Back-to-school time sets the tone for the next nine months of family life. It provides an opportunity for co-parents to set boundaries and expectations that help the rest of the year runs smoothly.
This is the beginning of the year for your kids. It’s up to you to avoid co-parenting conflicts that place undue stress on your children. Here are some pointers.
Split the cost of back-to-school shopping
It’s a good move to offer to split any additional expenses of school supplies and new clothes regardless of your child or spousal support situation. This type of gesture is proven to soothe even the most volatile co-parenting dynamics.
Think about it. Spending $50 on school supplies is a small price for reducing tension in this high-stakes time of the year. If your co-parent takes the child shopping for something extra, do not use that as an opportunity to complain or point out errors.
If your ex drops off a pair of shoes that are too big, or buys a PJ Masks backpack instead of the JoJo Siwa one your daughter wanted, just say thank you. In a day or two, follow up: Thanks again for the shoes, but when we tried them on and they were a little small—would you mind letting me know where you got them and I’ll just go exchange for a different size?
Small acts of graciousness go a long way in back to school co-parenting.
Manage the school calendar when co-parenting
Most schools send out regular parent notifications; it might be automated phone calls, e-mail notifications, or texts depending on the district.
Find out if the school will send out duplicates of everything so each parent gets their own notification. Schools usually will not send notifications to both parents unless you ask.
It’s a good idea to use a calendaring app for tracking drop-offs, pick-ups, dates, and deadlines for kids’ busy schedules. There are several apps designed for co-parenting that are simple to use, and relatively inexpensive.
The best thing is that everyone stays on the same page without having to call or text the other co-parent very often. Less contact usually means less conflict in co-parenting contexts.
Avoid the homework parent vs. fun parent dynamic
It’s important that both parents agree to share the work load as much as possible. If one parent assumes responsibility for making sure homework and projects are done, and the other parent gets all the fun time, it builds resentment.
If one parent has the lion’s share of the weekday homework assignments, consider having the other parent in charge of any long-term projects over the course of the school year.
Successful co-parents maintain consistent expectations for their children’s behavior and academic performance. If a child fails to do homework, receives bad grades, or acts out in school, both mom and dad should enforce the consequences. Uniformity will prevent children from pitting the parents against each other.
Should you meet the teacher together?
If you can, yes. If co-parents can handle being in a room together and take a united position for your child—you are doing great. It’s 100 percent in the child’s best interest to make it happen. It reduces miscommunication and conflict.
Everyone who is co-parenting should understand their own capacity for dealing with the other co-parent. Only meet the teacher together if you’re sure it can happen without conflict.
It is OK to ask the teacher to accommodate two conferences. Most are happy to do it. No teacher wants to sit in a conference with two people who are combative with each other.
How to stand united when you don’t get along
Every co-parent knows they should do their best not to disparage the other parent in front of the child. That’s co-parenting 101. Remember to apply this rule in any context that involves your children.
- When talking to the teacher, never blame the other parent if the child is struggling. Finger-pointing is always unnecessary and never helps.
- Don’t involve the school office in your family law matter by insisting you always be called first because you have 70 percent custody. On the same token, show the school that they can count on both parents to be involved.
- Commit to keeping any problems you have with your co-parent out of their school, their little league team, girl scouts, soccer, dance, and whatever else they do.
- Hopefully everyone that loves your children can attend awards ceremonies, games, meets, and performances together. But if not, make a calendar and switch off.
- If you are not in a place where you can see your ex with a significant other without becoming outwardly upset—that’s OK. Your child would prefer you miss one event rather than it causing a scene.
See the pattern here? This is all about conflict reduction. Setting the tone for a less stressful back to school co-parenting situation is one of the best things you can do for your children and yourself.
About the authors
NaKesha Ruegg is a family law attorney and mother of four children. She serves as the co-chair of the Riverside County Bar Association family law section. Jeremy Roark has practiced family law exclusively in the Inland Empire for over ten years, and is a father of a school-age son.