Support Your Kids Instead of Struggling with Your Ex
I’m not sure how it can already be that time of year when we start gathering immunization records, filling out school forms, and downloading the school supply list. For many divorced parents, summertime is when residential schedules loosen up. But, the school year requires increased coordination with the other parent. We know that children whose parents have divorced are at greater risk of poor school performance, particularly in math. The single best way to help your kids is to get along with the other parent. That can be a herculean task, so here are some basic tips.
1. DO communicate with your ex about your plans to help your child adjust to school ramping up again.
Do not expect the other parent to adopt your solutions in his or her household.
For example, parenting experts recommend progressively regulating your child’s routine to bring bedtime forward by 15 minutes every day the first two weeks they go back to school. This is all well and good for a one-household family. You may be 100% on board with this advice and easily able to implement this strategy in your home.
Accept that the other parent may or may not find value in this approach, regardless of that parent’s opinion of you. And recognize that even if the other parent does find value in it, the circumstances of that parent’s household may prevent implementing the solution.
Focus on what’s going on with your kid, not on being right. It sounds so simple and so obvious, but it’s worth a mention. In the above example, for instance, your job would be to voice your concern, propose a strategy and solution and then let it go to focus on supporting your child whether or not the solution is implemented.
2. DO NOT fight with the other parent at school, either in person or over email.
This one’s non-negotiable. Your child will be embarrassed. The school staff will be uncomfortable. And most importantly, you will decimate your own dignity. When it’s over self-loathing will kick in. Don’t do it.
3. DO know your triggers and plan in advance how you can remain mindful in those moments.
When school is in session there will inevitably be additional moments when you will have to engage directly with the other parent. You had better know your triggers because the other parent surely knows how to push your buttons. For example, is the other parent always late? Do your kids’ brand new clothes seem to evaporate at the other house? Get yourself prepared to enter these situations. Talk to your divorce lawyer or therapist. Focus on your breath. Remember a happier moment in time where your child was at the forefront. Keep your mom, lawyer or BFF on speed dial so you can text that person instead of outwardly reacting in front of the other parent and other professionals.
4. DO tell the school and your child’s teacher if the transition to two households is recent. But remember, less is more.
Particularly at the start of a separation, parents often carry overarching feelings of shame, guilt, anger and grief every moment of the day, yet talking about what’s going on can be profoundly confusing. My advice – less is more. It is a good idea to let your child’s teacher know your family is transitioning into two households. It is not necessary, for example, to tell your child’s teacher that the other parent had an affair with your nanny.
5. DO clear your work schedule, but hang back and DO NOT tell your kids you are so accessible.
As a divorced parent, you will feel like you never have enough time with your child. They are, literally, growing up without you. So plan your time and use your time wisely. If you have a demanding job, consider planning a softer workload during the transition week back to school. It’s okay to take a little bit off your plate.