A timely excerpt from: Stop Fighting Over the Kids: Resolving Day-to-Day Custody Conflict in Divorce Situations (School Issues – Chapter 31)
When eight-year-old Gina received her school progress report, her father was the last to know. It came “home” with Gina, and Gina’s mother never shared it or its contents with Gina’s dad. Gina’s mom, Maria, signed the progress report, turned it in, and requested a parent-teacher conference. Maria never told her ex-husband anything about the request for a parent-teacher conference.
When Maria came to the meeting, she brought her boyfriend, Walter, and introduced him to Mrs. Beasley as her fiancé. Maria then spent most of the conversation telling Mrs. Beasley about how Gina’s dad, Tony, was really not that involved with Gina and that he was too concerned with himself to get involved in Gina’s educational needs. She was quick to mention that she has sole custody and that Gina’s father sees her every other weekend and on Wednesday evenings, “when he feels like it.” At every opportunity during the meeting, Maria attempted to make herself look good while belittling Tony.
Not surprisingly, Maria neglected to tell Mrs. Beasley that Tony had unsuccessfully fought for custody of Gina and that he begs to see her on a weekly basis. She also forgot to mention that Gina absolutely adores her dad. Mrs. Beasley had no idea that Maria will not allow Tony any contact with his daughter other than what the court order provides. Even that is often subject to Maria’s unilateral discretion.
When Tony found out about the progress report and the conference that he was never invited to attend, he was furious. He demanded that the teacher and principal meet with him immediately. Gina’s dad wanted to know why he’d never received the progress report and why he wasn’t informed about the meeting. He also wanted to know if “that redneck” had been there too. He wanted to know what “they” said about him. At the meeting, Tony spent the majority of his time telling Mrs. Beasley about what a terrible mother Gina was and how she excludes him from everything. He wanted to show her letters and e-mails from Maria as well as copies of deposition transcripts proving what a liar Maria was when it came to him and his daughter.
Needless to say, Mrs. Beasley was left with a very negative impression of Gina’s parents. Neither parent seemed cognizant of how foolish they looked. Neither seemed aware of the negative effects that their interaction would have on their child. As a result of all this nonsense, Gina was labeled. She came to be known as the adorable brown-eyed girl with the two dysfunctional parents.
HOW DO DEAL WITH SCHOOL OFFICIALS:
Similar inclusion-exclusion power struggles play out in schools everywhere. And, sadly enough, there is no apparent end to the list of things that can be squabbled over:
_ The sharing (or lack thereof) of information, papers, report cards, awards, projects, school pictures, and yearbooks
_ The completion of emergency contact information cards and required school forms
_ Permission slips
_ Involvement of stepparents, grandparents, and significant others
_ Parent-teacher meetings
_ Selection of parent roles (primarily with younger children), such as parent helper, parent coordinator, class mom or dad, and the like
_ Homework issues and forgetting things or leaving things at the other parent’s house
_ School uniforms and school clothes
_ Messenger issues, such as relaying information to and through school officials to the other parent
_ School sports, field trips, and extracurricular activities
When one parent seeks to exclude the other from such important matters in their children’s lives, the other parent often feels that he is forced to fight yet another child custody and visitation battle just to be recognized. The formula is ripe for ongoing consternation. Ultimately, by being placed in the middle of all the parental dysfunction that circulates around the school setting, the children suffer and lose out. With little peace between homes and in school, children are profoundly and negatively impacted. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively deal with all of these issues so that no one is excluded and the children feel as if both parents are supportive of their school life.
_ Make sure that you provide the other parent with either an original or copy of every important paper that comes home from school.
_ Provide your ex with a copy of any letters that you send to your children’s teachers or school administrators.
_ Use that copy machine, fax machine, and/or scanner that I mentioned earlier for the purpose of sharing information in a timely fashion.
_ Use e-mail or make a family/school blog to post important events and information pertaining to school-related matters.
_ If there is a custody order in place, make sure that the school has a copy of it on file.
_ If you are the sole legal custodian of the children and your court order does not specify the rights of the other parent, notify the school in writing that you authorize them to provide any and all school-related information to the other parent.
_ Whenever there is a place for the other parent’s contact information, either provide it or give the other parent an opportunity to complete and return the form.
_ If there are serious communication problems between you and the other parent, let the school know that there may be a need to be particularly alert to the dissemination of information pertaining to your children.
_ Unless you think that you cannot control yourself in an appropriate fashion, try to schedule teacher meetings and parent conferences together with the other parent.
_ Make a concerted effort to demonstrate a united front on as many issues as you can.
_ If there are certain areas that can be delegated to a particular parent, do so, and share all information. For example, if one parent is an engineer and loves math, perhaps that parent could be the “math and science” parent and the other could focus on areas of his or her interest and ability.
_ Don’t bad-mouth or belittle the other parent to teachers, staff, other parents, or children.
_ Don’t withhold information from the other parent.
_ Don’t encourage teachers or staff to withhold information from the other parent.
_ Don’t sign up for activities without presenting the other parent with the opportunity to do the same.
_ Don’t ask parents, teachers, or staff to “spy on” the other parent’s interaction with the school personnel or other parents.
If You’re Excluded
If the other parent has been given an opportunity to “play fair” and he or she has no interest or intention of following any of these suggestions, then you need to assert yourself in a positive fashion so as not to be excluded from your children’s education. However, you must take great care not to inflame the situation. One option is to set up a meeting with your children’s teachers and school administrators to explain to them that you feel as if you have been, or will likely be, excluded from receiving information and excluded from activities.
Let them know you want to be fully involved in your children’s education and upbringing and that you need their assistance. They are accustomed to seeing children caught in the middle of parents who do not communicate well. Be careful not to cast blame or speak ill of the other parent. Simply explain that there are communication issues and while you do not want to involve the school, you do want them to be aware of the situation. Explain that your only concern is the well-being of your children and that you want to know what is going on at school. Offer to provide self-addressed stamped envelopes of varied sizes and request that copies of all important documents and information be sent to you. Make sure that all of your contact information is on file. Ask for any suggestions and let them see that you are solution-oriented and that you are genuinely concerned about your children.
If you conduct yourself in a child-focused yet humble and respectful fashion, you will be pleased at how well you will likely be received by school officials. Like judges presiding over child custody cases, teachers hate to see children being used as weapons by one parent against the other.