We all know the importance of educating our children, but what about educating ourselves to be better parents? This is especially important in the case of divorced parents. Divorce is difficult enough on children without the parents behaving, well, like children. Here are some tips for school-related issues that can make the school year a success for everyone involved.
Let's face it -- how many times has your son or daughter come home with a project assignment that's due the following day, and you missed it? Imagine how hard it is when both parents, in separate homes, have to be aware of the same information! Regardless of what your Court Order or Agreement reflects, it is a good idea to take the initiative and be proactive in obtaining information related to your child's academic progress and involvement, rather than relying on the other parent to do the work for you -- or worse -- for your child to be the one burdened with the communication.
One tool that is at your fingertips is the ability to better share information in two households. In most situations, both parents have access to all school records, including, but not limited to, attendance logs, homework assignments, school personnel contact information, report cards, progress reports and test results. Most schools have websites with specific information about your child's academic progress and development to which both parents should have access. Check these regularly.
At the start of each school year, consider scheduling a conference with your child's teacher, guidance counselor and administrative staff so that you may inform them about your family dynamics and ask that both parents be contacted with any relevant information. Remember, the communication you have with your child's teacher or counselor is not confidential, so be cautious about what you choose to share. It is easy to get side-tracked and comfortable with a teacher or counselor who shares in the responsibility for your child's progress, but sharing too much may hurt you in the long run should your case ever find its way to the courtroom.
You can imagine that teachers and school administrative staff already have loads of work and responsibilities on their plates -- asking them to remember your family's circumstances may be too much. Make suggestions on how to make it easier for them -- and ultimately better for you -- in your co-parenting efforts. For obtaining hard copies of school records, report cards, and assignment logs, ask your child's teacher if it would be helpful to provide the school with pre-addressed, stamped envelopes. This is a great way to ensure that both parents receive hard copies of documents. Make sure you share a current email address for weekly updates and easy contact should the teacher need to provide daily information. Just as you transition into better co-parenting and learning how to co-parent from two different homes, your child is likely to also be transitioning. It is not uncommon to need that daily update from your child's teacher.
Another tool for co-parenting is understanding what technology is available. There are numerous apps, websites and shared calendars that can be customized to fit your family's unique needs. Even something as simple as a shared Google Calendar can make a world of difference, and it is available to you for free. Reducing the parenting challenges by creating a message board and an expense reimbursement log can reduce conflict and eliminate common miscommunication. For whatever app or website you choose, share the user name and password so that both parents have an opportunity to regularly update the calendar with recitals, school deadlines, fall festivals or even a father-daughter dance. If you find it difficult to use these apps, and are unable to effectively communication face to face, then rely on text messaging for quick communication. (If your case is in litigation, make sure to ask your counsel about how text messages may or may not be used as evidence to show your efforts.)
Technology not your thing? It may be a fun activity for you and your child to create a hard calendar that can be shared at exchanges. Using pictures, stickers and a little imagination, the monthly calendar will not only be a great way to get your child involved and committed to the activities he or she enjoys, but it could also be a cherished memoir for you to share later.
Co-parenting does not come naturally for many families, even the most traditional ones. If you continue to struggle with co-parenting, the miscommunication and conflict is likely not to get better. Children are usually the only ones who are truly affected by your action, or inaction. Now that school is starting, learning how to better co-parent by sharing information is paramount in keeping your relationships healthy and happy. But always remember, any Court Order or Agreement may legally trump these tips, so make sure to check with your counsel before making any decisions or changes to how your family operates.