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Penelope Leach webchat: Join discussion about her latest book: Family Breakdown: Helping children hang on to both parents

(54 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 23-Jun-14 17:44:52

Penelope Leach is a research psychologist, and one of the world’s leading experts in child development. The author of numerous books on childcare, including the classic manual Your Baby and Child, she is herself a mother of two, and grandmother of six.

Penelope's latest book, Family Breakdown: Helping Children Hang On To Both Their Parents, has been described as "obligatory reading for anyone even contemplating the ending of a relationship where children are involved". The book, which looks at divorce and separation from the child’s point-of-view, is aimed at parents who have separated or divorced or intend to do so, as well as their extended families and prospective partners, and the professionals who support and advise them. Above all, the book is written to help those parents help their children.

Join Penelope for a webchat on Friday 27th June between midday and 1pm. If you're unable to make it then, do post a question for Penelope in advance on this thread.

Ruby6918 Tue 24-Jun-14 01:57:32

myself and partner broke up four years ago and we still have not moved on its been devastating for us all kids and me and my health has deteriorated greatly so im looking forward to any advice u can give me as a woman and mother thank you, we were together over 18 years and now hate each other

harrietspy Tue 24-Jun-14 13:50:25

My stbxh and I are trying a 'nesting' arrangement in which the children live permanently in one family home and their father and I move in and out depending on whose turn it is to look after the children... Harder on us than on the kids, but that's how it should be. I don't know anyone else who's tried this so it was good to hear you mention it on Woman's Hour.

Intuitively this feels like a good thing for my kids, but is there any hard evidence yet that this is better for children than them moving between 2 parental homes?

Anormalfamily Tue 24-Jun-14 14:25:18

When does "helping" become unhealthy?
Dh and I both entered our second marriage with kids from previous relationships. While I feel I've "moved on" and ds is settled and I enjoy a good relationship with ex and his dw, dh is still walking on eggshells around his ex (although there never was any doubt she'd cut access, etc), and panders terribly to his kids (even with dss now living 50:50 with us, own choice at 12).
We've had counseling for 18 months and nothing much has changed. Dh is being adamantly dysfunctional!

heyday Tue 24-Jun-14 15:36:08

How can a child still maintain a relationship with his father if that father is exposing him to unpleasant aspects of life ie allowing various women live in his flat so child is exposed to an endless round of dad's girlfriends and dad hangs out with guys who smoke weed in front of child. He is a wretched role model and I want to cut contact to a minimum but still enable some sort of relationship or is this very unwise and all contact should be stopped?

FrontForward Tue 24-Jun-14 21:59:55

I think we all know that divorce is not a good thing So that is hardly breaking news, nor is the fact that parental conflict or alienation is harmful.

Divorce is certainly not to be aspired to however some marriages are worse and in those cases divorce is better. Aspiring to a good divorce is the thing here but there is the fact that if you could divorce 'well' you probably don't need to...

I heard your interview on Radio 2 and got the impression that your own experiences had made a huge impact on you, possibly colouring your views. I'm interested in the research sources for the book

meandcoffeeequalhappy Wed 25-Jun-14 07:01:36

So how do you achieve mutual parenting when divorce comes about because of one party's alcoholism, mental health issues, and lack of bonding with his children (the words of a medical professional - not mine). In an ideal world marriage wouldn't break down, and in the case this isn't possible parents would be sensible and co-parent. But in real life when one parents just is not able to (or doesn't want to) be a regular and healthy part of their children's lives, what then? Is it for the RP to read books like this and feel utterly guilty, and is not able to change anything to make their children's lives perfect? What can the RP do to help their children then?

FrontForward Wed 25-Jun-14 07:19:36

Mean - hear hear!

I'm afraid that was my thoughts. If you take into account that only 30% of fathers pay maintenance (I.e. Are interested enough or care enough to provide food and shelter for their children) then expecting that 70% to work towards an amicable divorce is unrealistic. They don't care if their offspring eat, let alone about their emotional well being! But the RP who obviously does care as they take responsibility for feeding and clothing and working...can have a little more guilt thrown on them.

