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May 2009 - Co-Parenting Special Occasions

As graduation and prom season draws near, many divorced and separated parents find themselves facing important events in their child’s life that require the presence of both parents. Throughout your child’s life, from preschool graduation, elementary concerts, middle school award ceremonies, to high school football games and National Honor Society inductions, there will be special moments when both of you will want to witness your child’s big moment (and your child will want the affirmation of having both parents attend).

Sitting Together
If you are able to sit together, do so, because it will make your child happy to look out into the crowd and see the two people she loves most in one place. Make some small talk – avoiding stony silence will make the time pass more quickly – but avoid taking on big issues or conflicts during these public events.

Creating Buffers
If you want to try to limit your contact with each other, there are a few strategies you can use. First, suggest that you will arrive early and save seats. Often you need to arrive up to half an hour before a performance or event begins in order to get reasonable seating. This is an extra half hour of one-on-one conversation you can avoid if you offer to save seats and allow your ex to show up just before the starting time.

Another way to make things more comfortable is to invite other people to attend. Depending on the dynamics of the relationships, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and significant others can allow you to sit in a group without really having to talk to your ex very much. Note however that if your mom is going to glare daggers at your ex, your former father-in-law is usually rude to you, or if your significant other makes your ex bristle with anger, it may be easy to keep things simple and get through the event without them. You employ the same strategy of arriving early and saving seats for everyone to limit contact.

Post-Event Celebrations
If you will be sharing a meal or attending a party together as a family afterwards, remember to maintain your low-key attitude towards your ex. Keep conversation light and friendly. Engage your child and celebrate the day’s event. If other relatives have attended, inviting them along can make things easier and more celebratory.

When You Can’t Get Along
If you and your ex absolutely cannot sit together, you need to find a way to survive the event without a big blow up. Sit where you want and do not look around to determine where he is. Honing in on his location will only provide you with a direction to aim your animosity at. Instead, focus on your child and the excitement of the event at hand. Bring a friend or family member with you so you have someone to talk to. If you have to go alone, stay busy with texts, a book, or an analysis of what everyone is wearing to pass the time before the event starts.

Separate Celebrations
If you and your ex will both be meeting up with your child afterwards to congratulate him, keep the focus on your child and try not to engage with your ex if you can’t be civil. If possible try to exhibit some pleasantness to your ex – say hello and goodbye and don’t make any jabs. Keeping things non-confrontational will help your child feel more comfortable. If you cannot handle a meal or celebration together after the event, you can to plan separate ones. For example, you can each hold a graduation party for your own families on different days.

Remember that the big day is supposed to be focused on your child, and anything you can do to maintain that focus and limit conflict will benefit your child.