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Kissing parents less likely to shout at children

How embarrassing Public Displays of Affection by parents are the secret to happy childhood – and women are more like to find their partners annoying than men.

The thought of parents kissing is enough to make most children cringe with embarrassment – but a new study has shown that it could be distinctly to their advantage.

Analysis of the home lives of more than 5,000 families has shown that the more often parents kiss the less likely they are to shout at their children.

The study, part of a major research project into modern fatherhood, found that couples with more affectionate relationships area also more likely to be better parents.

But tensions between parents are also likely to spill over into their relationship with their children.

The study, published by NatCen Social Research and involving the Institute of Education and University of East Anglia, also offered fascinating glimpses into the state of British relationships.

It reveals that women are more likely to believe that their husband or partner “gets on their nerves” and even secretly harbour thoughts of divorce than men are.

Researchers asked parents of both sexes a series of questions to gauge the state of their own relationships as well as family life overall, including examining how often parents eat with their children or help them with their homework.

Overall 44 per cent of fathers claimed that their wife or partner “rarely” or “never” gets on their nerves, only 36 per cent of mothers said the same.

To read more click here.

Divorce doesn’t just hurt small children – its effects last years

Penelope Leach has raised a storm by talking of how separation harms very small children. But the bruises and pain are deeper and longer-lasting.

No matter how civilised a divorce is, it always makes children unhappy, says Penelope Leach, hurling a grenade into the cosy liberal consensus on the matter. The veteran child psychologist has infuriated fathers with her new book, Family Breakdown, in which she suggests that very small children whose parents separate should not stay overnight with the absent father (or mother). “You get situations,” Leach says, “where children are spending a week in Mum’s house and a week in Dad’s house and all kinds of horrible arrangements. I call them horrible because we do know that they are desperately wrong for children, who need the security of a place called home and who, when very little, shouldn’t be taken away overnight from what is usually the mother – the person they are attached to.”

Leach’s view flies in the face of evidence which shows, consistently, that it is better for the child to have regular contact with both parents, though she is right and brave to point out that divorce, which now affects nearly half of all marriages, is too often about the selfish interests of the parents, with children seen as property to be haggled over.

A friend of mine found out, shortly after her daughter’s second birthday, that her husband had a longstanding girlfriend. Aggressively, the man pursued joint custody of the little girl; though, after a long and bitter legal battle, Vicky was able to hang on to Tilly for the majority of the time. During the weekends with her dad, Tilly often regressed, wetting the bed, pinching and lashing out. Vicky hated what the custody arrangements were doing to her child, but she tried to remain civil, even when her former partner failed to return Tilly at the appointed hour. It was not about his love for the child, but exerting power over his former wife. Mothers, too, can use small children as pawns in a strategic battle of The Ex Files.

To read more click here.

Dreams of ‘self-discovery’ destroying marriage

High divorce rates and low marital satisfaction are a direct result of partners’ inability to meet ‘psychological expectations’.

Time was when a roof over your head, food on the table and occasional bouts of sexual activity were the hallmarks of a successful marriage. Not any more. According to a US psychologist, the modern marriage must fulfil far deeper demands, and most couples are struggling to cope.

Eli Finkel, director of social psychology at Northwestern University in Illinois, said couples today looked to their marriages to help them “grow as individuals”, and support them through “voyages of self-discovery”. But their expectations are rarely met, he said, because of the investment of time and effort involved.

Finkel claims that persistent high divorce rates and low levels of marital satisfaction are a direct result of couples being unable to meet the psychological expectations of their partners. While overall demands on marriages have not changed much over time, he said, the nature of the demands has shifted and they require more time and effort to satisfy.

“In the past, you married someone who helped you meet your basic needs, but over time, love increasingly conquered marriage. Now people are looking to their spouses to help them discover who they are, and to achieve the best version of themselves,” Finkel said.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago, Finkel said that most couples struggle because the change in demands calls for more investment in marriage in an age when many people have less time on their hands.

“People used to marry for basic things like food and shelter. In the 1800s, you didn’t have to have profound insight into your partner’s core essence to tend to the chickens or build a sound physical structure against the snow,” Finkel said. “Back then, the idea of marrying for love was ludicrous.”

