There are not too many times in your life or your child's that are more stressful than back to school time. New friends, new schedules, new school, greater expectations and making good grades face down every student and parent in August of each year. With August being more than four months away, you may be wondering why I would bother writing a blog post about school in March.
The reason why I am choosing to write this blog post now is that the steps that you can take to improve your child's experience with going back to school can take some time to work on. It can take even more time if you and your child's other parent are not married. Since you do not live with your "partner" in parenting, it is going to take some effort on both of your parts to ensure that your child has everything in place to have a successful start to their next school year.
Since there may be some coaching or at least some communication involved in getting these ideas to be taken into consideration by your child's other parent I wanted you to have some time to put the wheels into motion. Hopefully, with some time, some thought and some advance training, co-parenting in August will be a relative walk in the park.
Do not be afraid to communicate your ideas to your child's other parent- and to receive their ideas
Communication is a two-way street. This means that just as you are expecting your child's other parent to be a receptive listener to you and your ideas, you must extend the same courtesy to him or her. If you have an idea to share about how you think something can be changed in your child's routine to help their performance in the classroom, do not resist a similar effort on the part of your child's other parent to do so the same. I think it is only fair that you both assume the other has the same motivation that you do when sharing ideas about your child- that you want what is best for him or her.
The problem is that you can understand this point, but it is oftentimes difficult to integrate these lessons into your life when there is a time crunch and the stress level of getting your child's life together in August comes around. Think about all of the logistical issues that accompany your child's return to school. Getting your child to school, getting him home, getting him to sports practice, his doctor's visits, etc. This is a lot of responsibility.
The other thing that parents sometimes underestimate about why co-parenting during the beginning of the school is difficult is because you and your child's parent do not live together anymore. You can't simply see your child's other parent as soon as you get home and work out some logistical issue about scheduling pick up for your children after school when you have to work late. You have to make an effort to communicate to avoid issues. If your child's other parent struggles with initiating these conversations it is up to you to do so.
Make sure your child's school and their teachers know about your circumstances
If you are able, make sure that your child's teachers know what the circumstances are between you and your child's other parent. If you are divorced, tell them that. If you separated but working on reconciliation that you should tell them that, too. It can be embarrassing for all parties to refer to a child's parent as "Mrs. Last Name of Child," only for you to have to tell the teacher that you and your child have a different last name.
Simple things like the need to send out two invitations to parent-teacher conferences rather than one, or that two permission slips may be necessary to allow your child to go on the school field trip can help your child's teacher plan well. If your child were allowed to go on a field trip that your ex-spouse disagrees with, it may have happened just because of there as a logistical mix-up- not because you were trying to slip one under his nose. Regardless, it can be difficult to explain that after the fact. Avoid that mistake by ensuring that your child's teacher knows that both parents need to be contacted in those type of situations.
Another thing that needs to be communicated to the teachers of your child is how to contact you and your child's other parent. Phone numbers and email addresses are a minimum but sometimes you need to let the teacher know that you prefer email due to certain limitations that you have with talking on the phone during working hours. Little things like that can avoid potential issues in the future and make communication that much easier when it comes time to start school.
The other thing that I think is helpful is just to let the teacher know that you are going to be there for your child and that you are going to hold him accountable. You hear from teachers all the time about how parents do not seem to want to assert themselves when it comes to disciplining children. Everything is left to the teachers. Well, whether or not that is true, you need to be willing to back up your child's teacher by instilling lessons of discipline and to not back down from an opportunity to stand up for your child's teacher. Let her know that you are on the same team.
Your child needs to keep all of his school work together in one binder
It does not pay to try and get duplicate workbooks, notebooks or anything else about your child's schoolwork. I am not talking about things like paper, pens or pencils. Of course, it makes sense for both you and your child's other parent to have duplicate items at each of your homes to make sure your child can complete their school work no matter where he is staying.
However, your child needs to learn to keep himself organized. It is easiest to do this by having your child keep all of his assignments in one binder. That binder will then travel with your child to your house and your child's other parent's home. This eliminates any issues regarding where the school assignments are or which one will need to be turned in when the assignment is due. The more your child has to keep track of, the less likely that he or she will be able to do so. Minimize the potential for distractions and problems by keeping school work in one folder. You can require your child to check that folder before he leaves for school and when he returns home to ensure all paperwork that he expects to need is in that folder.
Your role to play (and your child's other parent's role to play) involves you reading the paperwork that is completed and checking it for errors or mistakes. You can make a note on the paper that you have reviewed it already. That will prevent a situation where your child's other parent spends a great deal of time checking over work that you have already said was satisfactory.
Remember that technology can be your friend, as well. If you have an immediate question, use the camera option on your phone to quickly snap a photo and text your ex-spouse about an issue with an assignment. Most parents will be more than happy to provide you with an update on something that relates to your child. This will also help your child by showing him that you and the other parent are willing to work together for his benefit.
Remember the importance of consistent discipline and responsibilities
Many families use a "chore chart" to help your children keep track of their daily responsibilities. These responsibilities could be related to schoolwork or just simple tasks like cleaning their room or feeding the dog. What can end up happening, however, is that when you and your child's other parent split up you tend to create two different sets of rules for your child. This stands to reason since you both live in different households and likely have different viewpoints when it comes to disciplining a child.
My advice would be to do your best to coordinate with your child's other parent when it comes to having one chore chart, and overall having one set of expectations for your child. This means that no matter whose house your child is staying at the expectation will be that your child is to follow the same rules from house to house. Just because your child is at their dad's house doesn't mean that there will be a different set of rules for your child to follow, for instance.
The organization will go a long ways towards helping you and your child's other parent keep everything together as far as a schedule for your child in the new school year. You all could purchase the same calendar make the same notations on it to make sure your child knows what to expect when it comes to their daily schedule. If you can prevent your child from wearing the wrong uniform to a game or leaving their shoes at their dad's house then all your work will have been worth it. These are the sort of issues that can arise very easily when it comes to coordinating a child's activities at the beginning of a school year.
If you struggle with organization, use technology to fill in the gaps
If you know that you have problems with organization, then you can always lean a little more heavily on technology to fill in the gaps. For instance, if you know that you will not have the discipline to sit down with a physical calendar every day and make changes/additions, then you can use Google Calendars to make updates. An online calendar works great with many families because you're going to be on your phone anyways- you may as well use that time to do something productive.
Another thing that you can do is make sure that you are signed up to receive information and school-related activity updates online. Most schools post grades and other important paperwork to different websites where parents can log on and see their child's most recent schoolwork submissions. Whatever you need to do to ensure you can access these documents early on in the school year would be a good thing to pursue.
Split the costs between yourself and your child's other parents
Like anything else, a little bit of fairness can go a long way. The costs of back to school materials only seems to be increasing. As such, you and your child's other parent should work out a plan to share expenses. If you can manage to communicate about these issues then your child will be better off. You can decide what needs to be purchased, buy those items and then submit receipts and split the costs that way. Whatever you all decide is fine, as long as you are in agreement with the other parent and have communicated about those issues.
Questions about co-parenting in the new school year? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material that we have shared in today's blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week where your questions can be answered in a comfortable, pressure-free environment. These consultations are a great opportunity to receive direct feedback about your case, as well.
The attorneys with our office work in the family courts of southeast Texas on behalf of our clients with a great deal of pride. The successful results that we have achieved for our clients are possible because we put their interests ahead of our own and work tirelessly to advocate for our clients and their families.