Childrearing

Splitsville: Separated Parents Can Still Educate Their Children Together

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Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

As a teenager, I volunteered in a kindergarten classroom where separated parents were feuding. It wasn’t enough to make their child anxious and emotional, they let their vitriol spill into every aspect of this poor little boy’s life. The parents refused to attend conferences together. They demanded that their child keep two separate notebooks, one for each family to communicate with the teacher through. This meant that anytime the teacher needed to make a note, they had to write it all out twice. The parents even argued about who got to keep all the artwork sent home. The entire situation was a mess.

So as my daughter enters into pre-school, I’ve made myself a very serious promise. My ex and I will not be those separated parents. We will not throw fits and demand special accommodations. We’ll sit next to each other at recitals and performances. We’ll make polite discussion about spelling words and book reports. We will. Right? We will.

Sending my little one to school, even if it is two mornings a week, is an emotional experience. I’m proud of my baby girl, even though I’m terrified to watch her grow up so quickly. Something about all that time away from me brings out a very protective and overbearing mother that I didn’t know existed. I want to make sure that everything is perfect. I want to guarantee that my darling is so well-prepared and confident in herself.

My need to make things perfect is leading to a micromanaging of epic proportions. For instance, my ex wanted to our daughter her first backpack. It’s such a huge symbolic moment. But I was already thinking about all the ways this could go wrong. Don’t get anything with her name engraved on it! Everyone says that’s unsafe. And none of those roller things. A teacher friend of mine says that kid just end up smacking each other with them. And maybe we should stay away from characters, you never know when one is going to go in or out of style. I don’t want her to be picked up because she wanted a Spiderman bookbag.

I started running through all of the ways this could go wrong and all of the reasons that I should be the one to buy her first backpack. And then I remembered that this experience is happening my daughter’s father as well. He’s just as nervous for our little girl to take her big first step into education. He’s just as apprehensive about every detail. I have to let him be involved in this process as well. After all, I’m going to be the one there, dropping her off at school everyday. If he wants to buy her first bookbag, is that really such a huge privilege to turn down? Of course its not.

Over the next decade, we’re going to buy lots of bookbags. We’re going to attend lots of conferences. We’re going to be clueless over plenty of homework assignments. And I’m really hoping that we can all get through them together. I hope that her dad will always want to help his little girl take her first step. And really, there are plenty of supplies for us both.