By Audrey Cade
Starting from the moment a newborn takes her first breath, the countdown to adulthood already begins. Step-by-step, milestones of growth and development are met as this child learns to talk, walk, begins to attend school, and becomes less and less a child, and more of an independent individual each day. In the beginning, it seems that adorable pint-sized innocence will last forever, but before we know it, our babies are starting to date, drive, and pick out colleges.
The next couple of months will bring a flurry of graduation announcements, and one teen after another will mark off the final milestone of childhood. Caps and gowns will give way to dorm rooms, jobs, and increasingly more time spent away from home. It is a cherished and emotional time for many parents to finally witness this achievement, and it serves as evidence of the new phase of life to be ushered in.
Graduation is a time of celebration and gatherings of friends and family, made much more complicated when the graduate’s parents are no longer together!
All the graduate’s loved ones want to be present for the graduation ceremony and other special events. Often, there are parties, gifts, and guests visiting from out-of-town. Big occasions tend to cause more stress, even in normal circumstances, but when exes begin to clash about who gets to attend, seating arrangements, and planning celebrations, graduation can induce high levels of anxiety and drama that tarnish the glow of a once in a lifetime moment!
What can co-parents do to allow their child’s graduation to shine bright despite divorce?
Remember whose day it is.
Parents have every right to feel proud and take a sense of ownership over a red-letter day, like their child’s graduation. Let’s face it: a lot of effort is invested by a graduate’s family, starting as early as preschool, to lay the path for high school or college graduation! All those hours of reading books together, studying spelling words, and constructing papier mache’ planets for the science fair have finally paid off!
As much as many parents want to make the day about themselves, it’s really all about the young man or lady who is about to take a giant step toward adulthood! What kind of day would your child want? Surely not one filled with tension, arguing, petty comments, and adults acting like children! Allow your child to have positive memories of a day that only happens once!
Talk to your child, and ask for their honest preference of how the day should be recognized. Would it mean the world to have mom and dad together at the same party and forming a unified cheering section in the stands? Would your child actually prefer one-on-one time with each parent following the event? Try to listen without allowing your personal feelings to interfere, and respect the wishes of the graduate.
Everyone who is close to the graduate will want a front row seat to all the activities surrounding the big day. Some ceremonies limit the number of seats available, meaning that tough decisions may need to be made about who will be allowed to attend. This, again, should be a decision primarily made by the graduate, and neither parent should take it upon themselves to stake claim on more than their fair share of seats or access to the graduate. Parents may have new partners, stepsiblings, and others who are significant to the child, which should be honored by both sides, as well.
By keeping the focus where it belongs (on the grad!), beautiful memories can be made that will far surpass any negative ones created from divorce!
Before and after the ceremony, everyone wants to snap some keepsake photos of the graduate with their friends and with varying combinations of family members. Don’t be that parent who hijacks the moment and diverts all of the graduate’s focus on her family to keep his family from having a turn! The last thing your graduate wants is to look back on photos of the day and notice that they’re all only of one side of the family, or everyone looks grouchy in every shot!
Sideline the Drama
A momentous occasion, like a child’s graduation, prom, wedding, and others are not the time for ex-spouses to try to start trouble with one another or become competitive for the child’s time and attention! Of course, bitter feelings that have been cultivated for years won’t magically melt away; but, for the sake of the child, those issues can be pushed to the side for just one day!
For just a few hours, any of us can paste on a happy face and survive sitting by our one-time partner because it is a shared accomplishment, and it will mean the world to the child! Who else in the world loves and is as invested in the graduate as you and their other parent? This is a time to dole out congratulations and good will to all who played a part in the child’s success. It doesn’t mean you and your ex must become new best friends or that everything from the divorce is forgotten but maybe there is something more meaningful and beautiful than resentment and bad blood!
If the graduate wishes for all their family to share in the occasion together, then surely everyone can suck it up and be mature and appropriate for the day. High school graduation is likely to only be the first of such special events because college graduations, weddings, and events for future grandchildren are still likely on the horizon. So, we might as well get used to rubbing elbows with exes!
A co-parenting mom shared that her son requested a photo of him in his cap and gown with both of his parents. She and her ex complied, and that picture is still one of her son’s most cherished possessions, still framed and on display in his home today!
Be Willing to Compromise.
An occasion of significance for a child of divorced parents will require a spirit of sharing and compromise. No one parent can expect to monopolize all the high points of the event. The child will want to spend time with both parents, and both parents have a right to express their love and congratulations and celebrate with the child! Each side of the family may plan to host a party, meaning that part of the day may be spent without the child. This is the reality of co-parenting.
Understand that to have the time you wish to enjoy with the VIP means allowing your child’s other parent to do the same. It can be hard to be separated from your child on a day you’ve been dreaming of since their birth, but your child will appreciate the opportunity to experience it with everyone they care about, minus any drama!
Set the Tone for Success
Some exes are impossible to deal with, but most people respond to reasonable treatment and will act in kind. If one parent comes off as ultra-possessive, competitive, and instigates conflict, everyone else involved is more likely to become defensive and less cooperative. Adopting a flexible and understanding attitude can help alleviate tension and make other people involved more willing to remain civil and accommodating. I always say “if anyone’s going to be a jerk, let it be them!”
Graduation day is coming! Be sure to have the camera charged, plenty of tissues on hand, and your “A” co-parenting game ready to go! A day this remarkable deserves to be nothing short of amazing, whether for divorced parents or their new graduate! It’s possible to enjoy your child’s graduation, even if part of the occasion is shared with your ex. By keeping the focus where it belongs (on the grad!), beautiful memories can be made that will far surpass any negative ones created from divorce!
About the Author
Audrey Cade is the author of Divorce Matters: help for hurting hearts and why divorce is sometimes the best decision (on Amazon) and the matriarch of a blended family of eight. She is an experienced “divorce warrior” in the areas of co-parenting, step parenting, parental alienation, and re-marriage, and enjoys sharing these experiences with others who are also committed to raising happy and healthy kids. Audrey’s professional experience is as a case manager social worker with the developmentally disabled, families with young children, and homeless populations. She holds degrees in Early Childhood Education, Human Service & Management, and a Master’s in Psychology. She enjoys family outings, a variety of arts and crafts, cooking, gardening, and writing. She is a featured blogger for Divorced Moms, has work regularly appearing on Divorce Force, and articles appearing in Step Mom Magazine, The Good Men Project, and others.