, he admits, tell his parents what he thought would make them both happy, not what he truly felt.

When, five years ago, Ben's parents became another statistic in Britain's toll of separated or divorced couples, he and his older sister Melita became part of the "shuttlecock'' generation, whose week is spent commuting between their Mum and Dad.

''All we ever do is go back and forth, back and forth,'' Ben says glumly to camera, his brown eyes widening in sorrow behind his owlish glasses.

Shifting uncomfortably as he turns a toy cube over and over in his hand, he says: "It's like we are a toy for them to play with, that they have to share.''

In the silence that follows Ben looks away from the video camera on which he is recording his thoughts. He looks anxious. With a 10-year-old's logic, he feels that his words are in some way a betrayal of both his parents.

That Ben loves both his father and mother is obvious: he says so many times. What he and thousands of children in his situation are unable to tell them, however, is the harrowing effect their separation has had on their lives: the truth remains locked inside.

For decades child psychologists have written on the effects divorce has upon children. Yet few children will tell an adult, no matter how closely connected, how they truly feel.

Now, through a series of BBC documentaries, children have been given their voice. Throughout the summer of 2003, 21 children were given, with their parents' permission, video cameras on which to record their thoughts about their worlds.

Their private confessions vividly depict life through the eyes of a child. For Ben, the experience was both bewildering and painful. As he gazes thoughtfully at the camera, hesitant, at first, to reveal too much, he tells of his fears.

But first, he wants to speak of his love for Rowena, his mother, and Robin, his father. "I love my Mum lots because she always understands if something is wrong, that's why she is the best ever,'' he grins.

He loves his Dad, too, and his big sister Melita, 13. "We fight all the time,'' he says, eyes rolling, "but she's my sister and I don't know what I'd do without her.''

Then, over the months of July, August and September, Ben reveals the traumas of his new life: his worry that his new step-brother is "stealing'' his family; his jealousies and the insecurities he endures.

For many young children, the introduction of a parent's new partner is upsetting. Ellie, 10, who like Ben made a video diary, told how, though she liked her father's new girlfriend, she felt "my tummy churning and upset'' when she was around her.

Her younger brother, staring straight into the camera, explains his sister's discomfort with disarming clarity: "She stole my Daddy,'' he says.

Uppermost in many of the children's minds, however, are their shuttlecock lives. Practicalities are always important for a child. Yet Ben's words reveal a more thoughtful analysis.

"Monday, Tuesday and Sunday,'' he says, "I go to my Dad's, the other days I am at my Mum's. It's not much fun, them being separated. We never get to choose, it's Mum and Dad's choice. They come to the arrangements. Being shared, it's not nice.

"But even if we did get to choose we might not tell them what we really want. Because if I wanted to be at Dad's, Mum would feel bad, and if I said I wanted to be at Mum's, then Dad would feel bad. So we just say: 'I don't mind.' ''

Ben's simply shot footage portrays a boy equally at ease with his mother and his father. His "new'' family, however, involves a sharp learning curve.

On holiday with his sister, his Dad and his Dad's new girlfriend, Jane, and her son, Rufus, who is the same age as Ben, his anxieties surface.

''I am a bit worried,'' he confides. "I have to share a room with Rufus. It's sort of not so nice. Because I feel that he is taking my place. But then I suppose he feels the same, because his Dad is not here.''

The next day Ben is more troubled. "I am happy this morning because it is a nice day,'' he begins valiantly. Then, in a conspiratorial whisper, he leans towards the camera and says: "But I am a bit sad. I feel a bit left out because I have to sleep on the floor and Rufus and Melita, oh, they are ...'' Ben falters. Then, in a high-pitched imitation of his sister's voice, he says: "Oh, Rufus, stop hitting me.'' His eyes downcast, Ben clearly feels excluded. His conclusion is clear: even his sister is no longer his own.

''Sometimes I feel Rufus is stealing everyone,'' he says. "Everyone is really nice to Rufus. He is taking my friends away from me because they always used to be my friends. And now Rufus comes along and they are his friends.''

