Getting Children “Back to School” Successfully–Even after Divorce
As parents shop for watermelon and fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July, they pass aisles loaded with backpacks and and signs touting, “Back to School!!” In the midst of summer, parents look toward getting children stocked on supplies, registered for classes, and emotionally ready to engage. It’s not easy.
For divorced parents, the challenge looms even larger. How can you work together to ensure your
children’s success? Focus on three areas:
Focus 1: Communication
I vividly remember my embarrassment as my daughter’s second grade teacher scolded me for failing to send cinnamon for the class’s science project. Yes, the teacher had sent a note home. But, between math pages, vocabulary and spelling lists, and the announcement for a field trip—it got lost. Frustrated, the next week I counted the number of pieces of paper I received from the school.
How is any parent supposed to track 137 pieces of paper?????
It’s worse when one parent gets the note out of the backpack, but the other parent has to follow through on their parenting day. Communication proves critical. Whether returning permission slips for field trips, getting children to an early practice, or tracking progress on a science fair project—you must work together.
If you communicate well with the other parent, it’s worth the time for the two of you to get together before the school year starts. Use the time to:
- create mutual goals for the children,
- define how each of you can support your children,
- compare school calendars to ensure you both are aware of concerts, field trips, or ball games.
Then, each nine weeks, get back together to make adjustments and to celebrate your children’s successes for the grading period.
If you struggle to communicate with the other parent, use a neutral media such as email. (Avoid texting as it often proves too complicated and tends to lead to more conflict. See “Texting in Divorce–The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. ) Remember—the goal is to work together to support your children. In your letter or email, offer simple statements such as:
- What study schedules should we set for the children?
- Should we hire a math tutor?
- Do we sit together or apart for the Christmas concert?
This focuses discussion the on the children and on finding ways to serve them. Avoid making judgments about each other. Acknowledge that the other parent may use different patterns. The goal is to pool strengths and work toward the same goals, even if each of you gets there differently.
Focus 2: Financial support
Yes, child support goes toward school supplies. Yet, with rising activity fees, required rentals for ipads or laptops, and added fees for advanced classes–often the child support isn’t enough. Then, you add the expense of the fifth grade trip to Washington, D.C. or the new violin—and the parent receiving child support can’t make ends meet.
The key, again, is working together. Before the school year begins, jointly look at all the school expenses and agree to the base amount that should come out of child support. For expenses exceeding this amount, find a way to split the rest. The goal—to give children a solid start without financially breaking either parent.
Focus 3: Attending events
Whether it’s the school play or the awards night, your children want both parents present. Jeff Pokone, noted family counselor, states, “The definition of a mature adult is a person who takes responsibility for the impact of their dysfunction on other people.”
When parents can’t get along—that’s dysfunction. Sometimes it’s just the way the relationship goes. However, if this describes you, you need to take responsibility for how that dysfunction impacts your children. Mature parents find a way to attend special events and keep the focus on celebrating the children—not wounding each other.
If you can, sit together. Rather than feeling the pressure of deciding which parent to approach first or how to evenly split time, your children simply come to Mom and Dad and bask in the praise.
If it won’t work to sit together, ease the situation for the kids. Find a separate space, plaster a smile on your face, and refuse to exhibit any hint of guilt if children go to the other parent first or can’t find you.
Resources to help
Many websites have emerged to help divorced parents get on the same page. Two of the best are:
These sites offer a central location for all the information parents need to track.
- Calendars for noting upcoming events,
- An area to record medical information,
- A photo gallery to share images of children,
- Budget sheets to track expenses,
and much more. These sites can help parents who struggle with talking to each other or just struggle with staying organized. At a minimal fee per month, they get you on the same page.
As parents coordinate efforts for grades, study goals, events, supplies needed—you encourage your children’s success in school. And, you may even get the cinnamon to the science project!