The adjustment to post-divorce life is challenging to say the least. While you were married, you had one household with one set of bills to pay for. You had a “division of labor.” One spouse might handle the yard duties, the other paying the bills or taking care of the cooking. And in many families, one spouse is more often responsible than the other for making sure that the kids get to school, homework is done, and that they make it to all of their after-school activities. It’s how marriage works with children – divide and conquer.
Now that you are in the middle of a divorce or post-divorce in two households, the “team” is no more. But your kids still need that team. When it comes to them, one of the best things you can do as co-parents is to become equally invested in their daily activities and lives in a way that maybe you were not accustomed to before. Children already have enough understandable fear about divorce and the impact it will have on their lives. School is one place where you both can dispel your children’s fears.
As hard as it may be to hear, it’s time to let go of the “divide and conquer” plan. Your children need to know that you both are involved in their lives and you need to be fully informed of what is happening in their lives. There is no better way to accomplish both of these than by personal and direct involvement at school. Here are a few things you can do:
1. Summer back to school events
Most schools have a packet pick up day where you can pick up schedules, buy school spirit wear, meet the new teachers. Set aside your own negative emotions and make it a point to go to school together with your child. Your child does not want to be one of those “divorce kids” who have parents that can’t be seen with one another at school events. Create a situation where your children’s friends and new teachers are shocked to find out that your child’s parents are divorced.
2. Parent Information Night and School Open Houses
Don’t leave it to your ex-spouse (or soon to be) to provide information to you about your child’s school and classes. Join the PTA for your child’s school so that you are receiving information directly about school activities. Attend the Parent Information Night or Open House at the beginning of the school year so that you learn first hand what your child’s school year is expected to look like.
3. Contact information for the school and teachers
Teachers interact with divorced parents all the time. You are not the first set of divorced parents your child’s teacher will be talking to. Make sure your child’s teacher has contact information for both of you and ask if the teacher would send communications to both of you about school activities and issues. I can almost guarantee you that the teacher will be more than thrilled to communicate with both of you.
4. Parent-Teacher Conferences
Plan these at a time when both you and your ex-spouse can attend. One of you may have to take some time off from work, or maybe you can schedule it early in the morning or late in the day to accommodate one of your work schedules. Another option is for one of you to attend by video conference. With today’s technology, there’s no reason that you can’t both be involved.
5. School Supplies
Avoid making this a bigger issue than it really is. School supplies for most children cost easily under $100. And many school offer pre-packaged deals so that you don’t have to go picking apart the school supply aisles at the store. Talk with your ex-spouse about who will be responsible for getting them and then split the cost. Or better yet, if you make a lot more than your ex-spouse, offer to pay the full amount. The relatively small amount of money you will be paying for school supplies – that your child obviously needs – will go a long way to foster a more positive co-parenting relationship for your children.
The bottom line is that your children will likely do better if you both are involved with them at school, especially if only one of you carried the school torch in your division of labor duties while you were married. And you likely will wear a badge of pride when your child’s friends one day say with a surprise on their face, “I didn’t know your parents were divorced!”
Rhonda Cleaves is a Credentialed Collaborative Divorce Attorney in Plano, Texas. She represents clients throughout the DFW metroplex, including Collin, Denton, Dallas, and Tarrant Counties.