Now that we’ve flipped the calendar to August, many families are thinking about the beginning of a new school year. While this can be a busy and somewhat stressful time for any parent, divorced parents may need to be especially vigilant about their planning and communication. With that in mind, here are some guidelines for making the back-to-school transition a smooth one for everyone involved.
Notify the school and teacher about your divorce. Even if the divorce has not yet been finalized, the school needs to know as soon as you are separated. Share the mailing addresses, emails and phone numbers of both parents so you both receive important notices and information that pertains to your child. Be aware, however, that most school information is sent home with your child, so you and your ex-spouse will need to devise a plan to ensure that both parents are always in the loop.
Establish a homework routine. Develop a plan for sharing the responsibility of supervising homework assignments and larger projects. If your child spends time in both homes, this can be especially challenging. Who will make sure the assignments are completed? Who will oversee long-range projects? Ideally, the homework routine should be the same in both households, demonstrating that you are both committed to your child’s academic success and that the rules and expectations are consistent.
Agree on extracurricular activity involvement. Philosophies vary greatly when it comes to how much time should be devoted to activities outside of school. You and your ex-spouse should discuss what you think is appropriate for your child, based on your son or daughter’s interests and abilities. Once you agree, make sure you both participate by attending events, providing transportation and support when needed, and by sharing the costs.
Communicate regularly with your ex-spouse. Both you and your ex-spouse should be aware of your child’s progress in school – long before the report card arrives. This may require you to talk regularly about your child’s performance while staying abreast of assignment due dates, emergency procedures and more. Many parents –whether they are divorced or not – rely on a shared calendar to facilitate this type of communication.
Get involved with your child’s education. Meet your child’s teacher. Volunteer in the classroom. Attend important events, both school-related and extracurricular. These are just a few of the things you can do to show that you’re invested in your child’s academic success and future. Keep in mind that while elementary students are typically delighted when their parents show up at school, parent involvement at the secondary level is becoming increasing more commonplace as well. Be sure to show your support by attending sports competitions, musical performances, school plays and other similar events.
Realize how your child’s teacher(s) can help. Your child may be living in two households – and trying to adjust to life after the divorce – but for the most part school will remain the same. In the lower grades, your child will see the same teacher every day, providing a welcome level of stability and consistency. Even at the secondary level, teachers can often gain valuable insight into your child’s behavior away from home. While you certainly don’t want to expose the teacher to any bitterness that may have occurred as a result of the divorce, he or she can be an important ally when it comes to your child’s wellbeing.
Share the expenses. While many of the parenting expenses may be outlined in the terms of your divorce, it’s important not to overlook the costs associated with your child’s education. Some of these expenses are more obvious than others, so agree to split the costs, from extracurricular fees to school supplies to clothing and lunch money.
In the end, you and your ex-spouse both want what’s best for your child. That’s one thing the divorce has not – and should not – change. If your divorce was bitter, keep in mind that your child didn’t ask for any of this, and you will need to co-parent moving forward.
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.