Getting a child back to school is hard enough, but if you are co-parenting with your ex for the first time it can be even harder. Here are ten tips for how to make navigating back to school more comfortable for both parents and, more importantly, the child.
1) Have a good plan
It may look like a United Nations meeting around your kitchen table but having a good plan will help all parties involved. Gather all adults, helpers and participants in your children’s lives that will be involved over the school year. From grandparents, to aunts and uncles, to the nanny if applicable. Have everyone pull out their calendars and plan every weekend, vacation, and holiday for the entire school year in advance. This can always be edited as things change but it will make everyone calmer with a schedule in advance and it can help your children know what’s coming up.
2) The all important backpack
If it is the first year the child is going through a co-parenting situation they may feel like they don’t have their own space. Moving from one house to another can leave them feeling uprooted and unstable. Their backpack can be their one place that is theirs. Help them customize it, and assure them no matter where they go they can have it with them and whatever they chose to keep inside. This will offer some security and consistency
3) Let the School know about your situation
For one reason or another there may only be one active parent involved with the child. If this is the case do yourself, your child, and your child’s teacher’s a favor and let them know in advance. A quick heads up can avoid awkward questions in class about what their mother does if she’s not present. Or can be a problem during a “Mother’s Day” in school.
4) Encourage your kids to keep it simple
Your child may not know how to explain their situation to their friends. They may not feel it’s “normal” and have some degree of anxiety or worry when families are brought up or with planning events after school. Sit down and talk to your child, encourage them to keep it simple when explaining things to their friends and that it’s okay that they live with mom some days and dad others.
5) Don’t erase the other parent
If you’ve moved on since the divorce you may be with someone new, but don’t jump at the first opportunity to change your children’s school records to have the new husband or wife as the emergency contact. If the other parent is able they should remain on the forms as the child’s parent and remain on all lists and contact for the school. You wouldn’t want to be left out of your child’s life if the roles were reversed to extend that same courtesy to your ex.
6) Be involved with homework
Helping your children with homework is a great opportunity for a parent. It can help you bond, and give you an opportunity to teach lessons beyond multiplication and spelling. Even if you are the non-custodial parent try to see if there’s a way to stay involved in your children’s school work and ask them if there is anything you can help them with when you are able.
7) Communicate directly with your ex
Don’t use your child as a messenger to keep your ex in the loop with school and extra curricular activities. Not only can kids forget important details that may not be relevant to them it also puts them in an odd situation. E-mail can be a great medium for this, it avoids awkward phone calls, gives you time to edit yourself and avoid the “heat of the moment,” and provides a written record that no one can later claim that they “didn’t know.”
8) Double down
You want your child to have the least amount of stress possible, especially when it comes to things under your control. Don’t let them have to stress about making sure they have this book, that book, or certain school supplies at your home. If you are financially able, buying everything they need in duplicate for both houses can save your child the stress, the hassle of carrying everything over, and any “built in” excuses for why they were unable to complete their homework.
9) Involve the family
This goes all the way back to number one on the list, but don’t hesitate to call-in the resources you have available to you as a parent. This can include grandparents and other extended family. Grandparents are a happy substitute if you and your ex are unable to make it to a school function, or pick up on time.
10) Don’t turn your child’s world into a battleground
This extends beyond more than just school. Don’t have hand-offs at school if you know you are prone to get into a fight with your ex. Avoid making school functions stressful and uncomfortable for the child if they want both parents there. Reassuring your child that they can still have both parents involved and sticking to your word by not making an atmosphere which prevents that will go a long way.