It's almost that time of year again. The Back to School sales are in full swing and Meet-the-Teacher days are happening all around town. And while this time of year is always full of excitement (and a little apprehension) for the kids, for divorced parents and step-parents, it can also bring with it the anxiety of certain conflict and the complexities of getting back into the school routines no one has thought about since last May. Here are our top Back to School tips for parents in divorced and blended families, which we hope will help with this transition in your family:
1. School Paperwork – Unless there is a Court Order directing otherwise, make sure all school and daycare forms are completed showing both biological parent names, addresses, phone numbers (work, home and cell), and email addresses. If there are step-parents who are actively involved in the children's lives (attend school functions; help with homework; responsible for any portion of transportation, etc.), be sure to also include their full names, relationship to the child, and their contact information. Sometimes the standard school forms do not allow for enough space for all of this information, and in that case, it can be useful to include an addendum or additional note to the teacher and/or school office explaining the family dynamics and identifying the important people in the child's life. While this may be extra work on the front end, it will pay huge dividends in a couple of ways. First of all, the child's burden of trying to explain his or her “different” family situation is completely removed. And second, in the event of any type of emergency, all the relevant players in the child's day-to-day life are already known by the teachers and the officials and therefore a stepparent can easily step in when the parents are not available for the child.
2. Open Houses & Meet the Teacher – Both parents should be informed up front about any scheduled dates and times for these events so that each parent (and their spouse) can attend, if possible. For those parents who just do not get along well enough to attend simultaneously, email the teacher and schedule a separate time, if possible, to meet the teacher. For parents who live too far away to make physical attendance impossible or impractical, send an email to your child's teacher introducing yourself and requesting a telephone appointment to discuss your child's new class, etc. Having both parents involved in the education process, as much as possible, benefits the child immensely. Teachers these days understand and deal with many, many divorced families and are usually willing to bend over backwards to accommodate the communication needs of both households to make sure the student gets what he or she needs at school and at each home environment.
3. Extracurricular Activities – If your children are like ours, they are involved in lots of activities and those schedules don't stop just because they visit their other parent. Generally, detailed schedules are sent out before most activities begin. Make sure everyone who may be responsible for the child's transportation has a copy of this schedule and that agreements are made upfront about who is responsible for dropping off and picking up at each activity regardless of whose time it is. Doing this at the outset of the year, semester, or season will cut down considerably on those last minute phone calls from the child asking why no one is there to pick him up. Consider using a Shared Calendar program or other shared communication program such as Our Family Wizard, KidsOnTime, 2Houses.com, etc. to name just a few (but there are new programs and apps being developed all the time) which will assist in communicating the details of the children's lives between all the adults in their life without the added burden of constant verbal or in-person communication (especially helpful when verbal contact leads to arguments).