This post originally appeared in the Local Living Magazine on December 2015 issue.
Most parents of school age children react dramatically differently to snow days than their little ones. The overwhelming announcement that school is closed sneaks up by surprise: significant snow was not expected; rain should not have flooded the school basement; accidental power outage; or any unexpected triggers to close school.
While children gleefully celebrate when they awake to the news of no school, one or both parents will be in panic mode. In those households where both parents work they immediately negotiate: who will do what to adjust plans. And if parents don’t live in the same home, the negotiations are often extremely stressful. From the perspective of a family lawyer and former working mom, here are tips:
1. Communication is key. Parents who understand each other’s work routine respectfully address the surprise day off with the other parent. Suggested opening is: “What’s on your plate at work today? Let me tell you what I need to do.”
2. Pre-scheduling your roles “in the event of the emergency” can be a blessing or curse. In detailed physical custody schedules, the custodial parent on the school day has responsibility for the children if there is no school that day. While this sounds great, misunderstandings abound. If custody shifts on Wednesday (the child leaves one parent going to school, and the other parent picks-up from after care) and school gets cancelled, does that mean the parent with Wednesday morning covers for the snow day or the afterschool parent?
3. Alternative child care and the right of first refusal. The custodial parent who cannot take off work is expected to make the last minute arrangement for child care. In some post-divorce families, anytime child care by a third party (even Grandma) is enlisted, the other parent must first be given the right to assume custody. Therefore, when the custodial parent rushes to arrange replacement care, the non-custodial parent could complain the right of first refusal had not been offered.
4. Enlist the pre-school/after-school caregiver to “enjoy” your children for the entire day. This might work if your caregiver has flexibility. Some caregivers won’t have the legal capacity to take your child, without getting extra help on site. The non-custodial parent may argue against sharing this extra child care expense arguing the custodial parent should have taken off work.
5. Communicate. All working parents need to communicate in the crunch situation of last minute cancellation of school. Try being a listener first, albeit hard to manage when both parents are under stress. A sense of humor is the better response rather than frenzy. Look at your elated kids!
Sometimes you’ll throw in the towel, take the day off work, and watch the snow pile outside you window. Read Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat Comes Back and embrace the carefree day. Call the neighbors to your messy house; serve whatever packaged snacks you can find. Shovel a narrow path from door to street. Commiserate for the parent who decided to go to work.
Visit the Family Law page here.