Gay Dad Shares Tips for Back-to-School Success

After a great summer of fun and relaxation, it’s once again time for back to school.


Cue booing and hissing from the kids.

Cue jubilant celebrating from the parents.

As we pack lunches and put names on backpacks, let’s take a moment to think about what we as parents can do to help with our children’s education. I asked my husband, an elementary school teacher, to ask his many educator friends what their suggestions were for having a successful school year. Here are some of their responses:

Teachers and staff want your child to be successful. Sometimes that takes parent support, patience, and a whole school year.

So true. As we have found with our son, it does indeed take a village to raise a kid (Thanks Hillary!) and sometimes that village includes a social worker, a psychiatrist, and a whole host of others who are invested in and interested in your child succeeding. Our son has a bro-crush on Steampunk Eddie, a local celebrity who won the grand prize on the Game Show Network’s reality competition “Steampunk’d.” When we see Eddy out and about, he never fails to stop and talk with our son about his life and what he’s doing. Knowing that there is someone out there that cares for them outside of their immediate family can be huge. One of my husband’s colleagues takes our daughter out for “girl’s night” on occasions and it gives our daughter a chance to get out and do girly things and talk about things with another female that might be too uncomfortable with her two dads.

Put your kids’ needs ahead of your own.

But don’t forget that parenting is hard work, so if you need to, ask for help or get a sitter so you can relax and recharge once in a while. You’ll be a better parent if you do.

Put your kids on a bedtime/wake up schedule minimum one week before school starts.

This one is tough after a summer of late nights and a schedule that is hardly routine, but it needs to be done. Screen time needs to stop at least an hour before bed as that will help the kids unplug and get a good night’s sleep. I am not a doctor, but ours has recommended small doses of melatonin to help get the kids to fall asleep when they are having trouble winding down. Our chiropractor recommends warm baths with lavender to help calm them down too. My parents told me when I was a kid that I could stay up as late as I wanted to, but I had to be reading and in my bed. Well played Mom and Dad, well played. Not only did you foster my life-long love of reading, but you also gave me a way to settle in and relax. The only exception to this is when I discovered Stephen King. There were quite a few sleepless nights after reading “Salem’s Lot.”

Make sure they do their homework and play a part in assisting if they need help.

Each day, ask your child if they have homework. If possible, that should be the first thing down once they arrive home for the night. I know that schedules can get ridiculous, but this is a MUST! The longer you and your kid put off the work, the harder it will be to finish and do correctly. If you need help, don’t be afraid to contact the teacher and ask for clarification/assistance.

And on that thread: It is important for you to talk to your kids about their school work and what they are learning. Even if you don’t understand a homework assignment, just the process of your child explaining it to you shows that you value what they are learning.

The “What did you do in school today?” question is a great way to start this conversation. Turn off the TV at dinner time. Make this conversation a priority with your kids. If they respond “Nothing,” then you need to dig deeper and keep asking questions. Each day at school provides some level of interaction and learning; it’s up to you to dig that out in the conversation.

This next bit of advice is important too, as the friends kids make in school can last a life time.

Remind your kids that if they want to have a friend, they need to be a friend. They shouldn’t be afraid to say hi to someone new. Treat everyone with respect.

Our son is a natural when it comes to this. When we go camping, he grabs his bike and takes off to find someone to play with at the campground. For the time we’re camping, these kids are his new BFFs. Our daughter is not so inclined. She takes time to warm up and isn’t as naturally gregarious as her younger sibling. This can be tricky, especially as they move into adolescence. Puberty is a scary time, add making friends to that and it gets even tougher. Give the kids space, give them time, and be patient with them during this challenging time.

Give the teachers an email address. It is by far the easiest way to keep in contact, especially if your child does not reliably bring home notes.

Great advice, but talk to your child’s teacher to find out what they prefer. Some teachers use email regularly, some prefer to kick it old school and send home notes. Ask if you can call and get a direct line to the classroom. But do know that some teachers will not answer their phones during instructional time. My advice? Ask them. Find out what works for them.

I had a particularly challenging young man when I taught high school and we had a pocket notebook that each teacher wrote in every day to document his progress, or lack thereof. If he didn’t bring the notebook home to show his parents, there were serious consequences. It was a great tool for motivation and communication.

And now, a note from the higher ed side: One of our kids’ godfathers is a college professor. He offered this bit of advice for those of you with college-aged kids.

Don't call, write, or email their professors. It just castrates your kids and makes you look like an ass. Cut the cord. Land the helicopter.

As snarky as this sounds (he has a Ph.D. in snarkology), it’s also the law (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). I have had to hang up on parents who call me at the college regarding their child and their progress. You can read more about FERPA here.

One other thing: If you are able, ask the teachers f they need anything for the classroom. A bottle of hand sanitizer, a box of tissues, pencils, etc. It’s amazing what schools do not provide and teachers are left to purchase. This is where a trip to Aldi or Costco can really help out. I know you’ll probably laugh about the gallon-size containers of sanitizer, but my husband goes through several of them a year in his classroom. Not only will it keep your kids healthy, it will keep their teachers healthy as well.

At the end of the day, remember that teachers are here to help your child learn, but they can’t do it alone. Get involved, make a difference.

Here’s to a great school year!

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