Graduation season is officially here! If your child is one of the thousands of New Jersey high school seniors about to don cap and gown as a member of the class of 2015, emotions may be running high — for both you and your graduate — as your child reaches a true milestone in life. As a divorced parent, it’s normal for some of these emotions to relate to your child’s other parent (your former spouse). Whatever the status of your relationship with your ex, your former spouse’s presence at your child’s graduation may stir up past resentments or magnify currents ones.
What can you do to celebrate your child’s graduation with all the joy and happiness this special moment deserves? Here are five strategies for getting through graduation without letting your ex get in the way.
Agree to set aside differences: If you know your former spouse will be in attendance at graduation, it may be best to address the elephant in the room head on by communicating with your ex commonsense guidelines for both of you to follow. If you are still finalizing your divorce, ground rules for your interactions at graduation might include agreeing not to discuss the divorce or related hot button issues, such as who will pay for your child’s college tuition in the fall. There will be time enough in the future to discuss these matters in their proper setting. In a best case scenario, you might agree to sit together for a sense of family unity. In a worst case scenario, you can agree to be civil for the sake of your child.
Let Your Child Know You’re Okay: As you deal with your own emotions about your child’s graduation (and the prospect of seeing your ex), check in with your son or daughter to gauge their feelings. When kids pick up on underlying tension, they may resort to thinking they are the cause of it, or even go so far as to think they should skip graduation to protect one of their parents from having to deal with the other. To put your child’s mind at ease, be direct in letting him or her know that you are really looking forward to the big day and are glad that your child’s entire family will be there on such a special occasion.
Respect the guest list: If your former spouse is in a new relationship or has remarried and brings the new partner/spouse along, facing this reality may feel very uncomfortable. Under most circumstances, if your former partner wishes to bring his or her new partner to the graduation ceremony, it really isn’t your place to say no. If you are not currently in a relationship of your own, ask a friend or relative to come along with you. Having a trusted person by your side can help you feel more secure — which is probably part of the reason why your former spouse is bringing a guest along, too.
Hold the graduation party in neutral territory: If the guest list to your child’s graduation party consists of a mix of your family and your former spouse’s family, rather than hold the party in your home or your former spouse’s home, think about moving the venue to a more public location to reduce territorial friction. By going out to a restaurant or holding a cookout in a park picnic area, you are not on anyone’s “turf” and it can be easier for all to come and go as needed.
Anticipate mixed emotions: Finally, despite your best intentions, expect that some mixed feelings may remain at your child’s graduation. In some family structures, it could be that one parent shouldered most of the parenting time and schooling responsibilities after the divorce. In these cases, it may feel confusing or even infuriating for your child (and you) to have the other parent present at graduation. As some kids put it, “Why should I include my dad in graduation pictures when it’s been my mom who has made all this possible?”
Should you find yourself in this situation, recognize your child’s feelings (and your own) and try to come up with positive solutions about how to proceed. Perhaps you and your child could go out to a special pre-graduation breakfast together to celebrate as just the two of you? Remember, life presents all sorts of changes. Perhaps someday these negative emotions will have faded. As much as you can, step back and evaluate the situation by asking yourself: how would you feel if the roles were reversed?
If you are going through a divorce or have unresolved issues around college tuition or child support or custody for your older children, Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group is here to help. Please contact us to schedule your confidential attorney consultation.