Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D.
It’s been a couple of months since school began, so a routine for you and your kids has very likely been established. Hopefully it’s a positive one, free of the amplified stress and tension that is so common for the back to school experience, one that is even more commonly magnified for families that are divorced.
I’d like to offer you five key tips to insure these early months of school leading up to the holidays are positive and healthy – for you and for the children:
- That routine I mentioned…be sure you and your ex are at least in the same book, if not on the same page. If the beginning was rocky, it’s never too late to pivot and create predictable plans, consistency for drop off and pick up, after school activities, meals, and homework help. A shared Google calendar can help. While it’s never too late to create a better collaboration on routines, it’s always too soon to stop working together, on that same page.
- Both parents are wise to meet children’s teachers, together if possible, but that’s not necessary. What is essential for the wellbeing of the children is that both parents can talk about having met the teachers with the kids. Share the family circumstances? Sure!
- School today can be a “stresspool” of tension, angst, competition, bullying and comparison, hidden depression, anger, and fear. Be sure both parents have time to listen to the children in a way that leaves the kids feeling validated and heard, have a plan to share what each is hearing to be sure there is consistency of messaging, and a plan for a healthy response when there is concern. This means being on the alert for unexplained mood swings, avoiding social activities and isolation, concern about academic performance, and physical symptoms of anxiety or depression.
- Children want both parents in on their successes, and their stresses. Consider a co-parenting app or joint email account in which you can send important information about upcoming events, tests, school activities, study assignments, to insure the lines of communication are wide open. These apps can help you manage and organize your co-parenting responsibilities and make sure you and your ex co-ordinate your kids’ school and extra-curricular schedules. This is one way to be sure the child is not responsible for informing both parents.
- Both parents are best involved in homework help. This may mean requesting double handouts, and one parent being on the phone reviewing test prep for the following day. Making time to study with a child can be a wonderful act of love and attention, and when it’s done via Skype or Facetime, for example, it sends a strong message of involvement.
The key takeaway is “be there, consistently, no matter what.” Your children will thank you, if not now, someday. And you’ll know you’ve not let your divorce stand in the way of your wonderful parenting.