Co-parenting the first day of school

7 Tips for an easier back-to-school season

Firsts are always tough for families after a divorce or separation. Who will be there? Will it be awkward? Will there be conflict? With many families getting ready for the first day of school, couples who separated over the summer will be navigating both the transition from the summer to fall and also the transition of a new normal for their family.

As a Collaborative Family Professional, I work with families wishing to keep big life moments like this peaceful and make sure that the focus is on their kids. While we’d love to think that everyone can put their differences aside for the sake of their children, I’ve learned that intentionality and planning are key in making sure that you avoid any unsavory back-to-school blunders. To help, I’ve put together a quick guide for making your back-to-school co-parenting transition as smooth as possible.

  1. Decide in advance who will be there.
    If you can, follow as many of your previous traditions as possible and if not, decide ahead of time what the new norms will be and make sure that your kids are well-prepared. Remember, your goal is to make the transition easy for your kids, and maintaining past traditions can go a long way in showing your kids that some things will remain the same. If you can’t decide this on your own, seek the advice of a family professional to assist and help you avoid any conflict that may arise.
  2. Determine what school supplies are needed and who will be purchasing them.
    If you can, have two sets of the most used items so that they are easily available and your child doesn’t need to worry about not having what they need. Removing points of friction is a common theme!
  3. Consider having two sets of textbooks.
    Did you know that you can often get two sets of textbooks from the library or online? Sometimes, co-parenting challenges are simple logistics and this is one of those cases. No one likes driving over to their ex-spouse’s house at night to grab a Math textbook.
  4. Try to both be present when your child is in the spotlight.
    Soccer finals, dance recitals, spelling bees. These are all moments your child would like to look out and see both of their parents smiling back (you don’t have to sit together). When it comes to extracurricular activities, the more involved both parents can be, the better.
  5. Don’t overdo extracurriculars.
    One of the most common missteps co-parents can make is trying to overcompensate for this change in their family. Having too many activities is one of the ways that I’ve seen this happen, but instead of your child having double the fun, they will probably just be exhausted. Going between two homes is already tiring, so if anything, your child will need more “chill” time and will just want to spend time with you. Activities cannot replace feelings of loss and sadness.
  6. Remain calm and patient.
    Your child is going to be more distracted than usual and may be extra sensitive and emotional. Difficulty focusing during a big change like this is very common for kids and needs to be met with patient and kind parenting. If needed, seek the assistance of a counsellor.
  7. Let go of as many conflicts as possible.
    Ultimately, children’s success during a transition like going back to school will depend on the parents’ ability to place their children’s needs before their own. Letting go of small conflictual battles with your co-parent in order to help the children go between homes will make them feel at ease and believe that their family will be okay.

You may notice that some, if not all, of these suggestions require that you and your former spouse are communicating well and able to compromise for the sake of giving your children a nice stable environment to thrive in. This is absolutely possible and reminds me of something I tell my clients a lot. Even though you’re divorced, you’re still a family unit. Your family is still your family! You’re going through a restructuring, and I won’t minimize how difficult that is, but it can be helpful to steer away from viewing your family as “broken” and instead spend your time and energy learning how your family can function well in its new form. Learn more about the Collaborative Divorce Process.

Sandra Garibotti is a Registered Social Worker and Collaborative Divorce Toronto Member currently managing a private practice, SG Family Solutions. Here, she uses her 30 years of experience to specialize in custody and access, separation and divorce. She is a separation coach, helping parents manage their co-parenting role and develop parenting plans that are tailored to the family’s needs. Sandra also provides individual and family therapy to help stabilize family members after separation.

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