My youngest son, Joe, has struggled in school since he started kindergarten. In that first year, I helped out in the classroom several times. The teacher remarked at how much better he behaved while I was there and jokingly said I should come in every day. My view was that if he required a parent present to do well in school, why not cut out the middle man and homeschool?
His first and second grade teachers were great. They worked with him and found what motivated him in their classrooms. This year he’s in third grade at a different school. The new school is part of the problem. The class is packed with 30 kids. He misses his friends at his old school. Unfortunately, the old school is over-crowded and he’s number seven on the waitlist to return.
The teacher this year seems to be having a lot of trouble with Joe. He loses paperwork, goofs off in class, doesn’t complete assignments or tests in class, and doesn’t seem to care much about any of it. These are the same things each teacher every year has had trouble with, but it seems to be a much bigger deal to this teacher than those in previous years.
The teacher called me in two weeks into the year to talk to me about Joe. Then there were the fall Parent-Teacher Conferences. I went to those twice because the ex skipped out on the first one. Then the teacher called me in again a week after Thanksgiving vacation.
Since the beginning, I have always kept the ex in the loop and informed him of what was going on with the kids and their schooling. Once he met his new wife, his already minimal participation declined even further. He missed conferences, Back-to-School nights, Open Houses, even forgetting to attend Joe’s kindergarten promotion ceremony. I continued to keep him informed because it was the right thing to do.
When the court stuff began, he started emailing the second grade teacher on his own from time to time. This year, when the problems began, he had no sense of urgency until the teacher called him herself after meeting with me for the fourth time. All of a sudden, all the problems Joe had been having for the last three and a half years became extremely urgent in his mind.
Even though I have consistently offered him the courtesy of being included and being informed, the ex started to exclude me from communications with the teacher. He arranged for a meeting with the teacher, himself, and his wife. Thankfully, the teacher forwarded me her response to him and I attended that meeting, where stepmom essentially monopolized the discussion–even suggesting Joe be held back because she held her son back.
After that meeting, I wrote to the ex and told him that that isn’t co-parenting, that he should offer me the same courtesy that I have always offered him of keeping him in the loop up front and trying to parent with him, not with any third party. Since that day, the ex has been sending me email updates of academic issues he has dealt with on his weekends with the boys. It started with an email after one weekend, then another email after another weekend, then several emails in one week.
At one of his evening pickups, I explained to him that I felt the emails were strange, given his prior non-communication and non-cooperation. He said he couldn’t see why I wouldn’t be happy that he’s suddenly more involved than ever before. He doesn’t seem to understand that once you have introduced a litigious route to your parenting relationship, all trust is destroyed and all future actions are viewed with suspicion.
Although the email updates seemed odd, I tried to see it as his attempt to communicate. The problem is that he seems to speak out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand he says, “I’m trying to work with you.” But on the other hand, he continues to communicate with the school without including me on the communication. He has since written to the principal and gone in to observe Joe’s class, all without clueing me in up front. After observing Joe’s class all day on Monday, he made no mention of it at all to me. This would be valuable, productive information for me to have since it is very difficult for me to observe Joe’s class while caring for a toddler. Why no informative email update after an entire day of observing our child?
Then there’s the plan he and his wife created for our oldest son, Dom, to manage his homework. I wasn’t included in the creation of the plan, nor was I given all the details of the plan. I was informed after-the-fact that they had some plan. Unfortunately, Dom did not follow through with their plan and the ex got annoyed at me for not policing a plan I had no part in.
I am trying to see the positive aspects of these recent events. I don’t believe he is necessarily consciously acting to exclude me. He just doesn’t think. I am not on his radar. He views his wife as his parenting partner, not me. But that’s not co-parenting when you’re divorced. Divorced people may remarry, but they’re still forever divorced if there are kids involved. And you have to acknowledge the other parent and actually parent with them. So while I believe he is just trying to help the kids do well in school, and that’s a great thing, it doesn’t change the fact that he isn’t parenting them with the other parent. And that is a problem. Since he won’t make the time to sit down with me face to face and talk about our children, I’m forced to parallel parent, which really doesn’t help the kids much at all. In order for the kids best interests to be met, both parents have to collaborate beyond post facto email updates.
This is what I would like to see happen: He and I sit down face to face once a month to discuss our children and collaborate on what we want for them as their parents and how we will achieve those goals. I want to think big picture, not just “how can we get Dom to have the right letters on his report card,” or “how can we get Joe’s teachers to stop complaining about him.” I don’t know if these email updates are his view of a step toward that, or if my ideal will ever be achievable.