With Yom Tov now behind us, and cooler weather around us, our children are settling into the heart of the school year. While many children and parents alike are getting back into expected routines, families who have recently experienced divorce are beginning to navigate new ones.
If you have recently experienced divorce, you might be wondering how best to support your children within their school environment. Both logistically, as well as emotionally, there are a number of actions you can take to ensure that your children’s needs are well looked after.
At times, school can provide an oasis for children who have seen significant changes at home. The comfort of friends, caring staff and consistent routines, coupled with academic and extracurricular engagement during the school day, offer solace. By being proactive and taking the following steps, you can ensure that your kids have been set up for success throughout the school year.
1. Provide the School with Relevant Parenting Documents
Upon separating, parents put significant resources and effort into creating a parenting plan for their children, which sets out parenting schedules and parameters about who will make major decisions for the kids. In order to assist your child’s school administration in understanding the specifics of these new arrangements, it is important that the office staff be provided with any relevant separation agreements, court orders or interim/temporary agreements.
With schools caring for so many students, having these documents on file provides a quick reference for teachers and administrators. This information ensures that staff is informed as to which parent is the primary contact person on which days, and who will be picking up the child from school. It allows the school to know which parent has legal decision-making rights, and whether they should or should not be providing a parent with access to the child’s educational records and information.
2. Provide the School with Relevant Financial Documents
As with the previous recommendation to provide parenting-related documentation to the school, providing the tuition office with any agreements or court orders which specify responsibility for tuition-related expenses will help simplify financial arrangements.
This is particularly relevant in situations where parents have trouble working together, but are each responsible for a portion of their child’s tuition. In such cases, maintaining separate tuition accounts within the school allows each parent to work directly with the administration, and alleviates the need for potentially contentious interactions between the co-parents. With the supporting documentation in hand, the school is able to know which parent is legally responsible and should be addressed in the case of any complications with regard to scheduled payments. With clear communication, schools are better equipped to maintain a working relationship with all parents, and to support their child’s ongoing education.
3. Speak with Your Child’s Teachers
Kids whose parents have recently split up are working to make sense of a new normal. Seemingly innocuous interactions with peers, or a mention of “normative” family structure during a classroom lesson, may inadvertently become triggers for children during these times. Touching base at the beginning of the school year allows a teacher the necessary insight with which to ensure sensitivity to all the children within his or her classroom. Teachers may choose to address lessons slightly differently—for example, not taking typical gendered parental roles for granted. It also helps teachers better understand a student whose behaviors may seem slightly outside of the norm and allows them to support the child as needed. Most importantly, opening lines of communication early in the school year, and instructing them to contact you with any concerns or accomplishments, show a teacher that you are interested in partnering with them to help your child achieve ongoing success.
4. Track Expenses
In addition to fixed monthly child support payments, depending on where you live, you and your ex may pay certain additional expenses on a regular basis. During the school year, these expenses may include tuition, bus payments, fees for extracurricular activities, school books, supplies, lunches, etc. In order to keep track of these costs, it is a good idea to have a running list of the items, dates and methods of payment. It is also helpful to hold on to any associated receipts. Keeping this information organized, whether in hard copy or electronically, will undoubtedly help you and former partner when it comes time to allocate the division of payment on all of these items.
5. Get an App
Co-parenting? There’s an app for that! While nothing about co-parenting is as simple as just downloading an app, there are a significant number of co-parenting apps available to help ease the process. Whether you choose to use a paid app, like Our Family Wizard, or free services, such as Google Drive, these, and other similar tools, offer shareable calendars so that both parents can track parenting schedules, extracurricular activities and due dates of school reports. Integrated file storage offers a solution for organizing documents, such as expense receipts and children’s medical records. Whichever service you choose, co-parenting apps offer an excellent resource for parents looking to streamline their communication and are worth exploring.
6. Prepare Your Kids
Change is hard, and it’s normal for kids to carry fears with them when going back to school after a major family transition like divorce. Take some time to sit down with your child and ask if he has any concerns. Feel free to offer prompts if he’s having difficulty articulating his needs. Is he fearful of talking to his friends about the divorce? Is he concerned that no one will want to come to his house anymore? Let your child know that it’s ok to cry, or to feel sad, angry or alone. Validation of emotions provides a security that children not only value, but need. Reassure your child that you’ll be speaking to his teachers about the changes in his life. Make sure he knows he can feel comfortable speaking to teachers or the school guidance counselor, as well. Assure your child that he can talk to you at any time, about any topic that comes up.
If your children will be experiencing mid-week transitions between homes, prepare them for this, too. Show them how the weekly schedule will work, and ensure that they understand how their belongings will be transferred between homes. Walk them through who will be picking them up on which days, and who will be attending extracurricular activities, in order to provide them with a sense of preparedness.
7. Present a United Front
It is easy to overlook or underestimate the impact of your co-parenting relationship on a child’s school year. Whatever steps you can take to set aside your differences will only benefit your child. The details will, as always, depend upon your parenting arrangement. However, if both of you are involved, it is important that you keep one another in the loop regarding your child’s education throughout the year. Creating consistency within the two homes, and fashioning similar routines around homework, chores and bedtime, will keep your child transitioning smoothly between both homes.
Making clear to your children that you, as parents, are in communication with one another creates an environment of caring and security for them and helps them understand that you can’t be played against one another. Remaining on the same page does not come naturally for all co-parents, however, those who are willing to put in the effort have experienced the joys of unyielding reward, including children who perform better academically, are more secure emotionally and look forward to each new day.