Back to School tips for newly divorced parents

Back to School preparations can be practically daunting even without drastic change.  In the case of a recent divorce or separation, the planning can be downright, well, daunting.  Many tips advocated by divorced parenting websites are vague and basic such as “stay flexible” or “keep the lines of communication open.”  Often these are platitudes that are easier said than done. After combing through lots of divorce articles, I came across three suggestions that were specific enough to warrant passing along. Although these are primarily intended for families with kids in the pre-cell-phone set, some of the ideas might be adaptable for middle-schoolers and beyond.

Calling card
As long as there are no security concerns between exs, one great idea was to give young children a pre-printed calling card with contact information.  They are available cheap at local printers as well as Vistaprint online.

My youngest came home from the first day of second grade with a business card from a “new friend.”  On the front, it said, “I’m lucky!  I have two happy homes, two parents that love me, and TWO PUPPIES!”  There was a cute cartoon of a smiling house with a dog on the front porch. On the back, it read, “I’m meeting lots of new people at my new school and I love to have playdates.  If you want to make plans, please call my mom on the first and third weeks of the month and my dad on the second and fourth.”  It listed the mom and dad’s names and numbers.  Now after my daughter and I got past the initial discussion of why does so-and-so have two dogs and I have none, we put the card on the refrigerator and the numbers into my phone.  It was, for the new friend, a nice way to make connections and for us a comfortable way to ease my daughter into a conversation about the formerly private territory of divorce.

Color-coded calendars
Color coded custody calendar for April
In these days of smartphones, it may seem redundant to keep a paper calendar.  For kids with no access to our electronic schedule-keeping apparatus, a portable organizer to carry with them can essential to keeping them informed and hopefully relaxed about where they’ll be and when. If they keep a couple of different colored markers nearby, those with writing skills can be in charge of entering the activities for themselves.  Keep one color for dad’s house and one for mom’s.  A great option for non-writers is to print up stickers on Avery labels that say “Mom’s house” and “Dad’s house” and allow the child to place them on a proper day as the upcoming schedule is introduced.  If plans change, it’s easy to place a new sticker over the top of the old one.  The only complication is both parents’ agreement on the schedule at hand.  The solution is to “stay flexible” and “keep the lines of communication open.”  In seriousness, that is the tough part.  A Google or Apple shared calendar can help the adults.  Also, for many families, just knowing that the kids are aware of their own calendar can help them keep track.

Snack Warfare
Ah, a really sticky issue (to use a horrible food pun) of inconsistent parenting is sometimes food.  Mom doesn’t like that dad gives them white bread or dad is allergic to celery.  Finding fresh, healthy, appealing and school-legal snacks is time consuming even for two-parent families.  Throw nut-free into the loop and we might as well buy stock in baby carrots and string cheese.
So what to do about school snacks?  A great Pinterest site suggested handing off a weeks’ worth of healthy snacks in a refrigerator bin.  Whichever parent has stronger feelings about the food issue, needs to be willing to purchase and prepare five days worth of snacks.  For ideas, check out Pinterest sites like: “Packable Food Ideas/Healthy Snacks” and “Healthy School Snacks.”  When you emerge from the computer room two hours later with fabulous Christmas centerpiece ideas and no memory of why you started on Pinterest in the first place, just remember “It’s important to focus on the children” and “It may take some time to work out the kinks.”

Source: “7 Back to School Tips for Children & Parents Newly Divorced”, Roseann Vanella, August 25, 2013.