I'm sure children including the author don't want parents to divorce. I can also tell you I didn't wish my marriage to pan out as it did either.

I wonder who will buy this book....will it be the divorcee who doesn't give a toss....

APlaceInTheSummer Wed 25-Jun-14 09:24:49

Thanks for agreeing to a webchat. I have 3 questions (sorry if that's greedy!):

I read your interview in The Guardian Family section and it gave the impression that your book focused on the negative impacts divorce can have on children when divorce isn't amicable. Since an amicable divorce takes commitment from two parties, does your book cover at all the best way to divorce when one party does not want it to be amicable?

Also, as other posters have stated, I think there are concerns that your book is just adding to the many criticisms thrown at parents who divorce. I would imagine that a large percentage divorce because they do have their dc's best interests at heart. Does your book address that fact?

Final question, since you were impacted by your parents' divorce, do you think you have moved on from your childhood response to relationship breakdown, and can assess objectively the adult reasons why divorce might be the best option even if it does not automatically appear so to a small child?

germinal Wed 25-Jun-14 13:32:00

Hi Ms. Leach,

Firstly I just wanted to say how valued your book 'Your Baby and Child' is in our home (I have 3 children 5yrs and under). I can't properly express the relief it was to have it by my side in those very early years, never judgemental, always kind, and gently understanding of cranky parents and emotional little ones. I don't want to gush blush but you should be so proud of the difference you have made to many (small and big peoples) lives.

Secondly, is it difficult to read criticism of your book as "anti father" rather than child focused.

Thirdly do you think non custodial parents worry too much about establishing a secure attachment through regular and lengthy contact? Especially for very young children? Does quality mean more than quantity for contact?

redundantandbitter Wed 25-Jun-14 21:13:34

I echo the posters above. I read your article on Sunday and caught a snippet of you on radio .

Couldn't help but think 'how on earth can you get a non cooperative parent to cooperate?'

My ex moved to another county with a new girlfriend and we we spent hundreds of pounds in mediation trying to get him to look after our dcs whilst I worked on a Saturday . No joy. My boss saved the day by changing my shifts. Hurrah for my ex. I ended up paying more in childcare and then he reduced his maintenance payments as he got his EOW arrangement as he wished. Not great for me.

What exactly would you say to a father that says 'I need to spend time with my fiancé' ? This is a professional bloke in his 40's.

I think your ideas are lovely. In practise ...... Well, good luck.

Minki Wed 25-Jun-14 23:06:12

I note that the book is obligatory reading for anyone contemplating ending a relationship where children are involved. "Contemplate" implies some thought/choice in the matter. What about those of us who got married and had kids with the best of intentions for the other party to then have an affair and exit, in my case leaving me working full time to raise DSs, 1 and 3? I did not choose to end the relationship to put my children through this and think relatively few people/women (sorry!) do. I have seen several child psychologists in a bid to help my DS1 overcome his feelings of anger and abandonment over DH leaving us. Didn't help one bit. I think the most healing thing, at least for my children, is knowing they have the unconditional love of at least one parent.

Gogglepox Thu 26-Jun-14 10:39:32

How do you explain a separation or divorce to a 2 and 5 year old whilst assuring them that both parents still love the children unconditionally even though the parents may have fallen out of love with each other and are living separately?

How can you avoid attachment issues so the children don't feel the parents will leave them (as they have left each other)?

The children are very much loved and know they are and are happy children. I'm just trying to protect them from feeling insecure about the situation.

Thurlow Thu 26-Jun-14 16:11:33

In your opinion, what is worse for a child - their parents divorcing, or their parents staying together despite the relationship having broken down?

doziedoozie Thu 26-Jun-14 18:31:02

I'm sure she has a point, she is talking about DCs sleeping over who are under 5 years old.

Better DF goes to visit the DCs in the mother's home (or the other way round if it is the DF who is the primary carer).

But obviously after divorce it is often not a possibility.

