Navigating school as a divorced couple can be tricky but here are some back to school tips to ease you into it.
School has traditionally been mom’s territory, but it doesn’t have to be. And frankly, it shouldn’t be. During a divorce, some mothers use school as a way to keep dad at arm’s length. Others naturally take over and don’t realize that they’re shutting dad out. This year, use our list of back to school tips for dads to plan how you’re going to participate in your kids’ education. It’s important for their academic success but also for your relationship together.
Check the school calendar regularly.
Most schools publish a monthly calendar on their website. This will include things like assemblies, concerts, standardized testing dates, and sports schedules. More and more schools are also getting on social media to keep parents up to date on schedule changes.
Make sure that you are regularly checking the kid’s school calendar and following the school on social media. If you have a good relationship with your ex, you’ll probably hear about everything from her anyway, but if you have a strained relationship, the calendar may be your only link to the kid’s life at school.
Don’t forget there are other calendars, too. Kids will probably get a calendar for each grade as well as a soccer calendar, a band calendar, etc. Wherever possible, check with your ex to make sure you’re getting an up to date copy of each.
Keep your own calendar.
Between work, the kids and the divorce you’re a busy guy. Keep a calendar at home where you make a note of what the kids are up to. This will help you navigate the sea of after school activities and will gradually help you see the kids’ routines. It’s critical that you have your own calendar so that you don’t forget anything. If you’ve said you’re going to next month’s basketball game, write it down now, so you don’t forget. A no show is bad enough when you live with your kids full time, imagine how it makes them feel when they don’t see you that often.
Attend open night and meet the teachers.
At the beginning of every school year, there’s an open night for you to meet your kid’s teachers and find out what lies ahead for the year. If at all possible, you should go. Ideally, you and your ex will be happy to attend together but if not, tell her that you want to attend. If she refuses, contact the school and ask for the contact details for each teacher. Explain that you are unable to attend with your ex-wife but are interested in what they’ll be sharing. Maybe you can set up a separate time to meet the teachers, or they can just email you a copy of the handouts they’ll be giving the other parents. Either way, it gives you a chance to get to know the teachers and show your ex that you will be involved, even if she makes it more difficult than it has to be.
Ask for extra handouts.
If your ex is being difficult, it’s worth asking the teachers for extra handouts. Explain that you are a divorced couple and ask if they can please send home duplicates of everything in your children’s folder. That way your kids can give one to mom and one to you. The teacher may not be able to do it, but it’s worth asking.
Schedule homework time – always.
It’s no secret that kids need routine. Whether they are in the terrible two stage or the terrible teen stage, they need routine. If you only get the kids for a few days over the weekend, it can be tempting to avoid homework. Nobody wants to do it, it’s time-consuming, and it usually leads to an argument or two. Why bother with it when you can leave it for mom to deal with? Because it’s good for your kids. Sorry but it’s true.
Part of being involved in your kid’s education is doing homework with them. Show them that you care about their success and you want to help in any way you can. Saturday mornings are usually good for homework because it gets it out of the way. There’s too much excitement on Friday because it’s finally time to see dad and Sunday is precious because it’s just before they go home so do it on Saturday. Then it’s out of the way, and Sunday can be fun! Of course, this may not work with your schedule, but you’ll be able to find a time that does. Wherever possible, stick to the same time each week.
Be involved in studying.
It’s so easy to send kids off to their rooms to study. “You have a test tomorrow, go study for at least an hour.” What if you could get the same result in half the time? The only catch is that you have to be involved.
Instead of banishing your kid to another room where he doesn’t want to be, make time to study with him. If you’re studying for science or history, ask what the test is going to cover. Your child telling you about the content is helping them study it. Then ask them to read over their notes for 10-15 minutes. Once they’ve done that, you take the notebook quiz them over the content. Rinse and repeat as necessary. If your kids are preparing for longer tests, help them make flash cards. That way you can use the flash cards to study together, but they can also use them to study alone.
Talk to your ex.
This is not going to be an attractive option for some of you, but it’s critical that you talk to kid’s mom. If she knows that you want to be involved, she’ll eventually have to let you in. It might take time, but by being a constant presence, you’ ll begin to wear her down. Slowly your ex will begin to see that you aren’t just saying you want to be involved, you’re actually doing it. She can’t resent that, no matter how hard she tries.
It’s also critical that you speak to each other about exam schedules, field trips, finances and parent-teacher conferences. You are a father, and you are just as entitled to be a part of your child’s education as she is.
Talk to the kids.
It’s easy to say, go to every soccer game and band recital. It’s a lot harder actually to do it, especially when you’re busy trying to earn enough to pay child support, pay the rent and have something left for food. It’s not the end of the world if you can’t make it to each event, but you do have to remember them. If you know your kid has a science test on Tuesday, set a reminder to call him on Monday night. Just that simple act will mean the world to your kids and it tells them how invested you are in their success.
The best of our back to school tips: Just be there.
The biggest back to school tip for divorced dads is this: just be there. You won’t always be there in person, but you can make sure your children know tha t you are always there for them. Let your kids know why you’re invested in their education and want to be involved. Let them know why you think it’s so important that they study and try their best on the baseball field. Let them know that you love them unconditionally. That’s the best way to stay involved.
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