When my sons were in school, I was never sure which was more stressful: their push for the thousands of things they had to have before the first day of school, or the many pieces of paper that the school required during those first few days. The first week was one long blur of “Did you sign (fill in the blank)”, or “The teacher says I have to have that back today or I’ll get in trouble”.
As is the case with many things that single mothers take on, the non-custodial dad might help if he knew what to do.
Yes, it does seem like he would know without you having to tell him. Yes, he went to school at some point, so why doesn’t he remember what happens at the beginning of the school year?
I have a question for you, though. Do you want to be right, or do you want some help getting these people back in school?
Don’t request his support the night before you need it. I cannot tell you how many times the phrase, “but you didn’t give me any advance notice” would cause me to scream. He has a fever and can’t go to school today; exactly how much advance notice do you think I got? Anyway…start thinking about this before you actually need the assistance. School starts on September 6? Start tilling the soil mid-summer. Make sure you have the conversation that I detail in step #2 no later than the first week of August so nobody feels rushed. Especially you.
Ask the children what they would like Dad to do to help them get ready for school. Regardless of your relationship with your ex-whatever, your son or daughter probably sees them in a different light. They may remind you that Dad played high school sports, so it makes more sense for him to handle the Sports Activities permission forms. (Even if you have to take them to the doctor for the needed signatures, let Dad be involved in some way; it will make set the stage for the his involvement in the endless sports activities that seem to go on all year long). If he has good computer skills, he can create a chart and update it throughout that first hectic week. With the stars in perfect alignment, maybe he’ll work on the chart all through the school year. The key here: let the children brainstorm on how to involve Dad, and make sure that Dad knows his role is just as much their wish as yours.
One caveat here, though. Reserve the right to modify the list, if needed. If Dad has “a hole in his pocket”, or you know that giving him access to $100 will have him shopping for back-to-school clothes at the neighborhood bookie, take that off the table. Find a nice way to say “no”, or default to “sorry, that’s the one thing I look forward to doing with you guys”. Remember that the fallout from this step is ultimately yours to clean up.
Don’t make your request for help dependent upon how much money he has! If you are raising children alone, you know the number-one complaint about non-custodial fathers is the lack of financial support. That does not change because school bells are ringing. Just keep telling yourself that, at least for this back-to-school push, you want help! Concepts like fiscal responsibility and integrity may require a longer timeframe. He doesn’t have any money to buy school clothes? Bite your lip, create a shopping list, and ask him to go to the mall. One less thing you will have to do. It’s your money, granted, but at least you can claim a little bit of time back to yourself.
A male with any wee bit of pride will find a way to buy his son or daughter at least one item out of his wallet. That’s an unwritten male rule. Let him have fun.
Encourage him to do at least one task that will place him physically in the school. Fathers who do not interact with their children on a regular basis tend to feel at a distinct disadvantage in the school setting. Many feel that teachers and administrators have a biased opinion of them, given that they are not present in the home; this perception is not totally inaccurate. Ask if they will drop off/pick up/stop by for clarification/confirm the schedule, whatever will get them in the building. Let them know that you have called ahead (and yes, you may need to set the stage); then, share that you’ve told Mrs. Smith or Mr. Jones that Dad is a co-advocate for the kids and that they will definitely hear from him throughout the school year.
I promise Mr. Male Ego (or Mr. ME) will kick in and he will do his best to accommodate you. Or to support the kids. Doesn’t matter. One less thing on your checklist, and now at least one person in the school knows he’s available for support.
Express your appreciation. This one is the most basic, but also the most important. With that initial request for support, say thanks for helping me get through this stressful time of year. Be available via phone or text if he gets stuck or overwhelmed, or needs you to point him in the right direction. When things settle down, shoot out a little email or a quick text to say that you appreciated his involvement.
Should you have to thank a man for supporting his children? Nope. Should you have to praise another parent for, well, parenting? Nope. Look at it this way. If you were together, a quick “thank you, honey” would go unnoticed. Just throw it out there.
You have to get ready for the next school year.
About the Author: Alexis Moses Dobbins
is the founder and principal of writeRelations and The Writers Helper, providing publishing, editing, and media-services company focused on the promotion of positive materials. In addition to writeRelations, Alexis is passionately involved in the need for unmarried parents to engage in positive dialogue in support of their children. Her book on the subject of parents-in-absentia, “The Good in Him” will be available in the fall of 2011.
Contact points: email@example.com and her blog, www.fromchaostocommunication.com.