Back-to-school used to be the most stressful and confusing time for me as a stepmom. When S started VPK/Pre-Kindergarten 3 years ago, I remember being a nervous wreck for the school’s “Meet the Teacher” night. Will my stepdaughter’s mother be mad if I’m there? What if the other parents give me weird looks?
When the teacher started talking to the whole group of parents, I kept whispering any questions I had to my man. I mean, my stepdaughter’s “real” mom was right there…there’s no reason I should get involved, right?
The thing is, S splits her time equally between our house and her mom’s house, and our days happen to be the majority of the weekdays. We are the first line of communication as far as teacher notes, homework assignments, classroom events, etc.
I essentially took on the responsibility of keeping school things in line while never having any real control over it. There was always a “middle man” for our communication
I can’t count the number of times I asked my man to email the teacher on my behalf. He constantly relayed messages to S’s mom on my behalf as well…from school events to homework reminders to field trip forms. I remained “behind the scenes” because I didn’t want to step on any toes.
Now, as S starts 2nd grade (brb while I cry a bit), I can gladly say that our dynamic is 100% different simply because of communication. While we all have our own, unique situations, I think a lot of stepmama’s can relate to the confusion/stress of a new school year. I hope I can be of some help by sharing how I became more comfortable as a stepmom in the classroom.
Establish expectations and boundaries before school starts.
Ideally, have all parents get together to discuss the school year. If your dynamic isn’t quite there yet, talk to your partner. Let them know that you would like to be involved but aren’t sure what the boundaries are.
As a stepmom, some of the questions I asked included:
- What is my role in the parent-teacher relationship?
- Will the teacher be aware of a third parent in regards to communication?
- Who takes on any projects that are sent home?
- Is it okay to reach out to the teacher myself?
- Can I sign the daily planner?
- Who sends in the valentines?
- Who sends in snacks for parties?
- Is it okay if I visit for lunch?
Communication is so important because you don’t know what special experiences a mother or father might want to take the lead on. Maybe mom is really looking forward to helping with that first project. Or dad really wants to teach his kid to read. Make sure you know where you stand as a stepmom.
Let the teacher know what is going on.
One year, when the teacher wasn’t totally clear on our situation, a field trip form just wouldn’t make it home. That form (the 4th copy by that point) didn’t get turned in until the day before the field trip.
I sometimes forget how common it is for kids to live with separated parents. The first time we told a teacher that S has two houses, the teacher didn’t bat an eye.
In fact, she offered to send home two copies of everything. State test scores, progress reports, report cards….we always received two. One that said “Dad’s copy” and one that said “Mom’s copy”. We’d even get two order forms for yearbooks, pictures, etc.
If the other parent is okay with you signing planners/parent-type things, keeping the teacher in the loop is a good way to avoid confusion about the three different signatures they’ll be seeing.
Have a system for communication between houses.
When all exchanges are done midweek through school, it gets a bit harder to stay in the loop. With young children especially, you can’t expect them to remember that they have unfinished homework from the other parent’s house.
A separate folder can be used to communicate information from house-to-house. We started this when S was in first grade and we became much more organized! Any unfinished homework would be put in there to be completed at mom’s (or dad’s) house. We would also pass on any forms or papers after we wrote down any necessary dates or information.
Since S is young, we made sure to let her teacher know what the extra folder in her backpack was for. We also made it clear to S that the folder only comes out at home (so she wouldn’t accidentally turn things in) and that it is how we, as her parents, communicate with each other.
If possible, communicate with the other parent yourself.
I understand that stepfamilies operate under different circumstances. Not every mother wants to have frequent communication with the stepmom, and not every stepmom wants to have frequent communication with their man’s ex. In that case, I would definitely recommend the folder system above!
Remember when I said my man had to play telephone between me and S’s mom? Well, I’m happy to say that our relationship eventually progressed and now we have no problem getting in touch with each other. It has made all the difference
When we get fliers for special events sent to our house, I make sure to send S’s mom all the information. I also let her know if S started any homework at our house that needs to be finished. This way, she isn’t missing out on important information.
If you are unhappy, talk to your partner.
Remember that your partner is just as much a parent as the other. If you want to be more involved in your step kid’s school life and your partner is in full support, then that is something they should discuss with the other parent.
Continue being a great stepmom to your kid, no matter what!
Even if communication is rocky…even if mom doesn’t want you at the parent-teacher conference…even if she doesn’t want to see your signature in her child’s school planner.
It will be okay.
You can be involved without being one of the “real” parents. Play games at home that relate to topics from school. Pack their lunch when it’s your morning. Help them study for spelling tests. Read with them. Don’t recoil into a ball of insecurity.
There have been times where I felt like my role as a stepmom didn’t matter at all simply because I couldn’t email my stepdaughter’s teacher… My insecurities bled into life outside of school and interfered in me being the best stepmom I could be.
Open communication between co-parents is vital. You may think there’s no possible way for it to work in your situation, but don’t give up on it entirely. Be patient (hey, it took nearly 4 years for me to comfortably communicate with my stepdaughter’s mother) and keep being the awesome stepmom that you are!
Do any other stepmama’s struggle with back-to-school? How do you stay involved, or what are some reasons you might choose not to get involved? Share your experiences below, I’d love to hear different perspectives!