When you're divorced, a new school year for your kids means a lot of communication with your ex, and that may, in a word, suck. But as one mother who's been there writes, there's a cardinal rule of parenthood and that is: It's hard and not really about you.
Mighty + Bright
Your children need a community of adults who are on their team, helping them learn and grow and thrive. The transition back to school is an important time to set up systems and routines, lay out expectations for every member of the family, and establish a sense of predictability.
While every situation will look different, here are some ways to make back-to-school transitions smoother as co-parents.
Prep the Teachers
To minimise confusion and uncomfortable remarks, inform your children's teachers of their family situation, ideally before the first day of school. Provide an overview of their routines - who'll be dropping them off and picking them up on which days, and where they will be staying each night. Giving teachers this information up front not only provides them with some context for any emotional issues that may come up, but it also allows them to plan ahead. Perhaps they will proceed with more sensitivity when it comes to those "My Family" projects that can sometimes be painful for kids of divorce.
Set Your Own Boundaries
You and your ex should should aim to stand as a united front as co-parents, but only you know what you can handle. Ask for what you need. Many teachers are happy to schedule two separate parent-teacher conferences if a joint meeting would be too uncomfortable.
After writer Erin Silver got divorced, she felt "stumped and upset" when her children's school asked her to send in a family photo. On HuffPost, she shared her thoughts and the solution that worked for her.
Should I send in an old family photo from when my ex-husband and I were married? Should I send in two separate photos, one of the kids with their dad and his partner, and one of the kids and me with mine? I ended up doing what felt most comfortable and natural for me: I sent in one of my boys with their dad and one of the boys with me. I worried my son would be upset to have two photos while everyone else in his class had one family photo, but he was actually happy to have everyone in his family represented.
Sync Up Your Routines
While no two homes are the same, you and your ex can establish some basic morning and after-school routines so your kids' lives have a predictable rhythm. Homework, meals and bedtime are the three big areas to discuss. Decide on your rules: No playing outside until after homework is done? Everyone sits together and eats at the dinner table? No TV on weeknights? If you can set up pretty similar guidelines at both houses, your kids will know what's expected and will be less likely to try to bargain by using the claim, "At Dad's, we do this..."
Share a Calendar
For both parents, you need one online calendar to share info about science project deadlines, volleyball practice, and when the money is due for school pictures. Google Calendar works well for this.
Older kids can view the shared calendar, but younger children will need something more tactile. This customisable custody calendar from Mighty + Bright (pictured above) lets kids see which parent they will be with on each day of the week. The simple visual aid helps put the child's life in context, letting them know what's coming next and reducing their anxiety.
Use Technology to Keep Everything Together
Co-parenting-focused apps such as 2houses, Alimentor and Our Family Wizard help you track expenses (for everything from back-to-school supplies to health insurance), manage court dates, organise medical records and switch weekends on the calendar.
While it all may seem overwhelming at first, these back-to-school transitions will become easier over the years as you and your co-parent find routines that work for everyone.
Get out those calculators and sharpen your 2B pencils - it's Back-to-School Week! Going far beyond the classroom, Lifehacker is bringing you genius tricks and ideas on how to start routines, brush up on old skills, or learn something new this year.