Back to school can send even the most organized mom into a tizzy of finding the right color-coded three-ring binder, and co-parenting or solo parenting complicates the situation further. However, for those who have had to make a move to a new school district as a result of divorce or separation, the thought of preparing our children for a brand new school with new kids, new teachers, and a whole new routine can break anyone into a cold sweat. The logistics of switching schools (hellooooo paperwork!) are daunting. Sadly, for many of us, the crazy pile of paperwork comes with a big ol’ heaping dose of mommy-guilt about moving our kids. Worse yet, some of us are contending with all of that and a nice dollop of side-eye from family who are questioning—- or being outright hostile about— our decision to move. Lovely.
We’re here to break the panic down into bite-sized pieces for you. Preparing your kiddos for a new school is just like any other aspect of divorce: It’s about having a good strategy and having a great mindset.
So let’s talk tactics.
Changing schools can be hard! Be sure to allow your children to express feelings of sadness, expect blowups, and know that kids feelings often come out sideways as children are not always masters at naming their own feelings. Talk it out. Make it known to your kids that you are available to listen. This may mean putting your phone down even if it’s your lawyer or your boss. Expect grief to come out as tantrums, delay tactics at bedtime, and possibly even regressions like bedwetting for kindergarten-aged kids. Things are a bit tricky If you have older teens. There is a fine balance between not hovering and being on the lookout for self-harming behaviors. Don’t hover, but do be on the lookout for mopiness that may be masking deeper depression and seek the help of appropriate professionals if needed.
Be sure to take your child to visit his or her new school before the doors ever open for the first day of class. Walk around the playground, help your children find where their classroom will be, how to get to the front office if they need help, and where the nurse’s office is located. They will feel much better if they have the lay of the land.
Get in touch with your child’s new teacher school administration and give them a quick heads-up about the challenges your child is facing this year (new family circumstances, new home, new school, etc.). Do not give a dissertation on your divorce. Unless safety is involved, teachers don’t need to hear it. Make sure the school has your co-parent’s contact information. You do not want to become your co-parent’s secretary or the go-between for your co-parent with your child’s school. Make sure your co-parent is getting his or her own copy of the school newsletter, PTA requests, and reports home from the school.
Finally, consider asking the school to host a get together on the playground for your kid’s grade or classroom. Elizabeth did this when her then 3yo was headed into a new school. She and her kiddo rolled in with popsicles and juice boxes on the selected date, and 2 hours later had a bevy of new buddies for her son and for herself. Which brings us to our next point…
Getting divorced is rough!. If your kid is going into a new school, chances are that you too are adjusting to the new normal. You are an amazing mom, prioritizing helping your kids transition: GO YOU! In the midst of helping them make friends, remember that you, too, are in need of a new squad. Your social circle deserves just as much value as theirs because without a few geographically-close pals to lean on, your life in a new location is going to be way tougher than it needs to be.
If you’re squeamish about trying to link up one on one with other parents from the new school, find a local moms group through social media. Platforms like MeetUp are great places to sniff out new buddies. If you don’t want to stray beyond familiar spaces like Facebook, do a simple search within the app search menu for groups. Type in “single moms” and see what pops up in your area. If push comes to shove and you’re unable to find anyone through teachers or the web, wait until the school year starts then host a mom’s night in at your place. Wine, cheese and crackers and a group viewing of Bad Moms may yield you the squad you need to survive the school year in a new place.
This may be the advice that gets Elizabeth voted off the Good Moms’ Island, but spare us your pearl-clutching, oh mighty moms that manage to juggle PTO board, classroom teacher, and baking nut-free, gluten-free brownies for teacher appreciation week. When your kid is in the first year of a new school— especially the first few months— your priority is on your kid, period. Invest your time in helping your kid build relationships and your own emotional and financial resources, not helping build up their school’s resources. This is the time to put on your own oxygen mask first. The PTO and Principal managed without your help before you moved into the district; trust that they’ll do just fine without you while you focus on getting your kids settled and your New Normal on track.