“In 2014, you are really hoping that your partner can help you on a voyage of discovery and personal growth, but your partner cannot do that unless he or she really knows who you are, and really understands your core essence. That requires much greater investment of time and psychological resources,” he said.

A blissful minority are in marriages that fulfil these deeper demands, and those marriages are better than the best marriages of yesteryear, Finkel claims. But the average marriage falls short because the time and effort required were impossible for most to meet.

To read more click here.

A mission to save marriages

Nicky and Sila Lee help couples to stay together by running marriage courses. There’s no counselling, no airing of dirty linen in public, no group therapy – and it seems to work.

Early in 2006, Peter Drysdale decided that his 26-year marriage to Gill was over. He bought an Idiot’s guide to divorce, consulted a lawyer, and even told their two adult children. “I guess the crisis was precipitated by the kids’ empty nesting,” says Peter, 57, a project manager with Barclays. “There’d been a couple of false starts, but now they’d settled and weren’t coming back. That left Gill and I to face each other.”

When they did, neither was surprised to find the connection was no longer there. They hadn’t resolved their marital differences along the way, just buried them. Money was a key problem area (Peter was a spender, Gill a saver). Their communication styles were another (Peter shouted, Gill withdrew). They had survived by carving out separate spaces. For chunks of the marriage, Peter had worked long hours in London while Gill brought up the children in their Berkshire home. With the children gone, she spent more time at their house in France. “We’d had one preliminary session with Relate then stopped,” says Peter. “We argued all the way through and the counsellor told us that unless we were positive about wanting to save the marriage, it probably wasn’t worth coming back. Even our children agreed divorce was for the best.”

The Drysdales looked destined to join the long line of couples who make January “divorce month”. (Family solicitors and divorce websites point to it as their busiest time, a combination of couples deciding to get through Christmas before making a clean break for New Year and others discovering during the enforced family holiday that they can’t take it, or fake it, any longer.) Then some friends announced they were going on a “marriage course” that spring and invited Gill and Peter along. It involved seven weekly sessions at a church in London’s Kensington.

“I was gobsmacked because their relationship was great – but they said the course was for anyone, however long you’ve been married and whether you’re happy or not,” says Peter. “We weren’t churchgoers and I didn’t want to be preached at. I didn’t like the idea of airing dirty linen in public either. I wasn’t keen – but Gill wanted to give it a go. I thought, I’ll go and prove it’s over.”

The course began in 2006 at the Holy Trinity Brompton, the church that is also home to the Anglican Christian Alpha course, known by members as HTB. It was devised by Nicky and Sila Lee – he is associate vicar there – largely as a resource for church members, but its appeal widened as word spread.

Then people who lived outside London asked if they could run it in their hometowns – sometimes in their homes, or a restaurant, a pub, a village hall. It has been introduced to UK prisons and is now being tried on military bases. It has been translated into 40 languages and is running in 109 countries. Now about half the couples who attend are not religious – writer and Guardian columnist Tim Lott is one atheist who went with his wife and left impressed (his wife is “evangelical” about it).

Sila, 58, and Nicky, 59, have been married for 37 years. They have four children, and five grandchildren – but are effortlessly attractive, youthful and vivacious. Their home next to the church in a Kensington square is crowded with books, clocks, cushions, lamps, Theirs seems a charmed life – you can’t help wondering what they know of strife or struggle or debt or cruelty. They’re just so nice!

They met as teenagers on Swansea dock, awaiting a ferry to Ireland. Sila was 17, an art student and Nicky was 18, studying English at Cambridge. They fell in love before they had even boarded the boat, married four years later and moved to Durham where Nicky studied theology. “We were the first of our age group to marry and it meant friends often came to us to talk about relationships, asking how you know whether to get married and so on,” says Nicky.

When he joined HTB in 1985, part of his work involved speaking to couples about to get married. He and Sila then devised a marriage preparation course that took off. “The content was a combination of our own experience, what we’d found helpful, and advice we’d picked up from older married couples,” says Nicky. “It was wonderful; we loved it. But having a room full of engaged couples who were in love and hopeful was one thing. We wanted to reach those a little further on, when the rose-tinted glasses had come off. That’s how the marriage course came about.”

