The “Divorced Kid” Academic Mentalities

Nikki Iyer, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Studies suggest that children of divorced parents are set up for failure: 8% less likely to graduate high school, 12% less likely to attend college, and 11% less likely to complete it, according to Very Well Family, a website devoted to parent and family health. A lack of family stability can contribute to decreased academic success.

“It was tiring, and it would be exhausting and hard to do homework when you’re already dealing with so much at home, and you feel like the whole world is against you. School is already a big stressor, and then you go home and it’s a stressor, and you’re like ‘where can I go that’s not going to stress me out,’” said Alyssa.

Her parents separated before she turned four, and her parents’ relationship is rocky. She frequently winds up in the middle of it.

Divorce often leads to a decrease in household income, disproportionately affecting women. On average, following a divorce, women’s household income drops by 41%, while men’s falls by 23%, according to the U.S. Government Accountability office. With a parent struggling to provide for their family, preoccupied with finances and less concerned with their student’s achievement, a child’s academic success may inadvertently decline.

“My mom has kind of stopped caring as much about what I do, and how I do in school,” said Jane, whose parents divorced during her 7th grade. It was a collection of the little things, such as her mom refusing to attend her sports games if her father was going, that ruptured Jane’s relationship with her mom.

“With me and my mom, we were just a little happy family before, but afterwards, she still loves me, but she just stopped checking in. It’s interesting how that can change.” Jane says her academic achievement declined throughout high school.

However, divorce’s effects on students are not universal. On the other end, children of divorced parents may turn to alternative outlets to deal with familial struggles, like academics, to “prove” their worth.

“I’m the poster child for divorced parents,” said straight-A student Lauren, whose parents divorced when she was in 6th grade. “I devoted myself to things that made me forget.” For her, that meant a rapid rise in academics, college preparation, and athletics.

It was tiring, and it would be exhausting and hard to do homework when you’re already dealing with so much at home, and you feel like the whole world is against you.

— Alyssa

“I think in a sense it gave me more motivation to do well in school. Only because I wanted to make a better life for myself, and have my own career and a stable job…I knew working hard in school would get me there,” said Alyssa. Her parents’ divorce escalated her academic drive, as she became adamant to ensure that her adult life would have stability.

“I do think to some extent [my devotion to school] comes from a place of ‘I can do better than [my dad],’ and almost better than what [he] expects of me,” said Justin, who resides in the top 10% academically of his class with a 4.5 GPA. Justin says his father abandoning his family when he was three plays a factor in his academic drive. 

But, there is a fine line between meeting academic standards and overworking yourself as a coping mechanism. Divorce is messy, complex, and beyond a child’s control. A lack of hold on the situation can lead to a student’s craving for validation.

“I need to be validated on everything I do. I’ve always been that person that’s like ‘I need someone to say thank you’…it helps check me and make sure I’m doing it right, because I feel like I’ve done it wrong,” Lauren said. 

For some children of divorce, doing well in school becomes equivalent to proving a point; that despite the odds, you’re OK. This sentiment can become especially prevalent when dealing with an absent parent.

“A parent straight up leaving, especially when you’re young, is so confusing…a parent is supposed to be there for you…it has always made me feel like I have to gain…approval from those around me so then they don’t leave,” said Justin. “I think I’ve noticed with myself, and a lot of other kids with a similar experience, they gain approval from school, not only for the accomplishment aspect, but also because of teachers. Teachers are obviously big authority figures who kids seek approval from because they’re the ones grading you. And just having that physical grade is a sign of maybe I’m doing something right, to be accepted.”

Children of divorced parents that we interviewed urge teachers to practice leniency with their students.

“I wish they [teachers] understood how exhausting it can be. It actually, physically, I think takes a toll on you when you’re always in the middle of it. Packing, and trying to go from one parent’s house to the other, or how much more unorganized you become. And there’s nothing you really can do about it…it all takes away time from studying,” said Alyssa.

Yet, it’s not always for teachers to know about the home life of their students, unless students or parents inform them of happenings that are impacting them.

While the impact of divorce on student education is largely ambiguous, students we interviewed agree it significantly changes how they take on academics.