Divorces. They are not entertaining. They are not fun. And they are not easy. But they happen. And when they do, a professor must be prepared for supporting a college student during divorce.
According to Business Insider, the United States’ divorce rates sit somewhere around 53%, while Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, and Hungary are worse off with divorce rates higher than 60%.
Supporting a college student during divorce can be difficult. Students whose parents are divorcing are distracted from their usual lives. In such situations, they need their mentor’s attention and care. If you are not involved enough, you risk losing their trust and damaging the relationship. Being a professor means being a mentor. There’s a thin line between the two. You must always stand by your students, no questions asked.
5 Ways to Support a College Student During Divorce:
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1. Be Honest
A child’s definition of “home” might change when parents decide to go on separate ways. Until that moment, he or she attributed stability and continuity to what “home” meant. All of a sudden, everything changes – parents are not living under the same roof anymore, one of the parent figures in the house is missing, something has changed too abruptly; and sadly, most parents don’t take enough time and energy to explain everything that’s going on to their children.
But this is what happens at home. When a student is at school, he or she will usually act like everything is in the right place and nothing is falling apart (which is, in fact, a defensive mechanism). In this case, all you need to do is be there and wait for them to open up.
However, some students prefer to have a conversation with their mentors. They don’t want to complain – they’re looking for stability and continuity somewhere else, since “home” is no longer an option. However, these students need proof of trust. They have to make sure you are the right person they can open up to. Therefore, they will test you for confirmation. Some of the questions you might hear are,
- “Why have my parents divorced?”
- “Why have they left me alone?”
- “Are they not in love anymore?”
- “Did I do something wrong?”
In these moments, you cannot afford to misrepresent the facts. You must be honest. There’re only three steps to follow:
- Talk to the parents before having a conversation with the student.
- Ask them for permission to be straightforward.
- Be straightforward.
When the student tests you, you will be prepared to answer most of his or her questions. “No, your parents might not have the same feelings for each other anymore. No, you did NOTHING wrong. I am not sure what the main reason for their divorce is, but it’s definitely for the best.”
Be an active figure in your student’s life. Saying “I don’t know,” or “No, honey, they still love each other” are lies. And your student knows it. So, be careful but honest with your words. They need honesty. They need you.
2. Keep the Doors of Communication Open
Students’ communication skills might turn into a big problem when parents are divorcing. As I mentioned previously, some of them will close up completely, while others will need to reach out to someone they feel close to. When this happens, you must not only be honest, but easily reachable.
We all have business to do, I won’t argue that; but sometimes, our students must become a top priority, even if that means skipping an important meeting or rescheduling a lecture. When your students disclose their feelings, make sure to:
- Pay undivided attention
- Ask questions
- Be inherently interested in their emotions and opinions
- Not judge, even if they might seem uncooperative
- Listen actively
- Offer unbiased advice.
Any person needs to be loved and supported, especially in these moments. Make sure you are there for them as much as you can be.
3. Keep Expectations Normal
There are many so-called “advice books” which mention that a student whose parents are divorcing should be let off the hook. We do not agree with this – a student in need should be treated similarly, if not the same as the majority.
Otherwise, too many things will change too quickly in their lives. They need stability and comfort, as we’ve discussed. Students need you to run things as you used to. College can be a comfortable place for precisely this reason. Everything’s normal, nothing changed. They feel safe talking to you because you have not changed – while their home has.
That doesn’t mean you should act as nothing happened. Be there for them, ask if they need help, smile to encourage their performance, but don’t change your attitude. More importantly, don’t change your expectations and their routines. Continue to be an excellent professor and mentor but keep everything else intact.
4. Be Positive and Share the Feeling
“Divorce isn’t such a tragedy. A tragedy’s staying in an unhappy marriage, teaching your children the wrong things about love. Nobody ever died of divorce,” shares Jennifer Weiner in Fly Away Home. Even though a divorce might not bring happiness and enthusiasm, it might bring relief, peace of mind, and enlightenment for both parties. Thus, stay positive in class or when chatting with your student.
“One of my previous students asked me to chat about her home problems. She told me her parents are getting a divorce. After we discussed, I told her, ‘Isabella, you don’t have to be sad. Everything happens for a reason. You’ll see.’ I knew she was good at poem writing, so I kept asking the class to write poems as homework. She’d always have her hand up the next day, and I’d always congratulate her on her accomplishments. It’s the little things that matter,” shares Anne Kaufman, teacher at Oaks High and freelancer at EssayOnTime.
5. Be a Friend
Friends have each other’s backs all of the time, right? Then be your student’s friend and show them they can not only trust you, but they can also rely on you. Keep their side in front of other professors or even their parents when you think it’s proper. Don’t let them down if they came to you with their arms open – catch them when they fall. Make them feel important. Make them feel safe.
To fulfill your mentorship duties, make sure you are honest, straightforward, and communicative with any student. Supporting a student during divorce isn’t always the easiest, but if you take the right steps, you can help make a big difference. When they are having a hard time, be their friend, their support, and their positivity. Good luck!
Jacob Dillon is a professional writer and journalist from Sydney. Being passionate about what he does, Jacob likes to discuss stirring events as well as express his opinion about technological advancements and evolution of society. Find Jacob on Twitter and Facebook.