Last year, over a quarter of Australia's children grew up in either a step or blended family or with just their mum or dad. Nearly one third of marriages now end in divorce and over a million kids grow up with their natural parent living elsewhere.
While academics, psychologists, lawyers, and policy makers hotly debate the best way to care for kids after a relationship break-up - how often do we hear from the actual kids themselves? What's it like being a child of divorce?
This special episode of Insight throws out the adults from this discussion and talks to the kids themselves. Incorporating a lively studio discussion with video diaries filmed with 12 - 20 year olds from around the country, we explore some of the myths surrounding the impact of divorce and separation on both young and old children.
Does 50/50 parenting work for kids? Are kids as resilient as they can seem? Is there such a thing as a 'good' divorce? How long-term and far reaching can the impacts of divorce be on children?
Please join us on our Live Chat after the replay. Three of our young guests will be online for you to talk to.
Kids Help Line
Family Relationships Online
Last year, over a quarter of Australia's children grew up in either a step or blended family or with just their mum or dad. Nearly one third of marriages now end in divorce and over a million kids grow up with their natural parent living elsewhere.
JENNY BROCKIE: Welcome, everyone. It's really great to have you all here tonight. Ah, Rachelle, I want to start with you. You were a toddler when your parents separated. Let's have a look at what you remember.
RACHELLE HIGGS, PERTH: In the driveway behind me, there's, um - me and my father and my Mum, we were standing in the driveway against the cars and we were drinking milk out of a coconut. Um, and after we finished that, which was quite disgusting, um, he pulled out of the driveway and went off to my grandpa's house. As soon as he pulled out, my, ah, new stepfather - my Mum's new husband - pulled in from around the corner, as soon as my Dad pulled out. And, yeah, that's how the story goes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Rachelle, you were only three when that happened. I'm surprised that you remember anything at all from when you were three. What sense did you make of what was going on?
RACHELLE HIGGS: I remember myself crying and running inside to my room, but that's about it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. And did your stepdad move in that day?
RACHELLE HIGGS: Yeah. He was waiting at the park just across the road.
JENNY BROCKIE: So dad drove out, stepdad drove in?
RACHELLE HIGGS: Yep.
JENNY BROCKIE: And your life changed a lot, then, from then on?
RACHELLE HIGGS: You could say that"¦. A fair bit.
JENNY BROCKIE: John, you're from country Victoria. You were just 11 when your parents split up. Let's hear how you found out.
JOHN GOODALL, ELMORE, VICTORIA: Me and my brothers and sisters were walkin' home from school, which was about 200-300m down the road from where we lived. When we were walking home - we were all enjoying ourselves - me and my brother used to try and race each other home, see who'd get there first. I beat him that day and walked into the front door, and Mum and Dad were having a bit of a feud. I was a bit stunned, like "Whoa, what's going on here?" But um, yeah, that's basically when we figured out that Mum and Dad were basically splitting up and going their own ways.
What I remember most is walking in out from the backyard - we walked around the corner to the side gate next to a shed. He got in his, um, truck, and we were all at the gate standing there like "Oh, can we come with you?" Basically, all in tears. We didn't understand what had actually happened. We thought Dad must be going away, but we didn't know that he wouldn't be coming back
JENNY BROCKIE: John, you're 17 now. Did it make sense when it happened? I mean, what had been happening beforehand?
JOHN GOODALL: Oh, we all just, like, thought it was perfect. 'Cause when you're kids and that, you don't really think "Oh, they might be having a feud." You don't really think about what your parents are thinking at the time. Whereas when I walked in to discover a fight, I was like "Whoa, something has happened here" type of thing.
JENNY BROCKIE: Was that the first inkling you got? What was happening immediately beforehand?
JOHN GOODALL: There was nothing wrong beforehand, basically. I don't remember every single day beforehand, but what I do remember was they were happy and playing around and messing around beforehand. And then to discover that the next day, basically, was like "Whoa..."
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you remember your feelings on that day? Do you remember how you felt?
JOHN GOODALL: Oh, I was in denial a lot, because I was like "nah, it's not happening." Then I started to, like - kind of - wouldn't say hate, but get, like, strong feelings of dislike towards both parents, thinking that they haven't really done what they could do for us kids. They were putting themselves first instead of us, and not the other way around.
JENNY BROCKIE: You said you didn't realise you weren't going to see your dad again. How long was it after that day when he drove off before you saw him again?
JOHN GOODALL: Before I actually saw him was a couple of years.
JENNY BROCKIE: Couple of years?
JOHN GOODALL: Yeah, he went up to Queensland.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you have contact with him during that time?
JOHN GOODALL: For a few months, there was no contact. He was just gone, basically. And um, about three months was the first call when we heard from him.
JENNY BROCKIE: David, your life changed when you were 13. You're 17 now. What happened?
DAVID WALKER, DECEPTIOPN BAY: Well, one day I'd just come home from school with my brothers and sister, and my Mum wasn't there at all. And my Dad was never home. But that wasn't a shock when I got home. And it was about a week later, I realised Mum hadn't been home. Then I went to see my nan - like, she lived with us because she had MS. And she told me that Mum had run away because she'd had enough of my Dad, because they were having problems for years.
JENNY BROCKIE: So, how long was mum gone, and who looked after all of you?
DAVID WALKER: Um, Mum was gone for about a couple of months, and our nan was looking after us. But then she got sick and she had to go into hospital. Then it was about - I don't know, a couple of weeks after she was in hospital, our Mum sent my older brother down to pick us up so we could come and live up here in Brisbane with her.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. And did you try to find your mum during that two months that she was gone?
