To all new parents, and especially parents about to register for kindergarten, here is something you should know ahead of time. When you register your child for kindergarten, you will be asked to fill out reams of paperwork, entering the same information again and again. Among other things, you will enter your email on school forms, on an individual teacher’s parent contact info sheet, on your volunteer application, on extracurricular forms, etc.
Before you begin, think hard about who is Parent/Guardian #1.
Many forms let you also enter a Parent #2, but you have no control over when both parents will be contacted, or when only Parent #1 will be contacted. Getting this wrong (like my husband and I did) can cause a whole host of problems.
We highly recommend that you set up a joint email address that forwards every kid-related email to both of you – or to all of the parents and step parents or guardians or whoever needs to be in the loop. Then use this joint email address on every single kid-related form – at school, at doctor’s offices, when signing up for activities – everywhere, always. You can set up this joint email easily in gmail, and it will save you from the problems that dogged us for over 15 years.
- There was the notable day that my husband and older son were standing on an empty soccer field wondering where everyone was. I was driving our younger son to another activity and not tracking the streams of email going by announcing a change in location.
- There was the time we realized the PTA was using my email only (Parent #1) for the newsletter. My husband never seemed to know what was going on, and after a fair amount of sleuthing we figured it out and asked them to add on my husband’s email address. They replaced mine with his instead of adding his, and for a while there I was the one who was suddenly missing important info until more sleuthing happened.
- There was the problem we caused at the kindergarten “meet the teacher” event where a sign-up sheet was passed around and my husband wrote down his email address without thinking about it. Again I spent weeks wondering why I felt l like I was missing important information before I identified what list I wasn’t on.
That last situation was the one that really opened my eyes. As a rule, as a society, we assume that there is a default parent. Parent #1. The Primary Parent. And that’s a huge problem. For every story we like to laughingly tell about the clueless dad who was at the wrong soccer field, I can probably point to a system that was set up to keep that dad out of the loop by default.
I want my husband to know what the kids’ grades are and what homework assignments they have due without the information passing through me. I want him to know when there is a school schedule change. I want him to get the reminders about an upcoming pediatrician appointment. I want him to know when volunteer opportunities are offered, and when the music lesson time needs to change.
He is just as much a parent as I am. We’ve worked hard to share the parenting equally as much as we possibly can, and it was eye opening to see all the ways the institutions we worked with were set up to assume that one parent was primary, starting with something as innocuous as a school form that lists Parent #1 and Parent #2. It left my husband out of the loop, and it put me in the position of having to pass along all the necessary communication so that he could do his job as parent well.
This can also be a big problem for families where the kids live with multiple sets of parents. When one parent is relegated to “Parent #2”, they will inevitably miss out on important information, and that will never be best for your kids.
Do yourself a favor right now and set up that joint email address to give your spouse the equal standing they need and deserve as parent to your child. I know some husbands balk at being inundated with so much email, or otherwise indicate that moms are in charge of interaction with the school. Try to get everyone to remember that dads are equally capable of caring about and participating in the education and care for their kids. Dads have so much to offer, and being informed about all the details of what’s happening in their kids’ lives will absolutely make them a better, and probably a happier, parent.
A joint email may seem like a small thing, but starting out with dad being an add-on, second string, afterthought parent is one of the many ways we limit the responsibilities of dads, and put too much parenting onus on moms.