Schools Don’t make It Easy For Single Parents

Considering how common divorce is and how many of the adult population experienced divorce as a child, it’s surprising that schools don’t make it easier for single parents.

David has been divorced for about seven years now and has three children who are now aged 17, 14 and 10 so he has lots of experience dealing with different schools, different teachers and it hasn’t always been easy. Here’s David:

It’s interesting that at my children’s school — where over fifty percent of the families are not intact, “atomic” families — that the school as a community has a really hard time acknowledging single parents. I suspect this is true of most schools, but why should it be so hard to have a single parents club through a school so that parents could commiserate and support each other?

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Schools don’t make it easy for single parents

It is hard to find support and there’s some sort of catch-22 really, because on the one hand we’re supposed to be looking out for our own personal destiny and trying to maximize our personal happiness and we’re supposed to be great parents but if things go south, you can’t talk about it, because even on the sitcoms when all the kids are being rude and snarky, there’s always that “aww” moment at the end where they go and cuddle up with mom and say, “You’re the best mom in the whole world,” and it’s all good.

Life doesn’t seem to have quite those simple, smooth, easy, sweet endings.

I will give credit where it’s due. The parents have been really good, though that also came with the children getting older. I still have very vivid memories of picking up my little one at Kindergarten and every time I’d show up it was just me and a room full of moms and for months it was like a bad Western: I’d walk in and every conversation would stop and they’d all just look at me.

I can also remember for some project or other, maybe it was for Valentine’s Day, every child made a little Valentine for their mom and when I’d picked up my daughter and she has a Valentine for mom, but nothing for me it kinda broke my heart. I went back to the school and complained. I said, “You know that we are divorced, you know that I am an active parent, you know that I am involved, I think that it doesn’t make sense for you to say, ‘let’s just make Valentines for moms.’” They acknowledged their misstep and they said, “Next year we’ll do it differently. You’re right.”

It’s taken awhile and I will say I do feel blessed that I have the trust of the parent community and I host tons of sleepovers at my house and parents trust their little boys, their little girls in my house. That might sound a little strange but I really honor that as a significant sign of trust. These other parents are willing to have their 10-year-old daughters in this strange guy’s house and there’s no mom there to make things go smoothly or make sure it’s safe. It’s just me and the girls. I think that that has really come from my being a participatory father.

I’ve made a conscious commitment to be an active and involved parent and that includes going to school and it includes attending parent/teacher meetings even though there are typically a dozen things I’d rather do, but it’s just totally worth it because this is my children’s life. I think that the dads have always been really cool with it, but for the moms it’s been something they’ve had to adjust to, especially if they’re in a relationship where the father is distant, dangerous or just isn’t trustworthy.

The Divorce Coach Says:

I don’t think that schools intentionally make it more difficult for divorced families but I do think it’s harder being actively involved as a single parent, even harder for single dads and it happens on at least three different levels.

In my own personal experience which admittedly was just one school district, school administration systems are ill-equipped to handled parents not living in the same household. Everything from registration, emergency contacts, scheduling, parent-teacher conferences, grades, to emergency notifications is often very dependent on paper forms being sent to the child’s address of record or sent home with the child in their backpack. In an ideal world, all of that would be sent in duplicate to both parents so they could each complete the necessary forms and ideally work together where necessary to avoid conflicting information.

Our district did implement an online system for much of this and that made a huge difference. However, our district is the 10th largest in Colorado. I imagine there are many smaller districts that lack the resources for this technology.

With paper communications, too often there is one parent who is completely dependent on the other parent to share the information and I’m guessing in too many cases that doesn’t happen. Rather than seeing this as nuisance, or something that messes up the order of the school’s systems, it’s time school districts accepted the reality that many child live in two households and design their systems to address this.

At the classroom level, there is still a stunning lack of sensitivity about children’s family situations as in the example that David shares. Not only that, much of the essential communication and updates such as homework assignments and field trip permission slips are still sent as printed paper with the child and again, it might be easier if it was sent electronically to both parents. This would facilitate the communication between parents allowing for coordination of effort to make sure those homework projects get done and the child doesn’t miss out on fun field trips.  I’m sure it’s as frustrating for teachers as it is single parents but with the right systems/processes in place there the likelihood of communication breakdowns would be reduced.

And then on the parent level, David’s experience says it all – too often, the stigma of divorce is still present in school communities and single Dads are at a distinct disadvantage. David isn’t the only single Dad  who hasn’t found the moms at school support. Kyle Bradford said he would get asked if he was his child’s uncle.

Now, when you throw restraining orders and limited decision-making into the mix, the communications issues get exponentially more complex and that’s where technology could really help.

Yes, you do need to make a commitment to being an actively involved parent but from my experience and from my interviews, our schools make single parents work harder and that means our children have to also work harder to be successful.

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