Bright Ideas for Divorced Parents

When we asked our readers how divorced parents can help their kids succeed in school, they responded with many thoughtful comments.

By GreatSchools Staff

Divorced parents support their children's education by communicating effectively with the school and the other parent, and by coordinating both households to run smoothly for homework, field trips, school involvement and parent/teacher conferences.

Build a Strong Relationship With the School

Make sure that the teacher is aware of the custody arrangement.

A Texas stepmother of a high school freshman writes: "The parents cannot assume a teacher knows or has read the application/registration form. Alternatively, teachers must communicate with both parents. The educator must be knowledgeable about the custody arrangements especially since so many are 50/50 now versus the "old-fashioned" every other weekend visit.

"The teacher should encourage both parents to attend open houses/parent-teacher conferences/special events, etc. All of this is to make things easier for the child and not expect the child to communicate between educator and parents or between two parents!

"Teachers should also make an effort to make two copies of all important documents, announcements, classroom directories, etc., to ensure that both parents receive a copy. The educator cannot assume that one parent is sharing that information with the other. Again, this ensures that both parents are involved and keeps the child out of the middle.

"Above all, educators, teachers and parents must be sensitive to the child and how they might feel 'different' from the other children from 'intact' families. This team must work closely to ensure a positive academic experience and a smooth transition from grade to grade."

A Louisiana mother of two girls, ages 5 and 6, writes: "Teachers cannot be expected to keep up with our visitation schedule, but they should be advised at the beginning of school. There is always the form you complete that asks you to tell the teacher something about your child. This is where I mention that she is from a divorced family, and I leave my name, email and all of my phone numbers for the teacher and ask that she advise me via phone or email of anything important that both parents should know about. This way she doesn't just send a note home that may only be read by one parent or may get lost on the way. When I get the call or email, I immediately call their father to advise him before I forget."

Make time to be involved at school.

A divorced parent of two writes: "Set aside some time for school activities. That could mean attending PTA meetings or scheduling a visit to the classroom to observe your child's participation and progress. Both parents need to attend parent/teacher conferences, even if on different days. It's easy to lose focus when feeling pain, but the children should be the focus. Although difficult, it can be done. Both of my children, now grown, attend University of California, Irvine. My daughter is completing her third year and my son his first year! With a 3.0 and above GPA. It worked for me, and it will work for anyone who is dedicated to doing the best for their children."

Tips for Communicating With the Other Parent

Keep anger out of it.

"When my parents divorced way back in the 'dark ages,'" writes a divorced mom, "I was keenly aware of the pain and anguish that accompanied this situation from the perspective of a child - so when I married, I 'married for life.' And of course, like all absolute things, they are not absolute - except death and taxes, as the old saying goes. I ended a 12-year-marriage and had a 3-year-old daughter to consider!

"The flood of memories and emotions with all the hurt and anguish came fully back to the forefront of my mind, and it was at that time that my ex and I agreed that there was no reason to have any animosity between us when it came to our little girl. This helped in setting schedules, maintaining routines and even in our dealing with one another! We made her the first priority and have kept that sacred and foremost in our situation."

"One thing that we have had to learn over the years," writes a Louisiana mom, "is that no matter what kind of anger or issues we are dealing with as parents, we have to keep that out of our children's lives and get along well enough to focus on our children's happiness, education and discipline."

"We had some real battles on several issues, so we fought about it on the phone or when the kids weren't around. When the kids were in our presence, we would often act so fake and kind to each other that it ended many arguments with laughter. The key is not how you set aside your differences, but THAT you set aside your differences."

Keep your focus on the child.

A parent of four children, ages 3, 7, 9 and 16, writes: "Unfortunately, a lot of divorced parents miss out on a lot of opportunities because of their emotions. You must stay focused on what's best for your child. Keep your child involved in after-school activities such as dance, plays, basketball or football. Go to your child's PTA. Stay involved in all of their school activities.

"What worked best for me and my children was to establish a routine. When it comes to parent involvement, my ex and I rotate who will be there. Sometimes there is a conflict of interest, so if we both end up there at the same time, such as a school concert or a play, since we agree on the importance of parent involvement, we sit on opposite sides. When school pictures are taken, one person gets the pictures and the other parent orders reprints.

"Last but not least, please do not force your emotions about the other parent on your child. Whatever happened in the breakdown of your marriage has nothing to do with your child's relationship with the other parent. Allow your child to form his own opinion of what he feels about the other parent, not yours. What helps me is keeping in mind that it's business, not personal. It's business to make sure that child support or other financial resources are in place to ensure my children receive the proper care that they need."

