It is Sunday night and Janet’s kids are back home and wild as all heck. Tom, her ex-husband, just brought Allie, age 9 and Sam, age 6, home late, tired, hungry, and wired. Tom has been less than punctual all summer but now Janet is exasperated because she has to prepare the kids for school on Monday.
Janet: “You only think about yourself. The kids are out of control and they’re not ready for school.”
Tom: “What’s the big deal? We had a good time together, isn’t that what’s really important, bonding and all?
Janet: “Tom, we no longer have the leisure to just have fun. School just started two weeks ago. Don’t you realize Allie and Sam have to wake up early tomorrow?”
Analysis: Janet is correct. School is a big transition that requires a change of schedule for the adults in their lives as well. After all, your children learn best by example — and you and your ex have to provide that example.
Summer is unstructured, while school is structured. Summer is focused on fun, while the school year is an amalgam of learning, self discipline, and play (it is a balancing act). Summer provides few frustrations while school, by its nature, can give both kids and adults much to be frustrated about. Kids have to adapt to new schedules, homework, annoying classmates or demanding teachers.
Learning comes easy for some and hard for others. You want your children to center in on their studies so that they can feel competent and capable. It is up to you and your ex-spouse to provide helpful guidance to help your kids through this transition.
Three Solid Tips:
Anticipate the change from summer to school and shift the schedule accordingly. The kids probably need an earlier bedtime and dinner, less television and computer time and more preparation for the next day.
When Tom brings Allie and Sam home late, hungry and wild, he undermines school, because in a real way, the school week starts on Sunday night.
School can be anxiety-provoking for many kids and they may unconsciously experience some dread in the evening, just before they go to sleep. It is very common for kids to become somatic, have headaches, tummy aches, or feel uncomfortable or wired before going to sleep because of what they may be expecting the next day at school.
Give them each a ritual for sleep. For some, it may be tucking them in. For others, it is a good book. Some kids like to talk while others like to cuddle. Be there. It makes a difference.
I am a fan of a log book that both parents pass on to each other during their time with the kids. Let your ex husband know about meds that the children may be taking or some reading that is required. He may follow through. And if he doesn’t, at least, he can’t say that he didn’t know.
Remember that your children have been through an enormous transition called divorce.
For many children, smaller transitions, like the beginning of the school year, can bring out latent feelings that lie inside. When you help them manage the new transition well, you help them heal the larger transition of divorce. Sometimes, good parenting is in the details.
It is the way that we are built.
Managing Education from Two Homes: 7 Tips from a Child of Divorce, by Jessica Goldstein
Negotiating School Nights: Tips for Post-Divorce Parenting and Schooling, by Diana Mercer, Esq., Attorney-Mediator and founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services
Got Pain? 6 Keys to Partnership Parenting, by Risa Garon, executive director and co-founder of the National Family Resiliency Center (NFRC)