One in five young people will grow up with an estrangement within their immediate family, and there is no doubt that such estrangements can impact every member, from the very oldest to the very youngest. Many young people will spend time riding the waves of change that estrangement brings. This can undoubtedly be very difficult for all involved.
However, we don't often discuss the idea that family estrangement can have a good impact on a child, and can serve a vital purpose in building more functional families, who will positively influence the mental health of the generations growing up in our primary schools today.
Many people estrange themselves from a dysfunctional family networks in an attempt to rescue and recover a sense of self-esteem, and to find a valid way out of the sense of worthlessness that their own parenting has nurtured. The family is looked upon as an unshakeable force for good in our society, but unfortunately these environments can be a place where serious negativity thrives.
Although I am not a psychologist, I can say with some confidence that the mental health of our children is shaped to some extent by the emotional wellbeing of the adults who care for them day after day. And there are few greater incubators of unhappiness and mental health issues for an adult than feeling trapped in a family network who can't, don't or won't emanate love and acceptance, but who are quick to deliver criticism, judgement and in some cases verbal violence over every dinner.
One mum from our community writes:
"Estrangement has given me the space to change my own family and move away from the very critical and manipulative dynamic. My son particularly has more confidence and I have a better relationship with him. I am less anxious and he is less anxious and we have been able to look at issues like self esteem and anxiety. For my daughter, I have protected her from a situation that was abusive."
Parenting and looking after the mental health and psychology of our young children comes with a set of seemingly endless decisions about what is best. It is a brave decision to take yourself and a child out of a family network that can provide so much in terms of support, both financially and practically. Engaging professional help to try and work through the broken and damaging dynamic is always a useful place to start, but it is fair to say that this type of change is not always achievable for families.
In my view, we should always trust parents in their ability to make decisions about what is and what isn't healthy and supportive for their child. And we must be mindful of the blanket assumptions of functionality and health that we apply to the close and communicative family. For many, our wider family may not always be the healthy group of supportive adults that will nurture our child's ongoing sense of self worth or indeed our own. Thus, breaking away from them, in some cases, is a wise move.
We also must remember that our children are the most astute readers of our own mental health, and can be quick to assume they are responsible for their parents' tension and unhappiness. Thus any kindness that we show ourselves in protecting our mental health from the actions of a highly dysfunctional family, is also a kindness that we in turn show to our children.
Young Minds Matter is a new series designed to lead the conversation with children about mental and emotional health, so youngsters feel loved, valued and understood. Launched with Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, as guest editor, we will discuss problems, causes and most importantly solutions to the stigma surrounding the UK's mental health crisis among children. To blog on the site as part of Young Minds Matter email firstname.lastname@example.org