Childrearing

Confessions Of A Governess: Watching The Divorce Stigma Unfold

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Confessions of a Governess is a Mommyish series from the perspective of someone who gets paid to watch other people’s children. Moms, take a deep breath.

When I was little girl, I remember vividly identifying the other children in my school who also had divorced parents. I don’t remember there being any sort of pronounced stigma on the playground, but as someone whose parents did divorce quite young, I remember learning for the first time during kindergarten that there were different types of families.

It had never occurred to me before my first year at school that some people had parents who lived in the same house, who slept in the same room. Like many children of separated or divorced parents, I was shuttled back in forth in weekend visits and week-long stays at two houses that were both considered “home.” As an only child with solitary tendencies, I wasn’t aware that there was anything different about the way my family lived. But upon meeting many children in a scholastic setting, I remember coming to understand that the circumstances of my home, although not taboo, were also not ideal according to other children and parents.

As a former nanny and occasional babysitter to small children, I often work for families in which parents are separated or divorced and the trend among school-aged children often plays out the same. I notice that the shame from having a divorced family stems from nothing internal, as it usually isn’t until children start attending school that they begin to regard their home as “different.”

We don’t live in a time in which divorced families are publicly slandered for such choices; it’s all too common. But with fewer couples divorcing these days, the handful of kindergartners or first-graders of divorced families can still feel quite embarrassed when being confronted with other depictions of what a home looks like. For some children I’ve cared for, it’s not specifically the social setting of school that permits them the opportunity to learn about the lives of their peers. School marks the beginning of many new social scenarios that include visiting other children’s homes, meeting the parents of their friends, and comparing what they know in their family with what they see elsewhere.

Whatever children are raised with, they believe to be normal which goes for a variety of dynamics, arrangements, and relationships that they may become accustomed to when they’re young. But like my young clientele who are lucky enough to have divorced, but highly respectful and civil parents, I never suspected that my parents living apart marked us with an asterisk. I never had to question that both my parents loved me, and so the specifics of my home and who lived where and who was there to pick me up never seemed of much importance.