I’m Divorced — Here’s How I Co-Parent and Prepare for the School Year Ahead

published Aug 6, 2023
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Mother getting 2 children ready for school in front doorway, each kid has a backpack
Credit: MoMo Productions/Getty Images

As a divorced parent, it can get confusing between the two homes in terms of keeping track of stuff. Between school supplies, permission slips, lunch boxes, and events to remember, it’s hard to keep up without letting anything fall through the cracks. It’s also really important to me to make sure the stress of coordinating two households doesn’t fall on my kids, who aren’t old enough to keep track of their own things. 

Overall, my goal is to have the least amount of items and pieces of information that have to travel or be communicated during every transition as possible. Here are some ideas that work for me and other parents whose kids travel between two homes and school. 

Double Up

If it’s becoming complicated to transport gear and supplies back and forth between homes, and you can afford to do so, double up on these items to reduce confusion. For young kids with little or no homework, have a backpack for each home with one folder that travels each week with anything that needs to overlap between the two custody times. Have separate lunch boxes so one parent isn’t always left with the grubby cleaning at the end of the week. Own more than two water bottles so, when one gets left at school and lost, there’s still a backup at each place to be ready for the next day until you can visit lost and found. Consider having weather-appropriate clothes at both homes so if it’s sunny on Monday when they leave for Parent 1 but starts raining the day they get back to Parent 2 they still have rain boots available at both places.

For instruments and sports gear or jerseys, you may not be able to have two of everything. If a kid has tae kwon do on Mondays (with Parent 1) and Wednesdays (with Parent 2), the uniform might need to be put in the backpack on Wednesday before the switch. However, it might not be too big a deal for each household to have a baseball glove for weekend games at alternating homes.

Use Technology

I live in a Google Suite household. Besides my Google phone, I use Google Sheets for budgeting, Gmail, and Google Calendar. The shared Google Calendar has been the most important bit of technology during my divorce. We have a “kids” calendar that both parents have access to and editing permissions for. I put any changes to the schedule and all school days off in the calendar as soon as I learn of them, which works for an app-based calendar. I also put in school events like “wacky hair day” with day-before reminders so we can prepare. If something vital needs to travel to or from school or from one parent to another, I can also make this an “event” so that we get notifications on our phones. 

Other parents who use Apple use a similar system with iCal. There are also co-parenting apps like Our Family Wizard, which has a calendar, messaging app, financial information, and an “info bank” to document things like medications, health conditions or notes, or other information you both might need. 

Homework Helpers

Depending on your child’s grade or the rigor of their classes, they may need some help staying organized with homework between the two places and school. If they have a written homework checklist every day, that can travel with them. Many teachers have digitized this system and list the homework on the website. But, for longer-term projects, you may have to create a customized system for getting tasks done. For example, if parents alternate weekends, perhaps Sunday mornings are dedicated to working on the research project, with any materials necessary for both traveling on the next parent day. Or maybe the model of the bridge stays at Parent 1’s home, so they need to work on other projects at Parent 2’s.

Many schools have extra sets of class books or textbooks which can be distributed between the homes. If it’s creating an issue, it might also be worth asking for an extra school-issued computer or tablet since almost all the documents are stored on the cloud or an online drive, so the device doesn’t matter so much as the access. 

Create Systems

At the start of the school year, communicate to the school and teachers your custody arrangement so, even if they don’t remember it, they have it documented somewhere if needed and understand any unique situations which might require extra planning. Most teachers who know about a kid who has two households will send home two copies of any important information such as report cards or flyers for school events. 

For example, if you both get alerts when the school lunch account balance is low, great, but decide who pays it and who reimburses who for what percentage as it makes sense with your parenting agreement. Same with back-to-school materials for your student or the classroom: either have one person get it and be reimbursed, or work out who is responsible for this cost/errand ahead of time.

If a permission slip comes home, make sure it gets signed right away and returned to a certain folder in the backpack so it doesn’t get lost between homes and school. CC each other or make sure all school communication goes to both households. Make sure both parents’ contact info goes on class contact lists so it’s easy for the other parents to figure out who to talk to for setting up playdates and sending birthday invites. 

When kids are young and don’t care about clothes or aren’t capable of keeping track of clothes, create a system for getting clothes from one place to another. If one parent buys all the back-to-school clothes, shoes, coats, etc., and then you split the cost, that could work. If different stuff is at different spots, talk about how to get a pair of sneakers worn to Parent 1 on Friday home to Parent 2 on Monday without the child feeling stressed about not having the “right” shoes to wear.

If clothes flow freely between the two homes, organize a monthly or seasonal equalization of items so one place doesn’t have all the underwear while the other has all the socks. For uniforms, have a set washing day that works. If that means, no matter whose home it is, everything gets washed Sunday, then there won’t be any stain surprises when Monday morning rolls around, regardless of the household. Or, every week on Parent 1’s first day, they wash the soccer jersey to be ready for the week’s game.