Back to School – Potential Difficulties for Separated Parents

The September start of term can stir up a lot of feelings, not just for children but also for their parents. Excitement, nerves, anticipation, memories about one’s own experience of school, sadness, relief. When parents are in a couple and getting on well, their relationship can be a place to process some of these different feelings. Being able to reflect together on ‘where has the time gone’ when their child starts school perhaps, being able to be proud together or being able to enjoy the moment together can be a support and a special moment. This processing between them is likely to help their children feel supported and encouraged.

But where a couple are separated and perhaps not getting on so well it can be much harder to share in these good feelings together or to put difficult feelings between them about their relationship aside in order to show joint support to their child, support which might be really important for helping their child feel independent and enjoy going off to school.

Brandy and Tom were a separated couple. There were some difficult feelings between them around the end of their relationship which had broken down about 8 months before. They found that their daughter Kelsey starting school was creating a few difficulties. There were less hours in the week to spend with her now she was going to be on school hours, and this put pressure on the arrangements, with both wanting as much time as possible with her. Brandy was also concerned that Kelsey would be tired after school and that this meant she felt Kelsey should stay at her house in the week rather than going to her dad’s on a Wednesday night. Tom was concerned that if he never had Kelsey to stay with him in the week he’d slip behind on hearing about Kelsey’s experiences at school and not get to know her community.

With this separated couple, we might think about understandable anxieties both have given the changes involved with Kelsey’s transition to school, both practical in terms of their scheduling and at a more subtle level as they adjust to Kelsey getting a bit more independent from them. Creating a safe forum in which they can air their different concerns and feel heard and understood by the other could be really important, whether through seeking assistance from counselling or attending some parenting support. This could help to strengthen their functioning as separated co-parents and help them to enjoy Kelsey’s transition to school together which would in turn support Kelsey to go off to school freely and not caught up or affected by protracted conflict between her parents.

Ideas for separated co-parents when the new school term arrives

  • Create time and space to communicate about concerns. This means listening to each other’s concerns, even if you don’t agree with them – it will be of value to your partner to feel heard and understood about something that is important to them.
  • Where parents can help each other integrate into the school community this can be of support to their children e.g. letting each other know about relevant WhatsApp groups/events/meetings.
  • It’s hard enough keeping on top of information from school when parents are together; even more communication may be required between parents who are separated. What needs to be in school bags; when homework needs doing by. Thinking together about how to have good and healthy channel of communication for this sort of stuff can be a good investment for the long run.
  • Working hard to keep each other involved e.g. sharing photos / reporting back on what you’ve heard about / teacher communication.

For further support and to learn more about FLiP’s unique approach to divorce and separation, please contact our in-house therapist Jo Harrison at E: or T: 020 7420 5000.