While the arrangements for the children will differ from family to family post separation, this article looks at shared parenting with a focus on how to best approach shared parental responsibilities for your children as they progress through school.
While trying to avoid sweeping generalisations, there are some common scenarios that most parents might find themselves in and must be acknowledged.
You divorced – your children did not make that choice
Both parties should first and foremost acknowledge and accept that it was their joint actions, if not their choice, and their final decision to separate – not that of the children.
Owning responsibility and being able to move forward past the relationship is imperative to ensure a positive co-parenting relationship and no blame should ever be attributed to the children. Discussing in an age appropriate manner why you are divorcing is a foundation stone to future shared parenting with no culpability or mud-slinging.
Nothing is constant in the post-divorce world
Life changes dramatically post-divorce in so many aspects that it is foolish for parents to look at things such as schooling from a static perspective.
If you and your partner have separated, be mature enough as the adult to understand that there is undoubtedly going to be an impact on your children – and that the level of impact will vary from one child to another.
It may take time to manifest, but one area that often slips is school performance, which is sometimes due to a lack of shared schooling responsibility and/or communication about school issues.
The simple fact that there are not two parents in the home to keep track of homework, performance at school or even help with tricky home projects are clear areas that may slip – often unintentionally. Learn more about post-communication parenting tips.
Do not blame the other parent
Even with the most amicable divorce and/or where children live between their parents’ households in an equal shared care arrangement, children may be more attached to or be more influenced by one parent over the other.
When and if performance issues arise, do not fall into the pitfall of blaming the other parent – remember you divorced and nothing is constant. Own your responsibility and do not shirk or fail to acknowledge your position.
Communicate with both your children and the other parents about what issues they are having and work together toward finding a solution – whether it be through a meeting with the school/teachers, engaging a tutor, agreeing and implementing an after school/homework routine or engaging a counsellor for support.
And remember, it is just as much your responsibility to ensure that your children are thriving both within and outside of school, as it is the other parents, no matter how much time the children spend with each parent.
While it may be tempting to try and be viewed in the eyes of the children as the ‘fun’ or preferred parent, parents should never try and gain brownie points with the children by allowing them to be undisciplined in their household and/or by allowing the children to neglect their school homework or extra-curricular activities.
Children thrive off of routine and consistency, and allowing children too much freedom or to live without rules in your household will only lead to poor habits and behavioural issues down the track.
Instead, you should try, where possible to work with your ex-partner to set up mutually acceptable (and enforceable) systems for reward and sanction. That way, the children know what to expect in both households and are working within uniform rules, no matter what household they are in.
Be school ready
While some parents/children prefer to have two sets of uniforms, clothes, shoes, etc at each of their households and others prefer to pass these items along with their children at changeover, there are some items that need to travel with the children at all times, and it is your and your ex-partner’s responsibility to ensure that your child is ready for school and extra-curricular activities during the week regardless of where they are staying.
There is nothing more embarrassing for children than to not to have their school or sports uniforms available, to go to school without a lunch or tuck shop money, to go to school without their homework/project complete or to miss out on school extra-curricular activities due to parent miscommunication, inconsistency between households or one parent’s failure to share in these responsibilities with the other parent (and/or the children).
Again, communication with both your children and the other parent is key here. Whatever you and the other parent decide is the best way forward to ensure that the children are school ready, ensure you are accountable to that decision for the benefit of the children. For more information, read our co-parenting apps article that outlines the platforms that enable you to add extra-curricular activities, school functions and notes, etc to assist with organisation and communication.
Attend important school events together
As hard as it may be for some couples to be in the same room as your ex-partner (and/or their new partner), try to put your differences aside and ensure that you attend important school events for the sake of the children – even if your ex-partner is going to be there as well. While you do not have to carpool together or even sit together if it is too unbearable, showing the children that you are both able to be present in their lives and maintain civility toward one another for their sake, will be a huge relief to the children and show them that they are supported by both parents.
Having the ability to show a consolidated front speaks huge volumes to your children but will also benefit you too – for example, attending joint parent/teacher interviews together will ensure that you both receive the same message from the teacher and are able to discuss and resolve any issues together which will ensure consistency for the children moving forward.
Never argue with the other parent at a school event
Taking the above message one step further, you should never argue with the other parent in front of the children, but particularly at a school event or function.
In a post-separated world, children are often dealing with so much change and upheaval. Where they were once living with both parents under one roof, they are now living in two separate households and spending different amounts of time with each parent. School is often the children’s sanctuary – a place they can go where they do not have to think about their parent’s separation and just enjoy spending time with their friends. Do not disturb this for them or taint their experience at school by arguing with the other parent at school events.
If you have an issue with something a parent has done at a school event or function, take the issue offline with the other parent and agree on a way forward that does not involve making a scene in front of the children and/or their peers.