As a family mediator, I work with clients to create a customized and durable Parenting Plan that will provide both parties with a foundation to successfully co-Parent. However, no matter how thorough a parenting plan is, there will always be an event or situation that is unaccounted for. A child’s graduation, whether it’s kindergarten, junior high, or high school is an example of a milestone event that happens in their life and is often not addressed in a parenting plan. Here are some tips for helping Divorced Parents Navigate the graduation season.
- Define a priority. Think about the event through your child’s perspective. What’s important to them? Then develop a statement that will help define the graduation experience as successful. An example is, We want Troy to remember this as a special day where he was celebrated and surrounded by loved ones. The statement should be focused only on your child’s needs and will serve as the filter through which you make decisions.
- Before making and decisions talk to your ex and ask their input. When it comes to planning something for the kids, I always recommend parents begin the conversation with a statement similar to, “Kelly’s graduation is coming up. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts for celebrating the day?” This is an example of how collaborative conversations begin. The other parent will feel their role as a parent is being respected and will feel shared ownership over the event. I often see parents communicate their ideas about events by letting their former spouse know what their plans are. For example, “Kelly’s graduation is coming up and I wanted to run a few things by you. I’m planning on having the party at our house. We’re thinking of BBQing and inviting all her friends and family. For a gift I am planning on buying her a new laptop and was wondering if you would split the cost 50/50. She wants the MacBook Pro and I’m going to order it at the end of the week, so if you could send me a check before the 15th that would be great. Thanks!” The problem with the second example is that it does not give the other parent an oppurtunity to contribute to the occasion. When you tell the other parent what is going to be done they won’t feel equal ownership over the success of the day. It can be difficult to collaborate with an ex, but making sure both parents feel included and respected will help make for a successful event.
- If there is active conflict in the families, consider having two separate events. Children are very intuitive and they know when families are not getting along. If this is the case, the child is likely to experience anxiety leading up to the day of the event. The last thing they want at their graduation party is to have a fight between loved ones or for their family to have tension in front of their friends. A party at Dad’s on Saturday and Mom’s on Sunday may be the best option if the families are unable to get along.
- Don’t micromanage your ex’s guest list. You and/or your ex may be involved in new relationships. If your ex wants to include their new spouse, girlfriend, or boyfriend that is their choice. Even if it makes you uncomfortable, this is a new adult in your former spouses life and your child’s life. If you have having difficulty accepting this, it’s good to remember your priority for the event. We want Troy to remember this as a special day where he was celebrated and surrounded by loved ones. This is the filter you should use when making decisions. If your child is comfortable with the adult coming, be gracious and keep the day focused on your child and their accomplishment.
- If planning is not going well, try mediation. There are lots of former couples who participate in mediation on a regular basis. Having a neutral third-party helps them problem solve and develop the skills and understanding that is necessary for their relationship to transition from divorce into successful co-parents.