Co-parenting isn’t easy. It requires communication and coordination with someone you no longer like to be around at best, and despise with a hateful passion at worst.
But regardless of how you may feel about your ex, successful co-parenting is necessary for your children’s wellbeing. No matter how terrible your divorce was on you, it’s almost guaranteed that it hit your kids just as hard, if not harder.
The transition from summer back to school can be particularly tough on both divorced parents and their children, which means you need to work to put aside the differences with your ex and demonstrate a united front as your kids get back into the rhythm of the school year.
It won’t be easy, but here are a few things divorced parents should take to heart as their kids head back to school.
Don’t play games
It is an unfortunate reality that many custodial parents harbor deep resentments after divorce and use the fact that they have primary physical custody as leverage in an attempt to control the non-custodial parent.
However, this only serves to hurt the children.
Your kids still love both parents, and by playing games through excluding mom or dad from the process of getting ready for the school year, you are only confusing your kids and making matters worse.
Both parents need to be actively involved in the education of their children to reduce the chance of problems from arising.
Coordinate ahead of time
You and your ex need to be on the same page about who is buying what school supplies, how parent-teacher conferences will work, how information will be exchanged throughout the year, etc.
Additionally, routines need to be established for things like pick-ups / drop-offs, extra-curricular activities, emergency scenarios and inclement weather.
Create a plan upfront and adhere to it throughout the year to hopefully cut down on conflicts further down the road. The more contingencies you can prepare for ahead of time, the fewer arguments and confrontations you will run into as the expected and unexpected pop up throughout the year.
Split the cost of school supplies
Understandably, this may be a bit of a controversial suggestion — you already have a child support obligation, so why should you pay extra?
And while the ultimate decision is up to you, offering to split the cost of school supplies is not only a great goodwill gesture that can help lead to better cooperation with your ex, it also offers you the opportunity to take an active role in your children’s back-to-school preparation.
Just be sure to coordinate with your ex who is buying what so you don’t end up with duplicates, and make sure you are both on the same page about what is needed to avoid unnecessary arguments. (For example, is your child old / mature enough for a cellphone or tablet?)
Meet teachers together
It is important that both parents know the teachers of your children and that you explain your family’s situation and living arrangements.
Children can have a hard time dealing with all the changes of divorce, and this can sometimes manifest itself in behavioral problems, emotional outbursts, learning challenges, etc.
By letting the teacher know upfront, you may be able to get ahead of any issues as they arise instead of after they have a major impact on your children’s education.
Everything from lunch menus and afterschool activities to test grades and major projects should be known by both parents.
Unless there is a court order specifically prohibiting the non-custodial parent from obtaining school records and information, there is no right to withhold it.
Make things easier on each other and send copies of schedules and important deadlines so both parents are up to speed on what is going on.
A weekly email or group message offering updates will go a long way toward reducing hostilities and keep both parents on the same page about your children’s education.
Both parents should attend events
While you may not get along with each other, it is important to put on a united front when it comes to supporting your children as they participate in school events.
Whether it is band performances, science fairs, spelling bees, school plays or any other school-related activity, both parents need to attend these events.
It may be difficult to be in the same room as your ex, but you need to man up for an hour or two for your children’s sake; they will appreciate seeing both of you in the audience.
However, you also need to avoid getting into an argument. If that means sitting on opposite sides of the auditorium, so be it. What’s important is being there and congratulating your kids on their accomplishments.
Create a shared calendar
A shared calendar can be a great tool to aid information disclosure, particularly since it can lessen the amount of direct communication between you and your ex.
There are many options for shared parental planning, such as Google Calendar or apps like Cozi. Inputting everything for your children’s school year — extracurricular activities, parent-teacher conferences, field trips, exam dates, etc. — will help both parents plan for the year and not miss an important event.
Most shared calendar apps allow you to input basic information, such as time, date and place, as well as detailed notes about the activity.
Returning to school after summer break is a situation where a number of conflicts can arise between co-parents. However, it is both you and your ex’s responsibility to devise a method of working together that will reduce the tension and confusion of getting your children back into the school mindset.
It is no easy task to work together with your ex — particularly if they seem unwilling to give it a chance. However, it is important for the wellbeing of your children’s development and education that you both figure out a way to cooperate.
Continuing resentful and petty behavior not only makes things more difficult on yourselves, but also ends up harming your kids in the long run.
Mat Camp is a former Lexicon Services Online Editor, who focused on providing a comprehensive look into all aspects of the divorce experience. On MensDivorce.com, he concentrated on issues, such as parenting time, custodial rights, mediation, the division of assets, and so much more.
Mr. Camp used the wealth of experience of Cordell & Cordell attorneys to bring tangible answers to reader questions in Ask a Lawyer articles, as well as offer a step by step process through the divorce experience with Cordell & Cordell Co-Founder and Principal Partner Joseph E. Cordell in Divorce 101: A Guide for Men.
Mr. Camp used thorough research to highlight the challenging reality that those who go through divorce or child custody issues face. He helped foster the continued success of the Men’s Divorce Survival Guide, the Men’s Divorce Podcast, and the Men’s Divorce YouTube series “Attorney Bites.”