The word “graceful” is a deliberate addition to the blog title because anyone can attend an event together, but I want to give some tips on how to attend an event as co-parents and do it well. This matters because when you are co-parenting, you will have many events in life to attend together, both big (graduations and weddings) and small (piano recitals and school conferences). How you manage these events will shape your child’s experience of the divorce. Here are some things to consider:
- Avoid conflict. Only attend events together if you can clear this hurdle. There is little more embarrassing to children than to see their parents go at it in front of their school or friends. If the only way to avoid conflict and attend the event is to sit apart, then by all means, do that.
- When possible, sit together. If you can cordially sit together, this models for your child that you are able to put your differences aside for their benefit. One of the losses for children of divorce is that their parents often don’t celebrate their achievements together. Communication is too often saved for things like, “Sammy failed math. What are we going to do?” It is also really nice to see two parents high-five on the sidelines after a soccer goal is scored.
- Stay child/event focused. One of the ways to maintain civil interactions is to keep the focus on your child and/or the event at hand. “I’m excited to see this game because he’s been practicing really hard” goes over better than “I can’t believe you are dating him/her”. You can also choose light or friendly topics, but be honest with yourself. You know how to push your ex-spouse’s buttons and you owe it to your child to not go down that path.
- When significant others are involved. This shifts over time. Certainly don’t show up to a piano recital two weeks after the divorce is finalized with a new significant other (hopefully your parenting plan has already created a structure for how and when to bring significant others). Eventually, one or both of you will be dating and when it is serious, they will likely come to events. Hopefully, by that time, you are both comfortable with the idea and have ways of interacting that are civil. If not, the above advice applies: don’t sit together and don’t cause a scene. If this does not improve over time, see a therapist to better understand your feelings about the situation.
- Think long-term. What do you want to be your child’s divorce narrative? How do you want him/her to describe you and your co-parent’s behavior over time? Most people want their kids to feel like they can move on after the divorce and focus on their own lives and not worry about their parents falling apart or lashing out every time they see each other. In each of these occasions, you have the power to control your behavior and response. You cannot control if your ex-spouse behaves poorly, but you can choose to de-escalate a conflict or not engage in it. In the long run, this is an enormous gift to your child.
It is really daunting the first time you have to see your co-parent out in public or at a function. Remember, that this will likely shift over time. If you act civilly enough times, it will become more natural. Your relationship can evolve into a child-focused friendly relationship an