Going back to school can be a stressful time of year for parents and children alike. Families with divorced parents, or parents in the midst of a divorce, have more than the typical back-to-school stress, but there are things that you can do to alleviate that stress for yourself and for your children.
- School Supplies/Books
The school supply list can be daunting. Most families prior to the divorce, had one parent who conquered the ever-daunting school supply list. But, now that you and your spouse are divorced, there should not be an assumption that because one parent did it in the past, that is the way it will happen in the future. Parents will need to be communicate with the other parent about the supply list, and who will purchase the supplies. The parent who has not historically purchased the supplies may be shocked by the specificity of the list, or the cost of the supplies. But, rather than find opportunities to add to the conflict about school supplies, create solutions. For instance, some parents will choose to still have one parent purchase the supplies, other parents may split up the list of supplies so that each parent purchases some of the supplies. Financial considerations regarding the school supplies may also be an issue. Some parents will keep track of every penny spent on school supplies and seek reimbursement. Others may prefer to generally each contribute a certain amount without requiring the exchange of receipts and total amounts. It’s not that either way is “right” or “wrong”, but if you know your ex is the kind of person that will require every nickel and dime to be accounted for, then be prepared with receipts. When you provide the receipts to your ex, also provide the school supply list, and don’t purchase anything but school supplies during that store trip. Provide the entire receipt and proof of payment to the other parent. It’s up to you how you want to accomplish the logistics, but the most significant issue is to KEEP THE KIDS OUT OF IT! Going back to school can be stressful enough for children, they should not also be worried about whether they will have school supplies because of the discord between their parents.
- School Clothes/Uniforms
It is often shocking that in the few short weeks of summer, children have outgrown their school clothes and shoes. Sometimes, even if they haven’t outgrown them, your older children will insist that they need new clothes with the latest styles. How do you handle purchasing school clothes? Parents exercising an equal parenting time schedule should each have appropriate clothing, including school clothes, uniforms at each parent’s house. Again, the logistics of how this is accomplished is up to the parents. Some children prefer to shop for clothes with a specific parent. Parents should be sensitive to the children’s wishes and recognize that this is not a slight against the other parent, but rather it is quite natural for a child to be drawn to one parent (perhaps the one who historically went clothing shopping for the child). If that’s the case, perhaps the parents want to consider setting a dollar figure amount for the purchase of back-to-school clothes and the clothes are stored at both parent’s homes. Other families may wish for each parent to purchase school clothes, so that each parent has the opportunity to experience the joy of shopping for clothes with their children! Regardless of how school clothes are purchased, parents must recognize that the clothes belong to the children, not the parent. I know a parent may have purchased the clothes, but children need to feel that they have something that is their own particularly in the midst of divorce where they are traveling between homes frequently. A child should feel free to wear the clothes back and forth between mom and dad’s house. Of course, sometimes children forget to bring clothes or shoes back to the other parent’s house, so maybe it’s a good idea to keep a back-up. Or, perhaps your children are getting older, and this is an opportunity to teach them responsibility and accountability to remember their belongings whether they are left at school, or a friends, or even at the other parent’s home.
- School Forms/Emergency Contacts
Both parents should be listed on school forms, and emergency contact information. Ideally, both parents will have the same emergency contacts. If one parent completes the forms, then a copy should be provided to the other parent. You may need to provide a copy of your Divorce Decree, or parenting plan to the school establishing who has legal decision-making as to education issues for purposes of school enrollment. Keep in mind, if you share joint legal decision-making, that means that both parents must agree to enroll a child at a specific school.
- Meeting the Teacher
Both parents should have an opportunity to meet your children’s teacher. For some schools, this event includes the children’s participation. Ideally, both parents should be able to be present for the event and support their child as the new school year begins. However, you should consider the dynamics between you and your ex. Is it highly conflictual? Will both parents being there create unnecessary stress or anxiety for the child? If so, perhaps the parent who is not exercising parenting time at the time of the meet the teacher event should to schedule an alternative time to meet the teacher. Remember, meet the teacher is not about the parents, it’s about the child. Also, when meeting and/or emailing with the teacher refrain from disparaging your ex. The teacher is not on you or your ex’s side, but rather there to educate your child. Depending upon the age of your child, it may be appropriate to send an email to the teacher the first week of school indicating that your child shares time with mom and dad, and request that communication be shared via email to make sure both parents are informed, and homework or fliers aren’t lost in backpacks. Of course, as your child gets older, the responsibility of the parents for homework should become less and less. It will be your child’s responsibility to ensure that they have completed their homework and studied appropriately.
As the school year begins, parenting time exchanges that may have been happening at different times or locations may change to occur at drop-off or pick-up from school. If this is the case, you might remind your child on exchange days that they are going to the other parents home, and to make sure that they have clothes, books, sports equipment, or any other item that will occur during the other parent’s parenting time. Depending on the age of the child, you may help them gather these items with your child. Keep in mind that as your child gets older, they will need to be responsible for ensuring that they have their belongings.
By Tabitha A. Jecmen