Back-to-school season is one which typically conjures feelings of anticipation and excitement for kids as they prepare their supplies, their outfits, their class schedule, and their goals for the upcoming academic year. For parents who have recently divorced, however, this season can feel like one big scheduling nightmare as they try and navigate new family dynamics and the choppy waters of co-parenting after a challenging divorce. If you find yourself struggling with a sense of foreboding as you begin to tackle back-to-school preparation with the kids, we’ve compiled a list of helpful tips to make this transitory season as seamless as possible for the recently divorced parent.
Eliminate Scheduling Surprises
The beginning of the school year is an excellent time to review your parenting plan with your ex. Doing so can help ensure that both parties are on the same page with the decided schedule, in turn eliminating any surprises or bitter feelings along the way. More often than not, having clear and open communication about schedules and plans will help eliminate co-parenting conflict. If you and your ex see provisions within the parenting plan that may no longer work for the family schedules, or you’re experiencing trouble with compliance, modification is always an option. It should be noted, however, that modifying a parenting plan can take months, and will not go into effect in time for the start of this school year. Should modifications to the parenting plan be necessary, it’s important that you contact an attorney and document these requests in writing, so that both parties can confirm, and changes can be enforced.
Another great tactic for eliminating scheduling surprises is creating a shared Google calendar between you and your ex. Doing so will allow both parties to see all school, sports and social events laid out in one shared space. Not only will this help with ensuring that the kids are well-taken care of and don’t miss their own activities, but it will also allow for both parents to be aware of any big events that they personally would like to attend. Doing so will help eliminate the “I had no idea Elizabeth had a school play tonight, why didn’t you tell me” communication conundrum. If it’s a really important event that you want to be sure your ex is alerted on, you can always send through invite reminders directly so that they are notified when the calendar event is created.
Split the Costs
It’s important that the costs of back-to-school supplies not fall entirely on one parent to pay for, as many parents can attest to the fact that, added up, these supplies can end up being a small fortune. Many parenting agreements will have guidelines for how child-related expenses or reimbursements should be handled, so if you’re not sure what the expectations are, revert back to your parenting plan for guidance.
Back-to-school shopping is usually an exciting event for kids. They get to pick out their style, whether it be pertaining to their folders or their newest outfit, and, if possible, can be a special way of spending time with each parent. Talk with your ex about the necessary materials needed (backpacks, school supplies, clothing), and discuss whether it’s preferential for both parents to take the kids out individually to buy certain supplies, or if it makes more sense for one parent to do the shopping and be reimbursed. If you decide on reimbursement, make sure that you document all of your spending, and save copies of receipts to provide to your ex.
Make it About the Kids
As exciting as the first day of school can be, it can also be intimidating and nerve-wracking for certain children. Depending on your relationship with your ex, being able to put differences aside and take your kid to school on the first day together can be a great way of showing support to your child, especially if this is their first year without both parents in the house. In addition to this, being together at your child’s school can allow the both of you to sign any necessary forms that need updating with the new family dynamic. In addition to this, you want to make sure that the school is aware of any court orders that are in place that would directly impact the child.
If you and your ex aren’t quite at the place where you’re ready to see each other, consider taking a picture of you child on the first day and email them a photo. Doing so requires little to no contact, but it’s a small gesture that can go a long way towards including them in big moments, while slowly mending past hurts and settling into a respectful co-parenting relationship.
We understand that the back-to-school season can have a different feel if you’ve recently divorced and experienced a shift in the family dynamic. That being said, if you’re able to plan-ahead, create a communication system that works for you and your ex, and ultimately focus on the needs of your children above all else, the chaotic yet exciting season of preparing for a new school year can remain an exciting event for all involved.