How To Handle School Age Children and Divorce


Tell Your Child First

Were you thinking of telling your child’s teacher about your divorce before telling your child? Bad idea.

Here’s an example of how not telling your child first could backfire:

On Friday afternoon when you’re picking your child up from school you mention to the teacher that you’re getting divorced and that you’ll be telling your child that weekend. However, the weekend flies by and there is never a good opportunity for the conversation so you and your soon to be ex decide to wait. Monday morning rolls around, you’ve forgotten to tell the teacher that the conversation didn’t happen as planned or perhaps you sent the teacher an email but they haven’t checked it. First thing that morning the teacher pulls your child aside and says, “I know this must difficult for you. I remember when my mom and dad split up and I was in sixth grade…”

No one wants their child to hear their parents are getting divorced from someone else.
Once you have told your child, you may decide to wait a couple of weeks before notifying school. This will give you the opportunity to see how they are coping and then when you do speak to the teacher you can start the conversation with, “I’ve been wondering if you’ve noticed any changes in my child’s behavior recently…”

Your Communication Is Not Confidential

Whether you tell the teacher by email or in person it’s worth remembering that what you say is not confidential or privileged like conversations you have with your attorney. It’s quite likely that the teacher may feel obligated to share what you’ve told them with other school personnel such as the guidance counselor, school principal and other teachers. With that in mind, you need to keep your communications factual.

Decide Who Needs To Know

While a teacher may share your communication with other personnel, it’s much better for you to identify all of the teachers who need to know, such as home room, core subjects and specials, and for you to communicate with each of these directly. Alternatively, your school’s guidance counselor may prefer you to communicate with them and then they will coordinate with others.

Email can make this task easier. You can write one message and send it to everyone including the other parent. This way, you know everyone hears the same message and you can make sure the other parent is included in any subsequent correspondence.

When you’re thinking of who needs to know, remember to include coaches and organizers of any after school activities.

Stick To the Facts

As tempting as it may be to share your version of why your marriage is ending, all you need to share are the simple, basic details: if you’ll be moving and where your child will be living. If there are other people involved (girlfriends, boyfriends, neighbors), teachers don’t need to know how you feel about it unless that person will be an emergency contact or will be picking up your child from school.

It’s important to protect your child’s privacy and keep their school experience drama-free from home-life. It’s also important to remember that what do communicate is not confidential and may be repeated to others.

Co-Parent

Take the high road – if you’ve been the primary contact with your child’s school, help your ex share the responsibility by pointing them to the school’s website and all of the information they need to be “in the know”. Think of this as a transition period.
Update Your Contact Information
It is critically important that the school has the correct phone numbers for both parents, as well as any local emergency contacts.

Together you’ll need to decide how you want the school to handle emergencies. Whatever your decisions are for who to be contacted, be sure to communicate it in writing to the school.

This contact information isn’t just for emergencies but also for occasions like when your child is sick and needs to be picked up early. You and the other parent will need to decide the protocol for who gets called and then communicate it to the school. It’s not the school’s responsibility to figure out who has parenting time based on what’s written in divorce documents. A helpful solution might be printing out a monthly calendar for the school secretary or nurse.

Also be sure you communicate with the other parent about school closings, late arrivals and early dismissals.

Mistakes will happen – it’s inevitable that the school will call you when they should have called the other parent. The gracious thing to do is for you to thank the school for letting you know and for you to call the other parent. Once the immediate issue is resolved, you can double check with the school on your communication preferences.

Volunteering

Elementary and middle school kids love it when their parents volunteer for field trips, classroom help or school events and these are great ways for staying connected especially during your non-parenting time. But the last thing your child needs is for both of their parents to show up at the same time and to start fighting or being rude to each other. If you are planning to volunteer, then it’s appropriate to let the other parent know and modify schedules accordingly. Alternatively, if communications between you and the other parent are strained then you might be agree that you’ll only volunteer on the days that fall within your parenting time or, if you are both supportive of more frequent contact, during your non-parenting time.

Overall, it comes down to good co-parenting practices.


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