The start of the new school year brings a full range of emotions: apprehension about new teachers, schedules and friends along with excitement for new clothes and school supplies.
These transitions always bring challenges, so the complexity of two households just amplifies the stress. The silver lining is that the transition is also a wonderful opportunity to reset expectations, goals and boundaries.
Use these last days of summer to gain clarity on your intentions for the school year and create a game plan that every member of the family understands.
1. What do you want your kids to learn in and out of the classroom this year? This semester? While academics and grades are extremely important, creating healthy relationships, learning how to get comfortable being uncomfortable, participating in sports and extra-curricular activities as well as work experience for high school and college students are all critical to raising your children to be self-sufficient.
Ask your kids what their goals are for the year and write down the top three you mutually agree on. Discuss their biggest challenges and how you can help.
If you can, include your former spouse in these discussions. While it will likely be hard for you, having your children hear expectations from both parents at the same time will substantially increase the chances of their success and minimize confusion and conflict.
If there is too much tension for you to have the discussion together, encourage your kids to discuss the goals you agree to with their other parent.
2. Extra Expenses –While you likely addressed larger ticket items in your Marital Settlement Agreement, each new school year typically includes a variety of unforeseen, extra expenses.
Child support is meant for food, shelter, clothing and basic incidentals. Who is going to pay for extra childcare or missed work when you have a sick kid? How are you paying for extra supplies and events like homecoming?
Some divorced couples agree to split each expense 50/50, some in a manner which coincides with the respective proportion of their income levels, and others choose to make a list of expenses and divvy them out.
Be thoughtful about how much children should contribute through allowance, babysitting or other jobs. It’s important for all families to raise financially responsible children and even more crucial when the family assets and income have been split in two.
In addition to being conscious and realistic about how much each member of the family should contribute to costs, be clear about the logistics of signing up and paying for activitites. This gets even more important as the kids evolve from middle school through high school to college.
Teaching your teenagers to take care of registrations can minimize all of your time and stress. Once your kids start wanting to buy things, they are old enough to start learning the mechanics of paying for and tracking expenses – even if you are fully covering the cost.
Instilling good saving, banking and credit card habits while your teenagers are at home will help prevent overspending when they are on their own.
3. What is the calendar and ideal routine?
While no two weeks are ever the same, having a realistic ideal standard is crucial to ensure everyone meets their scheduled obligations AND your bigger picture goals for the year.
It’s important to be clear about who is responsible for sign ups and managing the schedule. A shared family calendar like Our Family Wizard works for some families. For others, the parent who manages the calendar can create a list of the key weekly activities in an app like Evernote or One Note that they can quickly adapt each day.
It’s easy to copy and share this list in a group text with the other parent, kids with phones, and babysitters to efficiently keep everyone organized.
Make sure to review the official school calendar for the entire year with your former spouse now and plan for days off, early dismissals and who will be responsible for sick kids and other unexpected issues.
Talk to your kids about what are the most important school events and extra activities they want you to attend so you can block your work calendar. Confirm that you are each set up to receive appropriate school communications and that your emergency contact list is up to date.
4. Homework – When your child is with your ex-spouse, what they say goes. The reverse is true when your child is with you. Therefore, it is imperative you try to be cohesive with expectations surrounding school work.
If you cannot come to an agreement, you can set the expectations for YOUR home and help your kids understand the differences expected at each house. Avoid focusing on what structure you think is best and help your child concentrate on how they can create the habits and discipline they need to learn in any location – the foundation for life long skills needed for work and self-sufficiency.
Regardless of your relationship with your former spouse, your number one priority is to foster your children’s development. Keeping this top of mind and reviewing what you decided on for the goals for this year will help you and your spouse focus on what’s most important and let go of the rest.