There’s no airing of dirty linen. It’s set up as a kind of date night, one evening a week for seven weeks. (The suggested cost is a £95 donation – which barely covers the catering – though others who are running it may offer it for free.) You sit in a room full of couples, but at a table for two and dine together (cohabiting couples are also welcome).

Afterwards, you listen to presentations, issues are raised, then you and your partner discuss and complete the exercises at your table. “Privacy has always been important, there’s no group sharing,” says Sila.

“We have 100 couples on each course. We greet them at the door but know nothing about their situations or why they are here. All the issues discussed are pertinent to the couple and no one else.” But the group setting creates a structured, safe environment in which to talk. “Even if their relationship is in quite a difficult place, people feel OK discussing things they wouldn’t at home because there, it could escalate or get too emotional – one or both could shout and scream and storm out. That has never happened on the course,” says Nicky.

There is a separate theme each week. The first is building strong foundations – that’s prioritising one another, having special time together. Next is the art of communication, which focuses on learning to listen, followed by resolving conflict – how to argue effectively. Session four is the power of forgiveness, and the fifth explores the impact of family, past and present to understand how one other’s backgrounds and extended family shape who and how they are.

Good sex is sixth. “We leave that second to last because people think that if they get the sex sorted out, everything will be fine,” says Sila. “Actually, all the other issues need to be in place.”

The last session is love in action. The premise here is that we all tend to have different “love languages”– we show love in different ways, so don’t always recognise it when our partner shows it to us. It could be through words, time, gifts, touch, or putting up a shelf.

It could be argued that any couple willing to put themselves through all this must be pretty committed already. (For some, it must sound like torture, and attendance at all seven sessions is proof enough that they love their partners.) Yet it’s hard to dismiss the number of glowing testimonials, of marital miracles offered up by loved-up happy graduates of the course.

Sila describes the forgiveness session as the heart of the course. “People who run it worry about this one as it’s the most difficult,” she says. “But it’s often the really big turning point. If we don’t heal hurt, we can’t move forward in a healthy way.”

Instead, couples are helped to recognise how they have hurt one another, to own it and apologise, not excuse it, then choose to forgive. The issues can be big and small. “For one couple, it was about the paternity leave he hadn’t taken when their first child was born,” says Nicky. “He thought they’d agreed that he would store it up for later, he had a deadline at work and her parents were there. He thought she’d said it was OK. They came on the course three years later – they’d had a second child by then – but to her, that choice he’d made signified that work was more important. She expressed what it felt like for her. He listened and got it, and said sorry. Once she knew he understood, it wasn’t that hard to forgive.”

For Peter Drysdale, the communication session was key. “Part of my job is to be a good communicator. I’d always thought that I was and Gill wasn’t,” he says. “I can get loud and argue a point. Then I realised it’s about listening.”

Gill found the impact of the family sessions helpful. “We’d met at university and come from very different families,” she says. “I was from a southern family who weren’t particularly good at talking. We tended to bury things. Peter is from the north – his family shouted at each other a lot, but no one listened. The more we talked, the more all our differences made sense – and when we understood all that, suddenly they didn’t have to be a problem. We can compliment one another. Peter could encourage me to use money, to enjoy it. I could help him save it.”

“One of the tasks was to write down some times we’d felt loved by our partners,” says Peter. “I nearly ended up in tears. When I’d started the course, all I could see were our problems, the bad stuff. I realised there were times Gill had made me feel amazing – and some of them weren’t even that long ago. That’s when hope began.”

“The popular understanding of marriage now is that you’ve got to find The One, the exact fit,” says Nicky. “If you run into problems, it means you’ve married the wrong person. We’re not saying marry anybody – you should choose carefully and wisely – but it’s not hit and miss. If you have two people who are willing, you can build a long, healthy marriage. It’s painful when couples come on the course and don’t make it. But that’s more than matched by those who come without much hope and go home a strong, happy couple.”

Peter and Gill are part of the latter group. “Week by week, things were improving, we were getting closer, finding out about one another when, for years, we’d made assumptions about what the other was thinking and feeling,” says Peter.

