Attending a parent-teacher conference after divorce can be awkward, especially if the ex-spouses are not on speaking terms. That being said, keeping up-to-date with your child’s progress in school is critical.
Most parents agree that the key to their child’s success is education, and you want to ensure that your child is having a positive experience in the classroom. That’s why parent-teacher conferences are important. The teacher is the gateway to the knowledge you need about your child’s education: where your child is doing well – and where he or she needs improvement.
Unfortunately, communication with a child’s teachers can suffer when a marriage dissolves.
A parent-teacher conference after divorce doesn’t have to be difficult.
The emotional impact a divorce has on a child can be intense. Younger children may not have the words to express their feelings. Older children recognize that their parents are stressed and are hesitant to express their own pain in fear of making the situation worse. The strain a divorce causes can show up in the classroom.
Acting out and poor grades are not unusual for the child caught in the middle of their parents’ divorce. This is why you should keep your child’s teacher abreast of your situation. Let your child’s teacher know that you are going through a divorce. Don’t wait until the parent-teacher conference to share news of the split.
Notifying the teacher early on in the process will allow them to gauge ― and be sensitive to — changes in your child’s behavior or academic performance. Waiting until the parent-teacher conference to tell the teacher about the divorce will only make the conference more difficult than it has to be. Save the conference for discussing your child’s performance in school, and not the issues surrounding your divorce.
This news should focus on your child rather than you and your ex-husband or wife. It may be tempting to tell the teacher about specific problems in the marriage, but this is unnecessary and can damage the relationship between the teacher and your ex. Although most teachers are professional – they are also human. It may be difficult for them to maintain a good relationship with your ex-spouse when they’ve been given an earful of negativity about them.
You should not expect your child to tell the teacher about the divorce or separation. This can add to your child’s stress. If you feel that you can’t tell your child’s teacher in person, then give them a phone call. You need only to share the fact that you are getting divorced. Only share details you believe the teacher must know in order to help your child in school.
Time for Good Behavior
A divorce can have a long-lasting impact on a child if each parent allows it to disrupt their child’s life. It is a challenging time for everyone. But young children don’t have the life experience and coping skills that adults have. The first year or two after the divorce is a critical time. This is when the child is adjusting to a new family dynamic. How you and your ex-spouse decide to handle key events in your child’s life ― including how you handle each parent-teacher conference after divorce, can make a difference in their adjustment.
This Is Your Chance
You should touch base with your child’s teacher throughout the school year. The parent-teacher conference, however, is a chance to have a more in-depth discussion. A teacher spends a considerable amount of time with your child. They can give you information about your child’s academic and social life that you would otherwise be unaware of. Most schools schedule these meetings only once or twice a year. You’ll want to prepare questions and concerns beforehand. This will make the meeting more productive. It’s also a good idea to provide the teacher with a list of topics you’d like to address in advance.
Keep an Open Mind
Your child may present a rosy picture of their school life to you. You may feel surprised to hear that your child is exhibiting bad behavior or that their academic performance is subpar. The teacher may also be aware of social problems your child is experiencing.
It may be difficult to hear negative things about your child, especially when you are going through a divorce. Before the parent-teacher conference, remember to keep an open mind. Your goal is to work with the teacher to solve any problems that your child is contending with.
Go It Alone?
There are some divorces that are so bitter that the parents can’t be in the same room together. Even if they are not fighting, the strain between them can be palpable. If one parent feels they were forced to attend a parent-teacher conference after divorce, they may sabotage the meeting. If you are fairly sure that you and your ex-spouse will end up arguing in front of the teacher, you should go alone.
You and Your Ex-Spouse Are Still a Team
You may be divorced, but you share the responsibility for your child’s well-being. Both parents should know how their child is doing in school. If the child is splitting their time between the parents, continuity is needed to ensure they do well in school. Should both parents agree that they cannot meet with the teacher together, there are other ways to handle the situation successfully. These include:
- Scheduling separate parent-teacher conferences.
- Asking the teacher to call the other parent after the conference.
- Emailing questions and concerns to the teacher prior to the conference.
- Sharing notes taken at the meeting with the other parent.
- Or, with the teacher’s permission, recording the meeting so the other parent knows specifically what was discussed.
The downside to going it alone is that one parent is getting information second-hand. The teacher has to address each parent’s concerns separately. Solutions agreed upon between the “solo” parent and teacher may not be implemented by the other parent.
A Solo Parent-Teacher Conference After Divorce Can Be Problematic
There is another reason why a parent should not attend a parent-teacher conference solo. A child could use the miscommunications to their advantage (or at least what they perceive as an advantage). Some divorced parents are so averse to speaking with their ex-spouse that they depend on the child to communicate for them. This allows the child to “forget” a few important details in things like educational plans you may have developed with the teacher.
Your Child Should Come First
If at all possible, both parents should attend the parent-teacher conference together. Preparation can help mitigate bad behavior by either parent. Email each other a list of questions and concerns you would like to address in the meeting. Remind each other that this is about your child – not your divorce. In fact, the parent-teacher conference can serve as a model for how you can work together for the sake of the child. You may not always be a couple, but you will always be parents.
If the first joint parent-teacher conference after divorce is not handled well, don’t give up. Try to work together to identify what went wrong and how you can improve the next time. Consider discussing the issue with a counselor.
Whether you decide to attend your child’s parent-teacher conference alone or with your ex is ultimately your decision. If the tension between you and your ex-spouse is unbearable, it is likely best to go alone. With that said, both parents should have an opportunity to communicate with their child’s teacher. Try your best to compartmentalize the divorce. Focus on your child’s educational success and well-being. Doing so will help your child now and in the future.
Lawrence S. Manassa is a trial-tested litigator with over 29 years of experience who knows the trauma of divorce first hand. He is currently a partner at Manassa Hartman, P.C. www.manassalaw.com