After your separation or divorce, you’ve probably worked hard to set up your separate household. Getting it to run smoothly. What if your kids move back and forth between your home and that of your Ex (for example under a shared parenting arrangement)? You may see stark differences in how they spend their after-school time at each place. This includes how much focused attention they give to homework, and how much computer or “screen time” allowed.
As between you and your Ex, this can quickly come to a head. Let’s say your child routinely returns home from a week at your Ex’s without having done all their homework. You may unwillingly become the last-minute “enforcer”. Sitting them down for a last-minute push to complete their school assignments on time. Furthermore, This can put a damper on your child’s return, and can become a point of resentment with your Ex.
What can you do?
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Do Some (Careful) Investigating
The first step is to tactfully identify the source of any disconnection. By looking at the differences between your home environment, and that of your Ex. No matter what your child’s age, shuffling between houses is never easy. There may be different routines, lifestyles, and values that are hampering your child’s ability to get homework done. For example:
- What is your child’s after-school routine, at each home?
- Does your child have family-related obligations (e.g. babysitting siblings) or chores, at each location?
- How much time is being take up by extra-curricular activities, like sports teams?
- Are there strict rules in place, around limiting your child’s use of screen time, video games and social media?
- What level of supervision does your child receive at each home, around completing homework?
- Is your child getting enough sleep, to allow for focused attention to schoolwork each day?
Aim for Parenting Uniformity
Once you’ve ferreted out the potential sources of the problem, you can have a delicately-worded discussion with your Ex. Talk about trying to regularize what goes on both homes. Also, emphasize your shared goals as parents, and that you both have your child’s best interests at heart.
As between you and your Ex, consider the following:
- Do you each have different parenting styles, levels of attentiveness, or approaches to discipline that contribute to your child’s behaviour?
- Where are the sources of any inconsistencies?
- What are your respective expectations for your child’s levels of responsibility, self-discipline, and autonomy?
- How do you enforce rules, expectations, and boundaries around completing schoolwork?
- What arrangements are in place, for minimizing distractions and limiting excessive screen time?
- Are there important differences in the resources available at the separate homes? Computer equipment, school supplies, and dedicated quiet areas for study?
- Are any of the challenges due to your child having to shuffle back and forth between homes? Remembering to bring schoolwork from one house to the other?
Create a Strategy
With this information in mind – and if your post-split relationship with your Ex allows for a “united front” – brainstorm for a joint strategy for your child’s after-school time, regardless of at whose house it is spent. The focus should always be on the goal of fostering your child’s development. Depending on your child’s age, this strategy should ideally be developed with his or her participation and “buy-in” as appropriate.
Some items you can consider:
- Can you and your Ex agree to set consistent rules that apply to each home?
- Are there any resource-related issues that can be jointly remedied (e.g. sharing the cost of computer equipment that can be left at each home)?
- Can you each arrange to give the child access to quiet areas of the home that are amenable to concentrating?
- Are there ways to improve your child’s organization skills, to help them remember to bring homework materials from home to home?
Next, you and your Ex should sit down with your child, and have a conversation. Begin by emphasizing that your child must take personal responsibility for getting homework done – but that he or she has the full support of both parents. Some of the tasks and items you might cover:
- Consider crafting a joint statement of expectations, a homework schedule, and a reminder system. This could be shared between homes, and might incorporate information obtained from discussing your child’s strengths and shortcomings with teachers.
- Create a virtual calendar, to track daily homework and longer-term assignments. Naturally, your child will have to take an active part in keeping it current.
- Agree to a set of joint rules and responsibilities, that apply to both homes. This can cover important items like setting priorities as between homework and other extra-curricular sports. Also, setting agreed amounts of nightly screen time.
In doing this, you must take into account the child’s own personality, study style, tolerance for pressure, and relationship with each parent, among other things. Children who live on an alternating basis with both parents under a shared parenting schedule already have extra stress and a lot of things to remember.
What if There’s Resistance?
Even if you and your Ex can work together on this, you may still have some resistance from your child. Put it down to “kids-being-kids”, but when your child has to choose between a night of boring homework and a night of screen time or connecting with friends on Instagram? The latter will win out every time. A united front and firm enforcement of rules is the best strategy.
And if you and your Ex can’t work together, then you may have to concede. Step up to accommodate the differences in approach. However, you can still seize on the chance to unilaterally foster self-discipline, autonomy, and a sense of academic responsibility in your child. Which is something that will carry them forward in the many years of educational achievement to come.