In mere days (maybe weeks for some of you) a shift will occur in the earth’s axis and every routine as we know it will be thrown on its head. That’s right, the kids are going back to school! The lazy days of summer and sleeping in, staying up late, lounging the day away in pj’s or by the pool will disappear in favor of homework, rising with the sun to get on the bus, and the kids submerged in academic activities all day. Can I get a high five?
To be fair, I do love many of the fun and magical things that are part of summer vacation. My kids have enjoyed going away to camp, swimming, ice cream, gardening, and many other memorable activities. I enjoy a little respite from the early school mornings and seeing their tanned and smiling faces each day.
But, school has its own special appeal. I love the (dare I say) beautiful new school supplies, the excitement of new milestones and experiences, and the return to routine. This year will herald my oldest step son’s senior year of high school, my next oldest step son’s first year of high school, my son’s first year of junior high, and my daughter’s first year of middle school. My daughter plans to take up the violin this year, I can be assured of plenty of football (yes, football) and basketball games for my very athletic step daughter, and my son will be in three gifted classes – there’s a lot to be excited for!
What am I not excited for? Back to school time always means it’s time for a new PR campaign and re-establishment of boundaries for my husband and I with our exes and the schools. Every new school year means new teachers and often new schools (as the kids move up a grade) and new administrators, depending on staff changes. Some of the administrators know the kids and our situation well from year-to-year; but, many need to not only get to know our student, but the family dynamics, as well.
Even though the school has a copy of our divorce on file, I always send out a new copy to the school principal and my children’s teachers as a reminder of the fact that my ex and I have shared custody and equal rights to all information.
I also always send out an e-mail to each child’s teachers explaining our parenting plan so that they will understand that the kids rotate between our houses a week at-a-time. This is extremely important because I can’t always count on being informed of everything that happens on my off week; therefore, I request duplicate copies and calls about important things to make sure everything is handled appropriately. I think that it’s also good for the teachers to understand what each child’s situation is so they have a head’s up that school performance, hygiene, behavior, rest, and so much more can fluctuate drastically every seven days.
I have found it to be incredibly important to make sure I get to review all new forms before they’re submitted. In the early days of our divorce, I learned this the hard way when forms I filled out with contact and medical information were changed by my ex, eliminating my information! I think I made my displeasure about this situation apparent enough to where it has not happened since, but I always double check just to be sure the school has accurate information! My son’s open house is next week, and I will most likely suggest that my ex and I fill out his forms with both of us present. I like to show that I am willing to play fair and honest in attempt to gain the same in return.
My son is on an IEP and requires speech, physical, and occupational therapy services to support his performance at school. Previous to our divorce, my ex never attended an IEP (or any other school meetings). I have to give him credit for making an effort to be a part of this process now that we are no longer together. This guarantees us a good 2-hour meeting together at school each year to discuss our son’s progress and goals for the future.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of school for me, as a divorced parent, is my ex’s and my very different philosophies and expectations about homework, attendance, and effort. In fact, I think some of our most heated arguments have been after my kids repeatedly failed to turn in homework on their dad’s weeks. My son has since learned to become self-disciplined and stay on top of his work without a parent managing him; but, my daughter is still at an age where she benefits from reminders to do her work, proof-reading her work, and assistance. If you want to see me get angry, just don’t help my child with her work and let her fail!
I have, since, released much of my frustration about these issues because, no matter what, I have extremely limited control over what happens when the kids are away from me. I have to hope that I can instill good organizational and study habits and a strong work ethic in them to keep them on the right track even when I’m not there to help them study for the spelling test or look through their book bag. I can communicate with the teachers, set them up with all the supplies they need, and nurture their minds and bodies to the best of my ability; but, I can’t make anyone else help them.
My idea of responsibility, reasonable routines and schedules, appropriate expectations, and so on are mine. You may have an entirely different set of beliefs about what life should be like for school age children. I’m sure that if my ex and I agreed on all of these matters, there’s a chance we might even still be together; but, we don’t agree, so here we are!
So, all of my best to you and your kiddos as they go back to school! Here’s wishing for a minimum of awkward parent-teacher conferences, school musicals, and open houses. May the school keep everyone’s names straight, remember to call everyone they’re supposed to, and to send an extra picture order form home so that you aren’t the only clueless parent who didn’t know or prepare (or get a courtesy text from your ex)! There will be many more discussions about splitting the bill for the Washington D.C. trip, making sure a physical is done before basketball season, and how to host a peaceful graduation party!