When I started teaching, students of divorced or single parent families were a definite minority, possibly 10% at the most. For better or worse that number has changed dramatically, particularly in high poverty schools where the divorce or abandonment rate is often very high. At times these divorces affect not only the parents but leave a child essentially divorced from both parents requiring the grandparents, aunts and uncles or even brothers and sisters to fill the role of parent. In many cases intelligent kids appear to be the only adult-thinkers in their household. In a worst case scenario the kids are traded back and forth like a hot potato or used to transmit the frustrations of the divorced parents in an almost endless cycle of dysfunction.
In the early 80’s I took a girl home from school and noticed that the last name on the mailbox was not a name I had ever heard associated with her. I asked her about it because it wouldn’t do to drop her off at a house where the relationship was questionable. She told me her mom and dad had gotten a divorce when she was seven and she lived with her dad after the divorce. Her father remarried when she was nine, but divorced again when she was eleven. After his second divorce, she remained with her step-mother, who had since remarried again, so she was now living in a house and with a family which included no blood relatives while her blood parents no longer had anything to do with her. She was happy it was that way. I later learned this is not as uncommon as I originally thought.
I have seen divorces handled by parents in a civilized and child-centered manner. I have also seen children punted back and forth mentally and physically with no concern for their well-being. I have seen parents locked in battles that take no prisoners, including their own children. I have had parents tell me that they could not be in the same building together with their former spouse, let alone in the same room. One of them stated that if they were in the same building they would somehow find each other like matter and anti-matter and an explosion would result.
At times I am surprised at how well some parents selflessly handle the difficult dynamics of divorce, thinking first of their children and second of themselves. At other times I am horrified at the selfishness and petulance that some ‘parents” drag their children into, to the point that I sometimes wonder how the kids, no matter how difficult they may be to handle in school, are as good as they are.
Kids and parents seem to either understand or they don’t when it comes to divorce and there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.
Oh! And there isn’t a teacher teaching today who hasn’t heard the excuse, “I left my book at Dad’s (or Mom’s) and can’t get it for at least a week.” An excuse rarely heard 40 years ago.