Family Matters

The fact of the matter is that change occurs constantly in families.

Sometimes the changes are welcome, e.g. a younger sibling grows up and becomes a friend; your parents begin to treat you as an adult.  But sometimes the changes can be upsetting or unsettling. For example, one day you may suddenly learn that a relative is seriously ill or that your parents have decided to separate.  This news may come as a complete surprise- or it may be something you already knew.

Family illness and bereavement

It can be very difficult to concentrate on school work when a close relative is ill or dying. Friends may want to be supportive but may struggle to find the words. Coping with all the different elements involved will be influenced by many factors, including the time of year and the pressure of academic work.

If you are facing a serious family illness or a bereavement, the first thing is to let the pastoral team know. Speak with your form tutor or send an initial email to alert him or her to your circumstances. In some cases you may be eligible for extensions or mitigating circumstances in external exams. Make sure your teachers know the reasons for any absences, and ask friends to tell you later about what happened while you were away.

You should also be aware that the school’s support centre is available to any student affected by a family bereavement or serious illness. If it would help to speak with someone about what is happening at home, speak to your learning leader to make an appointment.

Divorce and separation

Students whose parents split up often feel caught in the middle.  Conducting a relationship with parents who are in dispute, or living in two different places, can be a challenge. Money can easily become a source of conflict, producing family rows or debts.  You may find that you as the eldest are expected to be the confidante of an unhappy parent while younger siblings may develop problems at school or be affected in other ways.

Divorce has a big emotional impact on everyone but not every family member will react in the same way. For instance, one child may respond by temporarily becoming closer to one parent or distancing from both.   Another may feel guilt or misplaced responsibility for their parents’ difficulties.  For some, witnessing firsthand the problems in their parents’’ marriage will make it difficult to trust others again.

If you’ve recently learned that your parents have separated or are considering divorce, here are some guidelines that can help you cope:  

  • Don’t go through it alone.  Support from close friends and understanding from others are both essential during this time.
  • Know that your feelings may go up and down.  At times you may have difficulty concentrating or you may feel sad, angry or depressed. Reactions such as these are normal.  Sharing one’s thoughts and feelings with others who have had similar experiences can help.
  • Divorces and separations are frequently accompanied by lack of accurate, open communication with the children.  Focus on what you need to know for your own plans, not on information that should remain in the private domain of your parents. Don’t get caught in the role of trying to provide counselling or marriage guidance to your parent(s).
  • Steer well clear of any pressure to choose sides. You still have two parents and your relationship with each of them continues even though their marriage to each other may be ending. Try not to be dragged into the middle or pressured to join with one parent against the other This is especially important if there is a great deal of anger or bitterness between your parents.
  • If friends and family are not supportive, explore other sources of help. Speak to your form tutor or learning leader or one of your teachers if your academic work is affected, and consider seeing your GP if you feel upset or worried.