There are so many challenges with parenting after divorce. One of the most immediate ones is going to your children’s events with your ex. Are you civil enough to be able to be in each other’s company? Can you sit together? How will other people react? How will your children react?
Antonio Borello is a psychologist and family therapist. He’s been divorced now for three years and during that time has handled numerous events with his ex. Would it surprise you to hear that Antonio thinks parent-teacher conferences are harder than birthday parties? Here’s Antonio:
One of the more challenging things to do is when we have conferences with my kids’ teachers. My daughter’s in fifth grade and my son is in second grade and so we have these updates on our kids’ progress.
Although we don’t have to do them, we have decided to do joint conferences because it presents a united front to the teacher and they know that we’re all in this together. We’re adults and we’re going to make this work.
It gets difficult because you have a twenty minute session with the teacher, and if you and your ex are not on the same page or in a disagreement, it becomes challenging to just sit back and not engage in really expressing your opinion.
For example, there’s a difference in the way that I approach their homework with them and the way that my ex does, and sometimes we might be not on the same page with regard to both types of decisions.
In that setting it sounds like, “You know, I don’t agree with what you just said and I don’t want to engage in a dialogue about this now with the teacher.” I think the first year we were separated we did have that issue a couple times where I think it became probably uncomfortable for the teacher, and I think we both recognize that.
Now if we are in disagreement and I don’t address it with her during the conference, later on I talk to her about it and then we both email the teacher together after we’ve come to an agreement.
I think that if I would have been married it would have been more like that we would have maybe disagreed in front of the teacher and perhaps not get into any kind of a big battle, but I think that the sarcasm maybe, would come out to someone that was watching our conversation.
The conferences have been probably more challenging than going to a birthday party.
We planned a birthday party for my son together. He just turned eight.
We’ve done the bounce houses and the gymnasium with the trampolines. This past year my son wanted a Halloween party. My ex and the kids live in the home that her and I bought together when we got married. It’s a very large home. It’s a perfect house to have parties and we decided to do a Halloween-themed party. It wasn’t any different than it would have been if it was at a public place or something.
It benefited me a lot more than it benefited her because she had quite a bit of preparation to do and decorating. I helped her do some of that but she did 90 percent of the work. That was something that I certainly recognize, that in doing the party in her home she’d shouldered most of the burden of any of the work that was involved in making that happen.
It’s strange because the other parents, they know we’re divorced and they see us and they’re like, “What’s going on here?” But it works out. There isn’t anything awkward about it. There isn’t anything uncomfortable. It might have been in the beginning but not anymore.
The Divorce Coach Says
I am so glad that Antonio brought this up and yes, I can see that teacher conferences would be harder than birthday parties.
I do think it is extremely valuable if you and your ex can attend conferences together. It means that both of you are hearing the same message – you can still interpret it differently but if you attend separately, the conversation is always going to be different and you’ll always hear something second-hand. Attending together means you see how the teacher responds to both of you and you’ll hear what your ex has to say, too. It greatly reduces the opportunity for mis-communications.
However, if attending together causes conflict between you and your ex, then you need to arrange separate conferences. I haven’t heard of schools not offering option but schools don’t always make it easy for single parents so if that’s what you’re hearing, appeal higher up the chain and explain your situation. That doesn’t mean that the teacher suddenly assumes the role of mediating or facilitating discussions between you and your ex – that’s still your joint responsibility but it does mean that the teacher is responsible for saying the same message to you as they say to your ex. The two meetings are inevitably going to be different because it’s a dialogue. You each will bring different concerns to the discussion and you each will most likely have very different relationships with the teacher and that will impact the interaction.
Conflict is not the same as disagreement. If you can both handle your disagreement respectfully (e.g. no name-calling, no interruptions, no accusations) then voicing your disagreement at a conference is perfectly acceptable. It tells your child’s teacher that you do have different approaches, just as many married couples do. Expressing the disagreement openly gives you the chance to solicit the teacher’s input. You’re not asking them to say who’s right or wrong but rather, you’re asking for their professional opinion on the pros and cons of your different approaches and what in their opinion might work best for your child.
Expressing your disagreement may be what makes parent-conferences more uncomfortable than co-hosting your children’s birthday parties and if this is the case then possibly you are feeling that others might judge you for your divorce (“You wouldn’t be arguing if you were married.”), or that you aren’t comfortable handling disagreement, and you’re assuming that the disagreement would also make the teacher uncomfortable. I would let the teacher decide that – their reaction to your disagreement will depend on how you’re handling it and to a larger extent on the teacher’s personal skills and experience around adult disagreement. If you do sense the teacher is uncomfortable then you can suggest that you and your ex discuss the issue privately and get back to the teacher at a later date.
Antonio’s example of co-hosting your child’s birthday party is a lovely contrast to the teacher conferences. He’s right – many people don’t expect divorced parents to do things together and when it happens they don’t know how to react. But again, that’s their responsibility. The underlying lesson is the same – you and your ex get to decide what works best for your family.
Dr. Antonio Borello is a psychologist and relationship therapist. He and his ex are collaborating on a book about relationships. You can follow his tweets at@eDatingDr and follow him on Facebook at Relationships 2.0.
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