DAVID WALKER: Yeah. 'Cause my sister had run away to come up to find my Mum as well. And I'd been lost without everyone. So I went to - at school, I went to the principal and I was talking to him about it. And he called up my Mum and I got to talk to her.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. And how did you feel about all that, David? And how did you feel at that time as a 13-year-old?
DAVID WALKER: I felt like "What do I do now? I'm left alone with my brother and sister." And they were both younger than me. But I just thought "Good on Mum for doing what she did." I just had to power on and keep strong for my brother and sister.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you made a decision that you were going to keep strong. You're a school captain now, I think, aren't you?
DAVID WALKER: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Bernadette, you were 16 when you found out that your parents were breaking up. What do you remember of being told about it?
BERNADETTE YOUNG, BRISBANE: Um, well, the night, a had,, I found out, my Dad took me - I have an older brother and a younger sister - and he took us out to dinner. And halfway through the dinner he sort of said, um, "Your Mum and I are getting separated." My dad is English. He said he was going back to England to live. And I remember just kind of being a bit shocked. Sort of, we're in a restaurant with other people. And sitting there going "Oh..."
JENNY BROCKIE: That's a big piece of information to get, though, that your dad is leaving and going to live in England. Do you remember how you felt about hearing that?
BERNADETTE YOUNG: Um... I had talked to him - like, a bit about sort of going back over to England. And I knew he wasn't happy in Australia. He had never really - because my Mum's Australian and my Dad's English. He'd always been homesick throughout his whole life. And so I sort of thought, fair enough, for him. But as it turns out, he came back about two months later, and he's living in Australia currently. So he didn't end up moving to England.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. Rhianon, what about you? Your parents broke up when you were thirteen. Were you prepared for it, do you think?
RHIANON JOHNSON, DECEPTION BAY, QUEENSLAND: Growing up with my Mum and my stepdad, it was pretty difficult. There always was violence in the house, and they'd always just send me off to my room and say "Stay in there, turn your music up, put TV on, do something like that" or something like that so you don't listen to it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Listen to what? The fighting.
RHIANON JOHNSON: Them arguing.
JENNY BROCKIE: The arguments, and how old were you when you were first aware of that?
RHIANON JOHNSON: I was nine.
JENNY BROCKIE: What would you do whilst those fights were going on?
RHIANON JOHNSON: Normally I'd just storm off to my room, just ignore the whole thing. Then I started becoming more aware of the situation - the fact that they weren't trying to separate me from the arguing anymore. They'd start arguing about me. You know, whether or not I should know what's going on or if I should just be kept in the dark. Eventually, I got into the arguments as well. So eventually, Mum and I moved out because we just couldn't take it anymore.
JENNY BROCKIE: Chiara, what about you? You were eight, I think, when your parents first separated. What do you remember of it?
CHIARA SANTOMAURO, BRISBANE: Um, I was pretty lucky, 'cause mine was nothing like anyone else's story. They just sat us down - me and my brother - and they said "We're going to have a trial separation and see how that goes." They just, like, talked it through us. There was no drama about it. And we were like "OK, yeah." And then, um, I think they were separated for about a year, and then after that they decided to get a divorce. It was all right with me and my brother, 'cause we were used to it, so - 'cause we were used to them being separated, we just assumed they would get divorced.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK. So for you, it was a big deal, no big deal?
CHIARA SANTOMAURO: Um... It wasn't actually that big of a deal. They just told us, and there was nothing that, like, upset us. Like, there was no big, you know, "- - my dad didn't walk out or anything like that.
JENNY BROCKIE: So they did it together..
CHIARA SANTOMAURO: Yeah. They sat me and my brother down and they just both talked us through - well, my Mum talked more, but...
JENNY BROCKIE: OK. Tim, what about you? You were three when your parents separated. Do you remember anything about it at all?
TIM RENNICK, MELBOURNE: Um, no, I don't remember much about it at all because in the younger stages of your life, you can't really remember much. I just remember my Dad being there, and then he's not. And the lifestyle that I'm experiencing now is the one I've grown up with.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you've really only ever known your parents being apart, you haven’t known them being together.
TIM RENNICK: Never known them being together.
JENNY BROCKIE: What's that been like for you?
TIM RENNICK: Well, I guess emotionally, I feel quite fine about it, never knowing them together, so there's no real difference. I guess there's quite a few difficulties - just bringing stuff from house to house and things like that - but it's been fine.
JENNY BROCKIE: We'll get onto the bringing stuff from house to house a bit later. I want to wrap this section up. It's the moment of being told that I'm interested in here first up. Is there a good way to be told that your parents are breaking up? Is there a good way of doing it, is there a way you would have preferred they'd done it?
CHIARA SANTOMAURO: Well, I think the way my parents did it was really good. If you get both parents to tell you, and if they sort of just do it calmly, and you know, don't blame each other, just explain it to them, and then –
JENNY BROCKIE: What do I some of the rest of you think? Is there a good way of find out? Yes?
AYFER HUSEYIN, MELBOURNE: I don't think there's any good way of finding out your parents aren't going to be together, but I think if you're sat down with both parents and they make it very clear that they love you and they're going to be there for you and that there's no blame in it, it's, I guess, the easiest way to cope with it.
JENNY BROCKIE: John?
JOHN GOODALL: And another thing is not too just, like, bring it out of the blue. Like, at least give you some time to actually accept it. Not just go one day, "Yep, we're getting a divorce," that’s it type of thing. It needs to be, like, talked about and explained and ran through, and then happen.