“We started date nights – jazz clubs, stuff we’d not done before. We’d stopped going on holidays when the kids had stopped coming. Our holidays turned into DIY in our house in France. Quite soon after the course, we had a mini-break to Iceland, walking on glaciers. When I’d met Gill, she was a folk singer in a band – that had all been forgotten along the way. Now we’re in a choir together. We have fun.”

Gill agrees. “It’s totally different between us,” she says. “I can’t imagine being separate. If we’d divorced, we’d have taken all our problems with us wherever we went next.”

Full article here

For more information on the Marriage Course in Horsham West Sussex click here.

Do you know where your children go online?

Sexting, bullying and getting round security settings… young people tell Olivia Gordon what really happens on the internet.

Thirty years ago, children were taught never to accept sweets from strangers, but the equivalent modern message, about staying safe online, doesn’t seem to be getting through. For all its positives, the online world is full of potential hazards to young people. Sexting, bullying and sexual approaches from strangers are online dangers modern teenagers routinely face. And adults’ knowledge of what young people are doing online is often vague and complacent. , but how many parents of teenagers have actually visited the site and seen the – still disturbing – reality?

Nearly half of British children now have online access in their bedrooms, while a quarter of 12- to 15-year-olds owns a tablet of their own. The number of this age group using smartphones to send, receive and post photos online has risen significantly in the past year, and Ofcom points out that children’s online safety skills have failed to rise at the same rate, with particular risks coming from the lack of privacy on social networking sites. Most parents of five- to 15-year-olds believe they know enough about the internet to keep their children safe, but, according to research by internet security system McAfee in 2012, four-fifths of teenagers say they know how to hide their online behaviour from parents. reported that more than half of young people accept cyber-bullying as part of everyday life and yet while nearly the same number of parents admit they are struggling to monitor their child’s online activity.

Full article here.

The sadness of separation

I cry all the time – I didn’t realise being a single mother would be so hard. Thank goodness my mum is coming.

My son comes up to me, in his little voice, to ask, “Are you sad, Mummy?” and this makes me weep more.’

Instead of the usual TV-before-supper routine, I tell my children to do some drawing at the table. The results are interesting. “This is of a man abseiling down the Gherkin,” says my elder son, holding up a sombre charcoal drawing of a man with a rope around his neck. Then I’m handed a piece of paper dominated by a square that has been wildly scribbled over in clashing colours. “This is the angry house,” my youngest son says defiantly.

The humour and the pathos is evident in both of these images, but I wonder what is really going on in their heads. I also wonder what I would come up with if I was handed pen and paper right now.

I would probably try to express the lack of balance that exists in my life at present. A seesaw perhaps, with me on the end weighing everything down. Or, because Halloween has just been, a brain – my brain – exploding.

I am tired. Dog tired.

“I just didn’t realise that being a single mother would be as hard as this,” I tell my sister in an email. I’m also exhausted by the idea that this could be the future: the chances that R and I will get back together seem to be diminishing as each day passes. Our lives are drifting further apart and our reasons for staying separate outweigh those of staying together.

I cry in front of relative strangers. I can’t help it. I see the tears as a slow drip of indefinable emotion. Like a mystery slow puncture, this release of upset is not going to be easy to explain, or indeed expel.

At the door of my son’s child-minder, the tears begin. She asks me inside and just lets me sit. She gives me a cup of tea and tells me that things will improve. My son keeps coming up to me, in his little voice, to ask, “Are you sad, Mummy?” and this makes me weep more.

I feel guilty that he should see my like this at all, but I try to make him feel safe. I tell him that I am sad, then I hug him and say that I’ll be happy again soon. He seems satisfied with this and bounces off my knee to play on the floor with his friend.

As I step outside the flat, I cry more, but not through upset. I feel immense warmth to the woman who, until just a few minutes ago, was just my son’s childminder. Now she feels like a friend. I am able to go about my day and work with a clearer head. A simple act of sharing has improved things considerably.

In the past few days, I’ve felt choked by responsibility, and I have not reached out for help. I am trying to keep everything afloat, but it’s not always possible. I wouldn’t expect anyone else to be able to manage everything and stay calm throughout, but somehow, I put pressure on myself to be able to cope. But now I have admitted defeat.

