Developing a healthy, effective co-parenting relationship takes time, and it is not always a smooth process. Even once you have got the day-to-day down, important events can throw you and your family for a loop. Graduations can be particularly difficult to navigate. Your child's graduation is a significant moment, and though exciting, they can be very emotional. They are also a time when families come together to celebrate. This can be a fraught process for parents who have separated or divorced.
Whether your child is graduating from preschool or high school, knowing how to get through this event is not always easy. Keep reading for some tips on how co-parents can navigate their child's graduation post-divorce.
Know What to Expect from the Event
Important events like graduations can be very stressful, especially if this is your first major event-post divorce. It can also cause a lot of anxiety for your children as well. While your child may be excited to graduate, they may also be concerned about how their parents will handle the situation, especially if their parents struggle to get along.
Get as much information about the event as possible. Where is it being held? When is it taking place? Do you need to acquire tickets to attend? Is there a dress code? Are you allowed to bring family or friends with you? Knowing the basics can help you prepare for the event and establishes expectations. You will also want to know what the seating arrangements are – will you have to be seated with your child's other parent, or can you sit wherever you like? Establishing expectations for yourself and your family can help you mentally and emotionally prepare for the event.
Know What Is Expected of You
Not only does it help to know what the event will be like, but it is also helpful to know what is expected of you as the parent. For example, will your child be getting ready at your home? Will you be providing them with a ride to or from the graduation? Are you responsible for hosting a celebration before or after the graduation? Before the event, make sure you speak with your child and find out how they would like the event to go and what they need from you. This way, you will know how best you can be involved and what you can do to ensure the day goes smoothly for them.
Do Not Take Things Personally
It is important to remember that your child's graduation is their day. While you are proud of them, and you likely put in a lot of effort to help them get to this day, it is still their accomplishment that is being celebrated. Do your best to keep the focus of the day on your child. If your child's other parent is difficult, try to disengage as much as possible and refocus on your child and what they need.
Additionally, do not forget that they have the added stress of balancing time with both you and their other parent, not to mention friends and extended family. If your child chooses to do something special with their other parent to mark the day, try not to take this personally. Your child is faced with several difficult decisions, and if they choose to get ready at their other parent's house, this likely has nothing to do with you.
Keep communication open with your child and stay focused on how you can help make the occasion as stress-free for them as possible.
Consider Your Child's Other Familial Obligations
Depending on how long it has been since you and your child's other parent separated or divorced, your child's family may have grown to include new siblings, stepparents, and extended family. This can make graduations more stressful for your child as they try to make time to celebrate with everyone. If your child wishes to include their stepparent or new siblings in the festivities, see if you can find ways to support this. For example, if appropriate, include stepparents and step-siblings in family photos so that your child has some photos of their entire family all together.
If your co-parenting relationship allows it, you may also consider having a joint celebration for your graduate. When possible, combined celebrations allow a child to enjoy the day with both parents and without juggling multiple schedules or choosing one parent over the other. However, this may not be appropriate for all families, and you do not want to force a joint celebration if it does not make sense for your family.
Communicate with Your Co-Parent
Planning for special events is often time-consuming and complicated. As you begin to prepare for your child's big day, reach out to your co-parent to find out what they have planned for the event. This is especially important if you are planning to throw a party or host a celebration. Keeping communication as open as possible with your child's other parent can help you avoid scheduling issues and planning competing events.
Additionally, if your child is still a minor, their graduation may be impacted by your custody arrangement. If you are unsure how special events are to be split, look back to your custody agreement. Many people include special occasion and holiday provisions in their parenting plans, and these provisions can help guide you as you and your co-parent figure out how best to schedule your child's graduation.
To learn more about navigating important social functions, review our blog post on handling religious holidays post-divorce.