Sarah’s parents divorced when she was twelve and communicating with each other about her issues was one the things she says they did really well. As teachers, they’d seen how some of their students had been adversely impacted by divorce. Sarah is also a high school teacher and I asked her how divorce affects students today. Here’s Sarah:
The kids don’t always tell you what’s going on.More often, I see the real difficulty that those kids are going through, because there is a lot of acrimony. Students can become very withdrawn and very quiet.
One student I had maybe five years ago, he was a sophomore, and things had imploded at home the night before his big project was due. I remember getting a phone call from him, late at night. He was just shattered, and I understood just how difficult it was for him to be going through that…I gave him an extension, kind of talked him down and said, “OK, we can work through this. You can turn just this part in tomorrow and…” I could make the assignment manageable for him.
I had another situation where the two parents were so bitterly fighting against each other that you had to have separate conferences for both parents. “Don’t tell this parent what you told me,” that kind of thing. You never really get the whole story in a lot of those cases, and I think that’s the hardest part, because it’s really about working for the success of the student. How can we all work towards that and separate whatever else is going on? I think that’s just what my parents did very well, so I have that good model.
If I see a pattern of behavior or if it starts to impact their grade or turning work in, or things like that I might talk to the student. Otherwise, it might just be a bad day. I might, too, talk with some other teachers and get feedback on what’s going on in other classes. If it is a pattern then we can talk about it.
I have a student who approached me recently, and her parents are splitting up. It’s a huge mess, he’s abusive and the mother’s finally putting her foot down. This girl really needed to share and express that. I know the good resources that our school has so I was able to say, “OK, well, here’s where I’m going to get you connected so that you can have this one on one time once a week with the interventionist.”
But really…it breaks my heart, because it takes these bright, vivacious kids and they just become really solemn and sad. It doesn’t last forever, kids are resilient, but they shouldn’t have to be.
The Divorce Coach Says
Your child’s teachers should be part of your divorce support team but don’t assume your child will tell them and don’t assume that he will know what to say, even if he does want to tell them himself.
Let me share a personal story with you. My mother died over twenty years ago. She died very suddenly and unexpectedly. I returned home for the services and to help my father. They’d lived in the same village for more than thirty years and my mum had been a local storekeeper so she was well-known. As my dad and I were out running errands, people would stop and say their condolences and he was gradually getting more comfortable talking about it. Then, when we were grocery shopping he pulled me aside and whispered, “There’s Mrs Jones, I don’t think she knows. Could you tell her?”
He was right, she hadn’t heard the news and was shocked. But once the news had been shared, my father was able to have a conversation with her.
That memory has stayed with me. If my father, a grown man in his sixties couldn’t find the words to tell a friend that my mum had passed, we can’t expect children to know how to share the news of their parents’ divorce.
You can help your child by role-playing the conversation and it could be a conversation with their friends or with their teachers. You will be giving him the vocabulary to use and you will also be letting him know that the divorce is something he can talk about. It’s not taboo. More than that, letting him share the news may give him some sense of control over a situation in which many kids feel powerless.
Do check back with your child to see how the conversation went and then get in touch with the teacher yourself and ask him/her to let you know if they see any changes in behavior or other issues that would be cause for concern.
Older children may be reluctant to share the news or see no need. In which case you could send a brief email to the teachers, again requesting that they contact you if they have concerns. Remember, not all teachers will have Sarah’s background and understanding about divorce so you may be doing some educating yourself.
Did your child want to tell his/her teachers? How helpful have your children’s teachers been?
Photo credit: © 2012 Copyright Jupiter Images Corporation