Also resident parents want a break! I would! but to be honest it prob isn't best for small DCs.

doziedoozie Fri 27-Jun-14 09:02:56

I feel your book is sorely needed. Since recent ructions in our family due to a step parent's remarriage and the fall out that has caused made me read up on step parenting, plus reading the step parenting thread on mumsnet.

Also this was a recent headline - 'Sir Paul Coleridge says something must be done to stop the "misery" of family breakdown', and he should know.

Some of the behavior of supposed 'caring' parents is so selfish.

When someone has a baby there is so much support and advice as it is a major lifetime event. I would say divorce involving children is a similar upheaval in life and clear guidelines and expectations for both parents should be handed out in information leaflets. Perhaps written by child experts. Just the basic points about considering the child's well being and what would be the ideal for the child. Then no one can plead ignorance. Also some counseling for the child, they are usually not included in discussions between parents, which is understandable as they are often too young, but an explanation of what is happening and what the future will be. Also speaking ill of the other parent is seen as wrong, correctly, but surely an explanation is needed if eg pick up times are always changed at the last minute. 'Mummy is busy with her life and forgets you and me and the arrangements sometimes'.

I was brought up in a family with an alcoholic and nothing was ever explained or debated so believe that DCs constantly ruminating on what is or isn't or might be going on between adults is unhealthy. Gently explained facts would be better.

doziedoozie Fri 27-Jun-14 09:06:42

Oops, it wasn't a step parent's remarriage, it was a divorced family members' marriage to a new partner after a long time as a non resident parent.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 27-Jun-14 11:36:45

In the next couple of weeks, Mumsnet will be launching its inaugural BumpFest; a 1-day event for first time pregnant mums and their partners, which will be held in Central London. Penelope Leach will be talking at the event alongside a range of other speakers. If you want to be one of the first to find out more, please email us on events@mumsnet.com and we will send you more information as soon as we announce!

pastaisspeltbackwards Fri 27-Jun-14 11:54:26

Hello Penelope

I am not a parent, but as an adult child of a very messy divorce, I will read your new book with much interest.

My parents split up whilst my mother was expecting me and went on to have a very messy divorce and custody battle. For reasons I still don't fully understand, they hate each other so much that I have still to this day only ever seen them in the same room in court, and one cannot mention the other without frowning, sneering, muttering about the other etc.

Now in my 20s, I have just about begun to make peace with the situation, realise it's not my fault and there's nothing I can really do about it etc. One thing I feel very strongly about having lived through a situation like this, is that a child desperately needs an impartial adult to go to who provides comfort and doesn't involve them (in my case, both my parents spoke badly of the other and would make my siblings and myself feel guilty for speaking well of the other). It would have been really helpful if there was sustained therapy/ pastoral support for all kids who end up involved in the court process. If someone had told me it wasn't my fault then, it would have saved me a lot of time!

As an adult, I now try to have as good a relationship as possible with each parent separately, but with both (especially Mother who is quite closed), we don't talk much about the divorce and about the other parent. On a practical level, this works - but do you think I'm burying my head in the sand? Do you think at some point I need to ask both what really happened, and really express my anger about how badly it was handled? I want to make my life as easy as possible, but I am worried that if I leave these issues unresolved, they may rear their ugly head later, for example when I come to have my own children.

Apologies for the essay!

PenelopeLeach Fri 27-Jun-14 11:57:08

Hi Mumsnetters! I've enjoyed the questions that have already come in and I hope that there are going to be lots more in the next hour. I may not be able to answer them all but I'll give it a go!

PenelopeLeach Fri 27-Jun-14 12:03:10

Hi thanks for your question. Actually it isn't really a question is it? It's a very good description of what happens to all too many people. It's often assumed that by the time you've grown up that a parental separation doesn't matter to you – you're the living proof it does.

As to whether you should talk it out with your parents, if it's still niggling you I think it might help and I wonder whether if you really intend to read the book yourself, you might see if you can get your mother to read it, because if she's a closed person, although she'll find it a hard book to read I think it might help her open up to you.

