Jul 2, 2021
The Three Be Method: Helping Your Child Navigate School While You Navigate Your Divorce
After a divorce, parents spend a great deal of time and energy trying to establish stability for their children, so they can regain a sense of security. Because school is such an important environment for kids, particularly in their formative years, parents should have a strategy for communicating with the people who play key roles there. The Three Be’s is a very simple, straightforward way of looking at communication lines between you and your son’s or daughter’s teachers and educational support network .
Honesty includes transparency. It’s important that your children’s school is aware of what’s happening with your marriage. Here’s what can happen when neither the school nor their teachers are in the loop.
After picking up the kids from their elementary school and shuttling them to their activities, a divorced mother of three stopped by her house and heard this phone message:
“This is Mr. King, Brian’s teacher, calling for Mr. and Mrs. Jones. I just wanted to let you know there was an incident on the bus this morning where Brian felt he was being teased for the book he was reading. This matter will not go unaddressed, in that we have a NO TOLERANCE policy for bullying. I asked Brian to talk with both of you at home, and I will follow-up with a phone call once the other student has been addressed. Please feel free to phone me…”
And here’s an email sent to a parent of a middle school student:
“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Barnes, I’m sorry to have to contact you on a negative note so early in the year, but I wanted to let you know that Emily has not turned in her “I Am” poem which was due in English last week. Because we have so few grades at this point, she is failing English. This could affect her eligibility to play field hockey in the future. If you could encourage Emily to turn in her poem, I would appreciate it. I have spoken to her about it several times, hoping that she would turn it in without a parent contact, but that has not happened.
Thank you for your help on the home front. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
Unfortunately, neither Brian nor Emily live in a two-parent home. Schools and teachers often make this assumption even though statistics refute it. Now his mother is faced with how to communicate this change to her son’s teacher. Is it a good idea?
And Emily’s simple assignment – write a poem – instead caused her great distress because the she wanted to keep her feelings private. In the above example, Emily felt the “I am” poem was too personal. She didn’t want to reveal her parents’ divorce. And she was reluctant to share this with her teacher.
Both scenarios could – and should – have been avoided with honest, open communication.
Self-honesty is also an important component here. The next important question is, “How available am I for my child’s school events?” There’s no right or wrong answer, just what is possible or realistic. Work demands, proximity to the school, even health issues affect availability. It is important for a parent to be clear about what he or she can offer. This minimizes unrealistic expectations and so, minimizes disappointment.
How do divorced parents navigate all the events surrounding school life? To do that, you’ve got to get creative. Start is to figure out your post-divorce relationship. Is it friendly, cordial, indifferent or angry? Identifying this determines how to approach the school and teachers. Second, each of you should honestly assess how much time you really have to participate in school matters. Thirdly, decide WHO should be the lead person for school communications.
Active, Cordial Co-Parenting
You may have open, cordial communications with your ex, so it’s easy to share information about school matters. In this case, the parent designated as the primary contact person commits to sharing information with the other. Where possible, both parents should be able to attend major events like Back-to-School Night and parent-teacher conferences together.
Cooperation based on Mutual Concern for the Children
Maybe your your relationship is more cooperative than friendly. In this instance, communications are still positive and one person is command central for school information to be shared. When it comes to events at school, maybe you feel more comfortable attending separately. Schools can and will accommodate individual parent meetings, parent-teacher conferences and often have multiple sessions for meeting the teachers on Back-to-School Nights.
Separate, but Engaged
The third type of post divorce relationship includes tension and angry feelings. This limits interaction between parents; communication is often avoided to minimize conflict. In this situation, each parent is responsible for communicating with the school and asking the school to distribute information to both households. Again, separate meetings with teachers and school personnel are a fair request and schools generally accommodate both parents.
Know How To Communicate with the School
How do you know who to call at your children’s school? Our schools today have many helpful positions including teachers, team leaders, principals, vice principals, counselors, nurses and office personnel. Every school has its own personality and style of organization. As a general rule, the best first contact is the guidance counselor. He or she will either be the person who can accommodate special requests or recommend the right staff person. If the post divorce relationship style is very open and relaxed, there may be very little to communicate. If conflict exists between parents, each parent will probably need to contact the school to set up an exchange of school related information and schedule separate meeting times.
A guidance counselor at a local high school recommends divorced parents “share as much as they can.” She goes on to explain that sharing this information initially can be awkward, embarrassing, annoying, and frustrating; but that sharing family logistical information up front can actually prevent more frustrating problems down the road.
You should also get acquainted with the school’s website. In the digital age, this can be a huge tool and channel of communication. You can get to know your child’s teachers, athletic schedules, homework assignments and upcoming events. And teachers often invite parents to communicate through email because of its convenience to both sides.
The Big Picture
From pre-school to 12th grade, children spend a tremendous amount of time in school and their events and activities. Knowing how and with whom to communicate at school and maintaining a cooperative, open relationship with your ex maximize a child’s success at school. When you are both involved and interested in the big issues — school and related activities and the small stuff — “did you brush your teeth?”, your kids have a the best chance to flourish.!
Today’s society usually often defines divorce as a negative. The expectation is for divorcing or divorced couples to NOT get along. As commonly believed, “There is no such thing as a happy divorce.” For children of divorce to have the best shot at success, in school or in life, parents should challenge the traditional way of relating post-divorce. Both parents need to be on board. And while there are emotions — fear, anger, sadness, loneliness, resentment — co-parenting remains a priority.
An Opportunity to Put Your Child First
Here’s the opportunity in a flier sent home from school:
“Dear Parents and Guardians,
Now that your son/daughter is a 4th grade student, he/she can choose to play a musical instrument for the school band and orchestra. Instruments that are available to your child for instruction are… ”
This opportunity can create great distress or great excitement in your child. If divorced parents are in conflict, learning and playing a musical instrument may not even be possible. Or it might be a tremendous burden, both in time and financially to one parent (not lost on the child). But if parents can put the child’s social and educational needs at the forefront, they are much more likely to find a way for Danny to have fun squawking out his first year on the alto sax with all his other friends!
Put Your Child First. In the end, this should always be the Golden Rule,