Back to School After a Divorce or Separation
Any change can be stressful for a child – be it changes in living arrangements or changes in daily routine when school is back in session. Children whose parents are living apart have to deal with multiple sources of stress. As a parent, you can be alert to this situation and do your best to help.
Expect that your child may want to talk about issues related to the divorce. For example, the child might want to know the details about sleeping arrangements or who will be there after school. If possible, try to set aside time when you will be available for your child to discuss the divorce. Your child might not have any questions, but knowing you are there can be comforting. If you child asks questions, make your answers clear. Avoid saying bad things about your ex. Explain the situation using age appropriate terms. However, if you are using expressions such as guardianship and custody around your children, it might be helpful to explain what they mean.
Often your child sharing plan will change when the school year begins especially if one parent will be taking a greater responsibility for managing the child’s day-to-day school related activities. If you are not the primary caregiver but want to be more involved, you can strengthen your case by getting involved with your child. However, do not do this in a way that would harm your child’s relationship with the other parent. The courts frown upon parental alienation. Show you are being helpful to the child. If your spouse doesn’t feel it is a good idea to share helping with day-to-day homework, perhaps you could take responsibility for a large project such as a science fair experiment. It is very important that you are reliable and do the work you promised.
Coordinating with your ex can also help reduce stress for your child. Is it clear which parent will be buying the school supplies? Who will be doing the back to school shopping? Similarly an agreement about who is paying for what can be very helpful in defusing situations. Have you worked out all the details of your child sharing plan? If you cannot agree to a plan with your spouse, these issues can be discussed in mediation.
If you feel your spouse is being unreasonable about something, make a note of the circumstances and discuss it with your lawyer to see if there is a strategic way you can use your ex’s bad behavior to your advantage. Don’t give your ex opportunities to do build a case against you. Also, track the child related expenses that you pay for and estimate what your spouse is paying for. This can be helpful in showing your involvement with your child for custody decisions. If the court is reviewing your case, evidence that you are involved in your child’s life in an active parenting role and having a positive influence over your child can help strengthen arguments for custody.
If you run into your ex-spouse at school, be cool. This is not a place to humiliate your child – or humiliate yourself for that matter.
Remember, you are not the first parent to go through divorce and your child is not the first child to go through divorce. It is likely that many of your child’s classmates come from split homes and your child’s teacher has experience dealing with students whose parents are getting a divorce.
Letting the school know that you are going through a divorce may help. Teachers may be better able to help if they understand what is going on in the child’s home life. Many schools also have counselling services that can help your child. Sometimes talking to a teacher or counselor who can provide an outside perspective can be a great support for your child.
Finally, remind your children that you love them and that this is not their fault.