Back to School Tips for the Divorced Parent
Incredibly enough, Summer is winding down, the shore is behind us, it is starting to get cooler out (and darker), and parents and kids everywhere are scrambling to ready themselves for the new school year. Social media posts quickly turn from photos showing awesome trips, sleepaway camps, happy adults whose kids are at sleepaway camps and more to photos from the first day of school, homework that no one understands, and Fall sports. In fact, for those out there with older kids who play Fall sports like soccer and football, tryouts and practices typically start in mid-August while we’re still wondering if we can grab one last ice cream on the boardwalk. I have three boys and they don’t even start school on the same day, which only makes the chaos, well, more chaotic.
For the divorced or divorcing parents out there, the chaos can be even greater, requiring a level of organization, co-parenting and patience that even Buddha would be proud of. From another perspective, many divorces start once the Summer concludes, which can only further complicate matters and necessitate ensuring the children are not only ready for the new school year, but also the handling well the substantial family changes in which they had no say or choice. With that in mind, below are a few tips to guide your parenting decisions through the end of Summer and the beginning of the new school year.
Be on the Same Page in Telling the Children about the Divorce – While family lawyers are always busy, in our world there are really two identifiable times of year when the number of new divorces noticeably increases – right after the New Year and right after Summer ends. If your divorce commences right around the time when the kids are getting back to school, consider breaking the news to the children together in a way that makes the most sense for your family. A family or co-parenting therapist can aid in developing a useful strategy for not only telling the kids about the divorce, but how to move forward in maintaining for them the greatest possible sense of normalcy. I cannot tell you how many times a client will come to me and tell me about how they felt the need to tell the children first without the other parent present, or that the other parent already let the kids know. Do what you can to make it about the kids and their best interests.
Become the Calendar Kings and Queens of Your World – Having three boys, I know the daily amount of juggling my family does to make sure that everyone gets to where they need to be and when. Baseball, soccer, religious school, school functions and events, doctor appointments, social gatherings, lessons, tutoring and more. This aside from our own work schedules, work functions and commitments and the like. For a divorcing or divorced family, the level of balancing and juggling necessary to make things work is only twice as hard, if not worse. Consider using a central web-based calendar app so that all appointments are in the same place. There are also specific apps, such as one called Our Family Wizard, that allows divorced parents to communicate, schedule and exchange relevant documentation all in a central location. The goal is to be on the same page so that everything occurs as smoothly as possible without the potentially endless conflict that can arise over such issues.
Consider Talking to Teachers, Doctors, Coaches, Therapists and More – For those of you going through a divorce with children, or the children have already lived through the divorce, it may be to their benefit to advise the other caretakers in their lives about what is going on at home. Sometimes the more information these professionals have the better they can help care for your children when they are not at home with you or the other parent. Strongly consider involving the other parent in any and all communications so that the other parent is not only as aware and involved in the process, but cannot argue he/she is being deliberately left out even if that other parent was not as often involved with such matters while the marriage was intact. I also suggest ensuring that each parent is aware of school conferences, events, contact information and more so that each parent has an equal opportunity to be involved in the educational process despite what is happening with the family.
Develop a Sense of Normalcy and Routine – Finally, try to keep your kids’ world as normal as possible despite what is going on around them. It should go without saying, but try not to argue with your spouse in front of the children about the divorce or post-divorce matters, do not involve the children, do not disparage the other parent to the children or in the children’s presence, and do whatever is necessary to allow your kids to just be kids and enjoy the new school year. While we all strive as parents to provide such an environment, oftentimes the complications of our own lives get in the way or take front and center.