Back to school baggage?
I’m not talking backpacks. When you’re sending your children back to school and you’re newly separated, in the process of divorcing, or in a new post-divorce stage of life, back to school season can be a handful. It’s more complicated than the usual worries about clothes, classes, supplies, and new friends.
Your kids may be adjusting to Dad no longer being part of the homework routine, or Mom not available for after school pickup.
Even if you’ve been divorced for several years, challenges may arise to do with the availability of one parent or the other, changing financial circumstances, work schedules affecting two households, and the dynamics of blended families.
These are major disruptors for kids – and back-to-school season is a transitional time as it is.
My Disclaimer: The Context of a Long-Time Divorced Mom
I’m not a counselor, but I’m long-time divorced mom. I’ve seen my two boys through many stages, and I hope my experience will be of assistance.
My kids were in elementary school when their father and I separated. By the time we were legally divorced, they were both in middle school. Two years later, we could no longer manage to stay in our family home. My ex-husband had long since moved away, visitation was somewhat sporadic, and we had to downsize to a small house which fortunately was in the same school district.
But there were financial difficulties, interruptions to routines, visitation that could change at the last minute or was cancelled. Naturally, all of this impacted the logistics of my boys’ everyday lives, especially during the school year.
I minimized what I could (which was a great deal), but bumps in the road became the norm.
How does this affect back-to-school season?
Children are going through transitions as they adjust to new teachers, new classes, new rules, changing friendships, additional workloads, competition, and possibly a new school.
If you’ve recently moved, they’re dealing with new bus routes or carpools. When you add the additional stresses of Mom and Dad’s comings and goings, possible problems with money or scheduling, be prepared to handle a more complex set of logistics.
But remember that back to school season is both exciting and anxiety-producing under any circumstances.
Tips for Talking to Teachers
If your status is different now than it was when the last school year ended – you’re newly separated, there are changes in custody, behavioral or emotional problems emerged over the summer, you’re headed back to court – prepare your children as best you can, and protect their school experience to the extent that you can.
That means talking to your kids’ teachers about the change. For example:
You may foresee a prolonged legal proceeding ahead that will take up your time and attention.
You may be facing a change in financial status that makes field trips, music lessons, or special activities difficult.
Your children may be missing a wonderful co-parent who has moved away in order to take a better job.
You may be less available because you’re now working more hours outside the home.
Other changes worthy of a mention?
Changes in shared custody and even visitation – under the best of circumstances – may mean new routines, disruption to school work and activities, adjustment to shuttling between two different homes, step-parents and step-siblings involved in homework, projects, and events.
All of this ideally is discussed between the parents and worked out to the benefit of the child. Even when you’re both doing everything you can, you’re trying to figure it out as your kids are trying to figure it out – so give yourself a break. You’ll get there!
Kids, Frustration, Anxiety
I believe we should allow our children to express their anger, their hurt, their fear, their confusion. One of my sons did so openly, and the other did not.
My way to reassure them?
I told my sons that we were a team. They would always love their dad, their dad would always love them, but it was the three of us together and as long as we treated each other with love and respect – as a team – we would be fine.
As for school, if your child is headed back to school as divorce or related changes are unfolding, you can expect reactions that may be varied, including acting out in frustration, fear, and confusion.
I remember quietly mentioning to each of my son’s teachers that the divorce was still going on, both were struggling, and one in particular had withdrawn inside himself. His teacher’s gentleness with him was very much appreciated. She also monitored his drawings (as did I), which allowed us to see how he was feeling.
Depending on the age of your children, they will be more or less aware of your worries as well as their own, as routines change and are disrupted by money worries, legal procedures, visitations schedules, and the grieving process as both they – and possibly you – deal with the emotions of the end of your marriage.
Do keep in mind that your child may be facing,
a new school
changes in who helps with homework
changes in how they get to school (car, carpool, bus route)
which activities they participate in
a change in financial circumstances (impacting sports, field trips, and more)
And your children may be worried about what their friends will say or how they will react, despite the fact that so many kids now come from divorced homes.