If you are like most parents, you spent this past weekend thinking about what your kids needed to be ready for school, which can be stressful enough by itself. If you are like some of my clients, you may have spent part of the weekend also worrying about how to navigate through the beginning of school with your kids' other parent, which can just add to the stress.
I want to take this moment to share with you some tips that all parents need to consider and also share some additional tips for those parents who are raising their kids in separate households to help alleviate the stress and help you enjoy what is surely an exciting time for your children!
1. Breathe. First and foremost, breathe! If you have been separated for awhile, and you are anxious about the school year because history proves this year may be a struggle with your children's other parent, take a deep breath! Say the serenity prayer, resist being pulled into the struggle, resist drama created by the other parent, and try not to sweat the small stuff.
2. Check your custody Order. The biggest concern my clients have when facing a new school year is the fear of being left out of important information regarding their children. They worry the teacher won't know how to contact them, or they worry they may be blocked from getting access to their children's records. If you are raising your children apart from their other parent, you likely have a custody order outlining your roles and responsibilities. The vast majority of parents share legal custody. What this means is that each of you have an equal right to contact the school, the teacher, the doctors, etc., to make sure you know what your children need to be ready for their first day and the right to keep in contact with everyone to track your children's progress. If you are not sure if you have shared legal custody or the right to directly contact the school, check with your lawyer before taking any action that may go against the order you have. Some parents readily share information with one another and are able to successfully work together to make sure the school knows about their situation and knows to contact both parents. However, for some, this is just not their reality. For the parents who are in this category, my advice is simple. Call the school and let them know your children live in two households and ask that they contact you, in addition to the other parent, if there is an emergency. The same advice is true of doctors and other caregivers of your children. If you can't keep the dialogue open with your children's other parent, take steps to keep the dialogue open with everyone else who interacts with your children on a regular basis.
3. Talk to your kids' teachers. Be open and honest with the teacher about your situation without bad-mouthing the other parent. Your children's teachers spend a lot of time with your children, and they can be a great resource to help keep an eye on whether your children are adjusting (or adjusted) to their separate living situation. This is especially true if your separation is fresh. Your children may exhibit behaviors at school which they are not exhibiting at home, which may need to be addressed. Continue to check in with your children's teachers periodically throughout the year. Most teachers now utilize email to keep in touch with parents. Make it a point to send an email to your children's teachers once every couple of months, just to check in. This will help foster a relationship with the teacher, which will help ensure that if there is a problem, he or she will know to come to you as well as the other parent.
4. Get on the school email list. This is really a continuation of Tip #3. Find out how your school disseminates information, and make sure you are in line to receive the information directly from the school. Some schools send home weekly newsletters in homework folders, but a lot of schools are moving to email updates. Whichever way your school sends out information, make sure you are getting a second copy sent directly to you.
5. Find out Homework Policies. Find out how homework is assigned, how it is turned in, how it is graded, etc. This is a good tip even if your children live with the other parent throughout the school week, and you are not on the front-lines of homework. Staying informed will help your children flourish even when living in separate houses!
6. Keep the other parent informed. Even if you are like some of my clients who do not receive updates from the other parent, when you receive important information or updates about your children, make sure to share that information with the other parent.
7. ENJOY! Even if you find this time of year stressful because of how long your "to-do" list suddenly got, try not to lose sight of the fact that your children may find this time oh so exciting! Enjoy your shopping trip for new clothes, backpacks, or school supplies. Watch your children's excitement when you let them get that "really cool shirt" and bask in that. When stressful moments pop up, as they often do for parents raising children in separate homes, close your eyes and remember the moment of the "really cool shirt" and smile.
Many wishes for a successful year!