JENNY BROCKIE: I suppose for them, it's not out of the blue. But for you guys it is, yeah?
JOHN GOODALL: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Yes?
BERNADETTE YOUNG: Um, I would say two things - um, from my personal experience, probably not in a public place! Because I guess everyone sort of reacts with a bit of shock to something like that.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you wouldn't have picked the restaurant?
BERNADETTE YOUNG: No, I wouldn't, no. But also, I think adults should give kids a lot more - kids are a lot smarter than adults give a lot of them credit for. And a lot of people can - I had seen it coming. I think if parents are a lot more open and honest about it, it's a lot easier for the children to deal with. If they put it on the table and say "Do you have any questions?" I think most children are fairly clued up.
JENNY BROCKIE: Yes?
REBECCA RANDALL, CANBERRA: I think that point is really, really crucial. Because my parents - I was really little when my parents divorced. But having seen other friends go through it at this - in an age where they're aware of it, the idea that they try to hide stuff from us - you're in the same house as them, you breath the same air, you eat the same food - the idea that they can hide what’s going on in their relationship - I know that I could never hide what's going on between me and my sister and yet parents seem think "The kids are little, they won't understand it." You may as well be honest and up-front about it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well this is interesting, so two different points of view, because John is saying he had no idea. So some parents obviously do hide it very well. Yeah, John.
JOHN GOODALL: You're not always - if you're like me and come from a big family, you're not always constantly talking to your parents and things. You might live your own little life and they might live their life and not try and include each other sometimes.
JENNY BROCKIE: What do the rest of you think about that?
AYFER HUSEYIN: I think that it's quite ridiculous that parents think they can shelter us. Because, like Bernadette said, we are a lot more clued up than adults give us credit for, even at a young age. So it's just pointless trying to hide it from us when you're going to have to tell us eventually anyway.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight, it's kids only on Insight, talking about separation and divorce. And Sarah - I think we'd like to hear from you about an event that happened six or seven years after your parents split up that had a very big impact on you. Let's have a look.
SARAH HORT, LISMORE, NSW: Well, I can remember this was, like, this front yard was probably the last place my parents actually had a conversation. It was more of an argument, but yeah it was the last place that they talked. Like, seven or eight years ago, when I was probably about six or seven and they had, like, a flaming argument -right in this front yard. I think the story was, like, my dad was picking me and my brothers up, to go stay at his place for a few days, I have no idea what the argument was about, but, after that, my mum refused to speak to my dad, and that has been the case ever since. So it was quite a monumental day.
JENNY BROCKIE: Sarah, eight years of not talking.
SARAH HORT: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do they communicate at all with one another?
SARAH HORT: They occasionally write each other letters, but usually it’s like 'Tell your dad"¦.. 'or 'Tell your mum"¦." And so it’s a bit difficult because it’s like alright 'Dad said this" and then mum might get angry and then it’s like, well I’m just the messenger. And then mum would often write letters and dad would not reply or dad would write a letter and mum wouldn’t reply and it would take, like three weeks for some small issue to be resolved where you could have had just a phone call.
JENNY BROCKIE: So, what sort of messages do they relay through you?
SARAH HORT: About anything really. Often it was about finance, and like child support and... Oh my God. It's SO not worth it. It's like - yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: What's it like for you, being the messenger? What was that like? What does that feel like?
SARAH HORT: It's annoying, because you kind of feel like you're being used, as the messenger. "Oh, I'm just the human telephone" or something. Often I would get a message wrong or something. Or like "I'm pretty sure that's what she said" or I wouldn't get the words exactly right. I don't know. You can get, like, all cross-communication.
JENNY BROCKIE: You can get into all kinds of trouble, being in the middle. Does anyone else feel like a messenger? Hands going up everywhere. Yes?
TARA JARNASON, SYDNEY: My parents do talk, but sometimes, like, I have to, like, take notes or something, and I get them wrong, and they get them late. Like my Dad says "Take this to your Mum's house, she can do this one." My Mum says "Hasn't your Dad filled this one out yet?" I get some things wrong that they tell me, then they get mad at each other, and it's like all my fault so, I feel bad sometimes.
JENNY BROCKIE: So that makes you feel like it's your fault?
TARA JARNASON: 'Cause, like, sometimes - it's just little things like, um, "Tell Dad that I'm picking up early," something like that, and then I forget to tell my Dad, or I tell him the wrong time or something, and my Mum comes and gets angry at her.
JENNY BROCKIE: What do you want parents to do in that situation? What would you like your parents to do?
TARA JARNASON: Um - well, I think they should just talk to each other, 'cause it's probably better that they talk instead of us, 'cause if you get it wrong, then they don't get mad at you. You don't feel bad for it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Linh?
LINH DO, MELBOURNE: I think for me, that never really happened. My parents went through the phase where they wanted me to be the messenger, like "Tell your Mum this," "Tell your Dad this." I pretty much told them to man up or grow up. They used to tell my brother and myself not to play trivial games or this or that. If they could tell us to do something like that, they should also be able to pass along their own messages. That way if they screw up, then it's their problem, it's not blamed back on the kids.
JENNY BROCKIE: How did they react to you doing that?
LINH DO: Um, I think it was sort of like a slap in the face. Like, not literally, but for them, it was reality. So I think it was good. From that point on, I never really got the "Can you tell your Mum this?" Other than the occasional "I can't pick you up till 7:00" or something, when it became necessary, rather than some stupid game.
JENNY BROCKIE: Has anyone else had to get tough with your parents? Hands up everywhere! Yes. Over here?
SINEAD FUGUET: My Mum and Dad split up seven years ago. My Dad left to South America. Haven't spoken to him for six years. The first week that they split up, Mum was like "Tell your Mum this, tell your Dad that." It was just so confusing. I didn't know whether to go with my Dad - 'cause he left the country - or stay with my Mum. Me and my Mum always had a good relationship, but dad left the house and me and my brother, he was really little, so I had to look after him, look after my cousins, and I was the one who had to explain to them that my Mum was getting divorced. It was a tough break and I remember calling my Dad every week, and he wouldn’t pick up the phone and he was like "I don't want to do anything with you," and trying to get them back together, like "Work it out, you guys with can do it," you know? It was a tough messenger I tell you.
JENNY BROCKIE: How did it turn out in the end?
SINEAD FUGUET: They haven't spoken for six years. Not even a letter, phone call, nothing.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. And that's what you really want? Is that what you want for, for them to talk?
SINEAD FUGUET: I'm happy for my Mum. She's a lot happier without him. There was always violence in the house, everyone was screaming at each other. Me and my brother, we were the quiet ones - we couldn't really react to that, we were too small. It's better for my Mum, I think, but I miss having a Dad. I don't know what it's like anymore.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you understand why they don't talk to one another?
SARAH HORT: It's like, you were married for so long and you had children together, and yet you know now can't engage in a conversation with each other. It's ridiculous. It's like, yeah, it’s like.. grow up - come on, you shared a bed and a house and everything with this person, and now you can't, like, face them at all or even, like, see them on the other side of the road or something. It's like "Come on..."
JENNY BROCKIE: Danielle?
DANIELLE WEBER, MELBOURNE: With the messenger thing, my parents have always spoken pretty well with each other, but as I’ve gotten older, they've wanted me to take more responsibility with that, to be the messenger. I'm so reluctant to, because it's such a hard job, as everyone has been saying.
JENNY BROCKIE: How do you get out of it, Danielle?
DANIELLE WEBER: I just say "Can you please just call him? I can't remember what you're saying." Or I'll make a mistake and use that as an example of why I don't want to do it again!
JENNY BROCKIE: What did you want to say?
AYFER HUSEYIN: If you can get married with this person and see yourself living with them for the rest of their lives, they should just get over it and talk to each other. They should not have to put the kids in the middle of it. It's childish.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. I'm interested in what you want to know and what you don't want to know in a break-up. What are the things that you want to know about your parents breaking up, and what's the stuff you don't want to know? Yep? Up the back, yes?
CHIARA SANTOMAURO: Um, well, I like to know, um, why they got divorced.
JENNY BROCKIE: And do you?
CHIARA SANTOMAURO: Yeah. Yeah. Um, I - like at first, I only knew my Mum's side. Now that I'm older, I know Dad's side as well. And um... Yeah, that's what I like to know. But, um –
JENNY BROCKIE: Has that affected how you feel about either of them?
CHIARA SANTOMAURO: Um... Not really. It just sort of made me understand why they did it. But I was never angry at them or anything for it. So it just sort of made me, um, see the other side of the story.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tara, you've had your hand up too. What do you want to know and not want to know?
TARA JARNASON: I think you want to know as much as you can, but you don't want to know if they've been - if your Dad's been abusing your Mum or something, you don't want to know if they've been, like, really hurting each other. But you do want to know as much information as you can. And you want them to tell you stuff that's what's happening, not just go ahead and do it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. Yes?
HARLEY HEFFORD, BONBEACH, VICTORIA: Yeah, I was always, um - 'cause my Mum always said I just didn't love him anymore. And I was always kind of "OK, that's a pretty "- I don't know, it seems like not that mass of a reason to sort of leave two children or whatever. I was talking to her more recently, and she was saying that it was kind of - like, she felt that if she had have stayed with him and it was a relationship where my parents didn't really love each other, it would have been harder for us, because we would have been - say, I'm 19 now, and my parents would have grown up - I would have grown up all that time with them in a relationship that they weren't happy, and obviously - and she said that she thought it would be better to separate. And I sort of saw the point in that. And I know - up until then, I thought it wasn't that good a reason. But yeah, I sort of saw her point more.
JENNY BROCKIE: Hannah, what about you? Your parents separated when you were four. What's your relationship like with both of them now?
HANNAH QUINN, SYDNEY: Um, I live with my mother, so that's all right. I have a great relationship with her. Um, my Dad, on the other hand - he – well, he lives in Brisbane. We live here. And he - I feel like the - last couple of years, he hasn't really had anything to do with us. That's sort of because of me and my brother, because we stopped going up and seeing him. But that was because of the way he acted. Like, he stopped paying child support a couple of years ago, when we moved to Sydney. And um... Yeah. I don't know. I'm not very happy with my Dad.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what would you like him to do?
HANNAH QUINN: Ahh... I don't really care anymore, whether he does pay attention to us or not.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you feel quite disconnected now?
HANNAH QUINN: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. Ayfer, what about you? You didn't see your father for eight years, I think, after your parents separated then you went to see him in London when you were 12. Can you tell me what it was like when you first saw him again after all that time?
AYFER HUSEYIN: Um, I was... In shock. I was speechless. And I remember the first day I got there, I didn't look or talk to him, or even acknowledge he was there, for like the first 24 hours. I was disgusted and annoyed and
JENNY BROCKIE: So what happened? How did you work through that? Did you work through any of that?
AYFER HUSEYIN: Yeah. Mum locked me and Dad in a room and kind of said "Sort it out. This is stupid. You've been here for a week and you guys aren't talking. He is your dad."
JENNY BROCKIE: Did she literally lock you in a room with him?!
AYFER HUSEYIN: She came in a room with us and pretty much locked the door and said "We're not leaving till you sort it out." And so we did. Now I talk to him two or three times a week and I see him once a year, and yeah..
JENNY BROCKIE: Let's talk a about a few practical things. Danielle, you're quite happy with your new life in general, and I know there are little things that you want to talk about as well. Let's have a look at what you do every week.
DANIELLE WEBER: I was about eight years old when my parents separated. Ever since then, without fail, it's been every week changing, every Friday. When I'm here at my Dad's house, I'm with my dad, my stepmum and my sister. Every Friday, we'll go to my Mum's house and live with my mum and my stepdad Wayne and my little brother Tyson. These are my favourite clothes - the ones I take to Mum's house. It's a bit stressful having to pack and thinking about what to take.
Usually I just relax on a Friday evening because I have the whole weekend to do homework and things like that, catch up with my little brother, who misses me very much, and speak with my stepdad and my Mum. When I went to France on exchange last year, it was funny, 'cause I packed a suitcase, took it over, then they asked me to unpack it when I got there. I pack unpacked a little bit, but not all of it. They said "Why didn't you unpack it all? We asked you to." I realised that I never fully unpacked everything I had since my parents had separated, since I was eight, and had more or less been living out of a bag for those eight or so years.
JENNY BROCKIE: Danielle, what's it like moving between two worlds like that? I'm sure a lot of you relate to this. What's it like?
DANIELLE WEBER: It can be disruptive if it's irregular. It's not really bad, because I'm constant - every week. But definitely with the routine - stacking the dishwasher, knowing where cups are and things - I get thrown sometimes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tim, what about you? You spend a couple of nights a week at Dad's and the rest of the time at Mum's. What's that like?
TIM RENNICK: You forget a lot of things you need the next day, and it takes a long time to adjust to the routine. I guess we've gone through quite a few ways of remembering stuff, like schedules and diaries. But nothing really seems to have worked.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. And what don't you like about moving? I know there are some things you don't like. You've got a puppy, yeah? Yeah.
TIM RENNICK: I like animals - particularly dogs. I've got some at both houses. I miss them quite often. And I find that it's hard to adjust to one house and all the people and animals to the other.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. Because it's a big change to be happening all the time, isn't it? Is there stuff you have to be careful about saying from one house to the other? I wonder how much care you all have to take with what you say and how you behave. Yes?
ANTHONY MCDONALD, SYDNEY: Yeah, you have to really be paying attention 110% of the time with what you're saying. I mean, like you can say things to your Mum that you don't say with your Dad, and you can say things to your Dad that you don't say with your Mum.
JENNY BROCKIE: What sort of things?
ANTHONY MCDONALD: Basically, you can say the really blokey sort of stuff with your Dad, and then you can sort of joke around about it. Or, say, if Dad's given - put you in a bad mood or something, you can talk about it to Mum. But then you can't sort of come back sometimes and still do the same thing with other people. But –
JENNY BROCKIE: I'm just trying to get at what you mean here. You mean you've got to be careful about how far you go criticising the other parent?
ANTHONY MCDONALD: Yeah, how far you go or what you say and - also, I also felt like if I did enjoy myself a lot doing something with, say, Mum, I wouldn't want to come back to Dad's and be like "Yeah, we had an amazing time" or all that sort of stuff. You wouldn't want to make them - like the parents - feel like they're not good enough as well, like what they do isn't fun, and everything like that. So you –
JENNY BROCKIE: That's a lot of stuff to be carrying around, particularly when you're little, when your eight, nine, ten or eleven.
ANTHONY MCDONALD: Makes you grow up pretty fast.
JENNY BROCKIE: Any age, really. Are there things you can and can't say or feel you can't say? Yep?
TARA JARNASON: Sometimes my Dad - he has a new girlfriend. And they're renovating, and I just told my Mum that they're renovating. I didn't know if I should have told her that, with my Dad's side of the family, and my Mum's. My Mum's grandpa just died and, I told my Dad. He didn't tell anyone else. And she sort of wanted him to, like to tell my grandma and stuff, 'cause, um, my grandma and my Mum, they still, like, talk quite a lot, and like come over and stuff. With my auntie - she's just having a baby. I'm not sure whether to tell my Mum or not. I'm like "I don't know if my Dad want made Mum to know that yet."
JENNY BROCKIE: Danielle, what about you? Have you got to be careful? We saw a picture of your family and it looks like it works very well. Do you still feel you've got to be careful with some things?
DANIELLE WEBER: Yeah. It's a horrible situation to be in, if that's the case. I try to keep it to the minimum, where I be as honest as possible. If one parent does say "Don't tell the other parent this," I'll be like "Why?" You've got to keep it to a minimum, because it's really uncomfortable otherwise.
JENNY BROCKIE: Kids are having their say about divorce and separation. It's no parents allowed in the Insight studio tonight. Rebecca, your parents divorced when you were only about two. Mum got a new partner when you were eight, and Dad remarried when you were 14. What's that been like?