When you do have your own children, I'm sure you'll remember some of your own feelings when your parents separated. So if anything should go wrong with your partner's relationship with you, you'll put the children's feelings first and make sure above all that they understand what's happening and that they know any problems are not their fault.

Good luck!

pastaisspeltbackwards

Hello Penelope

I am not a parent, but as an adult child of a very messy divorce, I will read your new book with much interest.

My parents split up whilst my mother was expecting me and went on to have a very messy divorce and custody battle. For reasons I still don't fully understand, they hate each other so much that I have still to this day only ever seen them in the same room in court, and one cannot mention the other without frowning, sneering, muttering about the other etc.

Now in my 20s, I have just about begun to make peace with the situation, realise it's not my fault and there's nothing I can really do about it etc. One thing I feel very strongly about having lived through a situation like this, is that a child desperately needs an impartial adult to go to who provides comfort and doesn't involve them (in my case, both my parents spoke badly of the other and would make my siblings and myself feel guilty for speaking well of the other). It would have been really helpful if there was sustained therapy/ pastoral support for all kids who end up involved in the court process. If someone had told me it wasn't my fault then, it would have saved me a lot of time!

As an adult, I now try to have as good a relationship as possible with each parent separately, but with both (especially Mother who is quite closed), we don't talk much about the divorce and about the other parent. On a practical level, this works - but do you think I'm burying my head in the sand? Do you think at some point I need to ask both what really happened, and really express my anger about how badly it was handled? I want to make my life as easy as possible, but I am worried that if I leave these issues unresolved, they may rear their ugly head later, for example when I come to have my own children.

Apologies for the essay!

PenelopeLeach Fri 27-Jun-14 12:06:03

I agree with you that divorce isn't taken nearly seriously enough from children's point of view and there needs to be more information for parents about how to separate with least harm to the children. A book is only a book, but I hope you might find this one useful.

doziedoozie

I feel your book is sorely needed. Since recent ructions in our family due to a step parent's remarriage and the fall out that has caused made me read up on step parenting, plus reading the step parenting thread on mumsnet.

Also this was a recent headline - 'Sir Paul Coleridge says something must be done to stop the "misery" of family breakdown', and he should know.

Some of the behavior of supposed 'caring' parents is so selfish.

When someone has a baby there is so much support and advice as it is a major lifetime event. I would say divorce involving children is a similar upheaval in life and clear guidelines and expectations for both parents should be handed out in information leaflets. Perhaps written by child experts. Just the basic points about considering the child's well being and what would be the ideal for the child. Then no one can plead ignorance. Also some counseling for the child, they are usually not included in discussions between parents, which is understandable as they are often too young, but an explanation of what is happening and what the future will be. Also speaking ill of the other parent is seen as wrong, correctly, but surely an explanation is needed if eg pick up times are always changed at the last minute. 'Mummy is busy with her life and forgets you and me and the arrangements sometimes'.

I was brought up in a family with an alcoholic and nothing was ever explained or debated so believe that DCs constantly ruminating on what is or isn't or might be going on between adults is unhealthy. Gently explained facts would be better.

PenelopeLeach Fri 27-Jun-14 12:07:37

That's an easy one to answer. 'It depends'. I think most parents who can stay together, do stay together. I don't really share the view that a lot of people break up families for trivial reasons, but the truth is both the possibilities you suggest are less than ideal for all age groups in the family.

Thurlow

In your opinion, what is worse for a child - their parents divorcing, or their parents staying together despite the relationship having broken down?

PenelopeLeach Fri 27-Jun-14 12:09:30

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

PenelopeLeach Fri 27-Jun-14 12:11:31

Gogglepox

How do you explain a separation or divorce to a 2 and 5 year old whilst assuring them that both parents still love the children unconditionally even though the parents may have fallen out of love with each other and are living separately?

How can you avoid attachment issues so the children don't feel the parents will leave them (as they have left each other)?

The children are very much loved and know they are and are happy children. I'm just trying to protect them from feeling insecure about the situation.

Almost just the way you’ve put it. Mummy and daddy don’t love each other any more but each of them loves each of you and always will (and daddy (or mummy) leaving is not your fault .

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