Co-parenting is complex at the best of times. When your child reaches school age it changes to a whole new level. The primary school years require a lot of parental involvement and your child is going to need you to be on the ball. It can all seem rather overwhelming if you are already balancing a precarious shared-care routine between two homes.
However, like everything after separation, it is possible. And not only that, it can be hugely successful.
Get off on the right foot by following our guide to co-parenting when your kids are at primary school.
FOCUS ON THE GOOD PARTS
If you are co-parenting your children through their school years, you’re in for the long haul, so start on a positive note. There are lots of pluses for school children who are being co-parented.
It allows both parents to participate more actively in school life, rather than just one. Both parents will be all over the curriculum and school events. For example, if it’s a swim carnival on dad’s week it might encourage dad to come, rather than mum, or vice versa. The more support your child has throughout the years, the better.
Children of partnered parents so often only see one parent at the school gates. Having both parents attend sports days and school pick-ups (even if at different times) is such a treat for young kids.
GET THE COMMUNICATION RIGHT
When it comes to communication around co-parenting, the message is loud and clear. Communication is key to successful co-parenting, but this will need to be ramped-up during the primary school years.
Any information around schooling needs to be shared three-ways – between the child, mum and dad. If one person misses the memo, everything can come crashing down. If you have ever experienced taking your child to school in their uniform on Free Dress Day, you will understand how important this is!
Be over cautious with communication. If you receive a note from the school concerning something on a day that you don’t have your child, forward it to your ex. It is much better to receive the memo twice, rather than not at all.
Again, as with general co-parenting, choose the form of communication that works best for you as a co-parenting couple. Whether it is a co-parenting app, email, text or a communication book.
KEEP THE SCHOOL IN THE LOOP
Talking of communication, make sure your child’s school is in the loop at all times
If you were a partnered couple when your child joined the school but you have since separated, book an appointment with the school to update them on the situation. This is a good time to share any potential concerns about your child and how they may/may not cope with the separation. You can also ask the school to update their contact information according to your new living plans.
If you are already separated when your child joins the school, make it clear that this is the case. Never feel embarrassed, you will likely find you are in the majority as separated parents.
Many school database systems accommodate the needs of separated parents, whilst others are still a bit archaic and require a ‘main’ contact. If this is the case, discuss with your ex-partner who would be the best fit. Consider who lives/works nearer the school and who would be available should there be an emergency.
BUY TWICE WHERE POSSIBLE
If ever there was a time to cut corners and make life easier, this is it!
There is a huge amount of logistical cargo when co-parenting school children. Think school uniforms, homework, school bags, sports clothing, shoes, school project and musical instruments.
If finances allow, with items such as school uniform, water bottles and lunch boxes, get one set for each home. This will take the pressure off remembering everything-but-the-kitchen sink at changeover time.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT CHANGE-OVER TIME
Regardless of how and when you were doing change-over in the pre-school years, you may need to change it to better suit your child’s schooling schedule.
Change-over arrangements are specific to each family. However, if you are co-parenting through the school years, we recommend avoiding a mid-week changeover. This can be confusing for everyone, especially your child who is just getting into the ebb and flow of a routine at one parent’s when they have to up sticks.
Instead, the beginning or end of the week can work well. Change-over needs to work for everyone and may be dictated by the work commitments of one or both parents.
MAKE A LIST
Making lists is the simplest yet most effective way to co-parent school-age children.
It is as easy as listing what needs to be moved between homes at change-over time. As well as what your child needs to take to school every morning. And it can’t help to pack them a small list (or put it on key-ring tag) reminding them of what they need to bring home from school each day i.e. lunch box, water bottle, hat, sports kit and homework.
Part of the school primary years is teaching children how to be organised, which is one of the most important life skills. Helping your child rise to the challenge will give them a great head start.
DON’T LAY BLAME
If something goes wrong whilst co-parenting your school child, it is really important not to lay blame. This includes on your child (who is probably doing their best) but also on the other parent.
Remember: Co-parenting is a team effort and we all make mistakes at times.
If you find your child’s sports shoes have not been packed for your house at change-over time, send a message to gently notify your ex in writing. If this keeps happening, check at handover that they have been packed. If need be, purchase an extra pair which you keep at your house.
Try your hardest to remain calm. You child, who may already be worrying about said shoes, will pick up on your mood and needs to know that everything will be ok.
SHOW A UNITED FRONT
Even though you and your ex-partner are separated, you are both still parents to this little person … and as such, it is important that you show a united front.
This is not only for your child but for the school. It is important for your child’s school to see that you both care and have a vested interest in your child’s schooling. That you can both be called upon in an emergency … or simply for swim carnival refereeing!
Nothing will make your child happier than their parents pulling together for the sake of them. It will also make them realise the importance of their schooling if mum and dad BOTH make parents evening and school concerts.
KNOW IT’S NOT FOREVER
As parents of older children, having co-parented throughout the school years, I can tell you that it DOES get easier.
Your child will grow and become more independent. They will remember things themselves and will ‘choose’ not to have your support and guidance in many areas.
If you have more than one child, you will find they are all different. You second child may need less help and be more resilient to the chaos of the early school years, than your first. Plus, as co-parents you will be better versed as to what works and what doesn’t.
Finally, when secondary school creeps around, your child will be much more capable to organise themselves. Plus, the thought if you materialising at the school gates with a forgotten hat or water bottle, is enough to put a teenage child into meltdown, so you are best staying well away.