Those long summer days are quickly coming to an end. Thoughts of resuming bedtime routines, homework, and extra curricular schedules start coming into the front of your mind again. The school emails begin to trickle in, as well as the list of everything needed to get this school year started off on the right foot. This time of year can bring up an unexpected stress for parents who are navigating the world of co-parenting, especially if you are new to the game. Here are a few tips to cut down on the stress for all involved and have a great start to the new school year!
1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!!!!
OK….So this might not be your favorite thing to do when it comes to your ex. It might also feel nearly impossible at times. So, just hear me out. Good communication on the front end of the school year will set both parents up on an equal playing field. It is then up to each parent to navigate the communication on their end with the school. If you are the primary residential parent getting the communication from the school, this may be as simple as an email with the new teacher contact information and links to school sites or blogs. I’m not advocating hand holding or doing the work for your ex, but this simple information exchange can help reduce stress later in the year. Giving them the opportunity to have the same communication as you are getting will avoid possibly getting accused of withholding information regarding school and/or events. Our district mails out yearly calendars. While I admit that I often begrudgingly got a copy for my ex, it worked to my advantage many times when he said he didn’t know what was going on. All I had to say is “I get my information from the same calendar I gave you”. The confrontation ended there.
This, of course, only applies for what is legally allowed in the shared parenting agreement. If for whatever reason one parent is not to have this information, then the agreement should be followed as stated and the school informed of this legal mandate.
2. Enter Back to School Shopping With a Realistic Budget Plan
In a perfect divorce, agreements are made regarding split expenses, child support, and how to pay for the extras needed, such as back to school needs. Ideally, both parents would uphold their end of the agreement and the expenses would be split as stated. Unfortunately, many of us know all too well that is far from reality. Many primary parents struggle to get child support, let alone anything for costs that accrue above and beyond. Your ex might even agree to split the costs with you and then refuse to give you the money after the purchases have been made.
At this point in time, you probably know what group you fall into regarding finances with your ex. If you know going into back to school shopping that your ex will not contribute or will not follow through with getting their share, my advice to you is to set your budget with what you can afford by yourself. Even if you took your ex to court, the financial issue would not resolve itself before the backpacks need filled with notebooks and pens. Going into the process knowing that you are prepared to foot the bill (fair or not) will be less stressful for you and your kids. There’s nothing worse than walking around the store looking at every lunch box while you are riddled with anger that you have to pay for it. You need to put yourself in the positive mindset and do what needs done for the kids.
Financials are a hard thing to let slide, believe me- I know. My ex did not pay child support for over seven months and refused to give any money toward their extra expenses. There were many times I wanted to let my kids know that we couldn’t do something or get something because “Daddy won’t pay what he is supposed to”! I encourage you to find a dear friend or a therapist to vent those feelings to, not your kids. It will not help your children transition back to school if they continuously hear that the other parent is refusing to support them in this way!
3. Shared Family Email Provides Info Without Interaction
If you are functioning under a pretty standard shared parenting agreement in which both parents have access to any information regarding school and extra curricular activities, a shared family email might be the way to go. This would be a neutral email address that could be used when a contact email is needed for the children. This would include teachers, coaches, and any scheduling that would have to be relayed to both parents. The idea is that this is not meant to be a personal email for either party and both would have access to the username and password. This email would be for relaying information regarding the kids. While having a joint account of any kind with your ex may make you cringe, this eliminates the need for frequent texts or last minute conversations regarding a school program or schedule change.
4. Try to Develop a Similar After School Schedule for Both Houses
Shared parenting time often happens mid week, resulting in school days and evenings being split between two households. This is often a huge stressor for children to just remember to bring everything they need to each house, let alone the double set of rules and routines. Entering a new school year is a perfect time to refresh or try new co-parenting strategies which will hopefully eliminate some chaos and confusion for the kids. This might include discussing a general after school routine (ex. snack, homework, then play). This allows the children to know that the expectations match up and both parents are aligned in helping them succeed. Having a visible calendar at both houses can also help kids feel less anxious about not knowing what is next. They can see what will be coming the next day and have a visual reminder of what needs to be taken to the other parent’s house.
This task will be effective and help ease anxiety for all involved if it is actually executed by both parents. Remember, you can only control your end of the bargain. You can not force your ex to adhere or follow through with these strategies. This is frustrating, but all you can do is model and uphold structure in your own house. The kids will benefit from this as well.
5. Keep Your Focus on the Kids
After discussing all the tips and tricks that might make co-parenting go smoothly this school year, it really all boils down to keeping the focus on the kids. This is all about them and helping their school year be successful. It is often a hard pill to swallow, but we have to put aside our hurt feelings towards our ex and do what is necessary for the kids. You may be the first to admit that you would rather not see your ex at the school play, but your child may be hoping so badly that the other parent shows up. Keeping open communication allows each parent to make their own choices. It is hard to watch our children be disappointed when the other parent may choose to not be involved, but I never wanted my children to have any reason to think that I was preventing him from being in their lives. The added attempt to keep open communication actually provided me with more peace in the long run as well. I did not have to justify relaying information to him and could more effectively redirect the confrontation when he tried to accuse me of not giving him the information. It was easier to present to him that he had all of the resources and needed to put in the effort himself to maintain his end of open communication with the school and their activities. A little extra communication can be the difference in effective co-parenting and a total breakdown.