The most important tip to highlight is a critical concept for ALL divorced and divorcing parents: Do not use your child as a messenger. In general, involving your child in your divorce or in your relationship with your ex in any way is severely damaging to the child. Many courts even say that giving your child a note to give to your ex is a no no. I mean, really, in today’s world, just send an email! In addition, email provides you with a record so the other parent can’t say, “I never got it.”
Another issue that comes up is the activities, homework, excursions, practices, and myriad of other things that parents want and need to know about a child’s school. Whn you have one parent who is “primary,” sometimes that can mean that the other parent gets left out of the loop. I mean, if you only see your child every other weekend, then it can be tough to keep up on homework and teachers. Especially since you may be focused on maximizing the time and not focusing on things like homework.
So we try to put in place provisions to ensure that both parents are actively involved with the child’s school. This can place a burden on the ‘primary’ parent, but it’s a burden that’s in the best interests of the child and well worth the effort.
We used to suggest creating a notebook – just a spiral bound notebook that passed back and forth between the houses – that kept track of homework, permission slips, activities, etc. I still think it’s a good idea, but perhaps a quick email is better – that way we avoid the child as a messenger. One way to systemize this is to send a weekly email – it doesn’t have to be long or overly wordy – but it should include any and all information the parent writing it would want to know about the child’s school (homework, notices, upcoming events, school pictures, field trips, expenses) if the shoe were on the other foot. It can be a simple list.
To avoid drama and arguments, you can exchange your child at school. First, exchanging at school (after school, for example) instead of at the other parent’s house, can be a great way to avoid conflict between the parents. This takes away all interaction at the exchange, so there’s no chance for fighting. Second, there is no inconvenience to one party if someone is late or the schedule changes, since only one parent is involved and the focus is on retrieving the child. Third, if you have trouble with fights at school activities, then there is a solution: If you have a child with activities, and you and your ex can’t be in the same football-field-sized area together without causing a scene, here are some suggestions:
- If the practice or game is during your custodial time, you can attend. If not, you need to avoid it. This is not always possible, so…
- Generally activities have practices and games/events. Either pick days (Mom can attend events – whatever they are – on Wednesdays, and Father on Tuesdays) or you can alternate events (Mom can go to the game on 9/10, but Dad can go on 9/17). Obviously, this takes some planning, but isn’t it worth it if it (a) keeps your child out of your arguments, and (b) keeps both parents involved in your child’s activities?
- Alternate activities. Many children are involved in a number of activities, and sometimes one parent gravitates toward one, while another parent gravitates toward another. Mom may be an assistant soccer coach, so she get to attend all those functions, while Dad is keen on photography, so he spends time working on that and attending those shows and events.
The important thing to remember is to keep your child away from the conflict and to be present at their activities. Sometimes it’s just the way it is, when parents can’t get along, but the parents have to acknowledge this and work to find a way around it that doesn’t hurt their children. If you keep your eye on what’s important – the health and well-being of your child, then you’ll be able to find a solution to any problem.