Transitions in life are inevitable. Some are welcome additions, such as buying a house or starting a family. Other changes like losing a relationship due to death or divorce catch you off guard. As a parent, learning to manage these periods of adjustments successfully is crucial as you’re not just responsible for your own well-being but also that of your children.
Dealing with a separation or divorce is similar to experiencing a car accident. While there may be no cuts or bruises, the emotional scars can be just as impactful. In many instances, the anger and hurt can be so overwhelming that you lose sight of your children’s emotional needs, which can have devastating effects on their performance inside and outside the classroom.
How Divorce Affects Children’s Academic Outcomes
Like any parent, you want the best for your child. You want them to thrive and grow into self-sufficient and happy adults. However, this isn’t always the case for children of divorce. Studies show that children whose parents divorce are less likely to complete high school and attend college.
Returning to school can already be a nerve-racking time for kids. As the beginning of the school year draws near, they may experience anxiety as they grapple with how to explain their new family situation to friends or teachers. These unresolved emotions can affect their ability to concentrate, leading to a drop in grades or a lack of motivation for achievement. The ending of a marriage adds another layer of stress as children face both the end of summer vacation and a disruption in their home environment.
Maintaining Focus on the Kids
Even if you and your former spouse parted ways amicably, a divorce could cause your emotions to shift in multiple directions, making it difficult to concentrate and regain your bearings. To ensure your children stay on track emotionally and academically, you must have a plan to guide this challenging transition. Follow the tips below to make this upcoming school year a positive experience for all family members.
- Be flexible on discipline issues. Establishing expectations with your ex around your child's behavior, grades, and chores creates continuity between households. Even if you don’t agree with the other parent’s actions or parenting style, supporting each other’s decisions and remaining united on discipline issues is essential. Setting clear boundaries reduces parental conflict and helps children adapt more effectively to changes at home.
- Create a safe space for children to process their emotions. It’s common for kids to feel responsible for their parents’ break-up. In response, they may withdraw from social activities, become distracted in school, or lash out at teachers and their peers. To combat this, you must maintain open communication with your child about their feelings of loss. While it can be heartbreaking (or even maddening) to hear them express their longing for the other parent, especially if the other parent is the one who decided to end the marriage, refrain from saying anything negative about your ex. Children shouldn’t feel pressured to take sides. Understand that their wellness is contingent upon having a bond with both parents, so allow them the space to grieve their loss without judgment.
- Continue family routines. Divorce can cause kids to feel a loss of control as they no longer have daily access to both parents. Therefore, keeping a consistent schedule during this time is critical to helping them maintain emotional balance. For example, reading their favorite bedtime story or sitting down to eat dinner at the same time each night will provide them with a level of internal stability as their external world is being shuffled around.
- Keep conversations kid-focused. If you initiated the dissolution of the marriage, you might experience guilt. On the other hand, if your ex-spouse filed for divorce, you may feel rejected or resentful. In either case, resist the urge to exhibit ill feelings towards the other parent, as any conflict can increase adverse emotional responses from your children. Instead, limit your communication to topics only involving the kids, such as school pick-ups and drop-offs, participation in school activities, meetings with teachers, or doctor's appointments. By doing so, you can avoid letting pent-up emotions override your focus on tasks you must complete for your child.
- Have a support team. Adjusting from a two-parent to a single-parent household will often require support from others. A support team can be valuable when emotional fatigue and overwhelm arise. This outside assistance can include a therapist or family counselor to help strengthen your co-parenting relationship, tutors for your kids to help them stay on track academically, or a trusted family member to mediate communication between you and your former partner.
Make Every Effort to Put Your Children First
Holding it together while navigating the back-to-school season post-divorce is not always an easy feat and will prove even more difficult for your children if you or your former spouse struggles with alcohol. If either you or your former spouse has a history of alcohol misuse, a remote alcohol monitoring system such as Soberlink can be helpful. Soberlink allows you or your ex to prove sobriety and demonstrate your ability to handle school-related responsibilities, particularly transportation. Soberlink can help foster trust and peace of mind during one of the most stressful times of the year, the back-to-school season.
A separation or divorce is one of the most challenging life events a family will experience, with effects that can plague children well into adulthood. While navigating this adjustment period is not an overnight process, implementing a few fundamental practices will equip your children with the support they need for long-term emotional and educational success.