Parenting with an Ex: Back-to-School Jitters

Have you noticed the tell-tale signs?  The retail stores clear away the red, white, and blue picnic supplies to fill the shelves with binders and notebooks.  Commercials start announcing “back-to-school” sales.  The track and playing fields become full again as fall sports practice begins.  And then it finally arrives in the mailbox: the homeroom teacher assignment and bus schedule.

For a school-aged child, a mixture of excitement and trepidation grows with each marker of the approaching school year.  Can you remember your back-to-school jitters?  Wondering if you’ll like your teacher; what clothes you’ll wear the first day of school; collecting school supplies (that Ziggy notebook and Trapper Keeper binder!); who you’ll sit with at lunch; and, whether or not you’ll be able to handle the subject material?  Back to school time was fun and stressful at the same time.

Have you ever had a “first day of school” nightmare?  Dream analysts cite that “first day of school” dreams are common throughout a person’s life.  That feeling of being unprepared or lost is powerful.  So, while your child appears fixated on supplies, clothes, and friends - don’t lose site of any underlying concerns or insecurities that he or she may have.

It’s your job as a parent to nurture your child through all of his or her experiences.  You want your child to fully know that you are there for her and that you won’t let her fail.  Because you are a loving parent, you’ll make sure that he or she has the needed supplies and the clothes to wear.  You’ll keep track of important information like the bell schedule, bus information, orientation time, and cafeteria offerings.  By acknowledging to your child that all of these things will be handled by you, you allow your child peace. 

Divorce should have nothing to do with any of that, right?  When you take time to be still and consider your child, you’ll remember that good parenting skills are absolute and are not corrupted by marital status.  But be aware that “ex” distractions can happen, and be purposeful in keeping your focus on your child.  Through all of the back-to-school situations purposefully listen more to your nurturing heart than to the divorced chatter in your mind.  All children need love, consideration, and security as they face a new school year. 

Here are some back-to-school situation reminders to guide you on a Pro-Child Way® path.

School supplies

When you’re divorce focused…
you send an email to your ex in-front of your child, prodding your ex to do something: involving spending his or her time and/or money.  Your child understands, without you needing to say a word, that you’re focused on making the other parent step-up and do the right thing (or demonstrating once again that he/she won’t).  With no plans and no supplies in hand, your child feels vulnerable.
When you’re child focused…
you say to your child “I promise you we’ll get everything you need so that you’re ready for school.”  You make arrangements with your child for you to take him or her supply shopping and you keep the date.  Your child smiles and feels secure.  Privately, you update your ex on your plans, making room for any involvement that he or she may want to have.

School orientation

When you’re divorce focused…
you check the visitation schedule to see if the school event falls on your night or your ex’s night.  You tell your child that it’s not “your night” and you send an email to your ex telling him/her that he needs to attend (or demonstrating that his failure to attend is noted).  You may or may not mention to your child whether or not you’ll be going.  Your child feels wholly unimportant and is uncertain whether someone will be there for him or her.
When you’re child focused…
you check the school calendar to see when orientation and back-to-school nights are scheduled.  You put them on your calendar and tell your child that you’ll be there.  You also send a link to your child’s other parent so that they have the same opportunity to schedule the event.  You tell your ex that you are planning on attending.  You offer to pick up copies of important information for him/her if he can’t make it, and you offer to take your child if it falls outside of your regular night.  You can’t make your ex attend and you can’t make your ex take your child, but you can make it a priority for you to attend and share important tidbits.  Your child is secure in knowing that you’ll not be missing out on important information and you will be meeting the teacher and friends.

Back-to-school night

When you’re divorce focused…
you spend the entire school function glaring at your ex.  You make it abundantly clear to your ex, and to your child, that you are not pleased.  Maybe you’re not pleased that he invited his girlfriend along.  Maybe you’re irked that he wore the shirt you bought him when married.  You go through the motions of the event and may even get some satisfaction out of your ex missing the sign-up sheets.  You comment to your child that YOU signed-up for snacks but her other parent did not.  Your child leaves disappointed and drained.
When you’re child focused…
you attend the school functions fully focused on your child.  You smile.  If your ex is able to attend, you include your ex (and any others) in your child’s world: having your child show all of you her classroom, teacher, and friends.  You pay attention to any parental sign-ups for field-trips, snacks, or conferences and share any opportunities with your ex and significant others.  You then tell your child, “I signed up for snacks in March so you’ll have to let me know what you’d like, plus, dad and I scheduled your conference time for after work so that we can both attend.”  You child feels loved.

Your child needs you!  She needs you to say, do, and keep track of the right things.  Remember back to your school days and look at your child with compassion.  You have been there, you do know what it was like, and you do know that feelings of uncertainty are mixed in with the excitement.  Do everything you can to support your child through this life transition and assure him or her that you will say, do, and keep track of the right things.  You don’t do this because you’re divorced, you don’t try to make your ex do this because you’re divorced, you do this simply because you wish to nurture your child - and through divorce, you’ll be extra mindful to stay focused on your child.


Author, Ellen Kellner, is transforming children’s lives through her intuition, discernment, and experience.  Her book, The Pro-Child Way®: Parenting with an Ex focuses on mindful-divorced parenting.  She is currently busy buying back-to-school supplies and keeping school schedules straight.


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