Co-Parent with Class: Advice for a Successful School Year
Co-parenting is hard. Shuttling kids between two houses all while keeping up with social activities, appointments, and day-to-day life can be difficult, and with the new school year approaching, it’s about to get a lot more complicated. Cooperation between parents is essential to preparing for the school year because your child needs to feel supported and not burdened. So, how do you successfully co-parent while keeping everyone happy and sane?
We all know that communication is key to any relationship. When your kids are involved, we’d say it’s almost the only thing that matters. Simple things, like remembering to sign a paper and return to the teacher, can become big problems if there is no communication between parents. Some families find it easy to have weekly or monthly meetings in person to discuss plans. Others feel that calling or texting is sufficient. It doesn’t matter how you communicate, as long as you do and are civil to one another.
Danielle Banquer co-parents her two daughters with her ex-husband. She says that focusing on common goals makes the task much easier. “Your goal should be to be the best advocates together for your child. If that’s in both of your heads, negotiating everything and tackling the task should be a lot easier.”
She goes on to say that it’s all about working together and being confident in your teamwork. Texting is the key to her and her ex-husband’s communication. “In our early days of divorce, talking on the phone was hard. We would get heated, hang up on each other, and just fight in general. If you text, you have the luxury of time to think of a response and to cool down if needed.”
With this, Danielle says it is important to follow texting etiquette: be kind, keep it simple, and agree on boundaries and ideal timelines for replying.
It’s important for both parents to take an active role in preparing for school. One way to do that is to split the cost of new clothes, school supplies, or any other fees. Make sure you coordinate with each other, so that you can agree on what is needed and what is not. Find a compromise on things you don’t agree with, all while keeping your child’s best interests at heart. This can be a kind of peace offering between the two of you that may even lead to a better relationship in the end.
Of course, do not discuss child support issues with your child. If you find yourself without the means to provide the newest gadgets or best clothes, don’t put blame on the other parent. Your child should not be weighed down with your relationship and financial woes.
Attendance is important—not only for the child, but for both parents, too. Whether it is a parent/teacher conference, school function, or sporting event, having both parents there will boost the child’s confidence and lessen any anxiety associated with the event. Children are already dealing with a split family and all the other changes that come with divorce, so give them confidence in your support by both being present.
Keep your focus on what’s important here–your child. Avoid playing games because of resentment or competition. This will only hurt the child. Danielle points out that the relationship between parents makes a big difference in being successful.
“I think a great indicator is how much the parents are willing to just focus on the same goal—the kids,” Danielle says. “It’s all about them, right? You divorced each other. You did not divorce parenting your kids. You need to work together.”
Leslie Todd, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, agrees that keeping the child’s happiness and comfort at the top of your list is the best idea. “Keep the focus on the child’s development, not on competitive parenting. The school experience belongs to the child, not the parents.”
She also says that disputes can best be avoided by focusing on the child and their needs, not competing to be the best or favorite parent. “In my work with high-conflict divorced parents, this is the main problem. The child’s needs are really secondary to the parents’ conflict in such cases. Schools and teachers are made miserable by those competitive parents, too.”
There are many tools parents can use to communicate better and co-parent more efficiently, all while taking the burden off of the child. Shared calendars such as Google Calendar can let you edit and add events that both parties can see in real time, that way everyone is kept in the loop.
Some parents have found that having a designated “parent backpack” is the best way to tackle the shuffling back and forth between two homes and school. This is a great way to transport items and paperwork while keeping your child out of the middle. If you use this method, make sure that you are both on board with this idea and agree to check it daily.
For the more tech savvy, there are apps out there that are built specifically for co-parenting. A few were even created by divorced parents seeking a better way to organize and communicate. Our Family Wizard provides visitation and custody schedules, calendars, and co-parenting tools, including links to counseling and legal services. 2Houses offers a calendar for custody and events, a photo album, a journal for notes and important reminders, and even an expense component to manage child-related expenses.
With school, sports, tests, projects, and social engagements, the school year is already pretty chaotic. Do what you can to make it as easy for your child as possible. Leslie Todd reminds us to handle the hard stuff and let kids be kids.
“Don’t distract them from owning their own childhood, enjoying their friendships and activities, and celebrating their own achievements. Children growing up in two (or more) households need to be respected as individuals and have the right to have relationships with all their relatives, no matter how different those relationships might look. The more adults who love and support the children in this way, the better.” ■