Graduation Day: A guide for divorced parents

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This weekend many colleges and universities will be hosting graduation ceremonies, and for others, high school graduation is right around the corner. Graduation season is officially underway.

In most instances, graduation is a happy occasion when families and friends come together to celebrate and applaud the graduate’s accomplishments and wish them well moving forward. But when the graduate’s parents are divorced or in the middle of a divorce — especially if that divorce is bitter — the day may present some challenges.

It’s important for divorced parents to remember that this event is about your son or daughter. It’s not about you or your ex-spouse. While some couples are able to divorce and never see each other again, that’s not the case when children are involved. In fact, graduation is probably one of many milestones in your child’s life that will require your joint participation. The sooner you learn to navigate these occasions, the happier everyone will be — especially your child.

Commit to being civil

On this day in particular, there’s no room for petty comments and vindictive actions. While you don’t have to be best buddies with your ex-spouse, you certainly need to be polite. If that means sitting next to your ex during the ceremony, do it. If that includes posing for a photo with the entire family, make it happen with a smile on your face. And by all means, don’t say bad things about your ex to the other people in attendance. Your child will pick up on the negative vibes quicker than you think.

Here are a few more ground rules to keep in mind:

  • Attend the graduation ceremony. For your child’s sake, you need to show up. Using a bitter divorce as an excuse for skipping the event simply won’t do. This is about your child, so you will need to overlook your differences, put a smile on your face and participate in the festivities. With that in mind, be sure to share the tickets equally with your ex-spouse.
  • Talk with your ex-spouse before the big day. Discuss plans for the ceremony as well as any parties and dinners connected with the event. If either or both of you want to host a graduation party, talk about how you can do this without conflict or competition. That means not scheduling the parties at the same time just to be spiteful. Above all, agree to set aside your differences during this happy time.
  • Behave like an adult. While much of this has already been mentioned, it’s worth repeating. Refrain from saying anything that could create tension and increase anxiety for those in attendance, both during the ceremony and at other related events. And be sure not to drink in excess. This will only increase the likelihood that you will say or do something that embarrasses or hurts your child.
  • Honor the guest list. This is a tough one, especially if you are recently divorced, but realize that it may not be a good idea to bring the person in your new relationship — if there is one. At the same time, accept that it’s not your place to say no if your ex decides to invite his or her new partner. Stepparents and grandparents should always be on the guest list.

Graduation day is a great opportunity to create special memories for your son or daughter. Don’t let a bitter divorce ruin it. Instead, make it a happy, memorable event complete with plenty of well wishes for the graduate.

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David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.