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Co-parenting and back-to-school: How to navigate parenting disagreements

Back-to-school can be stressful for parents and kids in many ways. For divorced parents who are trying to co-parent their children with their ex, stress can be compounded. However, there are things that parents can do to keep the peace as they navigate back-to-school and their parenting experience together.

Reaffirming the schedule

For most families, times when school is in session is when their "normal" schedule resumes. In many cases that means kids are spending more time with one parent, rather than spending lengthy time chunks with the other parent. Things such as regular bedtimes need to be reestablished, and kids need to be reminded of what is expected of them. Whether or not you and your ex agree on what the "rules" are in one another's households, you should have a clear sense of what those rules are and let one another know. This will lessen the impact of "Mom let's me do this, Dad lets me do that" types of issues.

Look at things such as activity schedules, and determine any potential conflicts when it comes to parenting time. Work out any alternative arrangements on your own, without putting your child in the middle.

Respect differences in parenting styles

While there are times when your child's other parent is making a choice you don't agree with, it is important to keep your disagreements in perspective. If there is a practice that you believe is dangerous, you may have to alert the court. Otherwise, you will need to learn how to deal with those differences. If necessary, seek out personal counseling or talk to friends - do not complain to your children.

Determine a plan for involvement

If you and your ex do not live close to one another, it will be more difficult for a non-custodial parent to feel like they are in the loop when it comes to the child's daily life and educational choices. Make sure they know when school conferences are, when important games happen and when any other "big moments" pop up. If possible, attend parent/teacher conferences together. If both parents cannot be there, the non-present parent may be able to call in during the conference. Arrange phone calls, emails or special messages to the kids when key moments are going to happen so they know that both parents are thinking of them.

Interact in a positive way

There is a disciplinary tactic many use with their kids called "catch them being good." It involves acknowledging desirable behavior when it happens, rather than drawing attention to the "bad things." A similar logic can be applied when dealing with the other parent. Be sure to thank one another for any favors they do for you, or when they need to make adjustments in their schedule, and if possible do so in front of the kids. Take disputes out of the kids' earshot, and avoid "venting" to your children about your ex. Putting more focus on positive moments makes the stressful ones become easier to manage.

As kids get older, and as divorced parents lives evolve into their new roles, co-parenting plans sometimes need a bit of tweaking. Small changes may be able to be worked out between you, but any major differences may need to be reviewed with your lawyer who can help you file any long term changes with the court.

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