Back to School: A Time to Meet the Other Adults in Your Children’s Lives
Have you met your child’s teachers? Talked with his doctor? Compared notes with her coach? If not, do it soon. The other adults in your child’s life don’t see many parents – especially not many fathers. Since mothers have traditionally handled all their children’s health, education, and extracurricular activities, the teacher may naturally assume that after divorce the mother will continue in the same role.
After divorce, each parent will have to initiate and maintain his or her own independent communication with the school and with other organizations or persons who supervise the child’s activities. Investing a few hours a year in a phone call or written questions will reap enormous benefits for you, your child, the doctor, dentist, teacher, or coach.
If you have no written legal agreement and are in the process of negotiating one, make note that you may want all school and health records and information be made open to each parent on an equal basis.
How to Communicate with Schools and Organizations
Each parent – separately – needs to 1) have an independent communication with schools and health professionals, 2) keep copies of children’s health records, and 3) have open access to the children’s records and activities. If your school district or individual school declines to give you this information or access, write a formal letter of complaint to them and get some action.
With the school, for example, parents can tell what they want instead of waiting to be asked. Parents with custody can write letters to the school specifying their preferences about the involvement of the other parent; if they choose, they can also formally or legally authorize the other parent to have access to privileged information and to assume authority when necessary. These parents can also use the school emergency card to list the important people in their child’s life by stating first the natural parents and stepparents as authorized people to call, followed by neighbors or friends. Parents with partial physical custody can show their continued interest in their child’s school life with requests for a school calendar and duplicate report cards.
Parents say that phone calls and letters to teacher work very well. Say something simple, like “I am Jane’s parent, and I want to introduce myself and encourage you to call me if I can be of any assistance. When the child is living with me, I may have occasion to call you, and this letter (or phone call) is a way of letting you know where I can be reached. Please call me if you have any questions. If your children do not live with you most of the time, ask to be placed on the school mailing list. At the least obtain a copy of the school calendar and information on extracurricular faculty sponsored activities. You can even give the school a number of self-addressed envelopes that the teacher can use to send you special announcements of school activities and copies of your children’s report cards. You can ask for a separate parent-teacher conference, and many teachers, encouraged by your interest, will be happy to oblige. All parents should consider joining the PTA, supporting school activities, open house, and back-to-school nights.
When you make this contact, it may be wise to drop a note or call the other parent to let them know what you have done. Assure him or her that these actions are for information purposes and a way for you to be prepared for your times with the children. This information is not to perpetuate disagreements with your former spouse; it’s for you to become a better, more informed parent. It is also so your children can be assured of your continuing involvement.
“We Both Care.”
The strongest statement parents can make is to present themselves jointly to the school, the doctor, or the church or community group – either in writing or in person. In effect they are saying, “Each of us is still concerned and involved with our children. It bears repeating: Any information about what you want must come from you. Don’t wait to be asked.”
By Catharine Toso, DSW, LCSW
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