The 2002 movie Catch Me If You Can is about a con artist Frank Abagnale Junior, who poses as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer, and cashes forged cheques worth millions. Frank Abagnale’s character is played very convincingly by Leonardo Di Caprio, and Frank does all of this before his 21st birthday. The movie directed by Steven Spielberg, has a very poignant scene, where a 16-year-old Frank comes home from school one day, to find a strange man in his house, who is finalising the terms of his parents’ divorce. The man hands him a paper, and asks him not to panic even as a distraught, perturbed Frank tries to make sense of it all. The man tells Frank that what he has to do is simple — he has to make a choice between living with his father or living with his mother. Frank is equally fond of both parents, and has a wonderful, easy relationship with his father. Unable to choose, a very troubled Frank rushes out of the apartment, heartbroken, his world falling apart before his eyes.
In the 1998 movie Parent Trap a set of identical twins are separated after their parents divorce. Many years later, they discover each other at a summer camp. They decide to switch places making every effort they can to reunite their parents.
When a couple goes in for a divorce, the first casualty is the child. Ask any child whose parents are divorced and they are likely to tell you that the ideal scenario for them would be if their parents were to stay together, and be happy. No matter what the age of the child, the child (or children) often has to adjust between going from one parent’s home to another. The order that they knew earlier is gone, destroyed and in its place is a new way of doing things. If the divorce has been messy or troubled, or if one of the parents confides in the child or talks about the other parent, then there is a conflict in the child’s mind. No matter how bad one partner perceives the other to be, for a child a parent is the first shelter from the external world. They might be closer to one parent, and might opt to stay with one parent, but nevertheless not having the other parent around, takes adjustment, and it comes with its share of complications.
There are various studies conducted by different bodies such as University of California, Berkeley and University of Toronto, which show that children from divorced homes are more likely to smoke, have poor math and social skills and have a higher susceptibility to sickness. There is also an increased chance of dropping out of school and propensity for crime.
Nobody gets into a marriage, with the intention to break up a family. For parents, making that difficult choice becomes the only option when staying together is torturous. In cases where there is domestic abuse and violence, then there is no choice but to move away from the person causing it, as it is not only for the security of the children, but also for the abused partner’s own mental health.
Here is what is interesting — it is ironical that marriage by it’s very nature is a very fluid institution, even as it gives stability to the children. The partners themselves might define the rules right at the beginning. But circumstances change and the people in the marriage too change, as time progresses. The love that one partner feels for the other might still exist, but it might take on a different form. At times it may vanish, altogether. At times it may be eclipsed by stress caused due to things beyond each partner’s control, like a loss of a job or a change in lifestyle due to moving to a new place.
Some people stay in bad marriages for the sake of children. They might wait until the children are grown up, and then might seek to separate. For some, marriage might feel like a noose around their necks, which they might discard at the first opportunity they get. No matter at what point a couple decides to separate, the disentanglement is bound to leave a wound — both emotionally as well as physically. While it might take years to heal, the scars always remain.
(Preeti Shenoy is the author of eight bestselling books,the latest being a fiction titled It’s All In The Planets)