The impact of parental separation on children


“Leave! I’ll raise my children without you. Go cheat freely, we are better off you anyway”, a woman boldly uttered those words to the father of her children- in the presence of kids. “I want nothing to do with you anyway. I don’t love you anymore so I’ll come visit my children when I can”, responded the father furiously.

A changing moment for the kids. Knowing their father is a cheater, their father is not the role model they thought he is, their father does not love or value their mother- in return-the mother is chasing their father away, the parents have given up on each other, what a brutal experience for them. 

The children may not know the reasons that resulted in their mother uttering those words but to hear the possibility of being separated with one of their parents is a certain life changing moment. All of a sudden, you find yourself raising angry children, bitter children, unhappy children, violent children, broken children and cold hearted children. 

Emotional intelligence is a precious gift which parents can tap into as way to address the above. It’s a gift that gives clear direction on when to act, a gift that gives wisdom to choose words wisely, a gift that opens your mind and guides your steps. Emotional intelligence is understanding one’s own feelings and emotions to handle interpersonal relationships and disagreements judiciously or empathetically. It involves your awareness to handle the emotions of the people around you or in your life. It includes being able to empathize with others.

Parents who act senselessly or violently in front of children due to life’s uncertainty, frustrations, anger and anxieties; lack of emotional intelligence and their actions have a great impact when it comes to building, grooming and/or nurturing broken children.  

But, how does one distinguish broken children from normal children?   

Normal children are confident, they are independent and motivated, they are open-minded, they laugh more and play more. Meanwhile, majority of broken children are emotionally detached from everyone, this is particularly evident in social settings. They are lonely and full of anger, they are always jumpy and scared, their level of school engagement is lower, they have poorer cognitive achievement, have bad behaviours and emotional problems.

Considering the growth and development of children, parents must always monitor the growth of their children to notice the changes in their behaviours when they do emerge. But more importantly, parents must be mindful of their actions and manage their anger in the presence of their children.

With regards to the differences between a mother and a father, my belief is that they shouldn’t remain within unhealthy relationships. Parents should not stay in unhealthy relationships because they feel helplessness, fear of economic security, protecting the children or due to cultural and religious beliefs- if they want to separate, then that’s what needs to happen. Children must not be subjected to the volatility of the relationship or the bitter side of the separation.

The danger of raising children in an environment that is abusive and violent can potentially result in children mimicking that kind of behaviour and actions. If you are loving parents, you will groom loving children. Parents, need to introspect and reflect very broadly on how they groom and nurture their children. We need parents who will question and scrutinize the words they utter in the presence of kids.

My fear is that we may be raising broken children when we are not even aware of what we are doing wrongly. In 2017, six and nine year-old learners were found dead in what appeared to be acts of suicide in Limpopo and Mpumalanga schools. In May 2018, a second-year engineering student from the University of the Witwatersrand died after allegedly jumping from the building in an act of suicide. Two grade 11 pupils from Stella High School in the North West were found dead at hostel. One hanging, another with a string around her neck and the ex-boyfriend of one of the two girls was arrested in connection with their alleged murders.

With all these occurrences, it is easy to notice that young people are suffering mentally and I am not saying it’s because their parents have failed them. But in most cases, parents are not emotionally there for their children. In fact, they don’t even know what is happening in their children’s lives especially on mental and psychological level.  

The parents may be supporting their children financially but there are gaps when it comes to monitoring their children’s development and growth in life. Parents need to become more aware of some of the emotional and mental challenges young people are facing. 

So, I believe parents should not expose children to negativity in homes and to help us crack the brokenness of young people that has become evident currently, parent’s emotional intelligence is a vital tool to groom healthy and confident children.

Siwaphiwe Myataza, a Political Science graduate from the University of the Western Cape. She is currently the content producer at the Media and Writers Firm.