Schools Add Trauma for Children of Divorce
By Phillip J. Holman, Esq.
President, National Congress For Fathers and Children
To the editor:
Diversity concerns do not end with race, national origin, etc. The prejudice today towards noncustodial parents is reminiscent of the racial bigotry in Alabama in the ’30s, i.e. where awareness of the discrimination existed, it was considered a “God given right.”
One half of our students live within the emotionally devastating tug-of-war of their parents’ divorce. Recent publications suppress surprise that the attendant emotional scars are significantly more acute and long term than anyone expected. Although children aren’t supposed to like “being bounced around,” they were expected to bounce back quickly from divorce. Unfortunately, to fit in with their peers, children of divorce deny their feelings until they are expressed through substance abuse, pregnancy, etc.
The policy of our schools appears twofold: ignore the problem and maybe it will go away; and do not show any concern for the nonresidential parent. Families are forced, like the proverbial square pegs, into traditional family molds. Our schools actively discourage the involvement of both parents. For example, emergency cards, address lists and virtually all other forms only provide one space to list home address and telephone numbers. Such information (and in fact virtually all information, school work, etc.) Is sent home with the child on days least likely to be received by the nonresidential parent who traditionally is relegated to “visiting” on alternate weekends and Wednesdays.
After being told that the failure to turn in homework was the result of spending weekends with the nonresidential parent, most teachers have decided not to assign homework on weekends. Such a decision, albeit a short term solution which successfully ends the finger pointing, also serves to further undermine the parent-child relationship and attenuate the
nonresidential parent’s involvement and commitment to the child’s academic progress.
One current program is a series of support groups which reassures children that the divorce was not their fault. Unfortunately, the material provides substantial misinformation and stereotypical biases. The material presents the worst stereotypes about divorce. No mention is made of the gender based bias of our court system or that custody is to be based primarily on the best interest of the child. Our children aren’t informed of joint custody, that “custody” defines them as property to be awarded to the “better” parent or that “visitation” is as derogatory as any racial epithet.
The school does not want to “get caught in the middle” of the war. However, we are charged with creating significant contributors to our global society. How can we do this and continue to exacerbate the most traumatic experience of half of our students?
Phillip J. Holman
Thursday, March 21, 1991