Divorce affects student’s day to day life

Editor’s Note: The Scribe has changed the names of the students featured to protect their privacy.

Children all over America have to deal with divorce. The consequences can range from alternating which parent the child stays with each week, to people all over America hearing an Amber Alert because an angry parent has taken his or her child from the parent who has custody.

According to the American Psychological Association, about 40% to 50% of American marriages end in divorce, which has a big impact kids. Children involved in a divorce experience grueling effects including depression, social withdrawal, guilt, and lower school performance.

After a divorce takes place, the family must decide who the children will stay with, and if they will ever see the other parent.
James Roberson, a student at Sevier Middle School, knows first-hand how difficult this can be.

“My mom has custody of us,” he said. “We live with her, as well. Since my dad lives somewhere else, I don’t get to see him. I honestly wish I could live with my dad.”

In some situations, however, the parents share custody.

Darla Brown, a student at Sevier, has experienced this situation herself.

“My parents had a terrible divorce, because they wouldn’t talk to each other, so they didn’t have a plan,” she said. “My dad and mom got joint custody, which means I went week to week from my parents. I hated getting taken away from them.”

Andy Sullivan, another student at Sevier Middle, agrees.

“I feel sad because I want more time with my mom. She is sad, too.”

To help parents and children students deal with the difficulties of a divorce, Frontier Health offers a program called “Children in the Middle”. The state of Tennessee requires all divorcing parents to take this class. Deneatrice Kincaid, a counselor at Sevier, is one of the instructors of this class.

“The materials for the class are provided by The Center for Divorce Education,” Kincaid said. “The Center for Divorce Education has been dedicated to helping parents and children deal with the difficult process of divorce and separation.”

Kincaid helps parents avoid many of the most common mistakes divorcing parents make. Her advice includes keeping legal talk away from children, keeping each parent involved in the children’s lives, and keeping any heated discussions with the other parent away from the kid’s view or ears.

Studies from the National Association of School Psychologists show that about 60% of children have no contact with their fathers after divorce. This makes the divorce worse from the children’s point of view.

Paula Nickels, a nationally certified school psychologist, works with Kingsport City Schools. She has encountered many students who face difficulties after a divorce.

“Often the first year after a marital separation is filled with turmoil, upsets and new adjustments for all involved,” she said. “Mothers may begin working, or working longer hours, which may be experienced by children as a loss. Children will need plenty of sympathetic support during this time.”

Another way that divorce changes the lives of students is in the area of dating and remarriage.

Irene Walters, a student at Sevier, had to accept that her father re-married after her parents divorced.

“We still have fights, but we get along great,” she said of her stepmother. “I knew she was right for my dad when I met her.”
Brown has faced similar situations.

“My step mom and I are not close, but I don’t hate her either,” she said. “I do hate my mom’s boyfriends.”

Another problem that students face is that expectations can be very different at each parent’s house.

“My dad is stricter than my mom,” Sullivan said. “My mom lets me eat when I want, my dad doesn’t. That makes me sad.”

Brown agrees.

“I try to stay as far as I can from each parent because, they both expect different things from me and it’s too hard,” she said. “It makes me feel stress, mad, and more distant.”

Many students feel as if they have to choose between their parents.
“I am emotionally affected by having to constantly choose between my parents for 5 years,” Brown said.

Many children also face problems when trying to figure out how to deal with their feelings, so they keep their feelings bottled up.
As a psychologist, Nickels has seen first-hand how children deal with divorce.

“Youth may experience feelings of anger and resentment at losing an absent parent and the family as they knew it,” she said. “Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process, and feelings of anger are a normal reaction to loss and a traumatic life event.”

Nickels, however, doesn’t think that this is the best way to deal with anger.

“Feelings of anger are normal, but anger does not always emerge in healthy ways,” she said. “For example, a youth who is really furious at dad for abandoning the family, or marrying another person, may take out his or her anger by being cross and irritable with mom; frequent squabbles with siblings or friends; conflicts with teachers; or getting into fights and breaking school rules.”

Other emotions that children experience when dealing with divorce are denial, shock, bargaining, guilt and depression. Some students even go to the extreme of cutting themselves or abusing drugs or alcohol.

People giving the child a shoulder to lean on is crucial step in a kid’s recovery from divorce.

“It is good to be honest and real with middle school youth in sharing briefly what you are feeling to help them know that feelings of shock, anger, guilt, sadness, and depression are normal reactions to loss, and that it is okay to have these feelings,” Nickels said.

Nickels also believes that it is important for parents to be aware of what their children may be feeling.

The students at Sevier agree.

“Don’t keep all your emotions inside, talk to someone about it if you need to,” Walters said.

Students are also emotionally affected when fellow students want to know about their home life.

“I just want to get off the subject and then I just stop talking all together,” Brown said.

Mary Bower, a Sevier student, agrees.

“It makes me sad because it’s a very confusing part of my life,” she said.

Families change a lot when the weight of divorce hits them. Walters said, “It has been a lot of moving around the country and it is hard to move away from loved ones.”

Some families also struggle with financial problems after a divorce.

“Well, my mom only brought in three hundred dollars a month before she bought what is needed so that is tough on us,” Roberson said. “So, all the extra stuff like toys and games are gone.”

Students also need the support of their teachers during their divorce struggle. The National Association of School Psychologists advises teachers to be sensitive to students’ emotional states. If a student seems distressed over a period of weeks, or if schoolwork declines, the organization advises a referral to the school psychologist.

Sevier counselor Deneatrice Kincaid agrees.

“Teachers may notice that a child has suddenly become more restless, is barely able to concentrate,” she said. “Grades will go down and assignments may be incomplete. He or she may feel inferior at this time, thinking that the other students have it better. Many symptoms may show up at home and parents are aware of academic status. Boys tend to become overaggressive and girls to withdraw.”

In the midst of many divorces, children often get split up from their siblings.

“I miss my brother on the weekends,” Bower said.

Most of the students of divorced parents at Sevier Middle think the worst part of divorce is them moving away from their parent or their parent moving away from them.

Once children of divorced parents grow up, it seems to get better. Carla Johnson, an adult whose parents divorced when she was in the 6th grade, experienced all of the normal emotions.

“I felt sad, embarrassed and helpless to stop it,” she said. “I love both of my parents; however, I do feel a sense of loss that my family is divided, especially on holidays and vacations.”
Both of Johnson’s parents re-married.

“My dad remarried a very odd woman,” she said. “She isn’t mean, but she isn’t very social; so they aren’t fun to visit. My stepfather was a professor. He was a great influence on my life because he taught me self-discipline.”

As an adult, Johnson looks at the impact of her step parents differently than many students at Sevier Middle do.

“Step parents can be very important in shaping who you become,” she said.

After she got through all of the obstacles of her parents’ divorce, Johnson believes she has become a stronger person.

“It made me determined to make my life different,” she said. “I think I have learned that no one is perfect. You have to make the best of every situation, because so much of life is out of your control.”

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