By Diane L. Danois, J.D.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Edited for length and clarity
Potential battlegrounds for divorced parents are in abundance when it comes to school, especially if stepparents are part of the picture.
[With a new school here], I’d like to offer some tips for the newly divorced or new members of a blended family to ease the transition and try to avoid unnecessary conflict.
First, get ahead of your anticipated disputes by designing, implementing, and complying with a detailed and customized Parenting Plan (easier said than done, right?) This document is your roadmap, and provides all parents (biological and step parents) the specific terms and conditions under whic1h they are to operate, leaving no room for “innocent” confusion or misunderstanding.
Second, set expectations relating to school work. Who will be responsible for making sure that classroom assignments are properly completed and handed-in? Who is available to work on research projects that span across multiple weeks? Perhaps design this by subject matter (Mom helps with Math, Dad helps with English). Or maybe Mom will work with one child, while Dad works with the other. There is no “correct” answer but a well-designed Parenting Plan identifies roles and responsibilities so that academic performances don’t suffer.
Third, discuss what you are willing (or, aren’t willing) to agree to relating to after-school activities and sports. And please, DO NOT engage your child(ren) in the discussion until after you’ve fully discussed it with the other co-parents involved. Consider the necessary logistics of your child’s participation in after-school activities or sports before making any promises that may or may not be able to be fulfilled. Will this unduly burden one parent, negatively affect time-sharing or prevent adequate time for homework? Are there safety and/or financial considerations?
Fourth, think about how you want to present yourself to your child(ren)’s teachers and coaches. Do you want to be the bitter, hateful parent, who seethes at even the mention of the other parent’s name? Do you want to manipulate situations to keep the other parent(s) away from school activities (and in doing so, alienating the child from his/her parent?) Or, do you want to present yourself as cooperative, inclusive, and genuinely more interested in your child’s well-being than in your own emotional turmoils? Participating in Parent-Teacher Conferences is an important element of parenting, and should be shared among all parents willing to be involved. Remember that the purpose of these meetings is for the benefit of your child. In order to avoid awkward, uncomfortable scenes, plan ahead: Perhaps Mom will go to all meetings relating to her son, and Dad will go to all meetings relating to his daughter. Perhaps they will go to all meetings together. Discuss stepparent involvement. Agree to an arrangement so that there are no surprises or uncomfortable moments.
“Blended families are beautiful but can certainly complicate family dynamics. A lot of times, the tension seems to arise where one parent interprets a stepparent or significant other as stepping into his or her shoes. While it is not healthy to alienate the stepparent or significant other, parents can reach agreements on what best suits their children’s needs either through a parenting plan or court order. The more agreements the parents can reach, the more stable and secure of an environment, they can establish for their children.”
~ Audra Petrolle