I needed to write down my thoughts regarding a recent thread that called into question the PAREF school system’s policy concerning the non-admission of children of unmarried and separated parents. I am addressing this in my blog because the exchange has turned from the amusing to the frustrating to the absurd. I don’t doubt the intentions and goodwill of some of the friends I have there but (no offense) there are those who dip into the waters without fully thinking through, what the deeper reasons are behind that policy. Some of them claim that the policy is unjust, discriminatory or more absurdly, a punishment to children for the wrong-doing of their parents.
As a parent within the system, this is my understanding of why that policy is in force.
DISCLAIMER: This is entirely my personal opinion, based on my experience as a PAREF parent of 13 years with eight more years (hopefully) to go!
The “home-school collaboration” thrust of PAREF hinges around the full and active participation of parents in their children’s education. I admit proudly that this is one of the most outstanding qualities found in the PAREF school system that makes it desirable for some parents to want to send their children there. I also concede that it is neither a perfect nor trouble-free system. Since the primary requirement of the system of home-school collaboration is for both parents (within reasonable circumstances) to be the primary educators of their children, it is rather unfortunate that the system may not easily lend itself to certain personal circumstances that some parents may find themselves in. Such are the problems we see when one parent has to leave the country to seek employment or is widowed or becomes separated. While all three circumstances end up in a single-parent scenario, the last, becoming separated, is perhaps the most psychologically detrimental to the child.
A death of a parent will instill feelings of abandonment to children but as the child grows up and with proper guidance from the surviving parent, other family members and a spiritual director, they can begin to realize that death is an inevitable natural event that everyone must face. In other words, they can eventually achieve closure on this issue and move on without much “baggage”. A parent working abroad, who is away for extended periods of time, will certainly have it’s effect on children but if the parent chooses to maximize the use of that time when they are home or use social network technology responsibly and properly, the effect on the child can be dampened and minimized. A child in this situation may initially resent the arrangement but may eventually come to realize, again with proper guidance from the parents, that leaving is a temporary but necessary thing for the benefit of the family. Unfortunately this is not the case for many broken marriages where the issue of separation has nothing to do with inevitability, like in death, or necessity, like working abroad, but usually out of a wrong personal choice or behavior by one or both parents. Whatever the reason is, the emotional baggage that children carry in these situations, is quite heavy.
The primary reason for discouraging the admission of children from separated parents into the PAREF system has to do with the family-centered and parent-filled activities that PAREF “demands” of families. A child who enters this system and whose parents are separated, may be confused by his or her situation as compared to the peers or worse, may bear feelings of resentment which may manifest negatively while interacting with them.
Another less apparent reason, which is implied in this policy, is that single parents may get themselves into situations, i.e., legal/personal disputes with the ex-spouse, second relationships or indiscretions, that will lend more confusion, both to their child and eventually to the peers. How does a school like PAREF handle a parent who thinks it is “okay” to bring their “partner” to the school’s family activities? PAREF’s mentoring system, while outstanding, cannot (and should not) handle these potentially difficult personal situations because it is unimaginable for a school to pry into the private lives of parents. This is not within the purview of PAREF’s mentoring system. If these things happen in intact marriages, what more to parents who have separated?
I have heard some parents say, “my child is mature” or “he/she will understand”, but that is , in many ways, expecting what should not be expected of a child’s growing and maturing mind. It places an undue burden on a young mind, which could be better used toward more worthwhile pursuits. I have a personal and first-hand experience growing up in this situation and have seen it in others as well. One cannot assume that children will “understand” the situation that adults get themselves into, this is oversimplifying the problem to the detriment of the child’s psyche. We are dealing with young minds who are still developing their own identity and character and to introduce these variables early into their lives, is to destroy any sense of idealism in family life that they should strive to achieve. As they grow up, this idealism will be tempered by real-life situations but by then, they will be more mature and would be able to digest those things on their own.
Nothing is more heartbreaking than to see a child who feels marginalized because his or her parental situation cannot live up to the school’s family-oriented requirements. So when people insist that PAREF is being uncharitable to children whose parents are In this situation, I ask them to think of whether their motivations for insisting on their position, are for the children’s spiritual and mental benefit or for the parent’s own comfort zone. The same thing holds true for parents who lie about their marital situation just to have their children accepted in PAREF. I’m dumbfounded at how cruel they can be to their own child when they (the child) eventually find out that their parents lied to get them in and I know of such instances!
The policy is something that was not created out of thin air. Knowing how the founders and administrators of PAREF are, this policy had been studied, reviewed and re-reviewed for many years. It has nothing to do with sheltering children from reality or excluding children from broken families. It is precisely there to protect the integrity of young children’s minds, nothing more.