Back-to-School Custody Tips

September 23, 2019
Back to School Custody Tips

Every new school year promises a world of possibilities, but for both parents and children, it is sure to pose some challenges, too. Sometimes just getting your child’s feet into shoes can be a major feat. If you share custody of your child, you may face a few extra difficulties. A sound co-parenting agreement addresses some of the issues that may arise during the school year. These helpful tips can help you avoid others.

Accept that change may be necessary.

With each new school year, schedules and routines may have to be modified, including plans for parenting time. Perhaps your child is going to a new school that is much closer to one parent’s house than it is to the other’s. Maybe school start and end times mesh with one parent’s schedule better than the other’s. Modifications are likely to be needed as your child moves from elementary to middle school and then again to high school. If your child participates in sports or other extra-curricular activities, keeping up with transportation needs can require effort from both parents and sometimes from other family members as well.

Keep it simple.

Try to maintain routines that are similar to the ones you used last year. Changes may be necessary, but avoid unnecessary ones. If your child is middle or high school age, he or she may have some great ideas for making things run more smoothly. Empowering children with opportunities for input usually makes for happier kids, especially as they get older and begin to move toward independence.

Create a shared calendar if you don’t have one already.

Some parents cling to paper calendars or dry erase boards, but most have transitioned to electronic calendars. You can create a shared calendar on Google or download an app that is specifically designed for co-parenting needs. Co-parenting apps usually have other handy features, such as expense trackers and geo-trackers. Some also allow information to be shared with additional parties, such as grandparents and legal representatives.

Be a presence at your child’s school.

Show up for parent night, performances, and special events. Try to put differences aside and have a united front by sitting together and getting along. If tension with your ex is an issue, try to work it out if at all possible. In the case of a performance or sporting event, if the tension is too stressful, you can usually avoid sitting next to each other but still be in the same vicinity. For events such as banquets where you will be seated with your child, it may be healthier at times to alter events the way you do holidays. If you know that you will encounter your ex-in-laws at school events, think about how you will handle those meetings. Managing a brief, polite hello is best practice.

Don’t skip parent-teacher conferences.

You can gain enormous insights from your child’s teachers. Parents make discoveries about school work and also their child’s behavior, which can be quite different at school than it is at home. You can also learn about your child’s social skills. It’s optimal for both parents to be in attendance at parent-teacher conferences. This is especially important if your child has an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. If either you or your ex has a new spouse or significant other, discuss whether the new partner should be included in parent-teacher conferences. While involving new partners can escalate tension, if they will be supervising homework, they may need to be there. An alternative that may work is to record the conference for any parties who cannot attend.

Arrange for both of you to receive communications from your child’s school.

Most of the time, this is easily done. If one of you gets an email or message that appears to be sent to you alone, be sure to share. This is particularly important if the message discusses a problem. Don’t think that you can take care of the issue and keep it a secret; parents need to be on the same page. Similarly, be sure to share if you learn something positive about your child’s academic life. Parenting is hard, and co-parenting is usually harder. Everyone involved can use all the good news they can get.

Don’t try to prove that you are the better parent.

It’s natural to want to appear as the admirable parent to teachers, school officials, and other parents. Casting yourself in the leading role poses a risk, however. Calling attention to your contributions often has little effect. You’re more likely to make a good impression by being cooperative and generous in treatment of your ex. Never badmouth the other parent. The educational sphere is small, do not accommodate those eager to hear of your ex’s shortcomings.

Help with homework.

Supervising homework can be a significant task, making it one that should be shared. Much of the time, parents have expertise in different fields. Respect your ex’s strengths and abilities by letting them help when they are able. If you’re the math wiz, for example, this subject can be your contribution. Oppositely, if your child needs assistance with a subject that’s beyond your ability, consider either enlisting the help of the other parent or referring to online sources for guidance. If your child is at the other parent’s home, make a conscious effort to help with homework by utilizing Skype, Facetime, or a similar program. Whether you are helping in person or via the internet, try to be present and patient.

Share expenses, and err on the side of generosity if possible.

Your child may suffer unnecessary stress if each purchase triggers a debate about who should pay. If one parent is on a tight budget, extra expenses can be a heavy burden. Most of the time, however, when exes fight about money, it isn’t really about money. Instead, it’s often a continuation of the conflicts that they had during their partnership. To mitigate tension, keep the focus on what is best for your child, and make purchases accordingly.

Handle your own stress.

School is stressful for parents as well as for kids. When you are feeling overwhelmed after a challenging conference or a lengthy homework session, aim to relieve tension in a healthful way. Unwind with a nice walk, a good book, or your favorite comedy series. Try not to turn to alcohol or other artificial relaxers. If either you or your ex has a history of Alcohol Use Disorder, a remote alcohol monitoring system such as Soberlink can be helpful. Such systems allow parents to demonstrate their sobriety and their ability to perform school duties, especially transportation. They also provide peace of mind to the co-parent along with any other concerned parties.

The cardinal rule for good co-parenting is to put the child first, and this is especially critical during the school year. While difficult at times, co-parents who can set aside their differences for their children deserve an A.

About the Author

Susan Adcox is a former teacher and a writer who specializes in generational issues, including parenting, grandparenting and family relationships.

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