Back-to-School Basics

The beginning of the school year brings a whole new set of challenges for blended families.  I don’t know about you, but I think I was more nervous than my stepkids every year!  Navigating meet-the-teacher nights, school events, and extracurriculars can seem daunting – especially if the relationship with the other home is high-conflict.  School should be a safe place for our stepkids, insulated from adult issues and focused on their success both in and out of the classroom.  As stepparents, we have the opportunity to be advocates for our stepkids; so how do we put our discomfort aside and tackle the school year head-on?

First things first, know your rights as the family of a child with two homes.

  • The campus and school district may have policies in place about how administrators and teachers interact with parents.  This can include access to records, being on-campus for lunch or field trips, and parent-teacher conferences.
  • If you are custodial, provide a copy of the Custody Order (CO) as part of the registration process.  If you are non-custodial, confirm that the most updated copy is on file.
  • Find out the school’s best practices for contacting parents in the event of emergency, and confirm that both the office and individual teacher(s) have contact information on file for both homes.
  • Ask what accommodations can be made to ensure that both homes have access to grades, get notifications about important dates, and have the opportunity to schedule separate meetings – to avoid putting your stepkid in the middle.

Be on the same team as your stepkid’s teacher(s).

  • Most school districts don’t have a specific policy related to stepparents, leaving teachers to decide how much influence a stepmom or stepdad can have in (and out) of the classroom.
  • Start the school year off right by being supportive, not assertive.  Instead of pointing out that you’re the one who helps the kids with their homework every night, let the teacher figure it out for his/herself when you sign their homework log or email to ask a question about an assignment.
  • Give teachers a break (and space) if they don’t immediately warm to the idea of an active stepparent.  Don’t take it personally: teachers have a delicate balancing act between parents and classroom learning without adding blended family dynamics!  Teachers can easily be children of divorce, or struggling with the aftermath of their own broken marriage…you don’t  the whole story.
  • If there’s conflict related to the classroom, leave the teacher out of it!  If its absolutely necessary to get teachers or administrators involved, reframe your request as help for your stepkid, not bashing the other parent.

Do what’s best for your stepkids, period.

  • Actively listen to your spouse and stepkids, including non-verbal cues.  Kids need time with each of their parents, and vice-versa – but they may be afraid of hurting your feelings.  Create a safe space to communicate everyone’s needs, including your own.
  • If your relationship with the other home is high-conflict, limit your exposure at school events.  Keep your distance from the other parent when possible, and don’t invite confrontation.  If you’re going to be in close quarters, have a game plan in case there’s a scene.
  • Pick your battles.  You may want to be at every event, performance, and meeting – but your absence (at times) may have as much impact as being there.
  • Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgement.  Stepparents can be a great buffer for stepkids whose parents aren’t getting along, preventing them from becoming collateral damage.  Put aside your personal feelings in the moment, and be a part of the solution, not the problem.

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. – Proverbs 22:6

We live in a time where stepparents can be actively engaged in their stepkid’s lives – including their education.  The halls of our stepkids’ schools provide a captive audience: we can show teachers and administrators that involving stepparents makes kids more successful, measurable by better attendance, good study habits, and higher grades. You and I have the responsibility to leave this world a better place for the next generation of stepmoms and stepkids…let’s start by leading and guiding our stepkids towards all that God has for them.

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