My friend Letitia, inspired by her work with teenage girls is celebrating her 40th birthday in an unusual way. Last week I explained how she is cycling 40kms for 40 days in a Fighting for our Daughters Ride. Each week she is focussing on an issue that she has personally seen having a negative impact on the lives of young teen girls. She is hoping that during this ride she will raise funds that will allow City Women to continue working with women and girls, creating a more positive environment and a brighter future for them. City Women does this through a variety of programs such as The Gap – a transitional house for young women that have experienced a troubled past to help them learn life skills, experience and confidence to live life purposefully. Or there is the 8-10 week Bella Girl Program designed to teach girls within school and educate them on their beauty, value and purpose. It covers such topics as, “The Value of a Girl”, “Healthy Thinking”, “Friendships”, “The Power of Music” and more.
On Monday Tish started riding!
This week she is wanting to bring awareness to issues surrounding family breakdown.
Let me preface this discussion by saying I do not condemn those raising children out of marriage or in single parent families. I wish you every success, for your own and your children’s sake, in defying the odds and producing well rounded healthy children within your family.
However I also want to encourage those who are raising children within a marriage to persist through the inevitable hardships for the sake of the child.
Family separation is linked to lower achievement in school, higher crime, lower personal income and employment. The impact of divorce shows that children from broken homes are twice as likely to have problems compared to children whose parents remain in a reasonably intact marriage. Younger children are more likely to experience mental health problems, have poorer self-control and lower reading skills. Teenagers are more at risk of psychiatric symptoms, impulsiveness, early sexual activity, substance abuse, delinquency and poor educational achievement.
Bettina Arndt writes a compelling argument on why a bad marriage may be better than a good divorce. Nobody wants to remain in a position where they are miserable, however we must think of a child’s needs before our own. I know this is a very controversial thing to say in this day and age. Research has shown that children who had parents in a marriage with mild to moderate conflict were half as likely to need psychological help as children whose parents divorced, separated or remarried. In fact another study shows that many children from divorced homes didn’t even realise there was conflict in the marriage until after divorce. Children are often scarred psychologically being exposed to a high level of conflict between parents, and are better off being removed from a situation of intense and sustained conflict within marriage. The reality is that divorce often will increases the conflict and the child has no release. For the child, it is often a double edged sword.
Research such as this helps me resolve that divorce is not an option for Alex and I. The truth is, sometimes marriage really sucks. Sometimes you feel like you are in a hole with nowhere to go and it’s really not worth it. When you look at the evidence though, you realise that persisting through the conflict really is worth it. Often the determination to stay in a marriage automatically reduces the conflict. If you are not opting out, you are working to reduce the conflict to make it more bearable for everyone, yourself included. By doing so, you actually end up improving the marriage. Keeping honest and open communication without blame and accusation helps Alex and I move beyond our own agenda and work on our marriage not only our own sake, but also for the well being of our children.
It is equally concerning that the children who don’t witness conflict between parents because they grow up without a father. This is equally concerning as these children and teens are subject to a host of negative side effects, including feelings of inadequacy and lack of self confidence, increased aggression and higher tendency to resort to substance abuse.
As a society we must never devalue the extremely important role father’s play in moulding well adjusted children who become upstanding members of our society. A father has an impact on a child’s life in a way that is completely different to a mother. I was interested to discover that a Melbourne University study of 212 children found that fathers, even more than mothers, had a major beneficial influence on children in their first year of school. The study found that kids with regular father involvement were more cooperative and self-reliant in school than kids who did not have a fathers involvement. The more regular involvement the father has with the child, the study’s author said, the better the child does in his or her first year of school.
It makes me grateful for the role that Alex plays in our children’s lives. He is such an interested Dad. Alex loves to turn up to school events and is constantly on the sidelines for sporting activities. On weekends he normally is always shadowed by several children as he does odd jobs around the yard, and giving rides on the mower and motorbikes is a consistent Saturday highlight. It’s often the simple things, and just involving children in things that you already love, but it creates security and gives children the unmistaken message that they are loved.
Sadly there are so many children who do not feel such simple gestures of love. Almost 20,000 Australian children are living in foster care, removed from their biological parents for their own safety, and as the number of children in need of foster care rises, the number of carers is dwindling. The long term prospects for many of the children are not good, with high rates of imprisonment and homelessness, and poor education outcomes. Through issues like family violence, mental health, substance misuse, particularly alcohol misuse, we have many more families struggling to meet the needs of their children and many more children needing to be removed from their families and placed in care.
There are some adults who by the age of 20 have lived in 20 placements. That’s 20 families to live with and often every change requires a change of school. Why do we wonder when those children are more likely to be homeless, more likely to be illiterate, more likely to be in juvenile justice and more likely to have had a baby at 13 or 14 themselves when they’ve never attached, they’ve never known trust because they keep being moved?
Letitia regularly comes in contact with these girls. I remember her recently telling me how she came into a school to do the Bella Girl program and was chatting afterwards to a young girl who had abruptly been put in foster care. The girl was wearing clothes several sizes too large for her and was searching through the schools lost property to see if she could find something that she could wear that was closer to her size because she wasn’t able to go home and get any of her own clothes and possessions.
Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own little middle class life that we are oblivious to the amount of pain out there of children growing up in broken families and living fatherless lives. When I hear stories such as this, it inspires me to give to organisations that assist children to grow into adults that still feel valued and hear the message that they are important, despite their personal circumstances. I mostly can’t give my time right now at this stage of my life, however, when possible, even if it’s in small ways, we like to at least make financial contributions to help. The other way I feel that we can make a change to this epidemic of broken families, is to be committed to raising our own children in a loving home environment. I think it’s important to also raise children with awareness of other’s plights so that my children not only have an understanding of how fortunate they are, but also are filled with compassion for others. I hope that one day they can also be a part of the solution to this and so many other issues in the world.
What concerns do you have with eroding family values? What do you do to counter this problem?
If you would like to support Letitia during her 40 day Fighting for our Daughters ride, please donate here.