Back to school for kids and families is stressful enough. But when you are divorced and you are juggling the kids, the new routine of the school year, new teachers and letting them know the “scoop”, and the potential dread of navigating another year with your ex and the school, it can be incredibly overwhelming. My ex and I have been apart for almost seven years now and while we still hit the occasional speed-bump, we’ve got this divorced co-parent thing down to an art form. Especially when it comes to school. So I wanted to share what has worked for us and maybe it will help you with with back to school madness . . . and beyond!
Be a Family on the First Day of School
Since our kids started having a “first day of school”, my ex has always come over to my house and we’ve taken pictures with the kids. He takes them for me, I take them for him, and our girls get BOTH of their parents smiling and enjoying this special day with them. We’ve even walked them to school together and waited for them to walk in to the building. Can’t be together? Send pictures – a lot of them. Regardless of how old your kid is, make them stand by the front door or next to the tree in the front yard and take the same picture every year. It matters. Use technology to let your kids talk to the parent that can’t be with them before they leave and when they get home.
See this picture? The girl’s dad took it for me and it’s perfect!
Be Kind to the Teachers
Teachers do not want to get involved with your family drama. It sucks for them if you and your ex don’t get along enough to share a parent / teacher conference or make copies of homework or school notifications for the other one. But do you know who it sucks more for? Your kids. I like to communicate with my kid’s teachers via email about schedule changes (are they getting picked up? are they riding the bus? are they going to the after-school program?) because it is quick and easy. Plus, I want them to know that we are accessible to them if they need ANYTHING. These few things will make it easier on EVERYONE during the school year, and your kid’s teachers will thank you:
- Send an intro email after the first day, cc’ing your ex, so all parties have contact information
- Make sure your ex is on the email list for school newsletters, and the text list for classroom and PTO notifications.
- When schedules allow, participate in Curriculum Night / Orientation and Parent Teacher Conferences together.
- Make copies of Report Cards and special notices that weren’t distributed any other way but being sent home
- Send over samples of artwork and completed homework so they can see how your kids are progressing during the year.
- Allow them to help your kids with homework if they are better in a subject than you are. My girls routinely call their dad about math homework and they sit on FaceTime for hours and work on it. Your kids won’t need special help from a teacher if they have a parent that can do it!
Here’s a sample of the email I sent to our teachers this year:
Google Calendars saved our relationship
Google Calendars has been VITAL in our co-parenting. It has cut down on misunderstandings and schedule frustrations because we have both committed to the calendar being THE TOOL that we go to in times of conflict. Our every other weekend schedule is the base. As soon as the school calendar for the year is posted, I’ll update all days off, early dismissals and holidays. Next comes extra curricular and school related activities. While their dad may not attend every practice or school event, I want him to have the information that it is happening so he CAN CHOOSE to come if he WANTS to as well as anything that falls on his weekends. (As a side note, doing this removes any of the “I didn’t know when the kids had xyz event”.) After that, I will add doctor’s and dentist appointments as they come up. As the year progresses, I’ll block off times that I am absolutely unavailable to have the kids as early in advance so he can make arrangements (since I am the primary parent).
We also sit down and work on the kids schedule together, two or three times per year, as far in advance as possible. Two weeks ago, we went to breakfast and ironed out the girls schedule through January (including the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks).
Here’s a screen shot of our Calendar. It syncs to my phone, so every time I add a new event on my phone, I just select the “Girls Calendar” and then it appears on his calendar. For things I need him to attend or take the kids to, I will set up an alert for 30 minutes before.
Google Sheets was a close second
Money can be the root of all arguments between divorced couples. Especially when it comes to expenses for the kids. We certainly argued about it the first few years. The solution – Google Sheets! We have a master Expense form, tracked month by month, for expenses involving the kids. It’s almost like submitting an expense report to my ex every month (which sounds way worse than it is) and then he transfers money directly in to my checking account from that list. We split expenses 50/50. There is a historical record of what was spent, when, and I can provide him receipts if he needs them. This also helps during tax time because we know what we each spent (our sheet doesn’t include just activities but co-pays, summer camp, after school care and anything involving the kids that we are required to split). Granted, I’m the one that is out the money initially, the majority of the time. In our case, he has committed to me to pay me back at the end of the month (and will do so sooner if there was a big expense that we know about), and it works for us. And we no longer fight about money, which is a huge win.
In all of these cases, the relationship and communication is between the TWO of us. Not the external spouses that we both have. While it is great that they attend performances and recitals, we have kept it just the “primary parents” at school related functions and I prefer that. It’s crucial that our daughters see two parents that like each other, can communicate with each other and work together to put them first. The four of us will always be a unit, and if we continue to operate as such we will all thrive in our relationships with each other and (hopefully) can navigate not only the back to school stresses, but any parenting stresses that come along.
Are you divorced? How do you and your ex handle back to school, and co-parenting in general? I’d love to hear your stories!