Co-parenting can be hectic and challenging, especially when it’s time for the kids and step-kids to go back to school. They have enjoyed a more relaxed summer schedule, and that first day back to class can be a jolt for both children and parents! New class schedules, new teachers, new sports, and new after-school activities can leave co-parents scrambling to juggle it all. The good news is that by taking a few proactive steps, parents and stepparents can make the back-to-school transition smoother for everyone.
1. Be Prayerful for Your Children and Stepchildren
The most important (and best) thing you can do as the new school year begins is to pray for your children and stepchildren. They are facing a new teacher(s), new subject matter, and new challenges. If you recently blended your family, your children and stepchildren might be starting at a new school; they may be in classes with their step-siblings for the first time.
Pray for a smooth start to the year. Ask God to guard the hearts and minds of your children and stepchildren and to protect them against ungodly influence. Pray for their physical safety on the bus, at school, and during extra-curricular activities. Lift up any special needs or adjustments they will face. Ask God to give them favor with their teachers and school administrators. Pray for them to sense God’s presence throughout the day, especially in stressful situations.
To help you pray for your children and stepchildren, we have created a free PDF you can download and use during your prayer time. You can find it at the end of this blog.
2. Establish a Routine & Realistic Expectations
Children thrive on structure and need a consistent routine for the school week. If possible, work with your co-parent to set and maintain expectations regarding homework, projects, and studying for tests. The time of day children and stepchildren do their schoolwork is not as important as establishing and following a routine.
One co-parent may want their kids to do homework and study right after school, while the other might want to give kids an afternoon break to relax or play. That’s okay. The important thing is for children and stepchildren to know that at a specified time every day, they are expected to set aside distractions (phones, pets, games, etc.) and focus on their homework.
Children also thrive with structure and consistency in their surroundings. They need a designated area in both parents’ homes where they will do homework and study for tests. These established spots help kids associate that specific location with doing schoolwork. This location should be comfortable, but not too comfortable (like their bed); it should also be a space you can monitor without it being too noisy or crowded. The location could be different in each parent’s home, but it needs to remain consistent within the home, creating the structure and mindset for school work.
The location and schedule for homework may differ between households. However it is important to be on the same page with your co-parent (if possible) in regards to expectations for your children regarding effort, work ethic, and grades. It is also important to keep consistent expectations for siblings and step-siblings in your blended family. Having different ground rules can create division, disunity, and rivalry.
3. Double Up on the Basics
Transitions between homes can be challenging for kids, especially during the school year. Carrying books, lunches, laptops, sports equipment, and other stuff back and forth between homes can tax them physically and mentally. An easy way to lighten their loads is to keep a set of basic school supplies at each co-parent’s home.
For younger children, keep a backpack at each home with one folder that goes with them each day or week. In elementary school, teachers often use this folder to place homework, parent communication, notes, progress reports, and forms that need to be signed and returned. (You might keep a copy online with other shared documents. See below.) Separate lunch boxes are also a good idea for two reasons. First, kids lose lunch boxes a lot! Second, having two lunch boxes means that both co-parents have the “joy” of cleaning the container at the end of the week. Keeping water bottles on hand in each home is also a good idea because again, kids lose stuff.
Having extra school supplies in both homes is also a good practice. What parent has not made a craft store run the night before a project is due because their child suddenly remembered it was due the next day? Notebook paper, construction paper, poster board, and your child or stepchild’s favorite brand of pencil or pen are wise purchases to make at the beginning of the school year and again during Christmas break.
In addition, many schools have extra books (like those novels used in English class) and textbooks that can be loaned out. If your co-parenting situation is tense, talk with your child’s teacher(s) and ask for extra copies of these books. That way, they are available in case your kids leave a book at the other parent’s house. Some websites like OverDrive and Lendle will also loan copies of digital books to you for free or for a fee, or you might also look for copies of books and textbooks at your local library.
4. Use Technology to Your Advantage
Keeping track of progress reports, field trips, report cards, important dates, and other school-related information can be a source of frustration for co-parents, spilling over into their relationship. Utilizing available technology can ensure that you and your co-parent have access to the same information so that neither of you feels left out or in the dark.
You could use an online calendar such as iCal or Google Calendar, as well as a common email account for school-related communication. You can use text messaging to ensure that your co-parent is aware of last-minute schedule changes, illnesses, injuries, or even victories like your child doing well on a test. You can also use a shared online account for documents like medication lists, health conditions, field trips, and contact information on teachers, coaches, and other people your child interacts with.
If you want to utilize technology geared for co-parenting and blended families, there are many options available. For example, apps like Our Family Wizard and The Family Core offer management tools, including a shared online calendar, messaging capabilities, and document and file storage. Apps like these also provide space to list your child’s medications, allergies, chronic health conditions, and contact information for school staff and administrators. Some apps and programs even offer a place for detailed financial records so that both co-parents stay informed.
One other piece of technology you might want to utilize is Bluetooth trackers like Tiles, SmartTag, or AirTags. These small devices can attach to almost anything (like a backpack or lunch box) and track via your cell phone if the item is lost or stolen. These geo-trackers utilize smartphones in the vicinity of the lost item to find its location. However, trackers have drawbacks and limitations, so research them before purchasing or using them.
5. Communicate Regularly with the School & Your Co-Parent
Every school’s enrollment numbers differ, but most schools have hundreds or even thousands of students, and it is impossible for teachers and school administrators to know the details of every single family represented. That is why it is important for your co-parent and you to establish and maintain regular communication with the school administration and your child’s or stepchild’s teacher(s), including your co-parent in those conversations.
If teachers, coaches, child-care providers, and other caregivers know your co-parenting situation, they can be more prepared to help your child succeed. Keep in mind, however, that the responsibility of staying informed of grades and learning deficits lies squarely on co-parents’ shoulders. Both you and your co-parent may need to attend meetings and parent-teacher conferences, so it will be important for the two of you to put aside your differences to focus on the needs of your child(ren).
In addition, both your co-parent and you need to know how to access online grading portals, assignment hubs, and other technological tools your children and school are using. Also, your co-parent and you are responsible for being on the same page with regard to missing assignments, homework, retests, and other school-related issues. You can accomplish this easily by sending your co-parent a copy of all school-related email threads, and requesting that your co-parent do the same. Make sure both you and your co-parent are listed in the contact information so parents know how to get in touch with both of you to schedule playdates or to send birthday invitations.
While your co-parent and you may disagree on many issues, you can still remain committed and unified in creating a home atmosphere and school environment where your children and stepchildren can thrive. By providing the right resources and focusing on their needs and experiences, you give them the best opportunity to succeed and enjoy the new school year.