Rivalry inevitably rears its head. "We played golf and Rufus is really good at golf and he whacked the ball really far. I am really bad at golf so I whacked it off the tee and did really badly and everyone was laughing at me.''

By the end of his holiday Ben concludes that boarding school could be the answer. He had talked to two friends who were boarders and he saw that as a solution.

"I am getting bored going from Dad's to Mum's and to school,'' he tells his camera. "I have been
finding it really hard and I think if I board then that might be quite good for me.''

For Robin and Rowena Gedye, Ben's divorced parents, watching the final version of his film has been both informative and distressing. Both thought long and hard about the ethics of allowing a child to confide his private thoughts for thousands to view. Both concluded that it was likely to be a positive experience.

''And it has been,'' Robin says. "Yes, of course I felt a little sliver of pain as I heard Ben open the film by telling how much he loved his Mum. And the realisation that he felt he had so little input into the choices was painful. But the sad fact is that no matter how hard you try, there is no right or easy solution to that. When the children are not with me, I miss them. When they are here, their Mum misses them.''

As Robin glances across the table towards his son, now about to turn 13, they both grin. "It can be crap sometimes Ben, can't it?'' he says. Father and son nod, then laugh.

For Robin and his new partner, compromises have been made, though both have been wary of over-compensating. "I knew there was some jealousy there so I would try not to pay too much attention to Rufus,'' Robin says.

"Then I would worry I was excluding Jane's son. At other times Rufus would complain to Jane that he felt left out.''

For Rowena, too, the film has been a revelation. "Knowing that you and your children's father have failed to give them a secure family is soul-destroying,'' she says.

"All the books one reads to them when they are very young are about happy, nuclear families. That is what they believe and want their lives to be. They want to be like their peer group. When Robin and I separated I went to see the children's headmaster to explain the situation. Both Ben and Melita desperately didn't want their classmates to know. Yet many of them were in similar situations.

"Listening to Ben say he felt pushed out by Rufus is difficult. I'm his mother, of course it is painful. But I wasn't surprised. Everyone has had to work at all our different relationships now. The fact that Jane was nothing to do with our separation has helped - not just me, but the children.

"Of course it is odd to hear them talk of her, but I'm just glad that they have such a good relationship now. The fact that Jane's son is the same age as Ben was always going to be a difficulty. But Ben has rationalised that. It only saddens me that, at his age, he has had to. That we have forced that situation upon him.''

In the 18 months since his film, Ben's home life has become relatively settled. "Things are more flexible now,'' he says. "I still find it hard that they no longer live together, but Mum and Dad are more relaxed about things and that has made it easier for me to speak up. Before, there was a tension, so I only opened up to the camera, I felt I couldn't be really truthful to anyone else. Now I can. But then again, now I am older I am more aware of my parents' sensitivities, I have learned to navigate them.

"It is still difficult at times. If there were six days in a week instead of seven it would be easier to spend the same amount of time. And even though Jane treats me and Rufus as equals she does get more involved with him - but then she is his natural mother. Just like I have my natural mother to spend more time with me.

"And some of the jealousy thing is still there. Rufus still beats me at sports. He always will. And I am a sore loser. But we share a bedroom now and we're definitely closer.''

As Ben watches the concluding moments of his film he ponders on how his life has changed. "Jane has helped,'' he says suddenly. "When Mum, Dad, Melita and me were a family we could split into twos sometimes, which was good. But when there were just three, one could be left out. Jane evens things up.''

The boarding school option would not be a solution, Ben now believes. In September he will begin as a day boy at a London school. "One of the things I learned from making the film was that things move on, they change. And sometimes it is for the better.

"I don't want to live away from my families now. I know, too, that my Mum and Dad don't really want me to board. Dad would worry that he and I might become distant and Mum would miss me. And I would miss them. "I've learned that life moves on and you can't dwell on sad things. And one important thing that making the film taught me is that it is not all about me.''

No comments: