The greatest source of tension between the BBC and me is emotional blackmail. Anti-Catholic rants by guests on the Today programme are somehow easier to take than a sanctimonious afternoon play about working class life in England before abortion was legal.
So it was with some trepidation I caught up with Mum and Dad are Splitting Up on iPlayer, a documentary that featured conversations with teenagers whose parents are separated. I was half expecting that the moral of the story would be “divorce is basically harmless”.
How wrong I was. For once I felt the producers were allowing me to make up my own mind, through minimal commentary and meaningful dialogue with both the parents and the children.
If you think you have the stomach for this programme’s candour, emotion and occasional bad language, I would highly recommend watching it (before it expires on Wednesday) so you too can draw your own conclusions.
Personally, what struck me is that the impact of parental separation on children seems uniquely profound. Daisy, seems to carry guilt and heavy responsibility for her parent’s separation. It is clear that she had little option but to mature very quickly in order to support her younger sisters when the separation was announced two years ago. Interestingly, her parents concede that they had no idea she felt responsible for their separation. With jarring poignancy her mother insists: “We did say to all of you it’s not your fault. Do you remember? Do you remember?”
When we meet 16-year-old Tasha she tells us that when she was aged 10, “my life fell apart when my Dad left my mum for another woman, abandoning us all”. She concludes later in the programme: “It makes me stronger but it’s made me a bit harder as well and a bit iffy with trust”.
Her father is keen to reconcile with Tasha who does not want to have a relationship with him six years after he left the family home. When asked about why he left, Tasha’s Dad explains: “You spend so much time thinking about other people that eventually self-preservation kicks in and you just have to vote with your feet.”
The programme’s producers also deserve credit for interviewing young adults whose parents separated a decades ago. Edward, whose father struggled with alcohol addiction, discusses his parent¹s separation which occurred 20 years ago. He explains how he got in trouble with the police and was expelled from school because he still felt angry with his father for his behaviour during Edward’s childhood.
It is encouraging to see that by the time the documentary was filmed, Edward and his father seem on better terms. Edward concludes: “You need a dad. You need that actual figure. In the chain of life your Mum or your Dad should be above you. You shouldn’t be equals because you’re not. That’s the way I feel. Me and Dad act like that but now I have that thing where he is here. He is above me; he’s my Dad. That’s the way it is.”
We return to Tasha in the final scene who talks about how much she loves a song by Good Charlotte called “Emotionless”. The interviewer asks her how it goes and she reluctantly, robotically recites:
Hey Dad, I’m writing to you
Not to tell you that I still hate you
Just to ask you how you feel
And how we fell apart
How this fell apart
Are you happy out there in this great wide world?
Do you think about your sons?
Do you miss your little girl?
When you lay your head down,
How do you sleep at night?
Do you even wonder if we’re alright?