Back-to-school can be stressful when you’re a stepmom or in a co-parenting relationship.
I love back-to-school! In my opinion, September is more important than January for setting goals and getting back into routine.
I’ve been a stepmom for almost ten years now. The kids are now 21, 19 and 16.
We are out of the back-to-school stress trenches. Even so, we still make a point to go in as proactively as possible. When the kids were younger, I learned very quickly that being proactive was the key to back-to-school success as a stepmom.
If you’ve been following along on Instagram and Facebook, you know I thrive on routine and organization and am all about personal development! Call it cheesy, but I think that as parents, spouses and human beings, we should always work on improving ourselves.
That includes how we co-parent!
Chances are, if you’re reading this post, you know that co-parenting can be tough. Even in the most positive co-parenting relationships, raising children in two different homes comes with major challenges.
Every year at back-to-school time, my husband and I like to sit down and think about ways to improve how we run our family.
With a custody schedule, four busy kids, two demanding businesses and the extra stressors that come with co-parenting, we find that the more prepared we are, the smoother things run!
This annual check-in has been game-changing for us and helps us start each school year feeling organized and prepared. (well as organized and prepared as we can be)
It’s been so game-changing that I’ve decided to share the 11 things we do to improve our co-parenting relationship every year for back-to-school so that you can do the same!
Whether you have one of those hearts & sparkles co-parenting relationship
or one that can be best described as high conflict and TOXIC, this post will provide you with tips and strategies that will help improve your co-parenting relationship this school year!
1. GET ON THE SAME PAGE AS YOUR PARTNER
Back-to-school is an excellent time to get back on track with rules, structure and routine within the household.
Before the first week of school hits, sit down with your partner and get on the same page about the rules and expectations for the kids.
The key here is to ensure both of you are committed to sticking to and enforcing these rules. It’s essential to ask yourself if your expectations are attainable with your schedule and family dynamic to remain consistent.
For example, in a perfect world, we would have our daughter Reese sleeping every night at 8:30 p.m. However, with our extra-curricular schedule, we’re often out of the house until 9:00 p.m., so setting that expectation wouldn’t be realistic.
Another example, my husband loves a good movie night with the kids. When we were first married, I was very strict on bedtime while he was more easygoing. If he and the kids were in the middle of a movie, our “agreed upon” bedtime would often be pushed back. It used to cause major issues between us.
Now, I’m far more flexible and take a “don’t sweat the small stuff” approach to these rules. For us, a strict bedtime wasn’t attainable or something we were both committed to enforcing – so now we have a bedtime range.
Having the kids only half the time is so hard for him. Sometimes, spending quality time and making memories trumps bedtime, within reason of course!
At the end of the day, half an hour doesn’t make a difference for us. I learned this one the hard way.
I highly recommend involving the kids in this process. Ask them what they think is reasonable for a bedtime.
Ask them what they think is reasonable for any chores or expectations around the house.
Ask them what they think about your morning and nighttime routines.
I’ve found they are more likely to follow through if they feel like they have been a part of the process.
2. REVAMP YOUR MORNING ROUTINE
This is a great time to revamp your morning routine so that the mornings go more smoothly. I firmly believe that the way you and your family start the day, plays a huge role on how the rest of the day goes.
3. GET ON THE SAME PAGE AS THE EX
If possible, check in with your ex about rules and expectations. It’s ideal to be on the same page (or least a similar one)
To do this, you should be flexible and open to compromise to come to an agreement. However, in my opinion, the flexibility is worth it when you can have consistent expectations between the houses.
Remember, in the big scheme of things, half an hour between bedtime or curfew doesn’t make that much of a difference.
The more consistent you can be, the easier the transition for the kids. Don’t get caught up. Play the long game. Look at the big picture.
Note: If this isn’t possible, don’t sweat it. The kids will adjust either way. It’s ideal but not necessary for co-parenting success, and in some high-conflict situations the less communication the better!
For example, when the kids were younger, we had NO SCREEN TIME in the morning and she didn’t. At her house she would drive the kids to school, at ours they needed to hop on the bus.
We had totally different situations.
4. DECIDE WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT
If you don’t have a co-parenting plan in place, before school starts, decide who is going to be responsible for what when it comes to everything regarding the kids.
Hot lunches, school trip payments, expenses, extra- curricular equipment, running shoes etc. etc.
