Back to school can be an exciting but also stressful time for you and your children. There are transitions to new grades and sometimes a new school. There are new teachers, as well as new classmates. And, there are countless new routines and decisions that need to be made.
All parents (divorced or otherwise) need to decide, what they will do individually, and what they are going to do together. For example, if a young child takes a bus on the first day of school (regardless of whose house the child stayed at the night before), you may decide that you both are going to be there to see the child off.
After the first day of school, children usually come home with long lists of supplies they need. Here again, logistical planning can go a long way. Who is going to get what should be determined by what makes the most sense. It doesn’t have to be governed by the parenting plan schedule.
The beginning of the school year is a good time for you to establish policies about how you are going to manage your children’s academic needs, and what common rules around schoolwork will be present in both residences. Making those decisions early removes the need to figure things out on-the-fly, or have countless communications over the course of the year.
Here are some areas to consider:
Activities: Children are involved in many activities during the school year. You can decide in which activities you are going to be involved. Who is going to go on the school trips? Who will be a classroom parent? Who is going to take the children to different activities (regardless of who has primary parenting responsibility on a given day).
Homework: You can agree to a common homework policy. For example, you can decide that your children do not use devices before homework is done. Even when both of you agree to the policy, you don’t have to implement it exactly the same way. In one household, the homework might be done as soon as your children come home from school. In the other household, homework may be done later in the day. In either case, both of you still have the same over-arching policy: no devices before homework is done. This can add a sense of consistency and stability, and decrease the tendency for some children to try to manipulate.
Bedtime: A common bedtime policy on school nights can be implemented by design. Bedtime can, for example, be between 8 and 8:30pm, or whatever is appropriate for the child. In that way, the child knows that bedtime is the same in both your households and there will be continuity and consistency, even, if one of you has the child go to bed on the earlier side of the range, compared to the other parent.
Older Children: You even can set policies for older children. For example, there can be a common policy about getting rides to and from school from friends who have driver’s licenses.
Communicating Information: Lastly, it is very important to have a procedure in place for communicating information. This doesn’t mean that one of you needs to be a secretary for the other. Many schools will have websites where information resides. Each of you can take responsibility for checking the website. Just don’t assume the other parent is aware of something important. It is better to have redundant information, than for one of you to be “in the dark.”
You can also have a system in place where you are communicating other information back and forth about the children. This could be a common website where you share a calendar and/or documents that include contact information for tutors, parents of your children’s friends, etc. No matter how it is done, put a protocol in place for sharing information.
Similarly, you can give the school contact information for both of you. However, keep in mind that many schools have multiple databases, and the other parent’s information may not be in all of them.
In summary, it’s really important to make sure that you’re working as a team. Make it easy for the children and yourselves, by being as organized as possible. Remember, back to school is not about your divorce, it’s about your children.
Please contact us with any questions.
My Divorce Recovery
Jeffrey Zimmerman, Ph.D., ABPP
Lauren Behrman, Ph.D.