Back-to-school season is stressful for all parents but it’s a little more complicated when you’re divorced: Who’s doing the annual trek to Target to load up on school supplies — and more importantly, who’s paying? Are both of you listed on important school forms?
To make heading back to school a little less overwhelming for you and the kiddos, we asked HuffPost Divorce bloggers and readers on Facebook to share their tried-and-true advice. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Split the cost of back-to-school supplies.
Between backpacks, calculators, school uniforms and that extra big box of Crayola crayons, your kids’ back-to-school supplies can end up costing a small fortune. To lessen the individual burden among parents, Lynsey Mattingly and her ex divvy up purchasing responsibilities.
“My ex and I always separate who’s buying what, with him buying the backpacks, lunch boxes and water bottles while I usually get the entire supply list the teachers send home,” she told us. “It comes out to about the same price and this way we are both playing to our strengths: he gets a few quality items that he’s better at picking out and I get the specific, detailed things.”
2. Create a shared Google calendar to keep everyone in the loop.
Each school year, Elizabeth Denham dutifully updates the families’ shared Google calendar with the kids’ upcoming school events. This way, no one misses back-to-school night or a holiday performance.
“For all of the really important events, I send invites through the calendar as soon as I enter the date so that I don’t have to remember to do it by phone,” she said.
3. Drop the kids off together on the first day of school.
The first day of school can be a scary, overwhelming experience for even the most confident kiddo. If at all possible, try to free up your schedules so both of you can drop the kids off and show your support, said Leah Porritt.
“On the first morning of school this year, we met before and walked our son to school together,” she said. “He had both of us there to send him off to first grade and I think that meant a lot to him — even if the normal school year mornings are a mixture of mom, dad, stepparents or before-and-after care. For his sake, we put differences aside and make an effort to both be present together.”
4. And if your ex can’t be there for day one, text a pic.
If your ex is unable to make it that first day, be generous and send him or her a pic. (You have at least 20 on your camera roll — why not share the love?)
“Texting a pic is an act of goodwill and will be greatly appreciated,” said blogger Valerie DeLoach. “And you never know — one kind act could change the whole dynamic of your current relationship.”
5. Let your kids’ teachers know who’s who in your blended family.
Your family tree likely got a lot more complicated post-divorce, especially if you or your ex remarried. Early on in the school year, fill your kids’ teachers in on who’s who in your family; that way, there’s no confusion when your child’s stepdad picks her up.
“I do it because it can be confusing for teachers to hear my son talk about his parents, stepparents and numerous siblings on either side,”said Porritt. “He’s old enough now to explain who is who, but it makes it more comfortable for him if his teacher already understands his extended and blended family situation and doesn’t need to question him!”
Another bonus of touching base with your kids’ teacher? Backpacks that are a little less heavy, said reader Carmen Poff.
“When my ex and I tell the teachers our kids have two homes, most will send home a second set of text books so they won’t have to haul them back and forth,” she said.
6. Attend parent-teacher conferences together.
Heading to parent-teacher conferences as a team — like writer Carolyn Flower does every year with her kids’ dad — sends a strong message to your children and their teachers: Regardless of what happened in the past, today we’re partners who have the kids’ best interests at heart.
“As a collaboratively divorced family, we’ve never missed a parent-teacher meeting,” Flower said. “We feel that demonstrating we are still a team shows the children and the school they are loved and supported in all they do. It plants healthy seeds for successful mindsets.”
7. If your ex lives out of state, have him or her call into the meeting.
Don’t let distance interfere with both parents taking a proactive, involved role, said Honorée Corder.
“Because my ex lives in another state, when it’s time for parent-teacher conferences, we schedule a time that works for both of us so he can be conferenced in,” she said.
8. Set times when you and your ex can debrief on your kids’ progress at school.
To ensure that no book report or soccer meet falls through the cracks, Kasey Ferris and her ex have have scheduled communication days where they discuss and update each other on their son’s life.
“Every Sunday and Wednesday there’s an email exchange where we discuss the week, any tests coming up and updates on projects that need to be completed,” she said. “Anything crucial or time-sensitive is handled via text, but everything else goes into a Sunday/Wednesday email. It’s created a lot of peace between us.”
9. Don’t leave your ex’s side out of the family tree.
Regardless of how you feel about your ex, your kids still need him or her in their lives. When there’s a family tree assignment — or a photo project that calls on family photos — rise above any bitterness and include your ex’s side of the family (yes, that includes new spouses).
“If there is a project at school that asks for family photos I always make sure that the kids try to include pictures of their mom, their mom’s partner and kids as well as my own partner and kids,” said reader Barry Fraser.
10. Create a group chat where you discuss your kids’ wins and progress.
Start a group chat that includes the parents and the kids and send texts whenever your kids ace an assignment or need a little encouragement to bring that C grade up. It’s a little communication trick that has worked wonders for blogger Emma Bathie and her family.
“The idea is to direct the reminders and notes to the kids but they’re there for both parents to see and comment on if needed,” she said. “It can also be a nice way for the parents to make positive/encouraging comments about each other in front of the kids (‘Hey Matt, I really appreciate you picking up the kids for me last night when I was stuck in a meeting and then traffic. It was really helpful!’) You’re also showing the kids you can be the grown-ups they need you to be.”