The New School Year and the Divorced Parent
It’s September. For kids, it’s the month of new teachers, new subjects, even, for some, a new school. For divorced parents, it often means the start of new confusion about how to relate to the new school or grade and new teachers.
Yes, some divorced parents have got this well in hand. But if you don’t have a plan that works, here are some practical suggestions that will prevent adding stress to kids who are already anxious about the new school year.
Keep the kids out of the middle.
If you and your ex have differences of opinion about school-related issues or concerns about a teacher’s approach, deal with each other and the teacher directly. Please, please, don’t involve your kids. They need to be focused on their education, not anxious about conflict between their parents or a parent and a teacher.
Keep the teacher out of the middle.
Ditto for the teacher. If you and your ex are in disagreement with each other, please don’t ask the teacher to side with you, to carry messages to your ex, or to keep your concerns from your ex. The teacher’s job is your children’s education, not your divorce agreement (or disagreement).
Please remember that teachers are dealing with multiple stresses every day: They must manage 20 to 30 kids all day (more than 150 a day in secondary school), lesson planning, the stress of standardized tests, and whatever personal stresses they are under. They may be sympathetic, but it’s too much to ask that they mediate your problems with your ex, even if those problems relate to your children’s education.
Develop a realistic plan for obtaining information regularly.
Think about it: It’s no longer unusual for more than half of the kids in a given class to be from separated, divorced or never married couples. It is too much to expect schools and teachers to take responsibility for communicating with everyone about all things.
Teachers are not obligated by law to send duplicates of every piece of paper that goes home with your kids. General notices about things like bake sales, school events, parent-teacher organization meetings and after school activities are generally not thought significant enough to create a packet for each parent.
However, unless there is a court order or state law, schools are under the legal obligation to respond to requests for school records from both parents. See a copy of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERFA) at http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/parents.html . Educate yourself to your rights so your requests to school personnel are reasonable and legal.
Get together with your children’s other parent to make a plan for sharing important information about the kids’ experiences and progress at school, homework and project due dates, your child’s participation in school activities, etc.
Be actively involved in your kids’ education.
Ideally, both parents convey to their children that their education is a priority. Both parents need to insist that homework be done and done on time. It doesn’t help your child or your relationship with your ex to try to be seen as “the good guy” because you don’t make your kids do their homework. It doesn’t help the child or your relationship with your ex to want to be seen as the “better parent” by making the child spend all weekend on a project when an hour or two will do.
You and the other child’s parent need to have a plan for making sure that your child’s homework and projects are accomplished regardless of where they are spending the night or the weekend. Keep the communication lines open.
Share back-to-school expenses equitably.
Back-to-school time means added expenses — expenses that often are left out of divorce agreements. If your child is given a list of needed school supplies, pitch in and do so without resentment. It’s not the kids’ fault they are given lists. It’s not the teachers’ fault that schools are underfunded. It’s not your ex’s fault that your child needs stuff to have a well-stocked classroom.
And then there’s the hype about the need for “back-to-school” clothes the kids see on TV. Unless your kids have grown considerably over the summer, there is no need to buy a whole new wardrobe. However, a new T-shirt or sweatshirt may give them a confidence boost that first day.
You may not be able to help out equally but do your best to share the financial hit fairly.
Decide how you will handle school emergencies and unexpected school closings.
Unexpected school closings or the need to go to school to pick up a sick child can wreak havoc with any parent’s work life. To minimize stress on everyone, make a plan now about how you will deal with the inevitability that one of you will have to take time off in order to do child care when there is an emergency or weather-related closing.
For one family I know, the parent who has the child for the night is responsible for responding to emergencies. In another family, one parent is responsible on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; the other parent is responsible on Tuesday and Thursday. It doesn’t matter how you set it up. It does matter that you have a plan and that you communicate the plan clearly to the school administration and school nurse as well as to your child.
For a list of articles about helping your child succeed in school, check out PsychCentral’s Back to School guide:
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Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). The New School Year and the Divorced Parent. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 5, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-new-school-year-and-the-divorced-parent/