You won’t believe what a child of divorce’s daily schedule is like when school starts


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Have you ever wondered why some kids who attend your children’s program on a weeknight seem tired, grouchy, or maybe a little out of control after school starts in the fall? It might be the schedule they had to keep that day.

When school starts, these kids are expected to survive an unbelievable daily schedule.

When elementary-age children from a divorced home have to go to school, it is more than just going to school. It can be a crazy, hectic, and mind-boggling day. I would dare say that not many of us adults could actually handle these little kids’ schedule on an ongoing basis.

Let’s take a minute to look in on a typical day for a lot of these kids. Keep in mind, these are kids who live with only one parent—one working parent. Often these working parents must work overtime or more than one job just to be able to provide for their single-parent families.

5:30 a.m. scene

The children wake to a stressed single parent saying, “Kids, get up. I forgot to warn you I have to be at work early this morning. Your child care doesn’t open for another hour and a half, so I’ve made arrangements for you to go next door to the neighbor’s house. She’ll take you to child care when it’s time.”

They stumble out of the bedrooms to mom yelling, “Grab your clothes, shoes, and backpack. You can get dressed at the neighbor’s.” The children walk next door in the early morning hours while it is still dark. They drag their bag of clothes and backpack. The boy is trying to get his bearings as he begins to wonder, “Did I put my homework in my backpack last night? Did mom remember to sign that form for my teacher? I hope she put it in my school folder, because my teacher said today is the last day to turn it in.”

5:45 a.m. scene

The neighbor is nice and tells the kids to watch TV while she gets dressed. She apologizes and tells the kids they will have to eat breakfast at child care, as she wasn’t prepared to fix them breakfast. The kids just begin to get comfortable at the neighbor’s when it’s time to go to the before-school care program at school.

At seven o’clock in the morning these children enter the third care arrangement.

7:00 a.m. scene

The before-school program lasts an hour and half. Kids can choose to eat breakfast, work on homework projects, play games with the other kids, and in general hang out in a safe environment with caring adults before school.  

8:30 a.m. scene

School starts at 8:30. The children are now handed off to the schoolteacher where a different set of rules, a different schedule, and adhering to the expectations of a different adult takes place. The school day is fairly calm, and then it’s time to go to after-school care.

3:00 p.m. scene

The kids like the after-school program. But there are different teachers after school than the teachers before school. While the general rules are the same as the before-school care, each adult has slightly different nuances, so the kids must gear up to another set of expectations from yet another group of authority figures in their lives.

4:30 p.m. scene

Grandma picks the kids up at the after-school care program. Dad has to work late and can’t get off in time to pick up the kids before the after-school program closes, so the kids go to grandma’s and eat an early dinner. Again the environment and rules change. And even though it’s grandma, who loves her grandkids so very much, it is still a change in adults caring for the children.

6:30 p.m. scene

Dad picks up the children, and since it’s church night, he takes them to the children’s program at church while he attends his men’s Bible study. The kids now enter the seventh environment, the seventh set of rules, and the seventh set of adults caring for them.

8:00 p.m. scene

Dad scoops up his kids after Bible study and transports them to his house, because Wednesday night is his scheduled visitation night. The kids settle into their eighth care arrangement for the day.

If there is just one slipup in the schedule, like a substitute caregiver or teacher along the way, the children must adapt. In most situations they are expected to adjust as if nothing has changed along the way.

Is it any wonder?

Is it any wonder these kids have bags under their eyes or have a faraway, distant look on their faces when they show up in your weeknight group? Or some might display fits of anger and even rage? Due to the constant stress, some kids will have their immune systems compromised and develop endless colds and other infections. It is a tough life for these little ones.

Now do you understand why some kids who attend your children’s program on a weeknight seem tired, grouchy, or maybe a little out of control? It is their life, and hopefully they eventually will get accustomed to so many changes during the day.

What they need from you

What they need from you is a consistent schedule; loving, caring, and trained adults who understand the plight of these kids; and a place that feels comfortable, nurturing, and safe.

So the next time you are tempted to expect children of divorce to comply with your rules and weeknight schedule, think about what they may have had to experience that day. Give them a break. That might mean:

  •      Giving them a little extra snack
  •      Excusing them from playing that rough-and-tumble game
  •      Giving a hug
  •      Providing a place where they can simply relax with no expectations of what they should be

If there were ever children who needed compassion, kindness, gentleness, and patience, it is the children of divorce who have had to endure a twelve-hour day in numerous care arrangements before settling in with you in your weeknight program.

Colossians 3:12, 14 can truly become your weeknight program dress code: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. …  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”


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