By: Stephen J. Plog
While attending an early morning elementary school band practice with one of my children, I saw something sad and troubling. Though I have had countless occasions in which to hear parents talk about child custody or divorce cases and how they impact their children, I have rarely, if ever, seen, firsthand, how children react when dealing with divorce. The interlude I saw between child and teacher was troubling enough to me that I feel compelled to write this post. My ultimate hope in doing so is to reach parents and to educate them on how a simple, brief conversation might prevent upset to their child down the road.
The specific incident I saw bright and early Monday morning involved an elementary school band teacher, a very nice person by all accounts, and a little boy, roughly 9 years old. While the collective group was working on perfecting one song or another which youngsters might learn in band, the teacher stopped the class to reprimand, appropriately, a few of the boys who had clearly spent little or no time practicing their songs or instruments. She addressed the first couple individually, who essentially responded the they hadn’t had time. The third boy, striving for honesty as little kids generally do when being put on the spot, tried to explain that he couldn’t practice at his mom’s apartment, only his father’s house. The teacher, obtuse to the fact that the little boy seemed nervous or apprehensive to talk, continued to press. The little boy explained that his mother lived in an apartment and that she was concerned that the neighbors would complain about loud music (or attempts at music). At this point, the little boy’s eyes were starting to well up with tears. He did not seem to be upset at the fact that he was being interrogated over his practice habits, but rather that he was having to discuss the fact that his parents were not together. I want to say I recall him saying the word, “divorce,” but cannot swear to such with 100% certainty. The teacher ultimately stopped.
At the end of band practice, the teacher, clearly sensing she had upset her pupil, attempted to apologize and indicated she didn’t know. Being the inquisitive person that I am, I did a little digging and was able to tell the child’s parents appeared to be together at the beginning of the school year. Thus, the conclusion I draw is that they split up at some point between August and January.
Divorce is a very private and personal thing. It’s not something most people advertise to the world, other than to those closest to them. When there are no children in a marriage, it can be quite easy to avoid having to share the fact that you are divorcing with the rest of the world. However, when there are children involved, they are going to be impacted. They are likely going to feel a range of emotions. Those emotions stay with them, whether at school, practices, hanging out with friends or otherwise.
When separating or going through a divorce case with children, you should consider letting the outside adults in your child’s world know. Let them know what is going on within the context of wanting to make sure they are aware so that they can be aware of the range of feelings or emotions your child might go through or demonstrate. Let them know so that they can inform you if they see anything concerning, or perhaps so they understand should your child’s mood, demeanor, academics, etc. be off from the norm. Let them know so that maybe they don’t raise sensitive, upsetting subjects to your child, in front of classmates, with the end result being sadness, embarrassment, and likely a bad day. Having seen hundreds divorces involving child custody over nearly two decades of legal practice, I cannot stress enough that letting your child’s teachers, coaches, and child care providers know does not include sharing the gory details of the divorce or how horrible your soon-to-be-ex might be. Just let them know your child and family are going through a change which is, or could be upsetting. Most child professionals will be sensitive and understanding once informed. If not informed, they just might stick their foot in their mouth in band class. Had those two parents let the little boy’s teachers know I might not have witnessed a sad little boy in band class. I would gladly have sacrificed finding a topic to write about for the youngster’s happiness.