A quick glance around you and you quickly realize that it is back to school season. Flipping through magazines or scrolling through Pinterest and Facebook, you will find an abundance of articles with topics ranging from “How to Make a School Emergency Kit,” “15 Amazing Lunchbox Hacks,” to multiple back-to-school checklists.
Assuring that you and your child are “ready” for school is no easy task. As a family law attorney, a Guardian Ad Litem, and a parent myself, I often wonder why I don’t see many articles or blog posts with back-to-school guides for parents who are divorced or separated.
Everything from navigating your child’s school calendar, extra-curricular activities, homework, signing the dreaded agenda nightly, to coordinating play dates and who is buying birthday party gifts is hard enough for intact families. Tackling these tasks when you have two homes requires some serious co-parenting and planning. The following are some tips for helping your child start the new school year out on the right foot:
Have a Shared Calendar
It is essential that both parents utilize some sort of shared calendar. There are a lot of options available that parents can choose from. One that is commonly recommended and Court Ordered is a program called Our Family Wizard. This application offers a message board, expense log, journal and info bank.
- The message board allows parents to keep all of their child-related communication in one space. This eliminates parents from having multiple forums such as e-mail and text which makes it less likely that messages will be missed.
- The expense log allows parents to track shared parenting expenses, attach receipts, and keep accurate payment histories.
- The info bank is a convenient place for parents to store important information such as medical and insurance documentation.
Having a shared calendar, no matter what calendar application you decide to use, will go a long way not only to help eliminate the stress of managing your child’s schedule but most importantly, it will eliminate your child’s stress of having two parents that are not on the same page.
Keep the School in the Loop
Next to their parents, children spend the majority of their time at school with their teachers. For this reason, parents should inform their children’s school, specifically their teachers, of any pending or recent divorce. For children whose parents are going through a divorce, legal separation, and/or custody dispute, it’s a good idea that their teachers, whom they see up to eight hours per day, be informed should they notice any areas of concern that could be a result of the parents’ current legal dispute. Further, if you inform the teacher that the child now has two homes, I find that they are extremely accommodating to ensure that they send important information to both homes.
Stay Open-Minded About School Projects
Children are often asked to complete school projects related to their family. From family trees to family collages, parents should work together to assure that both sides of the child’s family be represented regardless of which parent is helping with the project. As a Guardian Ad Litem, I find that depending on which parent is helping with the family school project, the child almost feels a sense of guilt in wanting to add the other parent’s family. It is important to remember that your child is not the one separating from his or her family and that there is no shame in wanting to include them in such projects.
Attend Parent-Teacher Conferences Together
Parent-teacher conferences are a great opportunity for parents to receive feedback on their child’s school progress and an opportunity for the parents/teachers to voice any concerns. If feasible, both parents should attempt to go together so that they both hear the same information from the teacher. This will eliminate messages and concerns getting misinterpreted. Obviously, sometimes attending conferences together is simply not feasible and in that regard, the parent that is attending should provide the other parent with a summary of the conference.
Sync Up Rules and Expectations
It is likely that you and your ex have different parenting styles. This is true of intact families as well as divorced or separated parents. Having parents that parent differently is not a problem. However, having a completely different set of rules and expectations usually is.
Before school starts, you should discuss with your ex what the rules should be for completing homework, bedtimes, and meals. There is no question that kids thrive when they know what is expected of them. If your child knows they are required to do their homework before they can watch any television at both homes, or that they need to be in bed with lights out by 8:30 p.m. every night, you are less likely to hear arguments that start with, “Well, at Mom’s house I…”
It is not lost on me that for some it is not easy to work with your ex, for a variety of reasons. I always remind my clients that when it comes to raising happy and healthy children, parents need to be on the same team.
If you need any assistance in navigating family law issues like divorce, separation, or child custody, our family law attorneys at McCarty Law are ready to help you.
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- Back-to-School Tips for Divorced (or Separated) Parents - August 8, 2019