Communication with children is important during life-changing events.
Communication with children is important during life-changing events. iStock

Talking sure beats silence with tough family subjects

I WAS six or seven years old when I came home and found my mother had moved out.

I would say that was my introduction to broken families, but it's safe to say the cracks were showing well before then. It was preceded by depression, alcoholism and violence.

It ruptured my childhood and leaves me struggling to this day with a variety of issues.

It's also the reason why, when my own marriage failed, I chose to focus on what I could do to make it easier on our children.

When I was young, the reasons behind adult issues, such as marriage breakdown, were never discussed with minors and so I was left with many unanswered questions.

It's why I encourage my children to talk about our new living arrangement, to feel comfortable asking the tough questions, even if I don't have all the answers for them.

My experiences helped shape my attitude toward marriage. However healthy or unhealthy that may have been, I knew I would leave a relationship before it soured, before there was nothing but resentment left.

Still, I worry about our decisions and how they impact our children. I mean, who doesn't?

We question our parental decisions every day and this is no different.

That was until I found myself caught up in a separate family's drama recently ... a relationship breakdown that had spiralled into violence in the shopping centre car park. A toddler screaming in his car seat while a fight raged outside.

My reaction was automatic. I got into the car and began talking to the boy, distracting him from the anger boiling over on the bitumen outside.

I think it was as much for my younger self as it was for that boy.

But it was a swift and visceral reminder of where I had come from, and what motivates me.

Because, for all my confusion when I was little, it was my mother's leaving that cut through the fog of my own mother guilt and showed me that my own happiness is worthy of pursuing.

And maybe in the same way her brave actions taught me that, my own decisions will further empower our children to secure a brighter, happier future for themselves.

Peta Johansen is an author and mother of three.