R is drinking, I am sad, I am angry, I am tired, the children are demanding, I want more help, I need more hours in the day for work. I would like the reassurance that the children are not shackled by extreme damage created by all of this. Rather selfishly, I’d also like to have a bloody big drunken blow out with good friends, where I can forget everything and wake up after a lie-in, in a bed that has not been squatted in by my children.

That’s what I think I’d like, but I’m not telling anyone any of this. So in my support meeting, I tell the group how I feel. Then at the end, I summarise by saying, “What I really want is to see my mum,” and I’m left with the echo of a voice that sounds like that of a homesick child. But no one laughs and they all offer comfort.

My mum would help. She knows me and the children and our situation. She knows how to cook onions and run baths and fold laundry and pour wine. She understands the importance of early nights sometimes, and company and finding the humour in all sorts of dark situations. She has been through divorce, raised five children, dealt with difficult men, faced addiction in the family and juggled work and a huge extended family.

She sometimes fails, but she does not give up. She is by no means God, but she is as close to it for me.

“Mum, I have a massive work deadline that I just can’t handle because I have no time. The children are sad, R has gone Awol and I feel like I’m losing my mind.”

She’s on her way.

Full article here.

The Husband Store

The Husband Store

A store that sells new husbands has opened in Madrid , where a woman may go to choose a husband. Among the instructions at the entrance is a description of how the store operates:

You may visit this store ONLY ONCE! There are six floors and the value of the products increase as the shopper ascends the flights. The shopper may choose any item from a particular floor, or may choose to go up to the next floor, but you cannot go back down except to exit the building!

So, a woman goes to the Husband Store to find a husband. On the first floor the sign on the door reads:

Floor 1 – These men Have Jobs

She is intrigued, but continues to the second floor, where the sign reads:

Floor 2 – These men Have Jobs and Love Kids.

‘That’s nice,’ she thinks, ‘but I want more.’

So she continues upward. The third floor sign reads:

Floor 3 – These men Have Jobs, Love Kids, and are Extremely Good Looking.

‘Wow,’ she thinks, but feels compelled to keep going.

She goes to the fourth floor and the sign reads:

Floor 4 – These men Have Jobs, Love Kids, are Drop-dead Good Looking and Help With Housework…

‘Oh, mercy me!’ she exclaims, ‘I can hardly stand it!’

Still, she goes to the fifth floor and the sign reads:

Floor 5 – These men Have Jobs, Love Kids, are Drop-dead Gorgeous, Help with Housework, and Have a Strong Romantic Streak.

She is so tempted to stay, but she goes to the sixth floor, where the sign reads:

Floor 6 – You are visitor 31,456,012 to this floor. There are no men on this floor.. This floor exists solely as proof that women are impossible to please. Thank you for shopping at the Husband Store.



To avoid gender bias charges, the store’s owner opened a New Wives store just across the street with the same rules.

The first floor has wives that love sex.

The second floor has wives that love sex and are good looking.

The third, fourth, fifth and sixth floors have never been visited!!

Self-harm: why would she cut herself?

The shocking discovery that her smart, lively 15-year-old daughter was self-harming opened Anna Stone’s eyes to the scale of the problems afflicting our troubled teenagers.

The news that more than 22,000 children and teenagers were treated in hospital for self-harming last year comes as no surprise to me. When we discovered our 15-year-old daughter was cutting herself, it was a total shock. Her adolescence had, like that of many girls, been a period of increasing turbulence – but self-harming never crossed my mind until Sophie rang up from the other side of London saying that a cut in her foot was hurting too much for her to come home by Tube and could she have a taxi? Yes, of course, we said.

When Sophie got home, she was clearly unwell and I asked to see the cut. After a moment’s hesitation, she took off her shoes. It was immediately evident that the wound was serious. Infection had caused her foot to swell, a dark purplish stain was creeping up her leg and she was feverish. We rushed her to A&E, where cellulitis was diagnosed. This is a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection, and for the next three days she was on an antibiotic drip in the children’s ward.

Worse was to come, however, for when the nurses undressed her she struggled to conceal her forearms. When I saw the ladder of fine scars, some old and some very recent, on her perfect young skin I almost fainted with horror. I had had absolutely no idea what was going on.