This helps prevent misunderstandings and missed deadlines.
This is especially helpful in high-conflict co-parenting dynamics because it minimizes the need for communication throughout the year.
Again, if this type of communication isn’t possible, think back to last year and reflect on any situations where there was a miscommunication about who was responsible for it. Consider taking it on yourself all in the name of preventing conflict.
Remember, sometimes peace is better than being right.
5. REFLECT + IMPROVE ON LAST YEAR
Think back to last year and reflect on any issues in your co-parenting relationship, specifically with communication, transition day, appointments, division or responsibilities.
How can you avoid those issues from happening again?
How can you respond in a better way?
What systems can you put in place so that you can be proactive, not reactive, with these stepfamily stressors?
For example, in previous years, there was often a mix-up about who was responsible for submitting hot lunch and milk orders to the school. As a result, on two occasions we missed the deadline and the kids went without.
We decided that for the year, their Mom would be responsible for submitting the forms, and we would be responsible for paying the kid’s phone bills. It took all the guessing out and helped to ensure that history didn’t repeat itself.
6. KEEP THE SCHOOL IN THE LOOP
Make sure that the office and your stepchild’s teacher know about your family dynamic (I’m not talking about the drama; I’m talking about how your co-parenting arrangement works.)
Provide them with a copy of your schedule so they know where the kids are each week and which parent they should contact.
Also, provide them with phone numbers for stepparents and anyone else left in a caregiving role of the kids. Sometimes school forms only allow for two names to be listed, so be proactive and provide them with all the additional phone numbers in case of emergency.
7. REQUEST 2 COPIES OF REPORT CARDS + CORRESPONDENCE FROM THE SCHOOL
I’ve heard some schools aren’t open to this however it’s always worth a try.
Ask your secretary to send copies of forms, newsletters and report cards to both houses. In the event that they decline, offer to cover the extra cost (e.g. stamps, envelopes etc.) and advocate for your right as a parent to be kept in the loop.
It’s time that schools update their policies to reflect the dynamic of many modern-day families. Many kids have two separate homes.
8. BE PATIENT ON TRANSITION DAY
Transition day can be difficult for kids. They get used to routine and expectations at one house and then they have to move to the next.
For the first day and a half, I am always more patient about expectations with the kids. I kindly remind them of things that they forget so that they can get back on track.
As someone who loves consistency and routine, I cannot imagine how unsettling it would be to be shuffled around each week.
I do what I can to support the kids to adjust and get back on track.
Remember: They didn’t sign up for this.
9. UPDATE YOUR CALENDAR FROM THE SCHOOL WEBSITE
The school website should have all the important dates already on their calendar. Go online and input your PD Days (Personal Development Days), Holidays, School Concerts, deadlines and hot lunch days into your calendar.
This is another way to be proactive and ensure that important dates don’t get missed.
It’s also extremely helpful if you’re in a high-conflict co-parenting relationship, where important dates aren’t communicated.
10. DON’T SWEAT THE PARENT TEACHER CONFERENCE
This is a huge stressor for so many stepmoms and co-parenting couples. Here are my thoughts on the importance of parent-teacher conferences… they’re not that big of a deal
If it’s uncomfortable for everyone to attend “meet the teacher night” together, don’t sweat it. Schedule a separate meeting on an alternative day or heck, skip it all together.
Someone once said that they don’t think it’s fair for the teacher to have two separate meetings — if you ask me, it’s a far better option than being in the middle of a high-tension interaction between ex-spouses and their new spouses. Just saying.
I have always played an active role in my stepchildren’s education but have never attended a parent-teacher conference. (As of 2023, this is no longer true. I’ve gone to one)
My husband and the kids keep me updated. I don’t think that a step-parent’s attendance at these conferences defines their level of involvement or dedication to their stepkids.
11. COMMUNICATE YOUR INTENTIONS
Consider reaching out to your partner’s ex (or have your partner do so) and communicate your intentions for the year. Apologize for any issues that may have happened in the past and tell her that you’re hopeful that you can put differences aside and do things better this year – for the sake of the kids.
Your efforts could be fiercely rejected, or it could be the start of a positive turn in your co-parenting relationship. At the very least, you know that you’ve reached out and attempted to be the bigger person.
As I said above, the key is being as proactive and organized as possible. The less room for misinterpretation in your co-parenting relationship, the better!
Happy Back To School