1+1+1 = STRESS – Successfully Navigating Back To School In Divorce Households
Nothing invites stress into a household quite like the beginning of a new school year. When you add an additional household into the mix, that stress has the potential to increase. Whether you have an amicable divorce, or a complete breakdown in communication with your ex-spouse, there is hope for a smooth transition into the school year! Remember, your number one priority is to foster your child’s education and keep them out of all parental drama. Keeping this goal top of mind will help you, your ex-spouse, and your children minimize the stress and maximize the learning.
Here is a list of items you will want to consider. Putting an action plan into place surrounding these items will help you avoid potential pitfalls throughout the school year:
- Extra Expenses – The school year typically includes a variety of unforeseen, extra expenses. From activity fees, to year books, colored pencils, to prom tickets…each one of these items costs money. While you may have addressed larger ticket items in your marriage settlement agreement, you likely did not go into the weeds with every single school related expense. Realistically, child support is meant to cover food, clothing and other incidentals, and shelter. With that being said, who is going to pay for the prom? Sometimes divorced couples agree to split each expense 50/50 or in a manner which coincides with their income levels. Other times they choose to make a list of all upcoming expenses and divvy them up that way. Whichever way you choose, a decision should be agreed upon prior to when the expense is due. This will help minimize stress on you and your child.
- School Closings And Emergencies – What is going to happen when school is closed? What about when your child is sick? These are questions you should get in front of so that there is a plan in place. There are many ways to do this well, all of which require planning on your end; and keeping the school informed. Most schools have an emergency list of people they are allowed to call and in what order. Planning this ahead allows your child to know exactly where he or she will be during any given situation, and that will provide a level of comfort, reducing the stress involved for all of you.
- Schoolwork and Homework – When your child is with your ex-spouse, what they say goes. The reverse is the same when your child is with you. That is why it is imperative you try to be cohesive with expectations surrounding school work. It is extremely important to set guidelines and boundaries as to what is expected and acceptable with regard to schoolwork and homework. If you cannot come to an agreement, you can at the very least set the expectations for YOUR home. You can have an age-appropriate discussion with your child and help them understand the differences expected at each home. This structured framework gives your child continuity which is important for learning and reduces stress of last minute or lost homework.
- School Communications – These days many schools send announcements via text, email, or post them to an online portal open to all parents. This typically makes receiving communications and staying in the loop easier. Items such as report cards and other official documents can be a bit more problematic. Schools are generally not required to send out separate communications to divorced couples unless there is a court order. It is up to you to ensure you have a procedure in place with your ex-spouse to obtain all the information you need regarding your child. Doing so in advance will allow for less stress in the future.
It is easy to see how so many tactical items about the school year may not have been considered or discussed during the divorce process. You and your ex-spouse were likely focused on other important issues at the time. This is natural, and it is virtually impossible to consider every possible parenting scenario when looking toward the future. If you are able to have discussions with your ex-spouse to navigate the maze of school days, wonderful! If not, this would be a great opportunity to use a mediator or impartial third party to help you arrive at fair and equitable decisions. The most important thing to remember is to continue to put your children first. Because at the end of the day, mitigating stress for your child will always lead to reduced stress for you.