Later, Sophie told me that she had deliberately allowed her foot to become infected. She said she had wanted to die – we hoped that what she really wanted was our help. The hospital immediately called its paediatric psychiatrist, and once our daughter was physically well, we were invited in for family therapy.

What I saw in the waiting rooms of the hospital confirmed a dawning suspicion that self-harming is the new anorexia. An astonishing number of people I knew had children who were cutting themselves; in my world of ambitious, successful professional people, the proportion seems to be around 20 per cent. Like anorexia, it seems to affect girls in particular, but unlike anorexia, with its highly visible and dangerously fashionable edge – as explored by the new film How I Live Now – cutting is kept secret.

What is the attraction? Sophie describes it as a relief from intense pressure. “I felt as if I was bursting out of my skin, like a sausage under the grill,” she said. Cutting is, however, an addiction; another young woman told me that it’s as if there are two worlds, “the clean, white world everyone else knows, and the secret world of blood and filth underneath”.

Yet further exploration of the subjects revealed other disturbing features. Our daughter was at an all-girls’ school, whose emphasis on academic and sporting prowess would, we had hoped, reinforce her self-confidence as a quirky individual we adored. She was precociously clever, funny, beautiful and apparently without a care in the world.

What we hadn’t counted on is the way that, in a school like this, competitiveness could apply not only to academic work or looks or popularity but also to self-harm. Our daughter had struggled to find a group of sympathetic friends. At 14, she fell in with a group of other girls whose rebellion took the form of cutting themselves in more and more bizarre ways. From what I have pieced together over the years, it was almost a form of showing off to each other: who had the most cuts? Who had the deepest? Who could cut themselves just before a lesson, or in a school toilet?

These were bright, privileged girls on the verge of womanhood. Two were sexually precocious, but the rest seemed like Sophie: confident, level?headed and normal. While sometimes unkind to each other in my presence, there seemed to be no group leader. They texted, chatted on Facebook and seemed to be enjoying a normal social life.

However, no sooner had my daughter turned 13 than an iron screen came down. The easy, loving flow of confidences stopped. I was suddenly her enemy, as she pushed herself to work late into the night and succeed on all fronts. A couple of years later, she told me that she envied me for being happy in my marriage and career. I was part of her problem, not a release from it.

From what I can work out, our daughter started cutting herself at 14 – the typical age – but what is even more disturbing is that younger and younger children are turning to it. The latest NHS figures show that in the past year, hospitals have treated 18,037 girls and 4,623 boys aged between 10 and 19 after they had harmed themselves – a rise of 11 per cent. Cases involving children aged 10-14 rose by 30 per cent from 4,008 to 5,192. Is it due to the general spread of information into younger and younger age groups? Or is it due to ever-younger children growing up too soon?

I have no doubt that girls and women have always turned their anger and fearfulness in on themselves; fairy tales are too full of women like Cinderella’s sisters cutting their heels in order to fit into too-small shoes for it to be a coincidence, or even a metaphor for the onset of puberty. But I also see this as a hidden epidemic among our young. My story is written pseudonymously, to protect my daughter’s privacy, but when I talked about my experience I was astonished both by the number of children I knew who were self-harming and by the number of parents who believed that to discuss it at all was wrong, and that their children were committing a shameful act.

“They’ll grow out of it,” said one; but then I found a number of middle-aged mothers who had continued, and who told me of addressing public meetings with blood seeping through their bandages, and the frantic desire to break their own skin. One mother told me that she even took light bulbs out of her daughter’s room because if they were left she would smash them and use the broken glass on herself; her child eventually had to be sectioned.

Incidentally, I believe that the contemporary craze for tattooing is a part of this. While some do it in the belief that a tattoo makes them look more interesting, many self-harmers have talked to me of deriving the same sensation of “release” from the (milder) pain of tattooing needles that they had from razors.

So, if your child has this addiction, or affliction, how do you move forward? We were deeply concerned for our child, but the family therapy we were offered in hospital was, we quickly decided, a waste of time. Discussing our family’s dynamic with a panel of shrinks, in our daughter’s presence, felt far too judgmental; we felt that being asked about our own teenaged experiences of depression weren’t helpful to our child, who needed her own suffering addressed.

