We all have jobs to do. Some are fulfilling and entertaining, others are thankless and exhausting, but all of us, in our own way, do jobs that are important to the inner workings of someone or something. Your children go to work every day just like you do, but unlike your job, theirs takes place inside a classroom. Many parents forget how difficult school can be and minimize children’s “work” as being easy compared to their own. Take our word for it, your children are not cruising by without struggles. Most of you do the same job every day, with variations on the theme, but for the most part, after you have learned what is expected, it becomes pretty much automatic. Whether you’re a school teacher or a surgeon, a priest or a ditch-digger, there are few surprises and little that is new. Your children, on the other hand, are inundated with new material daily. They are required to take in that information and process, comprehend, retain, and regurgitate it on demand — on tests and in oral and written reports. Their penmanship must be excellent, the context of the material researched accurate and devoid of plagiarism, and their delivery flawless. They must possess a grasp of the spoken and written word, a comprehension of language skills, reading skills, reasoning skills, and math skills. They will be asked to sing, dance, draw, act, and debate. They will be expected to become proficient authors, voracious readers, and effective orators.
As if this isn’t enough, they will also have to develop social skills, deal with peer pressure, and experience humiliation, rejection, and defeat. They will suffer from the often paralyzing fear of failing and the unimaginable anxiety that comes with test-taking. Their performance will be graded each day, without exception. They will be required to attend school when they are tired, worried, or ill. They will be given little or no leniency for personal problems, and their performance will be publicly reviewed and exposed four times each year. They will not be protected by confidentiality laws from parents, classmates, or educators as they matriculate from one grade to the next. Further, they will be disciplined as the school sees fit for actions that are real or imagined, accurate or inaccurate, until they graduate, at which time their records will follow them through college.
This is a whole lot of pressure. In fact, most of us look back on our school career and all that it entailed and agree we don’t know how we made it through. Now add to your children’s already overflowing plates a home environment of yelling adults, parents who don’t come home, parents who are drunk, parents who are dating, mealtimes in which the children fend for themselves, and homework. Homework has become impossibly demanding, sometimes taking your child hours to complete. Then there are tests to study for, reports to write, experiments to do for science projects. Your child needs you to be focused and present to get him through his life.
If you haven’t gotten the picture before, we hope you’re getting it now. Your children are racing down the path of emotional burnout if you as adults don’t put your needs aside to rescue them.
If you and your former spouse have kept the lines of communication open, maybe Dad could help your child with science and math, if those are his strong suits, and English and history could be Mom’s department. Maybe you could even share evenings together in the same house until your child understands the material. Maybe, just maybe, you could learn to appreciate your child’s situation and decide to be the adults.
This article has been excerpted from In the Best Interest of the Child: A Manual for Divorcing Parents, by Nadir Baksh, Psy.D. and Laurie Murphy, Ph.D. Both have worked with divorce and its impact on children for more than 20 years. View their published books at:www.InTheBestInterestOfTheChildren.com.