When I got divorced five years ago, I didn't think twice about emailing my nine-year-old's teacher on first day of school. It was elementary school, so I didn't hesitate to share this news with teacher. She should know, I thought, that he shuttled between two homes and may still be adjusting - logistically and emotionally - to being a kid of divorce. Why not share? Everything about elementary school seemed so nurturing and supportive. When it came to grade school kids, I got the strong impression these teachers really cared and welcomed "what's going on at home" news from parents.
I was right.
My son had a fabulous fourth-grade year. His teacher didn't flinch when he left his library book at the wrong house on due dates, or left a parent handout unsigned a little too long.
Fast forward five years later, and my then-fourth-grader is now a high school freshman. My littlest son is starting fifth grade, and my perspective is totally different. Focused on finishing school supplies shopping and finding the perfect color binder, I didn't even consider sharing this news with my sons' teachers.
I am not alone. A recent study by New York Times best-selling authors Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield found that 94 percent of teachers want to know about a recent divorce but only 23 percent of the parents who are getting divorced told the teachers!
It's not that I forgot my kids were kids of divorce. I'd just decided to not make a big deal of it this year, now that they were older and more time has passed. (Though not a day goes by that I don't think about the fact that they ARE kids of divorce...)
It wasn't until the night before my fifth grader's "Meet the Teacher" morning and mandatory patrol meeting at our elementary school that it hit me-maybe I should rethink sharing our "broken home" news with his teacher. It was nearing 8:30 pm, and I was tired. I'd just flown in from a quick trip to Chicago a few hours earlier. One minute, my ten-year old was sitting at the dining room table, nibbling on tacos and talking about his new shirt for the first day of school. The next minute, he'd cleared his plate, sat down on the sofa, and burst into tears.
"What's wrong?" I asked, not having a clue as to why my happy-go-lucky little guy was so upset. "I left my patrol belt at Dad's house! The school note said 'Don't even show up at the meeting without your patrol belt!'" The patrol meeting was just eleven hours out.
I brushed off the problem. "I'm sure it's fine," I said, exhausted and sure I could alleviate his concern. "Just tell them you left it at your dad's house by mistake and you'll have it next time." "No," he cried. "The teachers aren't going to care that my parents are divorced!"
Ouch. He may have been over-concerned, but he was right. I hadn't told the school, and he didn't want to use the "mom's house / dad's house" reasoning as an excuse.
My heart broke because he sat there so upset. It wasn't his fault he had two homes. Sure, I was tired. I still had work to do that night, a book to do final edits on, laundry, dishes, and more. But what did I do? I told him I'd go get the patrol belt. I dried his tears and calmed him down, and as he got into his pajamas, I headed for the car.
Did I mention that just a few weeks earlier, his dad had moved from being three blocks away to 15 minutes away?
But my son was not going to be that kid. He wanted to have his belt like everyone else. I couldn't give him everything, but I could give him that.
According to the Grenny/Maxfield study, parents may hesitate to share divorce and family news because they feel ashamed or embarrassed. Interestingly, the study did find that parents do share more when their child is in elementary school - and the researchers say that certainly makes sense, when you consider kids often have just one teacher in elementary school.
I am sure my evening drive to retrieve the forgotten patrol belt will not be my last. My son's smile when i returned, triumphantly, made it completely worth it. But I'm willing to see how things go for a while, or until my desire to save the day wears thinner than my determination to keep my sons from being branded "kids of divorce."