Now that the school year is in full swing, you as a parent have a lot to do. This is not news. The beginning of the school year is a challenging time for anyone. Even celebrities have spoken about challenging experiences that they have had in school. Actress Emma Stone recently recounted a story about how she was teased for wearing leopard print pants to school in seventh grade.
Every moment presents new challenges. Coordinating transportation so your kids make it on time to all their activities -- be it school or extracurricular -- and picking them up on time can be exasperating for two married parents functioning as a cohesive unit. If the parents are divorced, coordinating schedules for their children during the much-less-involved summer months can be a huge challenge. When the kids are back in school, this challenge can become too much.
Figuring out scheduling is just one of many issues that hits us at the start of the school year. There are new teachers, new friends, bullies, problems doing homework and many other issues that pop up this time of year. As a child psychiatrist, my phone starts ringing nonstop right about now. Most kids will do just fine. But an ounce of prevention, this time of year, is truly worth a pound of cure.
There are real problems that you as a divorcing parent may have to confront. There are good solutions and bad ones. The good solutions involve intelligent ways of handling these problems -- not necessarily perfect ones.
As a divorced parent, it is very important to be a planner. Anticipating a problem helps a lot if one comes along. Try to develop a parenting plan with your ex -- we have a nice guide for this in our first book, The Intelligent Divorce: Taking Care of Your Children. Remaining in touch with teachers about your divorce and the problems with your family continually, before problems even start, is energy worth spending. Working out a support system and writing down a list of people to call in case of an emergency can be invaluable. If a neighbor is called to pick up your sick child from school, she will be more inclined to help if she has been notified of your situation beforehand and has agreed to help out when she can. During divorce, you will learn who is really your friend and who is not. You will be pleasantly surprised by the former and hurt by the latter. Sigh and move on. Develop a new and functional community.
Make sure that you are doing well. If you are feeling overwhelmed or angry -- or you're simply not getting enough sleep -- you will have few resources to deal with the inevitable problems that come up this time of the year. Get help if you need it. Perhaps a therapist or a doctor can help. Or maybe, a commitment to exercise or a spiritual practice, like church, synagogue or meditation will do the trick. What has nurtured you in the past?
The best advice is to be prepared. Something is bound to go wrong! Any transition is difficult and the transition from the summer into a new school year is a very big transition in a child's life. Add in the transition from an intact family to a divorcing family and you have just made things more complicated. Here is some straightforward advice:
- Something will go wrong. Don't be upended when it happens. Most kids come out just fine, with some basic adjustments or some professional help, when required.
- Develop a support system to help you when needed. This means a friend, a sister, a brother, a parent, a therapist or a priest or rabbi. Never use your kids for support.
- Work ahead of time about your scheduling and communication with your with your ex. Periodic reviews of how the kids are doing can be invaluable.
- If for whatever reason you cannot trust your ex or cannot be in the same room as him or her, finding a therapist to help you is an important step to take. A seasoned therapist can help you deal more effectively with an impossible ex (its better than nothing). And, sometimes, a therapist can help you both come to common ground on such issues as how to discipline your children, deal with a teacher, the school administration or find agree on the right doctor.
- Finally, take good care of yourself. If you don't consider your own well being, you won't have much to offer when a crisis inevitably arises.
The beginning of the school year should be a time of optimism and good spirit. While a divorce can make it harder, remember that your kids are resilient and answers can be found. Just take a deep breath and enjoy your life to the best of your ability. And getting back to the scheduling issues, please be good to your children, but also kind to yourself. Don't over schedule. Nobody wins when everyone is frazzled.
Enjoy the pleasure of your wonderful munchkins -- even if they are sixteen and rolling their eyes.
Best of luck during the school year.
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