An office supply store runs an annual back-to-school commercial with parents singing about it being “the most wonderful time of the year.” But if you are sharing custody with your child’s other parent after divorce or separation, you may be dreading the back-to-school season as much as your kids are. Summer is the season of relaxed schedules and vacations. Going back to school means assignments, homework, deadlines, activities, schedules…and so many papers to be signed. It’s hard enough to keep track of that when everyone lives under one roof all the time. When there are two households needing to share the information and responsibilities, it can get a little overwhelming for parents and kids alike. Here are our top tips for going back to school (as co-parents).
Remember Who You’re Doing This For.
You love your kids more than anything, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily love the tide of forms that need to be signed at the beginning of the year, or the compulsory parent nights at school, or the mountain of school supplies that need to be purchased.
Unfortunately, your kids can’t always distinguish between your irritation with the tasks you need to do and your feelings about them. With your divorce or separation, your kids have already been through a hard time. Don’t make them feel like their school obligations (and by extension, they) are a burden on you.
Give School Personnel the Information They Need.
If your children are young, and particularly if your family situation has changed since the end of the last school year, touch base with your children’s teachers. It will be helpful to them to know what your family has been going through, and they can be more sensitive to any struggles your children may be having.
If notifications need to be sent to two households rather than just one, provide all contact information to the school, ideally to both the classroom teacher and the front office. Depending on your custody arrangement, you may need to let your school personnel know who is, and is not, permitted to pick up the children from school. The school should have permission in writing if a stepparent or grandparent is allowed to pick up the children. If the other parent is no longer authorized to pick up the children from school, make sure the school has copies of any court orders to that effect as well.
If communication tends to be an issue between you and the child’s other parent, it may be helpful for the school to have a copy of your parenting plan or associated court orders. It can eliminate many “he said, she said” mishaps and allow the entity to determine for itself how it wants to proceed. Ask the front office or school personnel if they prefer to have a copy on file and be willing to provide it.
Make Communication Easier on Yourself.
You may or may not be on good terms with your children’s other parent. Even if your situation is amicable, though, it is easy to fail to communicate or miscommunicate important information. When that happens, the parent who “didn’t get the memo” about an event may feel excluded from the children’s life, or may wrongly suspect the other parent of trying to sabotage their relationship with the kids. This can lead to unnecessary conflict.
It can be cumbersome to email or text every time a teacher conference or soccer practice gets scheduled. If your relationship with your ex is already contentious, the prospect of having to communicate with them may tie your stomach up in knots.
Fortunately, technology offers a simple solution to these problems. Online shared calendars allow you and your co-parent to communicate about scheduling matters without having to communicate directly with one another. Websites and apps designed for family communication have multiplied in recent years; you can easily find one that will meet your needs.
Using a shared calendar eliminates the “he said, she said” of back-to-school communication. When you post the date of the parent-teacher conference on the shared calendar, the other parent can’t say, “You didn’t tell me!” And, of course, using a shared calendar avoids using the children as messengers to convey important information. Not only is this an unfair burden to place on kids, but children, like adults, can forget to pass on messages.
Don’t Wait for the Other Parent to Take Action.
Even if your children live with the other parent most of the time, that doesn’t make you a second-class citizen as far as your child’s education is concerned. If you have the legal right to be involved in your children’s education, be proactive. Email the teachers, introduce yourself, ask to receive notification of important events and deadlines. You don’t need a permission slip from the other parent to be involved—even if you have not been as involved as you would like to have been in the past.
Plan for Success.
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” That old adage applies to going back to school as co-parents. Discuss with your co-parent how you will handle things like parent-teacher conferences, assemblies, and class parties. Are you comfortable attending together? If not, do you want to schedule separate conferences and take turns attending assemblies? Perhaps letting the parent with whom the child is staying that day attend the event makes the most sense? Deciding how you will handle situations before they arise should make back to school less stressful for both of you—and more importantly, for your kids.
If you have questions about child custody or co-parenting in Ohio, please contact our law office to schedule a consultation.
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