A dad suggests that it might be necessary to get certain things in writing:

"When you are drawing up the divorce papers," he advises, "the non-custodial parent should request that the custodial parent keep the non-custodial parent advised of their children's progress in school, for example, by sending copies of report cards, kudos, etc. My son is graduating next month and I had to email his principal to find out the date of the graduation. My son has never been one to care about dates - of Christmas break, spring break, now even his own graduation date - and his mother was never forthcoming. As I said, he is graduating and I have not seen one single report card. You're all probably thinking I am a derelict father, which is the farthest thing from the truth. I have never been behind on support and though my military career made visiting difficult, I went to see him as often as possible and usually at great expense. So, get it in writing folks!"

Recognize that parents can have different attitudes towards education.

A father of two, ages 13 and 11, writes: "I have had to be very active in their schools even before my divorce, since their mom has a different view on school than I do. I attend all conferences, and when I can't, I do them by phone. I have volunteered for special in-class events to make sure that I have met the other parents, and we attend the class leisure activities, such as book fairs and barbecues.

"My ex, unfortunately, does not do any of these things. I had a teacher call me one year and let me know that she had actually gone to a parent-teacher conference and let him know that 'homework was not a priority in her home' and walked out on him.

"But I can say that my efforts have paid off since they are both still maintaining their grades at right around a 3.0 each, and that they realize just how important it is that they continue on with a post-secondary education."

Thoughts on Schedules

Establish regular routines and stick to them.

A single mother of an 8-year-old boy writes, "It is absolutely imperative that both parents spend regular time with the child when possible. Otherwise, it will affect the child's sense of worth and value. So, it is up to me to be cooperative and supportive of any effort his dad makes toward seeing his son. I set aside my issues about our break-up and divorce in order to encourage my son's need to spend time with his dad.

"My son sees his dad every Sunday afternoon for an overnight. His dad takes him to school or daycare on Monday. He also sees his dad Wednesday after school. My son needs time to readjust to our home, so I've asked his dad to return him around 7:00 on Wednesday. The schedule flexes around his dad's work and motorcycling schedule."

The custody schedule can be an important factor in school success.

A remarried mother of four writes: "One thing we found is that the schedule is very important. Dividing the week makes homework hard to track. In my husband's case, he and his ex-wife have moved to a week-on, week-off schedule with their son and have been able to keep on top of school work by means of communication with the teacher. He is in sixth grade and his teacher emails all three of us where he is with his homework each week. It isn't perfect, but it helps.

"Personally, I feel that at 12- or 13-years-old he should be able to keep track of his own homework, but his parents split up in first grade and he has learned that denial and procrastination really work well since he is moving from house to house. If you can avoid creating a habit like this I would definitely suggest it. Let your child know that homework is a priority to both of you by staying on top of it.

"In my case, my ex-husband is more interested in having a good time than encouraging homework. I have the children during the school week and my ex-husband has them every Friday after school until Saturday morning, alternating with Friday after school until Sunday evening. This has worked fine until this year (my oldest is also in sixth grade) when his homework load increased. My son is responsible for his homework over the weekends at his dad's, but we keep in mind during the week if he will be gone over the weekend and quite often try to get it done before then. I have to say there have been quite a few times when he comes home at 6 p.m. on a Sunday night and cranks on homework for Monday morning.

"My suggestions are:

Two Views on Whether to Stay Together or Get Divorced

From a grown child's perspective:

"I, along with my older sister and brother grew up in a divorced household. My parents divorced when I was 7. I was very fortunate that I was raised knowing that my parents both cared and loved us, but couldn't get along with each other. I think that feeling is not always conveyed to the children, or the parents somehow lose sight of that fact while they bicker with each other over the years. I think that parents that 'stay together for the kids' are very naive to believe the kids don't see the problems, or perhaps worse, grow up believing that their parents behavior is what they can expect in their own relationships."

One dad's thoughts:

A Virginia father writes: "I have a sophomore in high school. Based on advice from a psychologist, I have decided to continue to live at home with my wife and son until my son is out of high school. I was advised that my son would do better in school, unless there is physical violence or threat thereof or constant yelling and screaming. While I would like to move on in my own life, I owe it to my son to provide as stable a home life as possible until he graduates from high school. The psychologist said that the likelihood of successfully 'launching' your child improves when both parents are in the home."

A Teacher Weighs In

"The overall factor critical to a happy child, successful student and calmer family life is for both parents to communicate and coexist peacefully," writes a veteran teacher with 20 years experience. "I've had students who did seven-day shifts with each parent. They were more organized and less stressed.

"In my current case, the mom tries very hard and is consistent at home. Dad has little to no discipline, never helps with homework and often is late picking up the boys. What helps is that mom and I email daily so even when the boys aren't at her house for the week, she can still call and bug deadbeat dad to turn things in.

"My possible worst case turned out great! Dad was a pilot, mom a flight attendant. Both had different daycare arrangements for when they were in town because of proximity to their homes. They had different buttons made for their 5-year-old. Each morning he came with a button on his backpack that told me where he was to go that day after school. Both parents arranged to be at conferences, and both made themselves available for class events and field trips. Great kid! Great people!"