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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Making a Difference in the Life of a Child

Top Ten Back to School Tips After Divorce

Ideally, couples who are divorced work together for the best interests of the children.  Talking about the needs and concerns with one another and with school personnel to help their children have the best education possible.  Occasionally, that really is what happens, but from my experience, that is the exception, not the rule.  Different values and priorities, leftover resentments with a desire to inflict pain, and already poor communication skills all come together to impede the former couple working together.  

So even if a divorced couple cannot work together well, they still have the needs of the children to consider and should do the best they can given the difficulties of the situation.  

The following ten tips for various individuals involved in the children’s lives may be helpful in situations where divorced parents have difficulty working together.


1.  Be involved in your children’s education.  Every study indicates that more than anything else, parental involvement makes the biggest difference in the success of children at school.  When children have experienced the losses entailed in divorce, it becomes even more imperative that you stay engaged with your children, especially in the area of their education.  Show your child that they are a priority in your life by attending conferences and school activities.  Discuss their school day with them by asking specific questions (What did you do in reading today?  What was your math lesson about?)  and no matter what their age - READ WITH THEM!

2.  Talk to school personnel.  If parenting your children is difficult due to communication issues with your former spouse and you both have court awarded parental access, make it a point to visit with their teachers, school counselors, and office staff at the beginning of the year and through the year.  Make sure they are aware that the student has two separate households, and that both need to receive copies of all academic materials and be notified about any concerns that arise, making sure they have contact information for both of you so they can do so.  Without belaboring the point or running down your ex, you can advise them that communication between the households is not good, and so contact with both is essential.  Understanding arranged at the outset can make a significant difference throughout the year.  If your school is not cooperative about this issue it may become necessary to hold them accountable by appealing to administration or the school board, but most will be very accommodating and understanding.)

3.  Be proactive and take some initiative.  Most teachers keep pretty busy and have a lot of paperwork already.  If you attend conferences separately from your former spouse, ask to make sure that any paperwork, test reports, or grade cards are copied and available for the other parent.   If necessary, you can pick them up later at the office or have them mailed.  Even if the favor is not reciprocated you know that you are working to do your part to effectively parent your child.   

4.  Make sure children have needed supplies.  Don’t get caught up in the who pays for what and child support resentment games.  These are your children, and if they need a new backpack, then they need a new backpack…do it.  If you ex doesn’t have the funds to pay for extracurricular activities and you do, don’t rob your children of those opportunities because you are angry at your ex…be a stand up parent for your children.  Even if they reside at the other home most of the time, you can still have fun taking them shopping for extra school supplies or clothes.  Don’t have the money?  If you truly are doing your best, then ask the school personnel or your pastor what resources may be available to assist.  There are lots of people out there who love to help people who are in difficult circumstances but are trying, you just have to swallow a little pride and ask.


5.   Ease unnecessary stress for the students.  Children of divorce entrusted to your care have enough stress already and parental communication problems add more stress.  Reduce the amount of anxiety your child may have by ensuring that the office has contact information for all parents and any family members who are available.  This will benefit you and your child when conferences or contact is needed and your child doesn’t have to quizzed for the information or become the courier for notes.  This also helps the office know that you are doing the best for your child and will create greater trust.  

6.  Support your students of divorce. Yes, you only have so much time and there are a lot of students with lots of needs.   And yes, these children have to fulfill the same expectations as everybody else.  Just remember that their hearts may be torn between two worlds and they may need a little extra attention now and again, or a listening ear in the midst of their struggles.  They may need an impartial adult they trust who can help them with some perspective, an adult who realizes that there are two sides to every story and that children need both of their parents.

7.  Support the divorced parents in a difficult time.  No, they may not be spending as much time with the children in schoolwork as you think they should, and no, ideally they should be able to communicate with one another and not have you stuck in the middle somehow.  But real life is that these individuals may be struggling just to manage all the upheaval and difficult realities of life after divorce.  And the truth is, if they could get along and communicate, they probably wouldn’t be divorced in the first place.  If you notice one of your students is not performing to their ability level - don’t wait to discuss this at conference time.  Let the parent know what academic and school counseling resources are available -  this support may be the kindest gift you can give to parents who are are trying their best to help their children.  

8.  Try to imagine how YOU would feel.  Working with divorced parents can be difficult and tricky - have patience and empathize for a moment with them.  Imagine how you might feel if you weren’t notified about a meeting or given a report card.   Contemplate how YOU would feel if you didn’t have enough money to pay all the bills and meet your child’s needs and wants.  Look at it from a child’s perspective, as one whose parent is no longer at home on a regular basis and must settle for weekly or monthly visits.   Consider the stress of working multiple jobs trying to make ends meet and the responsibilities of parenting your child.  Bear in mind that the parent is dealing with the emotions of rejection and betrayal from a person they they trusted.  being rejected and betrayed by the person you trusted most.  After reflecting you might be just a little kinder when they walk ragged into your classroom.


9.  Materially support the children of these families.  Does your church offer resources for children in single parent homes with their school supply needs?  If not, then help start one or find a few friends who would be willing to step in and assist with the expenses.  

10.  Support these children with your time.  Do you even know if these children go home to an empty house?  Perhaps you could arrange a safe place for them to go, maybe even help start an after school program.  The parents may be feeling limited on their time possibilities…  tutoring children of single parents can help reduce the load on parents who are running ragged from a full plate.  What other tasks can you do to lighten the load so that they CAN spend more time with their children.   Mowing the lawn, raking the leaves, dropping kids off at practices or making a grocery run can be a blessing to the single mom or dad on the run.  In addition, there are many cases when children have limited opportunities to have a positive relationship with an adult - consider mentoring a child with guidance and love that they so desperately need. 

None of us will be able to solve all the problems that are created through divorce.  Taking the time to open our eyes and looking at a situation can allow us to mitigate the difficulties for a child or two and make a difference in their future.   

I can relate lots of stories where individuals did just that, in a variety of ways and circumstances, for my children, my step children, and other children that I know of.  There are a lot of good causes in this world that we could choose to get involved with to make a difference, but there are few causes more important than making a positive difference in the life of a child at risk.  I hope you choose to be the one who makes a difference in the life of a child this school year.    

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