Have your kids headed back to school?
In my neighborhood, the buses are rolling past the house and I’m filled with memories of little faces, pimply adolescent faces, and gangly teenagers who think they know everything. I’m also recalling the shock to my system when it came to the Single Mother Un-Budget and all those “new school year” expenses!
It’s one thing to mark your recovery from divorce emotionally – we each have our own path, as do our children – and quite another to bridge the challenges that may come financially. Just as we think we’ve got it covered – our kids move on to a new stage (and grade), and BAM! The expenses jump up!
Back to School Baggage (and Bucks)
Back to school baggage when you’re divorced entails more than fielding questions from other parents, alerting teachers if contentious behavior is lingering in the background, alleviating your children’s fears about fitting in with new classmates, dealing with the change in family status, and navigating a potential emotional quagmire. Back to school can mean big bucks – even if your kids attend public schools.
Care for a few examples of expenses that parents are asked to come up with?
- Books, Notebooks
- Supplies (general)
- Computer-related supplies
- Special backpacks (due to security or locker sizes)
- Clothes and shoes
- Musical instrument rental (not to mention lessons)
- Sports equipment, uniforms, transportation costs (to/from practices and games)
- Field trips
- Art supplies
- School-related clubs
- Summer educational programs (various types)
- Driver’s Ed
- SAT Prep
- High School: AP Exams, IB Exams, class dues & fees
- High School: Yearbooks, Prom
- College applications
- College visits
We won’t even go into the iPad and smartphone scenarios. They’re too dizzying for me to conceive of on my budget, just as the necessity of a computer for my boys was when they hit middle school.
Including School Expenses in Child Support
That list above? It’s just off the top of my head. Some of those items will run under $100. Others may run $25/month (musical instrument rental for example, depending on what it is and if it’s used), and some can cost well into the thousands.
Sure, some of us do what we can to estimate these expenses as we’re working out child support agreements. In fact, we are well advised to do so.
Let me repeat: Anticipate as many school-related expenses as you can as early as you can. And don’t be put off by lines like “oh, you can always modify support later if your education-related costs go up.”
Trust me. Those expenses are going up, and I haven’t even touched on issues of special needs.
As for being able to modify your agreement accordingly, sometimes you can and sometimes you cannot. Practically speaking, the ability to modify assumes a cooperative ex and no lengthy legal proceedings bogging down the process.
And if you have high school students in the house? Remember the sizable cost of academic test prep. College applications, likewise. Driver’s ed, if your school doesn’t provide it or subsidize it. And don’t forget – if you have a driver in the household, it’s costly to insure him or her!
Keep the Lines of Communication Open With Your Ex
We can’t always anticipate problems that may arise (requiring special classes or programs), opportunities that may arise (academic, sports, the arts, leadership), much less the expectations of a school district if we find ourselves moving.
As for field trips, some may ring up at small amounts (to you) – but even at $20, if you have two or three kids and there are five or six field trips a year, that’s no laughing matter. If your children are in middle school or high school, their field trips mean overnights. Now we may be talking hundreds of dollars and at times, well over a grand.
- Keep the lines of communication open with your ex.
- Make sure you share a common understanding of the importance of your children’s education.
- Allow your kids to vent their frustration. (You need someone to talk to, too!)
- Teach your kids about the value of a dollar; encourage them to work for small amounts around the house.
- Teach your kids about money, especially your daughters.
- Be willing to speak with guidance counselors and others about your financial situation if needed; you may find options available to you to defray some of these costs.
Understand Your Child’s Frustration (and Your Own)
Remember that if money worries upset us – the adults – imagine how it makes our children feel. Their anger is understandable. Their frustration, too, at being relatively powerless. What I can offer is this – if they are free to express their emotions with us (and still feel unconditionally loved), it may not solve the problem, but it certainly can help.
Naturally, my recommendations above are out of reach for some of us – High Conflict Divorce, High Conflict Aftermath, Deadbeat Dad, economic apocalypse for either parent. We need to be realistic. We need to cope with our frustrations. We need to set expectations with our kids – do what we can, and not kill ourselves with guilt.
And by the way, some of our children will be open with us – expressing their worries, their wants, their resentments. If they see their friends able to attend field trips and events they no longer can, they will voice their anger – which I see as healthy.
But some kids don’t talk. They turn bitterness inward, they clam up, or they act out. I believe we need to do our best to get them to open up.
Get him out of the house. Make sure he’s not hungry. Be patient and truly listen. And if none of that works – seek a friend, seek family, seek some sort of counsel to intervene.
Back to School Excitement!
This time of year about much more than bucks, budgets, and backpacks.
The upside, and you know there is one, is this. Our children really do learn from adversity. We, the single moms, also rise to the occasion and become damn good at creative problem-solving.
Besides, once our kids are eased back into school, for many of them it is fun, exciting, and a return to a rhythm that is healing and hopeful, especially when parents are newly divorced.
- Environmental Education, Flexible Parenting
- School Bus Blues? Not Exactly.
- How to Cope With Frustration
- Single Parenting Back to School Baggage – Part I
- Single Parenting Back to School Baggage – Part II