Communications between you and your ex after divorce may be understandably strained. Now add your child’s school into the mix and there’s ample opportunity for miscommunication. Since the person who bears the brunt of this is your child, if you want to do what’s best for your child, and there’s a modicum of civility between you and your ex, you’ll do what you can to develop communication about your child’s education into a fine art.
Let’s start by clarifying who’s responsible for what.
First off, the school district is responsible for having the administrative systems in place to facilitate communication with both parents.
That sounds pretty straightforward but even with today's technology that's often not the case. When I divorced seven years ago most communication came home in a Friday folder. A few years ago our district rolled out an online system that enabled us individually to see our child’s schedule, grades and attendance records making it much easier for both of us to keep track of things.
If your school district lacks the systems, don’t blame the teachers. It’s not their fault but it may mean that they have to pick up some of what truly is the district’s responsibility in addition to communicating with you both about the specifics of what is happening in their classroom.
It’s your responsibility to find out how your district communicates the various types of information and then to give the school district and your child’s teacher your contact information. It's your responsibility to registered for any online information system.
Now for the practicalities:
Designate A Primary School Contact.
Not all school correspondence can be handled through an online system. For example, field trip permission slips and registrations may need to be signed and returned to school. Your child’s elementary school teacher may routinely send a folder home on a Friday night chock full of information about what is going on in class such as current learning focus or class parties and assemblies and volunteer opportunities.
Ideally, one of you will take responsibility for receiving this and then acting on it whether that’s sharing it with the other parent, signing authorization forms, or adding dates to the calendar. Whoever takes on this role is committing to staying on top of the paperwork and sharing the information.
When you’ve decided who’s going to be the primary contact, then this has to be communicated to your child’s teacher and you will need to figure out the logistics of how to get the folder to the right parent.
If possible, you’ll want to avoid any special arrangements that single your child out as different – your child won’t thank you for drawing attention to their situation. You also need to be respectful about how much additional work you’re expecting from your child’s teacher.
Get A Shared Email Address
You and your ex can set up shared email address that you’ll use for any of your child’s school activities. This does require a reasonable degree of cooperation between you and your ex since you have to commit to not changing the password and not deleting messages.
You can give the shared email address to teachers and coaches and then you both have access to those communications. You’ll also both have access to return messages sent from that account.
Create A Shared Calendar
Set up a calendar for each of your children and share it with your ex. This means that you’ll both be able to see appointments, games, concerts and other events. I like a separate calendar for each child because by the time your child is a teen you can share the calendar with them and they can be more proactively involved in their own schedule.
You will need to agree a process for who enters and updates events and when adding the events to the calendar it’s also helpful to add pickup and drop off information.
A shared calendar means you it’s your responsibility to check it and to know what’s on your child’s schedule. Don’t expect your ex to remind you where you need to be.
An added bonus is that it’s not just your ex who can access the shared calendar. You can also share it with other people who are actively involved with your child’s life such as grandparents and babysitters.
There are lots of products available for this now. Personally I’ve found that Google calendar works great. My son's Marching Band class also uses a Google calendar which makes it easy to add that to his schedule.
Attend Conferences Together
Ideally, both you and your ex will attend parent teacher conferences together even if you’ve never done this before. This sends a strong message to your child that you are still a parenting team and that this is a priority for you.
This means coordinating the date and time and communicating it to your child’s teacher, if necessary. While you’re at the conference, remember this is about your child, it’s not about whatever is going on between you and your ex and it’s definitely not up to the teacher to play therapist.
If your ex is truly not able to attend or you’re not able to figure out the logistics to attend together, then you can attend alone and commit to sharing the information afterwards perhaps in a meeting with your child present.
Sit Together At Special Events
Whether this is a concert, a sporting event or an awards ceremony, this is a celebration of your child’s achievements and it’s about them. When your child is up at the front of the room or up on stage, sitting together means your child only has to look in one place and afterwards only has to run to one spot. They don’t have to worry about if they’ll upset you by looking more at the other parent or if their other parent will be upset because they said hello to you first.
Ideally, sitting together means sitting next to each other but it can mean sitting a seat apart or a row apart, if it’s really too much to ask. And please, this is not a competition … if it’s customary to present the performer with some flowers, don’t try to outdo each other with lavish bouquets. And if you have flowers and your ex forgets, consider telling your child the flowers are from both of you.
Be The Adult
When information comes home that you know is important for your ex to have, be the adult and share it. This might be a form for a directory listing, a sale of activity passes, or a special event such as a father-daughter dance. You might get some satisfaction from not sharing the information but when their other parent doesn’t come to an event or even worse, your child misses an event and feels left out, the person you’re hurting is your child.
Mandy Walker is the founder to the top divorce support blog, Since My Divorce and the creator of the self-paced, affordable online divorce coaching program, My Divorce Pal which includes a whole track devoted to parenting after divorce.