Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Who Hurts The Most When Parents Separate? - Loina Shohe, Asst. Professor Sociology

Do you know someone whose marriage is falling apart? our close knit naga family and community life is facing challenges these days.  we have little access to professional counselling, except maybe through our churches and religious leaders. marriage breakdowns can be devastating for both partners, but there is a deeper long term effect when a divorce happens.


Children of "Nagaland Childrens Home" in Dimapur Nagaland
Divorce has never been that common in Naga society. Unfortunately, while I have no official statistics, I believe the rate of divorce is increasing sharply in our society. 
What has been causing the breakdown in our relationships? Domestic violence, addiction (alcoholism, drug abuse), extra marital affairs , misunderstandings , personal differences between couples, interfering in-laws etc .Many people consider divorce as a social embarrassment only, and often don’t pay heed to the other negative impacts that come  with divorce. Unlike in the advanced western countries where people have now realized the deep negative impact of divorce, our society is still staying behind closed doors trying to shy away from it. This is clearly evident from the fact that there is still no proper research on divorce in our society. Married couples don’t have access to marriage counsellors in Nagaland and there are very few social programs that cater to this subject.

The negative impact of divorce runs more cruelly especially in marriages where children are involved but the effects of divorce on children are often not even acknowledged. Many parents who divorce do not pause to think about the effect their decision has on their child. In a patriarchical, patrilineal  society like ours, normally when parents  divorce the father usually retains custody of the children according to our customary laws. In most cases the mother and the children are often forbidden to meet. This is particularly more pronounced when the children are still very young infants. In such cases, children must confront the fact that they are not even allowed the freedom to meet one of their parents at times.


Normally, most children are brought up with belief in the one-family structure where his parents are there to look after his needs as a team. Divorce carries a mental stigma on the child, which may force the child to question their own place in the world and cultivate feelings of betrayal and resentment against both parents. Questions like “Why was I born when my parents can’t even be together?” are common and can emotionally scar the child for life giving skewed opinions on ethics, morality and even relationships.  The embarrassment, the pain, and the loss, due to his parents’ divorce  can easily translate into anger at life for the separation of his family ., When a child’s mentality is disturbed, when his psychological and emotional state is on the low it can harm his chances to live a normal or successful life.
Even if the parents have to divorce, it would ease the minds of the children to know that parents are still there for their children. A child should never be forced or expected to forget or ignore his father or mother’s existence. Let us remember that divorce means a dissolution of marriage, a final termination of a marital union, cancelling the legal duties and responsibilities of marriage and dissolving of the bonds of matrimony between the parties (i.e. the parents). It doesn’t in any manner define that a child and a parent’s relation is to be severed or cancelled. If parents try to keep their personal grief and disappointments aside and try not to engage in conflict for the happiness and well being of their child then there will be greater possibility for their child to move on with life. 

Young minds are impressionable and fragile therefore, for divorced parents with children; it becomes especially necessary to put the children first, despite the personal problems both parents may be going through at the time. It would be best if they can talk about the divorce openly with the children and share their feelings on why they had to divorce. The children should also be encouraged to express their feelings freely so that they don’t have to keep their emotions bottled up. This sort of interaction would help the children to accept reality, unburden their emotions and help them to face the world with more optimism.

In situations where the conflict in the married life of the couples is intense, some people often state that its bests the parents actually separate instead of remain together. This might be true; however it should also be pertinent to note that all children do not receive their needs through one parent alone. There is always a father’s role and a mother’s role and the influence of both on a child’s personality and character. Divorces between parents should not take away the fulfilment of the needs of the child. In fact divorced parents should put in extra effort to ensure that the needs of their child are met as best as possible. By needs,  I do not mean only the material needs, rather the non- material (psychological, emotional) stability of the child.

Studies conducted in the developed countries reveal -
“Teens from divorced homes are much more likely to engage in drug and alcohol use. Children from divorced homes experience illness more frequently and recover from sickness more slowly. Children of divorced parents suffer more frequently from symptoms of psychological distress. Children of divorcees tend to fall behind in their math and social skills and may not catch up with their peers.” Researchers have said these difficulties, along with feelings of anxiety, sadness, and low esteem are more prone to committing crimes due to the impact of divorce on children. Our society still largely underestimates the negative impact of divorce on children, possibly because facts regarding this have never been officially furnished. For many of us, divorce is still more of a social sigma and many of us still don’t want to discuss it in the open. No matter what our attitude towards it may be; we cannot go on ignoring it because whether we like it or not we cannot deny that divorces are now occurring more frequently than ever in our society.  

We, the lay people, the NGOs, the church, the government especially should realize the cruel impact of divorce. We need to spread awareness, and come up with solutions on how best to avoid divorce, especially when children are involved. There is a saying ‘Family is the foundation of a society, marriage is the foundation of a family, children are the youths of tomorrow and youths are the future of our society.’

Consider the consequences of divorce upon the future of our society. When divorce affects marriage, it also affects the family, which in turn affects the children. Needless to say, it is high time that divorce is prioritized as a severe social problem and the trauma of children from divorced families be given due importance.

“Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. Tetso College is a Commerce and Arts College. For feedback or comments please email: admin@tetsocollege.org”

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