REBECCA RANDALL: Interesting. I don't really remember my parents being together, so that hasn't been an issue like it has been for some of the other members of the forum. The stepparent thing has been interesting. I've never been great friends with my stepdad. I've tried. And my stepmum, in particular - Mum and Dad themselves have fairly similar personalities. But with the new partners that they've picked, they seem to have picked each other's polar opposites. So my stepmum is very home-maker. She's got two little children who are my half-siblings - who I love to health death – she’s all napkins on the table and likes craft and everything is really pretty. Which I don't mind, but it creates a very different atmosphere towards my stepdad, who's very laid-back - dinner can take a few hours to happen, whereas at Dad's, it's exactly on time. That's been hard, because it's created diversions within my parents.
Before my parents got remarried - particularly before my Dad got remarried – my parents used to get on fantastically. Mum would come over to Dad's for dinner every Sunday night, and everything would work really well. But particularly as my elder sister - she is now 20 – and I got older and they remarried, it got harder and harder. I don’t know if it was because of my step parents but it feels like it was.
JENNY BROCKIE: The divorce wasn't the big deal for you, it's been the stepparents?
REBECCA RANDALL: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Sarah, you've been living with your Mum and her partner for the past eight years. You recently moved. Let's have a look why.
SARAH HORT: Basically, I'm just packing most of my worldly possessions so that I can move to my Dad's. Because Mum's house is full of conflict, and I feel like I need a change.
REPORTER: What's the conflict here?
SARAH HORT; It's mainly with my Mum's partner. We just kind of argue about the most random things. And we just, like, argue a lot, and we don't really get along that well. Yeah, it's causing a bit of, like, distress and stuff, and it's hard for Mum seeing us argue and things I tend to argue with Mum about arguing with Brian - that's my Mum's partner. I figure if we take one person out of the equation, then it should stop. I'm going to move to my Dad's how, which will be good, because my Dad and I tend to get along a bit better than, um, the residents of this house, because we kind of have similar senses of humour, and similar personalities, and he's pretty easygoing.
Mum's house is, like - has a pretty good location. It's really close to where I work. It's pretty close to where I go to school. And it's pretty close to, like, town and thing like that. And also, I'll miss - it's a pretty big house and there's a pretty big backyard and everything. I'll miss my Mum, obviously. But that's probably about it. And then there's some things that I won't miss!
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. What's it like now, you living with your Dad, Sarah?
SARAH HORT: Oh, it's so good! It's just, like - I don't know, it's so - like, there's so much less rules and it's not like the authority position - kind of like teacher and student and parent and child. It's more of like we're equal.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is it about your relationship with your Mum? Is that the reason you've moved? Or because of your stepdad?
SARAH HORT: It's because of my Mum's partner. And so, at Dad's - I don't know, we're just so, like - our personalities are so congruent, and it's so good. It's just, like, chillin'.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think you would have - has your Dad got a partner?
SARAH HORT: He did have, like, a really on-and-off relationship for years, and I didn't like her either and neither of my brothers. She had children from a previous marriage, which was so weird.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think it's just so that you don't like either of your parents having a partner at all?
SARAH HORT: I don't know. I guess, like, that probably will always be an issue. But also because I don't like them as a person at all. It kind of helps. But yeah. It's also, like - yeah. I don't know. I just don't think I'll ever get along with a stepparent could be an issue. I don't know, 'cause I've never had, like, any other stepparents that I actually like as a person.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think you contributed to that as well?
SARAH HORT: To what?
JENNY BROCKIE: Tension, conflict.
SARAH HORT: Oh, yeah. It takes two to tango. Definitely.
JENNY BROCKIE: Who else has something to say about stepparents? I'm interested in how you all feel about new people coming into your lives. Danielle?
DANIELLE WEBER: Um, it's really difficult to live in a house with someone who you haven't grown up with always, and become a lot like. With when you're with your parents, you have a lot of their values and things. Having a stepparent obviously causes more tension. I think that's why it's really difficult - apart from wanting more of your parents and their time.
JENNY BROCKIE: Anyone else want to comment on this? Lots of people. John?
JOHN GOODALL: I reckon they're a bit like a nat, a stepparent. They seem to, like, come into your life, live off all your things, basically, just kind of take over, in a way. And try to take over that fatherly role when you actually know they're not your father. They're basically suckin' the life out of everything, basically.
JENNY BROCKIE: Very negative of you! Samuel, what about you?
SAMUEL OSOSKI, BRISBANE: Um, my Mum just recently got married again - this is her second marriage since my Mum and Dad got divorced - and she moved away to the country, and he is interesting. He's nice. He doesn't try to take over, like, as a Dad or anything. I don't talk to him that often. But um... He just - I think he's just trying to - he's just trying to be friendly. He's never had kids. He's been married once before.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you don't feel any great antagonism to him?
SAMUEL OSOSKI: There's no, like, conflict or anything.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tara? You wanted to say something?
TARA JARNASON: My Dad's got a partner. Since he's been with her, he's noticeably happier. She's really nice - I can talk to her and stuff - but sometimes it gets annoying when she tells me what to do. And then my Dad tells me something else. And I go with my Dad. Then I feel bad, because she's told me something, and I've like gone against it.
SARAH HORT: It's definitely like "Who are you? You're not my parent. Why are you telling me what to do? You have no influence on my life. I don't want to live with you. So why are you even speaking to me? Why are you telling me what to do?" It just makes me so angry. "You're not my Mum, you're not my Dad. You're not anyone to me."
JENNY BROCKIE: Rachelle, we heard at the beginning of you tonight about your stepdad driving in as your Dad drove in. What happened after that, to you?
