Families are diverse. Parents and educators have an important role to play in helping children understand the importance of diversity in society and the rights that all family members have regardless of the make-up of their family. Children need to be able to recognize themselves as part of a legitimate family unit and be able to dismiss negative stereotyping. While this may be a difficult task for any child living in a non-traditional family unit, it may be particularly difficult for a child whose family structure has changed as a result of parental separation or divorce.
Families typically undergo all kinds of changes. The number of children in the home may change as new additions join in or older children move out. The family might move to a new home or a new city. A parent may change jobs or become unemployed. And parents may separate or divorce.
Parental responsibilities include a range of complex rights, duties, powers and authority. These responsibilities may change with separation and divorce, but they don’t simply cease to exist. Whether parents are young or old, rich or poor, in a relationship or on their own, being a parent means being connected forever.
Generally speaking, parents of a child have the right to custody and control of the child, meaning that parents have the right and responsibility to physically care for the child and make important decisions regarding their life. When parents separate or divorce, some of these rights and responsibilities are split between the parents, but this does not change the fact that the child will continue to have two parents, will continue to be cared for, and will continue to be entitled to a relationship with both parents.
Although there are laws that can provide some direction and courts that will settle disagreements, there is no one right way for things to be following a separation or divorce. Every family is different. And although families go through all kinds of changes following a separation or divorce, parents and children continue to share a connection.
Something to Talk About…
Discuss different types of family structures, such as single parents, grandparents or other relatives who raise children, step-parents, and same-sex parents. Identify the differences and the similarities. It’s important for schools and communities to recognize and respect different family structures and be sensitive to activities or systems that may reinforce negative stereotypes sometimes associated with non-traditional family structures.