Divorce Strategies: Co-Parenting for Back-to-School
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

By: Dr. Deborah Hecker

Back-to-school issues co-parents should discuss and agree on parameters for include:

-Enrollment in school-related and extracurricular activities, including payment of fees and transportation. A schedule which allows some degree of flexibility in case of work problems or other minor emergencies is helpful, as is participation in carpools with other parents. Agree on how to give notice of changes to the schedule as well as acceptable alternatives (for example, paying for an extra hour of after-school care instead of asking for the co-parent to leave work early).

-Parental attendance at school-related and extra-curricular activities. Most co-parents can attend these events together by remembering to keep the best interests of the child in mind during the session. If co-parents are unable to do this, a mediator or counselor can help them prepare for these meetings, as well as write a contract for how both parents can put aside their acrimony in order to participate effectively in the child’s life.

-Sharing copies of all documentation of events, including back-to-school / meet-the-teacher night, homework, progress reports, report cards, parent-teacher conferences, school performances, school pictures, and names and phone numbers of teachers and activity leaders. It’s helpful to include a folder for the co-parent in the backpack or suitcase the child takes from house to house; parents can send school papers back and forth this way without directly involving the child.

-Agree to give one another the benefit of the doubt, including where step-parents are concerned. Miscommunications and misunderstandings present an issue to be discussed in the next meeting, not an opportunity to mete out punishment by retaliating in kind. Focus on the problem, not the person, and on the child, not the other parent.

-Parents must realize that by definition, co-parenting means each parent must give up some control over the children’s lives. The other parent might choose another outfit for the first day of school, pay for tennis lessons instead of encouraging the child to play the piano, or tell the child about the birds and the bees when the child is eight years old instead of nine. Occurrences such as these may frustrate the other parent, but they aren’t likely to make a measurable difference in the child’s life, especially if the objecting parent makes an effort not to overreact to them.

-Co-parents should meet regularly in a calm, neutral environment to address issues that arise throughout the year. Focus on logistics and the child’s needs, not emotional issues.

Author : Deborah Hecker Ph.D.
Dr. Deborah Hecker is a Psychotherapist Specializing in Divorce Counseling. She has a private practice located in Washington, DC as well as online counseling services.