Feuding Families V The Stability A Single Parent Can Provide

Posted at 18:38pm on 15th June 2009

“Children with feuding parents 'more likely to have underage sex and do drugs.'” * (see link below.) The Daily Telegraph heading caught my eye because it so precisely mirrors my own experience and philosophy. Divorce may be cited as an unstabilising factor in a child’s life but, until now, there has been little research undertaken to show that it may be the lesser of two evils.


Much of my early marriage, in the late sixties and early seventies, was peaceful simply because I buttoned my lip and behaved as the submissive wife that I believed I should be. It was only when my husband’s affairs became more frequent and damaging that I found my voice. Even then, however, I continued to do all I could to keep my marriage intact. And so we spent years on an emotional see-saw: discovery of each infidelity; his remorse; my forgiveness; further betrayal: an endless cycle of unhappiness and trauma.

I look back now and see how immature and irrational was my response. The tears and occasional tantrums; the depression and denial. How much better might it have been if I’d cut my losses and severed all hope? A hope that kept me tied to the belief that if only I worked harder at loving my husband, all would be resolved.

As it was, by the time I brought faith, courage and common sense to the situation, it was already too late. My eldest daughter went briefly off the rails, then found a Christian faith which remains with her to this day. The youngest lapsed into heart-breaking silences, interspersed with various nervous conditions which, respectively, required a huge effort on my part to get her to talk, and trips to the doctor to treat her malaise.

It was left to my middle daughter to display the sort of behaviour cited in The Daily Telegraph Report, and she did so in spectacular fashion.

Using data taken during interviews with almost 2,000 families for the National Survey of Families and Households, the survey tracked children aged from four to 34. What it revealed was that the risk of developing mental health issues, behavioural problems and relationship difficulties was greatly increased for the children of warring parents. Even when compared to those of divorced parents!

“Children from high-conflict families ... have an increased likelihood... (of) dropping out of school, poor grades, smoking, binge drinking, marijuana use, early sex, non-marital fertility and union dissolution," said Professor Kelly Musick of Cornell University, New York, the co-author of Are Both Parents Always Better Than One?


My daughter’s rapid progression from cannabis to heroin when her father and I split up would appear to defy this statement. However, it was the continuing warring which, she later told me, was the reason for her descent into drugs. During that time, a see-saw cycle – similar to that I’d experienced with her father – became the norm. Her initial running away from home preceded a falling in with prostitutes and pimps, followed by brief periods of remorse and prolonged pleas for help.

Did I help? Of course I did! And during these episodes of attempted rehabilitation, we lived a bi-polar existence: high one moment with the hope of victory; in the depths of hell the next, when my daughter’s screams of pain from coming off heroin cold-turkey, or the discover that dealers were keeping her supplied when she was in Intensive Care, threatened my sanity and that of the rest of the family.

In between, during the absences from home, I lived in daily expectation of the phone call that would pronounce her dead. Time and again she was taken into hospital and not expected to live. Her despair, her self-loathing, and the contempt in which she held all men, were enough to make you weep. And throughout it all, she lived with the terrible fear of her own demise.


But don’t let anyone tell you that this is the end! That hope must die. It took years before the stability of single-parent family life brought about my daughter’s release from the stranglehold of her addiction. And when it did, she reverted to the promise, the potential, of her childhood disposition, putting herself through college, graduating, holding down a job, maintaining a steady relationship, and producing a healthy baby.

Her story, and mine, are told in my novel, A Painful Post Mortem. Despite her death some years later, it’s a story of triumph. Of hope for parents and children alike. A tale that transcends the doom and gloom of Professor Musick’s prediction, and defies the inevitability of a child’s descent into a pit from which there is no escape.

So, take heart, you once-warring, now separated parents. Seize the initiative, you traumatised children. With a little courage, a large dollop of faith, and mega-determination, you can overcome! Don’t allow the pundits to persuade you that you must become one of the statistics. The children of feuding parents may be more likely to have underage sex and do drugs. But there’s no saying that they are caught in an inescapable destiny.

* Daily Telegraph Report: Children With Feuding Parent More Likely To Have Underage Sex And Do Drugs



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Author of a number of books, one a No 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV. E-mail to book her for your event.

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