Transitions are always difficult for divorced families, as new schedules and obligations can disrupt mutually agreed-upon rules and practices. Just like summer break, the start of the school year can create issues and questions for parents who are separated or divorced. Below are some tips to help divorced parents minimize the stress and confusion that often accompany the start of the school year. Here are four to consider discussing with your ex.
Let the Teachers Know
In order to curtail any confusion and avoid misconceptions, separated or divorced parents should inform teachers (especially those of elementary and middle school-aged children) about their family situation. Ideally, this should be done via email or phone before the start of the school year so the teacher is told well in advance rather than on the first day of school. The discussion might involve explaining that your children live in two different households (which is why they sometimes need to bring extra clothes to school), as well as why different people are picking them up each day. You should also be sure to notify the teachers about any step-parents that are involved in the lives of the children. Letting the teachers know your situation ahead of time can also help them plan ahead for any school projects that might not work with a blended family, saving your child hurt feelings or embarrassment.
Split the Cost of Supplies
Unless you have an arrangement already worked out, it is best to split the cost of school supplies right down the middle. Though it may seem like a petty reason for separated or divorced parents to argue, the cost of school supplies can really add up, especially if you have multiple children. Not discussing this issue ahead of time could lead to problems and disagreements in the future. I suggest reviewing the school supply list in advance and determining who will be buying what. Some divorced parents have found a solution by having one parent purchase all of the school supplies, while the other parent purchases one or two back-to-school outfits. Talking this through and making a plan that works for both of you (in advance of the start of school), is the best way to avoid conflict, stress and aggravation.
Share School Responsibilities
Unless you have a very antagonistic relationship with your ex, you should try to attend important school events together. This includes things like dropping your kids off on the first day of school, attending band or orchestra concerts, cheering at sporting events, and visiting the teacher for parent-teacher conferences. It is important that you both feel like you are in the loop, and that your children feel you are both equally interested in their academic success and extracurricular activities. If you really can’t stand to be around each other, try to alternate attending events every-other time. But, for the sake of the children, I strongly suggest putting your feelings aside and doing what’s right for the kids. Having both parents in attendance for these important school milestones is what’s best for them.
Keep Each Other Up-to-Date
Remember, your ex has just as much of a right as you do to know what is going on with your children at school. A good way to keep each other informed is to start a shared spread sheet specifically for school-related topics. If your children are old enough and have their own phone, you can create a group text message so all of you can communicate with each other. Or consider staring a group email. Not informing your ex of important school events will only cause greater problems for you and your children, so come up with a communication plan that works for all of you and avoid unnecessary conflict.
It is my hope that these suggestions will help make the back-to-school season as easy and stress-free as possible for you and your family.