The beginning of the school year can be an exciting time for children. They are excited to learn who their new teacher is and if any of their friends are in their class this year. They may look forward to the annual school clothes shopping sprees or want to pick out their new school supplies. However, when parents are divorced, the new school year can bring about anxiety for children, especially when their parents do not get along amicably. Here are the best tips I have discovered to start the new school year off on a positive note for children.
- Use technology to share information. With the choices we have today, co-parenting can be made easy. Information can be shared openly, even when you do not want to talk with the other parent. There are apps for the phone and computer that allow parents to communicate without having to have face-to-face conversations. Parents have the option of using a shared Google calendar, Our Family Wizard, CoParenter, AppClose, TalkingParents, WeParent, 2houses, or Truece to share information. The key to all these apps is that the parents agree on which one to use and both have signed up for an account. Some of the apps charge yearly fees and others are completely free. Some of the apps will allow parents to add third parties to the group, such as the children, grandparents, or professionals that are assisting the family. If you do add a professional, notify the other parent of who has been added. Do your research and agree on which application to use to communicate. Reach an agreement for a deadline to respond by, so everyone is clear on what is a reasonable time to expect a response, if one is needed. By using an agreed upon method of communication, parents can send messages or upload information for the other parent without worrying about interrupting work.
- Review your court order. The start of the new school year is a good time to pull out your judgment and review its terms. If you have had post-judgment issues resolved during the previous school year, pull out those orders as well. If you have joint legal custody, remember that the other parent needs to be included in decisions regarding the child’s education. Decide if the school should be provided with a copy of the judgment or any post-judgment orders. This may be necessary if one parent has restricted or supervised parenting time or if the court has limited one parent from picking up the children, etc. If the school should have a copy, provide it with the completed school forms.
- Plan for attending school activities in a positive manner. When parents do not get along or fight every time they talk, plans should be made for attending school activities. Decide if the parents will alternate months on helping in the classroom or attending field trips. Talk to the teacher about options for parent-teacher conferences. Are the teachers willing to have two separate conferences? Ask if a parent can attend by telephone, if that parent does not live close to the school district? For school concerts and plays, both parents can sit on opposite sides of the room and not speak to one another. The important thing to remember is that the child can experience the support of both parents without feeling like the child has to choose or is anxiously waiting for the next public parental blow-up. For some activities, each parent may have to decide to put their differences aside for a few hours so that the child can have a positive activity with both parents attending.
- Properly fill out school forms and alert school personnel to our family dynamics. When filling out the school forms, list each parent’s name in the appropriate slot with their known contact information. This lets the school know who the legal parents are and how to reach them. If you have remarried, identify your spouse with the appropriate title. It can be helpful to let the teacher know how the child prefers to address stepparents. Some families agree not to use “step” in front of titles. Agree on who the emergency contact individuals will be.
- Plan to share the cost of school supplies. Start discussing how to share the costs of supplies after the Fourth of July, if it is not clear in your court orders. Will costs be shared equally, or pro rata based on the parties’ incomes? Understand that the items being purchased are for the children and not property of the parents. The children should be allowed to freely move their school supplies between houses and school as the child needs. Discuss which parent will purchase the requested supplies for the classroom or if it will be a shared purchase. There should be discussions and an agreement as to whether one parent will do the shopping and the other parent will reimburse or if each parent will separately purchase their share.
- Allow the other parent to enjoy the first day of school. Discuss with the other parent if they would like to jointly attend sending the child to the first day of school. It may not be possible due to work schedules or distance between homes but be willing to extend an invitation. If the other parent cannot join in sending the child off to the first day of school, then share photos from the first day in a shared account or in social media that the other parent can see. Remember this is a day for the child and not for the parents.
- Discuss ahead of time what extracurricular activities the child can participate in throughout the school year. The start of a new school year is a good time to discuss how many and which extracurricular activities the child can participate in. A good starting point is what is written in the court orders regarding activities. Discuss with the other parent if there is a limit to the amount of funds that you can contribute toward extracurriculars. Extracurricular activities can include sporting teams, dance, after-school clubs, scouting, band, orchestra, or music lessons. If there is a disagreement about the child participating in a winter or spring sport, now is the time to bring the matter before the court for its assistance in resolving the dispute. If you wait until the start of the season, the child may not be able to participate that year.
- Decide how to handle school emergencies and unexpected school closings. Discuss with the other parent what information to communicate to the school on who to contact when there is an emergency or school unexpectedly closes. The discussion should include how the unexpected school closing impacts the parenting time schedule and an agreed upon time to exchange the child if one parent picks up from school outside of his or her scheduled parenting time. Decide now if there will be a group chat that will be used when an emergency or unexpected school closing happens.
- Sync up the after school and bedtime routines. Both parents should be open to establishing the same routines for after school and at bedtime. Providing your children with joint routines and rules for both houses will minimize the time it takes children to re-acclimate to each parent’s house rules and expectations.
Talk to your children. If your children are old enough, ask them what extracurriculars that they want to do. Find out what routines work best for your child to accomplish everything that the child needs to get done. Hold your older child responsible for transporting school books and supplies between both houses.