By Lorrayne Anthony
TORONTO -- After battling rush-hour traffic and helping get dinner underway and the kids settled, your tween doesn't even look up from his knapsack to tell you he forgot his project.
This is an all-too-familiar scenario for many parents: When the school day ends, kids bolt and often homework is a casualty.
But in families where mom lives in one house and dad in another, retrieving homework may be more complicated than simply a matter of a quick drive to the school. While all parents face hurdles when it comes to making sure children make it to school on time and homework gets done, when kids are living out of two homes in blended families, things get a lot more complex.
"It is the biggest day-to-day challenge. I find the kids forget (homework) at school or it was assigned on Monday and it's Thursday -- I have the kids for the night -- it hasn't been done and they forgot it at school and it's due tomorrow," said Dave Cook, who has three kids with his ex-wife. He sees them every Thursday night and every other weekend.
"It's my one night a week and here I am into a battle with them over homework," he said.
Cook lives full time with his stepson and current partner. Each of the four children, who range in age from seven to 12, have their own room and seem to get along well.
He feels that they're at an age where homework is important enough that there are consequences for neglecting it.
"Between my ex-wife and I ... I think we manage all right," he said. "We don't do a great job on it, but we manage."
Rhonda Freeman, director of the Toronto-based Families in Transition, said the only way to ensure kids remain well-adjusted, happy and on top of things at school is to have a written clear statement of where the child will be and when. Both parents need to have a copy and, depending on how old the child is, the child also needs to be involved and aware of the schedule.
Linda Wilton agrees. She teaches a course on parenting for blended families at the family resources centre in south Winnipeg.
"The most important people in this situation are the kids," said Wilton. "They had no say in the current situation but children can be involved in the (scheduling) discussion from as early as they can understand."
Included in the written statement should be what needs to go back and forth. For example, if a child plays hockey and financial resources don't allow for two pairs of ice skates -- one at mom's and one at dad's house -- then skates need to be on the list of what's to be taken each time the child moves.
There are other incidentals that come up throughout the school year: Who signs report cards, who volunteers for school trips or bake sales, who gets called in case of an emergency?
While it seems simple enough, it takes good organizational skills and, more importantly, co-operation -- which isn't always the strongest between people who were once married.
Freeman recommends a third party -- a common friend, lawyer or counsellor -- to help mediate the discussion.
Thirteen-year-old Matthew De Dominicis enjoys the travel time he spends with his dad every other weekend, mostly because it means more time with him.
Instead of a car ride, Matthew's dad takes GO transit to Burlington, Ont., where his ex-wife and two kids live.
"He picks me up on Friday night after soccer, we have a bite to eat and then I spend the weekend in Toronto," said Matthew. "It's fun."
His older sister, Tamara, is off to the University of Guelph this year, and won't be making the Burlington-Toronto trip as often so he gets dad to himself.
Over the years, the family has found that when an item is forgotten in Burlington -- about an hour's ride on transit -- it stays in Burlington.
"Tamara was a very conscientious student. Most of the time she just did her homework without any problems," said father Enrico De Dominicis. "Matthew on the other hand is a different issue because he tends to wait until the last minute and then sometimes he forgets the homework."
But he said Matthew's mom is very organized when it comes to the children's schoolwork.
"Of course I wish (the kids) lived around the corner," said De Dominicis, who created a bedroom in the basement in the Toronto home he shares with his new partner and her two teenage sons so his kids have their own space when they visit. "But at least I get to talk to them on the phone almost every day."
While Matthew gets frustrated he can't join his pals for an occasional Friday night movie, he too wishes he could spend more time with his dad. But he doesn't feel sorry for himself.
"One of my friend's dad lives in Saskatchewan and his mom lives here," he said. "So I don't really mind because I see other kids and they have an even harder situation.
"So it's fine with me."
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