Haven’t we all heard that even if you divorce your spouse, “you’ll always have a connection to your children.” This statement is especially true during special occasions in your children’s lives, including graduation (whether they be for middle school, high school, college, or grad school). Tensions may be high between you and your former spouse. However, coming together to support your graduating child will probably mean a lot to your child, especially if you two are civil during the ceremony.
The key to remaining civil is preparing yourself for the graduation, remembering above all you are there for your child and your child alone (graduation is about them not you), and remembering the following do’s and don’ts:
- Preparation. Always plan ahead and manage your attitude. Prepare for spending shared child time with your former spouse. Define the ways that your ex can get under your skin and plan your time at the graduation, including an exit strategy. That way, if you feel yourself getting annoyed or angry, you have a way to cool off or take a time out so your graduating student’s day isn’t ruined. For instance, if there are not enough tickets for all family members (yes, your ex deserves an equal number), split what is allocated with your ex equally and try to find additional tickets if you need them. Hoarding tickets is a no-no. Divorced parents don’t have to sit together. But they should notify their graduating student exactly where each will be sitting in the audience so that the grad can look at them while on stage. Your former spouse may also be bringing a partner along with them. Remember that his or her partner likely is coming to show support (not to taunt or bother or humiliate you). Be grateful that your grad has so many loved ones who want to attend.
- Interaction. Even if you sit on opposite sides in the graduating audience, you will have to interact with your former spouse in some capacity during the day – whether it’s during the pictures or while celebrating your graduating child’s accomplishment. Always keep in mind and act so that the events or the day are as pleasant for your grad as possible. Never put your child in the middle of the divorce – consequently, don’t speak negative terms about your ex during the event. Try to be as congenial as possible when interacting with your former spouse;
- Always be gracious. Try to set an example of how to be poised and gracious for your young graduate. Although moving into the next phase of his or her life, your child is still impressionable and will remember (and perhaps will model) your actions when he or she is in your shoes. Be kind, be courteous, be gracious.
- Share photographs. If you are situated in the front row and your former spouse is sitting in the back row and you get close-up photos of your graduating child – walking across the stage or down the aisle – send a copy to your child’s other parent. If your former spouse is alone and has no one to capture these memories, offer to take a picture with him or her and your graduating child. Remember, these memories and photos aren’t for your ex — they are for your child.
- Celebration. If you won’t be celebrating together following the ceremony perhaps there could be a pre- or post-graduation lunch or dinner with the other parent? No need to arrange it, sometimes the mere suggestion will go a long way. The celebration need not stop or start when the tassel moves from right to left.
- Parties and drinks. If you grad has a family party planned to celebrate his or her graduation, you might have extended periods of interaction with your former spouse. Always avoid drinking. It could impair your judgment and ruin your careful preparation for a civil day. Also, know when it’s time to leave. There’s a good chance that spending the day with your ex – and perhaps his or her new partner – is draining. That is why it’s a good idea to have the party some place other than at your own home. That way when you’re ready to leave, you can bow out gracefully.
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- If your former spouse if planning a graduation party for friends and family, don’t compete by also planning a celebratory event at the same time. Such a tug of war is unseemly and puts your child once again in the middle between two competing parents. Let the graduation ceremony serve as a single event that is focused purely on your graduate. Before planning any party, talk/communicate with the other parent and ask if plans have already been made. Alternatively, if you find yourself outside of an already planned party, take the high road and let your son and daughter be the spotlight on this special day.
- Don’t stare around the graduating auditorium or locale lamenting to yourself over other “intact” families or ruminate about how bad your divorce was. Graduation day is not about you. It’s about your child. Keep focused on the good things in your life and the good things awaiting your child and the accomplishments that your child has achieved;
- Don’t hog the other children. Surrounding yourself with your other children so that your former spouse is forced to sit alone is petty. If logistically practical, suggest that some of the children sit with mom and others sit with dad. If there is more than one event leading up to graduation, the children can swap back and forth between the parents on each event. At the very least, make the offer for some of your children to sit with their other parent.
- Don’t speak negatively at your spouse or about your spouse in front of your graduate or other family members with comments like: “Lucky for you, you got your brains from me,” or “Intelligence runs only on my side of the family.” Again, this will make your graduate feel uncomfortable and remove the focus from him or her and place it squarely on you. If you can’t be gracious and you can’t say something gracious and kind, don’t say anything at all.
If you follow these do’s or don’ts, your graduating son or daughter will have an event that they will always remember fondly and you may be taking the first step to laying the foundation or continuing to build a civil relationship with your former spouse.
Board Certified Marital and Family Law Attorney Charles D. Jamieson understands that divorce is an extremely sensitive and important issue. Thanks to extensive experience and a focus on open communication, Attorney Jamieson adeptly addresses the complex issues surrounding divorce while delivering excellent personal service. To discuss divorce in Florida, please contact The Law Firm of Charles D. Jamieson, P.A.The Law Firm of Charles D. Jamieson, P.A. or call our office.