Back to School Tips for Divorced Co-parents

Following on the heels of last week’s suggestions for stepparents, the tips for divorced co-parenting are also based on common sense.  It’s still helpful to follow a guided outline of do’s and don’t’s especially when your children are involved.  This way you ensure that both parents and stepparents stay focused on their children’s best interests.  Commenting on tips provided by a psychotherapist who specializes in divorce counseling and runs a nationwide telephone counseling service for people struggling with divorce, Deborah Hecker, PhD suggests:

1.  “As soon as preparation for the school year gets underway, co-parents should schedule a meeting in a neutral, calm place, such as a coffee shop.  During the meeting, exchange copies of school-related information, such as schedules, and discuss logistical issues such as transportation and school supplies.  Avoid discussion of any emotional topics – focus on the facts and on meeting the child’s needs.”

I understand that this is easier said than done when emotions are running high and you are still in shock, pain or a myriad of other emotions you as recently divorced or divorcing parents are experiencing while transitioning through the divorce process or within the following year or so.  There are also circumstances when you are not permitted by court order to be in each other’s physical presence.  Another option may be communication via e-mail–if you are able to communicate effectively you will have a written record of each party’s contributions and accepted responsibilities.   Often if things are still strained, it may help to have a third party cc’d on the communications to ensure civility and cooperation.  There is co-parenting assistance out there, usually counselors and therapists.  Their assistance is worth every penny to present a supportive, loving backdrop for your child who is also struggling through your divorce while juggling the demands of the new school year.

2.  “Hopefully, parents can be courteous to one another at school events, such as open houses, so they can attend at the same time.  If this is not possible, arrange to attend separately.  However, avoid putting your child’s teacher in the middle by questioning her about or speaking negatively to her of your ex-spouse.  Triangulating your relationship by drawing a third party into your conflicts won’t help and may hurt your child’s relationship with his teacher.”

It is helpful to confidentially clue in your child’s guidance counselor that your child is experiencing a divorce at home so that she may watch for signs that your child needs attention for any issues that may present themselves at school.  The child’s teacher will need to know that there are two addresses, e-mails and phone numbers for the child’s information, but that is the only information which should be provided to your child’s teacher.  Your child may be embarrassed or otherwise wish to escape the concerns of the divorce (if possible) while at school, but the child would not want any ‘dirty laundry’ communicated to his or her teacher under any circumstances.

3.  “Put a folder for school papers in the suitcase or backpack your child carries back and forth for visits between his parents’ homes.  Each parent can check the folder when the child is picked up from the other parent.  Using this system helps parents avoid putting the child in the middle, and also keeps the child from being responsible for papers he might lose anyway.”

Your child should never be put in a worse position in school due to your divorce as much as possible.  While your child needs to learn responsibility and natural consequences for his/her actions in forgetting books, homework, etc., impartially determine whether the same mistake would have happened if he/she didn’t have two different homes.  The divorce should never be the reason a paper or book was forgotten only because it was left at the other parent’s house.  In that case, your support and assistance is warranted and encouraged.

4.  “Make a commitment to be patient with your ex-spouse, as well as with step-parents.  With so many busy people involved, confusion is bound to occur at times.  View problems as opportunities to create new solutions, not fodder for fights – and if you do have a disagreement, keep your child out of it (fighting in the next room or through clenched teeth over the child’s head doesn’t count).  Always keep in mind that both parents love their child and that the overall goal is to to create a safe, healthy environment to enhance his growth and development as a person.”

5.  “Divorced co-parents must work together to establish arrangements that support the child’s needs without putting the child in the middle of their disagreements.  Parents who fail to work together on this issue may create a destructive pattern that will create years of unhappiness for their child.  If parents can’t establish a healthy co-parenting relationship, …they [should] seek help from a counselor or mediator.”