Going back to school in September can be a tough time for children, as it marks the end of the long care free summer holidays. There will be new teachers to get to know and possibly new class mates too.
It could be that your child is starting school for the first time, going into reception class or perhaps they are starting a new school, leaving old friends behind to adjust to a new school and new peers. All this is plenty to deal with, but if your child is dealing with the break-up of their parents over the summer on top of these stresses, it can be a very difficult time.
Here are some top tips for newly separated parents of school aged children who now face an emotional time coupled with new routines between two households or maybe just one with one parent.
Home assessment meeting for Reception Children
Some schools, have an informal session where the teacher will visit the child starting school at their home. If you are recently separated, you will need to decide which home the teacher will visit and also if both parents want to be there. This will only work if as parents you are happy to be in the same room for the sake of your children. Ideally for the child they may be happier if both parents are there for this first meeting.
Keep Teachers in the Loop
Your child’s teachers will have a much easier time understanding issues if they know about the family circumstances. A young child starting reception for example, may struggle explaining that they have two homes and it may still be very raw emotionally for them. Be in constant communication with your child’s teachers so that if there are signs of distress either at home or at school, they can be addressed quickly and appropriately. Each child is different and may not be able to talk about feelings but their anxiety or anger may be displayed in another behavioural way.
New timetable and care schedule
Children returning to school or starting for the first time will need to adjust to a new daily routine where they may be splitting time between two homes during the week. A regular and clearly defined routine between the parents will be very important so that your child will always know who is picking up and which parent they will be going home with.
If you have regular days of the week arranged between you then it is easier to organise things like homework, P.E. kit, packed lunches and notes home from school. Good communication between you will make the experience of school less stressful for your child. For example, if a note goes home in the school bag about a school trip that falls on the day the other parent is the carer, it can cause all sorts of issues if the information is not relayed. This also applies to invitations to Birthday parties which will often be put in the school bag at the end of the day.
Something that is simple for parents who live together, like making sure the washed P.E. kit goes in with the children on the right day of the week, can be hard for children with two homes. Getting a detention for turning up without your kit when it’s not your fault because the kit is still at Dad’s, is a hardship that kids don’t need. There are too many other pressures of school life without these extra worries.
School Pick Ups
Again, something to coordinate between you, making sure that your children know who is picking up when. But if you are a parent with a disruptive ex-partner whom you don’t want just turning up to school to pick up your kids then you need to make the school very aware that you are the main carer and your children are not to be released to your ex-partner without your express permission.
Sharing the Expenses of School
School uniform and shoe shopping – This can be expensive and also something that both parents might want to get involved with. If you are recently separated, perhaps you can liaise to make sure that the cost is spread fairly between you. If both parents want to be involved in the process then you can agree who will deal with which items.
School Dinners – If your child receives free school meals (all infant school pupils do in Bristol at the time of writing this) then this will not be difficult. However, for older children where they need to be paid for, this will need to be shared between you fairly unless your maintenance agreement encompasses this cost for one parent. Much of school dinner payments are now an online payment, or a fob or fingerprint system, where the parent must go online to top up the account.
School Trips – The dread of any parent on a low income, these trips and outings get more expensive as your child gets older, particularly in secondary school. Some schools have a staged payment system for these which enables you to pay the amount in instalments over time which is helpful. As separated parents, make sure you communicate about these costs in good time, as it can be upsetting for a child to have to miss a school trip due to lack of collaboration between parents.
Breakfast and After School Clubs – If one or both parents work, there will undoubtedly be costs for children to be cared for after school and possibly before. With shared parenting or where one parent only has the children one night a week the costs will need to be worked out accordingly and also take into account a possible difference in salaries. This can be complicated and again will need good communication and compromise between you. It is issues like this where mediation can be so useful to separated parents to help them reach resolution without needing to go to court.
Travelling to school – this is an issue for older children who travel to school by themselves, perhaps the secondary school is a bus or train ride away. This cost will certainly add up and be something that needs to be discussed and worked out.
Ideally, it is best if both parents can attend these together, especially if it is the type of parents’ evening where the child comes along too – sometimes called ‘Family Learning Conferences’. Your child still needs to know that both parents care, are involved with their life at school and take an interest in their learning. Many parents manage a united front in these situations.
However, if it is too unbearable to sit next to your ex-partner or perhaps domestic violence has occurred then it will be possible to ask the school for separate meetings and in most cases they will try to make arrangements.
Attending the School Play or Performance
Whether it is their first nativity play, a ballet recital or a football match, most children want their parents there to see them and support them in their achievements. If you can do this together amicably then it is so much healthier for your child. It also shows your children how to behave in an adult way and move on from difficulties by putting the needs of the children first.
Dress Up or Down Days
This is something that schools now do for charity or for a ‘World Book Day’ for example. For working parents, the thought of having to find the time to make a costume at short notice is not a fun one. If you are the parent who has received the note, by kind and let your ex know. As much as it may amuse you to think of your ex-partner in a panic at 9pm the night before the costume is to be produced, remember that it is your child that will suffer.
Arguments over Choice of Secondary School
This can be a common problem between parents in any situation, but the issue escalates when the parents are separated. There can be many reasons why each parent wants a different school for their child, it could be geographical preference or maybe a certain school is more suited to a child with strong interest in particular subjects.
To a certain extent. the child’s wishes should be taken into account and the issue should not be used to manipulate a bad feeling between the child and one of the parents. As mentioned above, the costs of travelling to a school that is further than walking distance will certainly add up over the course of a term and year.
Mediation can help
Are you experiencing any of the issues above? Mediation is very useful in these situations if communication has broken down between the parents.
Here at Progressive Mediation, we are very experienced in all aspects of family mediation and have resolved many disputes between divorcing or separating couples. If you would like to find out more about how we can help you, please call us on 0117 924 3880.