The stores are filled with binders and glue sticks so it must be time to start thinking about back-to-school. This time of year is busy for all parents, but it is particularly challenging when you’re divorced or separated. Not only are you juggling supply lists (including impossible to locate folder colors), sneaker shopping, open houses, and more volunteer events than your schedule has room for, but you’re also managing a parenting schedule, cost-splitting, and handling all of your exes “moments.” Follow these tips to keep your sanity.
Track Expenses. If you and your ex have an agreement to share school expenses or if your ex is responsible for all of it, you need to keep your receipts. Try to buy everything at one store if possible to minimize confusion. Keep copies of the receipts so you have a record of what you’re owed.
Share Supply Information. As much as school shopping can be a headache, it is a way to stay connected to your child. Even if you have agreed that you will be the parent in charge of school shopping, your ex might want to be involved. It’s not uncommon for a divorced dad to take his child out and buy the latest and greatest sneakers, backpack, or gadget. Making sure the other parent understands what the school requirements are will prevent a hissy fit by your child when the giant backpack fails to meet school specs and must be returned.
Coordinate Events. If you and your ex both want to attend open house, make sure he knows when it is. If you can’t stand to be in the same room together, arrange to go on different nights or at different times. If that’s not possible, most teachers are willing to do a quick one-on-one to meet one of the parents at another time.
Notify the School about Pick Ups. If you have sole legal custody of your child and have any concerns that your ex could try to pick your child up from school without your permission, you need to give the school a copy of your custody order and direct them not to release your child to anyone but you.
Think About the Night Before School. Do you remember that sick to your stomach feeling of the night before school? Your child experiences that too and it’s important to do whatever you can to make the first day of school easier for him. If at all possible, have your child sleep at the home where the bus will pick him up most of the time. This will minimize tension and help him get settled into a routine.
Arrange for Separate Notifications. If your ex has the right to receive information about your child’s academic progress and school activities (most parents with joint custody do, but some custody orders directly spell this right out), he needs to make arrangements with the school to have duplicates sent to him. As the custodial parent, you do NOT want to have to be responsible for copying and sending him everything that comes home. That being said, there are times when a teacher might send a quick handwritten note or email to you alone and it would be in the spirit of cooperation for you to share it. It is also nice to share graded papers and tests that come home.
Coordinate Calendars. Now that school is getting revved up again, there are going to be lots of events – book fairs, sports meets, science fairs, concerts, and more – scheduled for your child. Compare the school calendar with your parenting schedule. You want to make sure your child able to attend important events. If your ex lives nearby, you can suggest he take him to events that fall on his days.
Talk to the Teacher. If you are recently divorced, or in the middle of a split, make sure you find a moment to talk to your child’s teacher about the situation. Children of divorce and separation often act out at school, have emotional moments, or just occasional bad days and you want your child’s teacher to know what’s going on.
Smile! When school portraits roll around, if you do not want to talk to your ex about buying a package of photos together, send him an extra purchase order so you don’t have to get involved.
Plan Projects. It’s quite common for kids to want their dads to help them with certain school projects – particularly the ones that require construction! It would be great if you and your ex could talk about this kind of situation in advance so you can already have a plan in place for the science fair project or whatever will be coming along. If your ex agrees to handle a project, make sure he has all the details, including the deadlines and specs. It’s tempting to let him sink or swim, but it’s ok to let your mom nerves take over and remind him once or twice about the deadline so that your child does not end up in a bind. Try to remain hands off as much as possible though, so your child and ex can have this experience together.
Remember Who School Is For. It is too easy for school to become yet another battleground where you and your ex each attempt to stake your claim – you become active on the PTO and pal up to the teacher while your ex makes calls to complain to the principal about every little injustice to your child. You’re each secretly trying to be über involved with the school so you feel connected to your child. School is your kid’s turf – a place for her to have fun, grow, and get away from the issues at home. Don’t ruin that for her.