When a marriage falls apart, a crazy mix of emotions follows. If it was a bitter separation marred by violence and betrayal, there is much anger, pain, and anxiety. If the separation was civil, there still remains unspeakable pain and sadness for both the husband and wife — and, worse, for the children of these broken families.
Children from failed marriages have varied responses to this tragedy but, generally, they feel a sense of loss, according to clinical psychologist Zachele Marie Briones, M.D. She explains, “The separation translates to the sudden absence of a parent in the home. The sense of family has been shattered. When the kid is used to doing routine stuff with the absentee parent prior to the breakup, it affects him in a big way.”
Three As Dr. Briones points out, “There are three As that can help a parent raise a child, even with a broken home: First, assure your child that, despite the separation, both parents still love him. Next, adjust to the routine that your child is familiar with, to cushion the sense of loss. Last, agree with your ex-partner on the best shared parenting technique.” She adds, “A strong support system is also very essential. If the single parent feels she could not do these on her own, she could also seek professional help.”
Of the three As, Dr. Briones says it is the last step—the agreement—that is usually the trickiest. “If your ex-partner no longer wants to be involved in raising your child, you should be honest with your child and explain the situation. You can say, ‘I’m not sure if your dad could [still] visit you or spend time with you, but in case he can’t, there are still a lot of fun activities we can do together.” She stresses to refrain from saying anything bad about your ex-partner to avoid worsening the situation.
If the disagreement stems from different parenting styles, you should be firm and respectful in making your child understand that “Dad’s style” is different from “Mom’s style” and that some things that are allowed in Dad’s house may not be allowed when he’s with Mom, she says. Dr. Briones admits that this could be confusing for the child, thus both parents should make the necessary adjustments.
“If a compromise can’t be reached, the parents should gently and clearly communicate to their kids that they have a ‘dad’s time’ and a ‘mom’s time,’ and that these two may be different but both are fun experiences, she adds.
Samara’s story Five months after separating from her husband of six years, interior designer Samara Uy, 34, was confronted by her four-year-old daughter with the question, “Will Dad ever come back?” “I was in denial for several months, but when my daughter asked me when she would see her dad again, I realized my marriage had already fallen apart. My dream of a perfect family is gone. I was at a loss; I couldn’t explain the situation to my only child who is very close to her dad,” she says.
Samara had asked for the separation after a violent quarrel in front of their child. “I was suffering from years of verbal and physical abuse from my former husband, and I suffered in silence for the sake of our daughter and to keep the family intact. However, when he hit our child during one quarrel, it dawned on me that I had allowed our home to be an unsafe place for my child and myself,” she adds.
Dr. Briones says that when it comes to violent relationships, the safety of the mom and her kids should be top priority. “Kids who are exposed to violence at home actually become more accepting of their parents’ separation because it restores peace in the house and it gives them a sense of security,” she explains.
Fortunately for Samara, she has a formidable pep squad composed of her parents, relatives, and close friends who provide her and her child with the emotional and financial support—and the prayers—they need to get through this difficult journey.
“I remind my daughter that even if Daddy lives some place far now, he still loves her as much as I do. I also allow my ex-husband to spend time with our child occasionally, and the setup has been great so far,” she says.
ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW
Poi’s story When creative manager Poi Beltran, 31, ended her five-year marriage, she worried that she wouldn’t be able to provide for her child, and that her only daughter would suffer from separation anxiety.
To cushion any adverse effect of the separation, Poi and her ex-husband agreed to stay civil whenever they are together as a family.
“We always show our child how much we love her. We take turns bringing her to school. Her teacher, who knows about the separation, has been a big help in guiding our daughter,” she reveals.
“My former husband and I do our best to parent our child separately. We use the parallel parenting technique. We inform each other if our child is sick; I send him a copy of my daughter’s report card and update him on her activities. When my child is with her dad, he also lets me know what they’re doing,” she says.
Her advice to other single moms: “It is okay to break down after a separation, but you must learn to pick yourself up and start rebuilding your life. Never criticize your ex-partner in front of your child. She will cope faster if she knows that she has an emotionally secure, responsible, and independent mother.
Icy's story Accountant Icy Rodrigo is a self-confessed perfectionist, so when she decided to leave her marriage of more than 10 years, her biggest fear was that her “perfect image” as a wife and a mom would be shattered. She never spoke about the separation with her colleagues, nor did she voluntarily discuss it with her family.
“My mother-in-law pleaded with me to continue attending family gatherings so our kids would not be estranged from their paternal relatives and I relented,” she says.
Icy reveals that the breakup did not affect their children [badly] because her husband was never actively involved in raising the kids, to begin with.
Icy and her kids — Ivy, Rosanna and Rio, who were only 11, 10, and 8, at the time — continued with their usual routine so as not to make the kids feel even more displaced. Icy reveals, “I scrimped especially on my personal needs. My kids are aware that I hardly bought anything for myself because their needs became my priority.” She adds, “I never attended office parties because I wanted to get home early so that I could spend time with them. I did not get involved in other romantic relationships after the separation because whatever free time I had, I wanted to spend it with them. I was very focused on raising my kids."
Now that her children are all grown-up, Icy says her greatest reward was when her kids asked her to retire so that they could take care of her this time, take her to places around the world and just enjoy life. “As a single mom, I also feel honored when my kids’ friends commend me for raising them well,” Icy says.