Ah, back to school. For some of you, that first day of school may already have passed. Others may be squeezing the last few drops of fun out of a long summer.
Either way, those of you who are divorced or unmarried with children, back-to-school time can mean co-parenting problems. A lot of them can be resolved with clear communication and a willingness to work together toward the shared goal of raising happy, well-adjusted kids. Here are a few tips.
First, let’s assume that you have joint legal and physical custody with your child’s other parent. Otherwise, many of your co-parenting issues may be much simpler.
As a reminder, joint legal custody means that you each have the power to make consequential decisions about your child’s life. For example, you each have a say in how your child is educated. Both of you should be on the call list when there is an emergency, or if someone needs to reach a parent right away.
Joint physical custody means that you each have been granted at least some parenting time with the kids. Sharing physical custody generally means working together toward a set of shared rules and expectations.
First, make a commitment to co-parent positively throughout the year. You may have a very different parenting style from your ex, but you probably agree on more than you think. One thing you may find you agree on is that co-parenting should be cooperative. No matter what relationship issues caused you to break up, most people would like to be consulted when major decisions are being made, for example.
Decide how to handle back-to-school shopping. Don’t let a contentious relationship with your ex carry over into co-parenting. Try to compromise on things like who buys what and keep your eye on the big picture: sparing your child the stress of parents who argue over every decision.
Create a plan for the school year. This can be as simple as a shared calendar or as detailed as setting up every transition. Who is supposed to bring the child’s gear to practice? What vacations do you have planned? When are parent-teacher conferences and who is expected to attend? Many people need to make these plans in advance in order to avoid conflict.
Consider monthly family meetings. Even if one of you is more of a planner than the other, it can be helpful to keep everyone on the same page. It also gives both parents a chance to find out what’s going on in their kids’ daily lives.
Set clear, reasonable expectations about rules, activities and school work. School-aged children do best with routines, so it can be helpful if the rules and routines are the same between the two households. Should homework be completed before screen time is allowed? Should one parent be responsible for helping with homework and school projects? Will both parents be attending school performances and sporting events? How much should step-parents be involved?
As usual, setting up a plan for the school year, family meetings and school-year expectations will take some effort. Planning will help, as will strong communication. It all starts with a commitment to focus on your children’s wellbeing.