I grew up in a home where money was depleted regularly.
I remember begging my Dad for money to buy new glasses. He always referred me back to Mom arguing that he paid his child support. The problem is it was never enough to fully support us.
Arguments from my parents constantly revolved around money and who was financially responsible for the extracurricular activities at school. Neither one of them ever truly split the cost. As the arguments ensued deadlines would often come and go leaving me to go without.
Unsure of how to proceed, I found myself caught in the love triangle of divorce while trying to navigate the challenges of middle school. Most times, Mom did not want anyone else to know our family problems because it was not dignified. And because divorce was considered a nasty stigma we never spoke about it outside of the house.
However, times have changed and the love triangle of divorce is a common occurrence.
Now that I find myself staring into the eyes of my students knowing that 50 percent of them are no longer living with two parents, I am filled with empathy. I recall my assistant principal and wrestling coach in middle school filling the void. We spoke daily about home, school, and topics of comfort. Both new my family dilemma and made a point to reach out to me daily, and their efforts made me understand I was going to make it through the endless tunnel of divorce.
Teachers need to be equipped to step in and nurture a student through these difficult times. Below are a list of approaches and strategies to meet the needs of a students entering the love triangle of divorce:
- Love them like there is no tomorrow. It is a dark time for a student with a lot of self-doubt about the divorce. Constantly, let them know their value through smiles and reinforcing their good behavior with positive remarks. Give them opportunities to shine in the classroom and build on their strengths. Most children have no idea how to handle this situation. Show compassion and empathy towards these students daily
- Help them to develop an accurate understanding of divorce. Tell them, it was not their fault. It is the first thought going through their minds. Children need to know they were not the cause and cannot solve the problem of divorce. The problem is between their parents. Often emotional problems follow divorce with students believing they are the culprit. When the opportunity arises, sit down and have conversations with them. Put yourself in a position to teach them about the reality of divorce, not what they have emotionally concocted in their minds.
- Communicate with both parents regularly. It is a difficult time and parents want the best for their children in this challenging time. While the process of divorce can go on for months, encourage parents not to criticize or degrade the other parent in front of the child. The consequences of doing so has the lasting effect of constant confusion. Furthermore, let them know about concerns you have about their child and take a problem solving approach to meeting those needs the needs.
- Student first approach. It is unrealistic to expect a student going through this traumatic situation to perform at the highest level capable. Real-life situations take the place of school and expecting them to complete a test the same day or turn in a portfolio project at the same time is unfair. Do not excuse them from valuable assignments, but lighten the load and be thoughtful of your deadline while considering the extenuating circumstances.
- Consistency. In a divorce a students’ world might became a shamble overnight. So, offer them consistency when it is needed most. Students thrive in routine settings. If home is not what it used to be and falling apart, make school one thing they can count on. Keep their mind engaged in school while they are with you; help them forget what is going on at home, at least for a little while.
Home life may never look the same as it once did for those living in the love triangle. But school can continue to be a safe haven with trusted adults during those dark times.
Remembering to do these five things while taking the time to reach out and understand the needs of your students makes living in the love triangle manageable, at least for the short time they are with you.
Brian Cook, Ed.D.
Blog post was also published at EduRise.