By Audrey Cade
Our children’s days may currently consist of sun-drenched afternoons by the swimming pool and hands sticky from ice cream. But before we know it, the school bells will be ringing again and they’ll be off to another year or reading, writing, and arithmetic! Back-to-school time is a dizzying mix of gleeful anticipation and anxiety for all kids and their parents. Tackling school supplies, new teachers, and the return of academic demands, however, is a bit more challenging for divorced parents.
For many of us who co-parent school-aged kids, the sight of book bags filled with new crayons and yellow buses back on the roads signals another round of conflicts over communication with teachers, dirty tactics to change contact information on the emergency call list, and anguish over homework, permission slips, and lunch money!
Do you want this school year to start off on the right foot for you and your child? Here are a few tips from a veteran of the co-parenting and back-to-school game:
1. Try to set the tone for open communication, starting with the first open house or letter sent home from school
If you want information shared with you, sometimes you have to show how willing you are to be fair and transparent. Make a copy, take a picture, or at least share the pertinent details regarding your child’s schedule, school fees, school supply list, and any other important information received for your child. Sadly, this does not guarantee that your ex will also keep an open book, but at least no one can say that you’re anything but cooperative and child-centered!
Many of the problems centered around divorce and school are related to breakdowns in communication. Either one parent is not as organized or efficient about processing and passing along information, or may refuse to do so out of spite. We never want to be the parent in a position to be accused of withholding information, so it’s important to do our part to set our children up for success by having two parents who can support them through school!
Some co-parents have found success using a neutral app as a means to share schedules and other information without room for the exchange of insults or other unnecessary information. Other parents have established a shared email address for the sole purpose of receiving school correspondence and sharing school-related information. Keep in mind that the school may only be able to list one email account to send messages to, so a joint address may help solve many issues!
2. Always refer to your parenting agreement
The answer to many of our questions and concerns is right in the final document issued to us by the court. Know what it says, and stick to it! Who pays for school supplies, extracurricular activities, and school lunch? Who is the residential parent whose address is used to register the kids for school (and who will likely receive all official notifications from the school)? Are both parents allowed full contact and the right to be involved in making decisions?
3. Make sure the school is familiar with your divorce arrangement
The school doesn’t need to know whose fault the divorce was, and they really don’t want to be in the middle of every petty argument. However, it is important for teachers and administrators to be aware of special transportation arrangements, custody, and the fact that children may live and travel between two homes on a regular basis.
It can’t hurt to introduce new staff to your situation or refresh the minds of previous ones with a copy of your plan or a brief explanation of the dynamics. This way, teachers will know to ask which parent the child is with when searching for missing work or needing to discuss daily issues relevant to each home, and can avoid making mistakes caused by misinformation or making assumptions.
Tune in to hear Audrey discuss her blended family on our podcast, “Divorce and Other Things You Can Handle”
4. Don’t sweat what you can’t control
To an organized and caring parent, it can be incredibly frustrating to see your child miss work and not follow a consistent routine (for bedtime and so on). After a point, many co-parents learn to relinquish some of the desire to control every tiny detail that occurs each week because we begin to find that even with the best intentions, many things will remain out of our control. What we can do is work to instill a good work ethic, organizational skills, and healthy habits that can follow them wherever they go throughout life.
5. As always, keep the kids out of the middle!
The only drama kids should be exposed to at school is the spring musical! The last thing any child wants is to have those parents who bicker in the stands at the basketball game or drive the teacher insane demanding separate parent-teacher conferences or complaining about their ex. We may have divorced our ex, but we will remain connected to them as parents of our children for many more years. School is just one of those places where we need to hold it together and remain civil and composed for the dignity and emotional stability of our child.
READ MORE: How to Raise Your Kids Together, Apart
6. Where there’s a web, there’s a way!
If your child is getting straight A’s in losing important papers in their locker or your ex routinely fails to clue you in on important events at school, you’ll likely find the school website a treasure trove of facts! Everything from schedules for extra-curricular activities, supply lists, lunch menus and fee scales, access to grades, and class newsletters containing dates and other details for upcoming activities are included there. If all else fails, the school website is also your connection to phone numbers and e-mail addresses for everyone from the school nurse to the bus driver!
7. Double is not always better
In some cases, having duplicate letters and other announcements sent home for each parent can be really helpful, but it’s not always possible. As kids become older, more of the responsibility will fall on their shoulders to remember to share information and keep their academic life organized. Parents can request for contact to be made to two separate phone numbers or copied letters, but teachers are very busy and won’t always have the time or remember to do so.
Some parents, especially those who do not get along well, may request separate meetings and other special treatment because of their divorce. Your child’s teacher may feel that one meeting serves the purpose best to make sure everyone hears the same information and is on the same page. It’s not always pleasant, but it is important for children to see that their parents can work together and be unified in wanting what’s best for them!
There’s no doubt that this school year will be full of challenges, triumphs, and memories. Now is the perfect time to embark on this adventure with your child- and even your ex- with a solid game plan and a positive frame of mind. Just as kids mature and grow in their skills as they advance from one grade to the next, most co-parents also get better at coordinating and working together for the sake of their children. Good luck on your back-to-school adventure!
About the Author
Audrey Cade is the author of Divorce Matters: help for hurting hearts and why divorce is sometimes the best decision (on Amazon) and the matriarch of a blended family of eight. She is an experienced “divorce warrior” in the areas of co-parenting, step parenting, parental alienation, and re-marriage, and enjoys sharing these experiences with others who are also committed to raising happy and healthy kids. Audrey’s professional experience is as a case manager social worker with the developmentally disabled, families with young children, and homeless populations. She holds degrees in Early Childhood Education, Human Service & Management, and a Master’s in Psychology. She enjoys family outings, a variety of arts and crafts, cooking, gardening, and writing. She is a featured blogger for Divorced Moms, has work regularly appearing on Divorce Force, and articles appearing in Step Mom Magazine, The Good Men Project, and others.