FAMILY MATTERS: Parents must put their children first

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CLAIRE Taylor was just 34 when her husband walked out on their marriage. She had a ten-week old baby and was left to fend for herself.

It wasn’t easy, but Claire survived.

Claire Taylor

Claire Taylor

Now, ten years later, she’s helping other couples and children deal with one of the most difficult experiences a family can face - divorce.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” she said.

“It was a complete shock when he left. I thought at first it was the fact he was simply overwhelmed with having a baby because his sister died after going through childbirth, but it wasn’t.”

Claire’s world was turned upside down but somehow she found the strength to be positive about it and get through her ordeal.

“It could have been worse - at least I was on maternity leave so I had time to deal with it. It would have been really tough had I been working.”

And while the prospect of a husband walking out on his wife and a ten-week old baby is terrifying, Claire says that in the end it worked out for the best.

“My daughter has never known us to be together, she has only ever known it to be how it is,” she said.

“Sometimes people who have themselves gone through a divorce say to me ‘your daughter’s so well-adjusted’ and I tell them that she was just ten weeks old when it happened.”

But while it wasn’t so difficult for her daughter, it was tough for Claire.

She said: “I still loved him, I never ever wanted to split up.”

Claire kept her anger inside though and put her daughter’s feelings first.

“I’ve always encouraged her to see her dad. He didn’t really spend much time with her until she was about 14 months old and then he started seeing her more regularly and now he sees her about three times a week.

“He picks her up from school and lives really nearby. It works quite well but it has been an absolute roller coaster.

“I made the decision a couple of months after he left that her relationship with her dad was important. She deserved to know her dad,” she said.

Claire now works as a therapist, helping other families through divorce.

She believes that no matter how hard it is for the parents, they should maintain an amicable relationship and keep things as normal as possible for the children - even if it means seeking help from a therapist.

She said: “Sometimes a therapist is good because the children have someone to talk to. There are some wonderful family mediation workers out there too, and they do a really great job in helping couples make the right decisions for everyone.”

But Claire believes making life easier for the children has to start at home with the parents.

She said: “It’s very hard to do but when the children come home and they are telling you about what a great day they had with their dad it’s best just to be interested and excited for them, no matter how difficult.

“It’s not nice for the children when parents are bad-mouthing each other because it makes them feel that they can’t be open about how they feel - they are scared of upsetting the other parent.”

Claire has prioritised her daughter even above subsequent relationships.

“It would have to be someone pretty special for me to get involved. I am a working single mum and time is precious with my daughter,” she added. For Claire, the most important thing for a family who has gone through a divorce is to always do what’s best for the kids.

She said: “Sometimes we have to put our own feelings on the back burner.”

Vanessa Fox, a family solicitor at Keeble Hawson in Sheffield, echoes Claire’s advice.

“When a marriage ends it is terrible for everyone, especially if children are involved.

“It is important to retain tact and dignity if possible rather than acrimonious battles dragged through courts,” she said.

“Often, the best way to handle a divorce is the collaborative process, which can work speedily to resolve matters if you can face your ex in a room with both your lawyers present. I have been involved in many of these meetings and always work closely with the other party’s solicitor to make sure that the children stay as the focus.”

“I can’t stress how important it is to keep the children out of the wrangling if possible and to be honest and child-focused in your views.

“If you are unable to deal with your feelings of anger then your GP may be able to refer you to an experienced counsellor.”

Solicitors such as Vanessa are trained to sensitively deal with the aftermath of the divorce, and the legal tangles that come with it.

And both women agree that by respecting the needs of the children and putting them first, the chances are they will come out the other end less scarred than they might otherwise be.