Dear Mum and Dad

An email from Jack aged 13 to his parents for New Years Day 2017.

Dear Mum and Dad,

I am sending this email to you both. I never see you together now, so this is the only way to speak to you at the same time.

It’s exactly three years to the day since you split up. It was New Years Day and we had all had a great Christmas, I thought, so when you called Poppy and me into the sitting room and told us you had something to tell us, we just weren’t ready for what came next.

You weren’t getting on and you didn’t love each other any more, you said, so Dad was going to move out. Just like that. Poppy burst into tears. She was only 6. How was she expected to understand? I felt a horrible cold feeling spread right through me. I just froze.

It wasn’t anything to do with us, you said. That was the first lie. Of course it was to do with us. Everything changed in that second. Dad said he was leaving Mum, not us. That was the second lie.

Then he went upstairs and packed a bag and drove away and left us. I was 10 years old and I grew up that day.

After he went, you tried to be reassuring Mum. You said, if things were better for you and Dad and you were both happier, then we would be happier too. That was the third lie.

Since then it has been such a mess. You two couldn’t agree about anything. You wouldn’t talk to each other, so Poppy and I ended up taking messages between you. ‘Tell your father he’s got to pick you up from school on Saturday’. ‘Tell your mother I’ll be late picking you up tomorrow because I’m working’. It was like that all the time. At first I tried to help sort things out. When were we going to see Dad and when were we going to see Mum? When were we going to see Granny and Gramps and Auntie Belle and our cousins? Where would we be on Poppy’s birthday? Where would we be on my birthday?

It was hopeless. You both had the lawyers. We had no one to help us. No one asked Poppy and me what we wanted and neither of you were listening. You were both so tied up in going to court and fighting things out. We just kept quiet, so as not to upset you anymore and there was no one to help us sort out the muddle.

Apparently the judge decided that we would have alternate weekends and every Wednesday night with Dad in his new flat over an hour away. No-one asked me what I wanted or if I wanted to go to court to have a say. After all, it was my life and Poppy’s they were talking about. Wednesday night was my swimming lesson and Poppy’s Brownies, but that soon got too difficult to organise, so we just gave up going. In the end it was easier to say we didn’t mind.

Things got worse when you got a new girl friend Dad, and Mum freaked out about us meeting her. You said we would have to move out of our house, as you needed the money to buy a house of your own. We’d always lived in that house and we loved it. Somewhere secure when everything else was changing. Now that was going too.

You said we should make a new start Mum, so we moved to another town miles away. Poppy and I had to change schools and I hated the new one. I had to leave all my friends behind. We only saw you once a month then Dad, as you were too far away. Anyway, you were too busy with a new wife and a new baby coming. I get all that Dad. I really do, but it was tough when you stopped coming to football matches and neither of you came to Sports Day. I felt I didn’t matter any more, so I stopped trying at school. No one knew me there, so the teachers thought that was just how I was.

The reason I’m sending this email now, is because the same thing is happening to a boy in my form. He’s really upset, but he says his parents aren’t going to court – they’re going to see someone called a mediator instead. She’s helping them sort all this stuff out – who they will see when, and where they’ll live. He said he saw her too and she asked him what he wanted to happen and how he thought it should all work. Then she talked to his parents and they really listened because they could see that it was how he really felt and they want to do the best thing for him.

Why didn’t you do that for us? Why didn’t you go to a mediator at the beginning instead of tearing each other apart in court? I really need to know. Didn’t you realise how horrible that would be for Poppy and me? It wouldn’t have changed you not loving each other any more, but it could have made things so much easier for us. It was your choice wasn’t it?

With love from your son Jack.*

As dictated to Judith Timms OBE. Vice President FMA. Founder and Trustee National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS).

* This is not a real case, but Jack’s experience is typical of that of many of around 240,000 children and young people under the age of 16, whose parents separate each year in England and Wales.