RACHELLE HIGGS: Um, my Mum and her new husband built a house in Allanbrooke, when it was first developing. They got married in Allanbrooke. We moved into the house. It was all hunky-dory, all pretty groovy. I never got to see my step-sister again, which was from my father. So I haven't seen her since I was three.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did Mum stay with your stepdad?
RACHELLE HIGGS: Yeah. They got married and they were together for a while, and then she met a guy from a bikie gang in Melbourne and we moved over there.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is your Mum still with the partner that she had after the stepdad? How many stepparents have you dealt with in your life altogether?
RACHELLE HIGGS: To be honest with you, I have lost count. Sorry, Mum, if you're watching. But seriously, I have lost all their names, or most of their names. And there's been lots of different gentleman coming through the house that have only come once or two or three times, and then we never see them again, so I can't really remember their name. And we've gone out for lunch with them, but I would have no idea what letter their name begins with. I can't remember.
JENNY BROCKIE: So where's that left you, Rachelle, now?
RACHELLE HIGGS: Um, kind of just, like, on my own. 'Cause Mum's always looking for a new partner. When she finds him, then we move in with him. And then we move out again. And so I'm kind of always on my own. So my sister's always out doing her thing and partying or whatever, and I'm just kind of at home, because I'm - Mum won't let me go out. But, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: So who do you trust?
RACHELLE HIGGS: Myself. ... I don't really tell my Mum or my Dad, really, anything. Or if I do, then it would be, like, very minimal, and it's because I'm absolutely desperate for an answer or advice. Otherwise I'll try to figure it all out by myself. I don't really trust either parent. Because one person will tell me something, the other person will tell me something else. And it's like "Well, who do I trust?"
JENNY BROCKIE: So you've felt very alone for a lot of your childhood?
RACHELLE HIGGS: Yeah. And I just kind of, like, never really came home until, like, 6:00 at night, which wasn't very safe, because there was rival gangs in the little town as well. But it didn't really bother me. I would just hang out after school and come home at like 6:00.
JENNY BROCKIE: Danielle, how do you get on with all the people in your life? Because we saw your Mum's family - your dad's new family. How does all that work for you now?
DANIELLE WEBER: Um, pretty well. There's a lot of love, which is important. And my stepparents really care about me and my sister. So, um, yeah, it works pretty well.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. And do they get on with one another?
DANIELLE WEBER: Um, I don't think my stepdad and my stepmum have ever spoken. It's kind of a big connection. But yeah, my Mum and my Dad get along all right, and I think it's important with the whole not-bagging-the-other-parent thing, they realise that we resent them for that if they do that. They don't, so there's not much hate in the relationship, which makes a big difference.
JENNY BROCKIE: One of the things that adults say a lot is that kids are really resilient. You hear this all the time - that they cope really well with divorce - that kids manage fine. Is that true? Ayfer?
AYFER HUSEYIN: They say that because that's what they want us to believe, and I guess it's what we have to do to cope, because it's what they believe. It's our coping mechanism to get through everything when they think we're all right.
JENNY BROCKIE: Anthony, what do you think?
ANTHONY MCDONALD: Um, I think it's the opposite to that. I mean, you're going to put on that front because obviously that's what they want - they want to feel take the like they've made the right decision for you. But even if you are upset, you're still sort of trying to protect people and there's a, I think, I think there probably needs to be a bit more discussion about things like that, and parents need to sort of realise that it does affect things, whether it be it upsets you or it makes you angry or put you in awkward situations, basically I think there needs to be another level of understanding between both kids and parents.
JENNY BROCKIE: Rachelle?
RACHELLE HIGGS: A lot of kids hide what they feel. Because they are afraid that if they say something, their mother or father will get quite angry, because it's still a fresh situation for the parent. And I think the child understands that, if the parent is upset and distraught and I think if the child goes "I'm upset too, can't you see me?" They're going to go, like, "Go away, I'm having a midlife crisis." You know? And I think the children just keep it inside and bottled up, and when they go to bed, that's when they let it out.
JENNY BROCKIE: Linh, what about you?
LINH DO: I think a lot of kids are shone to be resilient about divorces because they have to be. Like, if your parents get divorced when you're eight, for example, you can't really spend the rest of your life moping around going "Oh, my parents are divorced. It's all about me. Blah blah blah." I think at a certain point, we have to grow up, and we have to say "Well, they're divorced. There's not much I can do about it now. I have to, like, go on with my life." I'm sure, like, in the long-term, there are probably effects or something that will damage or lifestyle. I'm sure most of us have different images now of what relationships are like, what being a parent would be like. If we ever got married, I think we would definitely think more than the average person about divorce and what the child would go through.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. Let's have a look at some more advice that some of you have for the adult world.
RACHELLE HIGGS: Try to make the break-up, the split, or the divorce, as easy as possible, especially for the child. Because it is a lot of hard work for the child to get it through their mind that, you know, their father or their mother's not going to be living with them anymore and that there's going to be a new daddy or a new mummy.
JOHN GOODALL: I don't reckon - they shouldn't just close off, like, the doors to the other parent. They should always allow contact - even if they completely hate them, they have to understand that the other parent does care just as much as they do for their kids.
DANIELLE WEBER: The most important thing is to love their kids and show them that you love them, and to trust them when they say things and how they feel, and to allow them to speak.
AYFER HUSEYIN: Everything you do - be united and don't fight in front of your kids. And don't talk bad about the other parent.