It wasn’t as if these were exactly secret, either: my husband had always told her how he had exorcised his own anger at school through sport, and I had described how becoming a writer helped me. Our daughter already had similar outlets, together with a loving, stable, supportive family. It wasn’t enough.

Sophie was terrified of taking medication, and refused the offer of anti-depressants (though these have helped one or two other children I know). She continued to cut herself if we ever had a row. The slightest criticism from me had her reaching for a hidden blade. I felt as if I, too, was walking on knives. I would go into my daughter’s room to search for blades – knives, penknives, scissors – which she had hidden. It’s all too easy to obtain a blade. Even the lid of a tin can will do.

What did help was her talking once a week to a therapist on her own for a year. She didn’t want to discuss her feelings with us, or her grandparents or godparents or a teacher, but she did with a stranger qualified to explore her feelings of anger, self-loathing and hopelessness. Gradually, we could see a change as she rowed back from despair.

It was a long process. She changed schools, passed exams, endured setbacks and learnt from them that they would not destroy her or our love for her. To meet her, you wouldn’t think for a moment that she had ever had any difficulties. Only her arms tell the truth, and she hardly ever reveals those.

My daughter was a lot more fragile than we realised but, while still prone to black moods, she no longer cuts herself. It took a good two years for me to feel she was safe to leave alone, and more for the old, easy intimacy to be restored.

We are enormously proud of her. The long battle with self-harming eventually produced an individual who is strong and sensitive, compassionate to others and not too hard on herself. My present to her when she went to university this year was a case of knives.

Full article here.

a “tsunami” of family breakdown

A million UK children are growing up without a father in their lives, says a new report on family breakdown.

The Centre for Social Justice report says lone parent families are increasing by more than 20,000 a year, and will top two million by the next general election.

In some areas fatherlessness has reached such high levels that they are virtual “men deserts”, it adds.

And it accuses politicians on all sides of a “feeble” response.

The report says the number of single parent households has been rising steadily over the past 40 years, and that now 3m children are growing up predominantly with their mothers.

‘Tsunami of breakdown’

This has led to a huge number of children growing up without a meaningful relationship with their fathers – which the report defines as contact twice a year or more.

The absence of fathers is linked to higher rates of teenage crime, pregnancy and disadvantage, the report says, warning that the UK is experiencing a “tsunami” of family breakdown.

And it highlights areas of the UK with very high levels of lone parent households – although this does not necessarily mean the children living in them have no contact with their fathers.

In one neighbourhood in the Riverside ward of Liverpool, there is no father present in 65% of homes with dependent children. Liverpool has eight out of the top 20 areas with the highest levels of fatherless households.

‘Men deserts’

There are 236 pockets of towns in England and Wales where more than 50% of households with dependent children are headed by a lone mother.

And an area in the Manor Castle ward of Sheffield tops the lone parent league table – among households with dependent children, 75% are headed by a lone parent.

Mr Guy adds: “For children growing up in some of the poorest parts of the country, men are rarely encountered in the home or in the classroom. This is an ignored form of deprivation that can have profoundly damaging consequences on social and mental development.

“There are ‘men deserts’ in many parts of our towns and cities and we urgently need to wake up to what is going wrong.”

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For children growing up in some of the poorest parts of the country, men are rarely encountered in the home or in the classroom”

The CSJ report recalls David Cameron’s election pledge to lead the “most family-friendly Government ever”.

Yet, in power, the family stability agenda “has barely been mentioned”. Comprehensive action to tackle existing policy barriers to family stability “has been almost entirely absent”, it adds.

‘Transferrable tax allowance’

The report calls for concrete steps to encourage marriage, including transferrable tax allowances for married couples.

The Department for Communities, Local Government and the Regions responded highlighting its programme for highly troubled families.

A DCLG spokesman said the programme was helping to get thousands of children back into school, reduce youth crime and anti-social behaviour and put parents on a path back to work, as well as reducing costs to the taxpayer.

“In the first year of the three-year programme councils had already identified 66,000 fully eligible families and were working with over 35,000. This is good progress considering many services have been established from a standing start and puts us on track to work with 120,000 families by 2015.”

Full details here.

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