Back to school is a busy time of year for any family, but for those also trying to juggle the challenges of co-parenting it can be even more exhausting and stressful. Balancing the needs and wants of kids while also dealing with trying to accommodate the different value systems or priorities of each household can be result in unnecessary conflict. Like most events in the lives of co-parenting families, parents are best to plan in advance. Back to school brings the need to make decisions around back to school clothing, supplies, budgeting, extracurricular activities and scheduling and the earlier you can agree on priorities the better.
The laws in Canada set out child support guidelines that are based on income and so for most families there is a clearly defined amount of money that is received monthly. This child support amount will be one of the most important variables in setting a budget and therefore what can be spent on what activities. While setting the budget can be stressful, often deciding where the money is best allocated can be tricky as well, especially if you are trying to balance the wishes of the kids and the resources of the parents.
The best way to approach this decision is to firstly set out the budget and then determine the options. If the parents can agree on what would fall into the acceptable category then let the child make the final decision. This is best in that it addresses both parents’ value systems but most importantly empowers the child to not only participate in the decision but take ownership of it.
Once the decision is made around how the children’s time is going to be spent with regards to extracurricular activities, homework, etc., then it becomes a question of what parent is responsible for what.
The best way to handle getting kids to and from activities is that whoever has the kids at the time of the activity should be responsible. If the parent cannot take the child for some reason then there is nothing wrong with them asking the other parent but there is a “but”. The “but” is that it is not the other parents responsibility to say yes, and only of it works should they agree. Setting boundaries is one of the most difficult things for divorced families and accepting without question when the answer is “no”. Of course then the parent who needs help can certainly ask others to assist. When it works, it is great for both parents to attend activities regardless of whose job it is that night.
Another area that can bring stress is the back and forth between households and all the “stuff” that needs to travel with the children. The best rule of thumb is that the less the kids have to pack back and forth the better. Try and limit the stuff they carry back and forth to school homework, outer wear, sporting equipment, the big ticket items or items that they need day to day. Parents are best advised to pick up the kids when it is their turn versus drop off. Picking up allows the parents a few minutes in the car to run through the list and if something is missing the child can easily run back into the house rather then the opposite scenario of getting dropped off and realizing that all the homework was left at the other house. This means calling back, another drive and unnecessary stress for everyone.
It is obviously better if both parents are equally committed to the children’s activities, homework and can positively interact with each other about their children but for some that is just simply not the case. In those cases, stay focused on what you can control which is yourself and doing the best you can to support the kids activities. Gather people who care about your family around to help and focus on providing your kids with experiences and the activities that you can afford. Do not waste time focusing on what your ex does or does not do as that is a waste of time and energy that is better spent focusing on the kids and your future.