TARA JARNASON: Try and understand kids more and be patient with them, 'cause they don't think the same as you. And um, even if you have been through a similar situation, it's never the same.
HANNAH QUINN: Instead of just saying "Yeah, I understand what you're going through, it's OK, I get it," just accept that they are dealing with it in a different way, and that they might not necessarily understand what the kid's going through.
TIM RENNICK: I'd probably tell them not to forget the kids' needs, and that it's good today them and don't abandon them altogether.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. Some good advice there. I wonder whether you think it matters how old you are when your parents break up. Tim?
TIM RENNICK: I think it's different reactions, 'cause when I was three and my parents broke up, I didn't know what was going on. I had to be looked after - I couldn't really act independently. But if you're over 10 or - when you understand fully a divorce and what's going to happen, I think it has a bigger impact, and a bigger emotional impact.
JENNY BROCKIE: Does it matter how old you are? Hannah, do you think it matters how old you are when it happens?
HANNAH QUINN: Um, no, I don't, actually. You could be just, you know, a couple months old when your parents divorce, but if you find out thing like later on in your life, whether you're 10 or 12 or whatever, that'll affect you at the time that you find out those things. And um, it can affect you for years, through your life, as you discover things or find out things about your parents. You learn more stuff.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. Does it affect your other relationships? Ayfer, has it affected you?
AYFER HUSEYIN: Um, yeah, it has. But I think that the older you are, the more mature you are. So the more you're able to comprehend it and understand it. And, like, understand why it's happening and that it's better for your parents. But when you're little, all you really want is for your parents to be together and for you to be one big, happy family.
JENNY BROCKIE: Does it affect other relationships? Harley, what do you think? Do you think kids from separated families are different to kids whose families are intact?
HARLEY HEFFORD: Yeah, sure. I think that, from what I've seen, a lot of my friends have separated parent. We definitely seem to be more prone to adventuring or maybe moving out of home early, like I think you were saying before. And yeah, I think definitely with family life, you would strongly consider marrying someone who you weren't going to get separated from. Or even if you did - like, it does happen - but you'd think about it very carefully and yeah, you'd want to talk through and really communicate with them, like people have been saying, and kind of make it a good divorce, I suppose.
JENNY BROCKIE: Does it affect the way you feel about having relationships yourselves? Has it influenced the way you think about that? Yeah?
REBECCA RANDALL: It certainly has. As a 19-year-old, I pretty much - partly this is my personality - but since the get-go, I've planned a career. I'm 19, and I receive got at least the next 10 years, if not the next 20 years, set out in front of me. And that doesn't involve children. For mainly the simple reason - I don't give this to most people - but I would not feel comfortable having a child knowing that there's the possibility that I'd split up from their parent. I don't think - I don't think I could take that risk. And I guess it probably sounds kind of sad, but yeah, I wouldn't risk doing it to someone that I've given birth to.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tim, what do you think? What do you want when you grow up? Do you think you'd like to have kids and get married?
TIM RENNICK: I think I'd like to have kids, but I guess I'd like to get married maybe, but I'm not sure if I'd like to have a divorce.... Let me put that another way. No, I would not like to have a divorce. But I think that I'd have kids, and having a divorce –
JENNY BROCKIE: Keep going. You're doing really well. You are making sense.
TIM RENNICK: Yeah. Well, I'd have kids. But I don't think - if I could choose not to have them born again, if I was going through a divorce, I'd still have them, because, I mean, they've got their lives ahead of them, and I'd think of probably them.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you think that there's a future for kids, even who have been through a divorce.
TIM RENNICK: I mean they'll get through it, and it's just one little dark patch.
JENNY BROCKIE: It's one little dark patch. OK. Rhianon, what do you think? And how do you feel about the future and relationships?
RHIANON JOHNSON: When I was four, my Mum and I moved from Victoria to Sydney, and my Mum met my stepdad online, and he's been my Dad ever since. He's been my one and only Dad. He's the only guy in my life. That'll never change. Actually, I'm kind of happy that they broke up. After everything they went through, it made the three of us a stronger family. I can sit down and talk to Mum and kind of tell Dad a bit of stuff, but I love them both. If I looked back and would want to change it? Not a
JENNY BROCKIE: If there's one thing you could change about the way adults - parents - behave in these situations, what would it be? A quick whip-around. What would you change?
BERNADETTE YOUNG: That you grow up in - it sounds like a lot of the circumstances - that parents are the ones acting like children. I think sometimes...
JENNY BROCKIE: Front row, yep?
CHELSEA CHOMPANUHT: Um, I think doubt. I don't think any parent should doubt that they got divorced or broke up with the other person. Because that, like, kind of affects the child a lot.
JENNY BROCKIE: So if they're agonising about whether it was the right thing to do with you, it's not a good thing? Yeah.
CHELSEA CHOMPANUHT: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Rachelle, what advice would you have to parents after what you've been through?
RACHELLE HIGGS: Um, don't go straight into another relationship as soon as the other - your partner - has literally gone out of the driveway, don't get the other - like your new partner to drive straight back in. You've got to give the time to heal - type of thing. Don't fight all the time. And just think of the children. I know you think you do, but you don't!
JENNY BROCKIE: It's a really good note to end on. I'd like to thank you all very much for joining us tonight. It's been terrific to hear from all of you, and for all of you to share your stories. Thanks a lot. That is Insight for this week. If you want to hear the advice people here have for other people going through separation or divorce, go to our website, where you can find links to organisations that can help. You can tell us your story. And parents, please join in. We're really interested in your reactions to what you've just heard.