Back To School: How to Co-Parent Through Extracurricular Activities At Your Child’s School
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By Karen Bonnell, Guest Author - September 01, 2017

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When your support of and participation in the classroom enhances your child’s school experience and doesn’t interfere with your co-parent’s role in the class- room or impact transitions, then go for it. 


Co-parents benefit when they have strategies for navigating back-to-school nights, science fairs, parent-teacher conferences, end-of-season banquets, and other kid-centered school events.

As with extracurricular athletics, both co-parents are welcome at school events regardless of residential schedule. Co-parents may decide to split the duty by agreement: “You go this time; I’ll go next.” But aside from that, both are free to attend.

When your children are present, follow the protocols for sports and extracurricular activities listed on page 165 of The Co-Parenting Handbook. For example, at a science fair, encourage your child to spend a reasonable amount of time hosting their other parent. Give helpful directions and allow space for success. Preplanning with your co-parent can mitigate confusion for your child.

Rick and Mitch both planned to attend Tyson’s science fair. Rick was on duty, so he checked in with Mitch about which half hour he’d like during the evening, offering either seven to seven thirty or seven thirty to eight. Mitch appreciated both the planning and generosity. He happily accepted the second-time slot, which allowed Rick to have the first slot with Tyson. As seven thirty approached, Rick told Tyson to meet him in the cafeteria at eight when he was done showing Mitch his classrooms and projects. Tyson happily greeted Mitch when he arrived at seven thirty and announced, “OK, now it’s your turn, Papa.”

Parent-teacher conferences may or may not be scheduled together.

The advantage of meeting together with the teacher is that you both hear the exact same information from the teacher as well as the concerns your co-parent raises. If you meet separately, you may want to take notes to verify that you understood the teacher’s feedback and share them via a transition e-mail with your co-parent.

At banquets and other more formal events where children are seated with parents, have your child sit with the duty parent.

Leaving these decisions up to the child is rarely a favor and often a source of guessing and stressing. When you are respectful, give children helpful direction, maintain healthy boundaries, and remain on the same page about supporting kids in public spaces, kids win.

Walt and Barbara carved out very different lives post-separation. Walt remained part of the gang of parents involved in their daughter Erica’s activities; Barbara stepped away. When it came to Erica’s band banquet at the end of junior year, both parents wanted to attend. Walt arrived first and sat at the table with all his friends.

When Barbara arrived, she chose a table where parents of some freshman band members were seated. It was hard on Barbara to feel like an outsider, but she persevered and accepted that she was the one who had stepped away from all the parent involvement after the separation. Erica came over to her mom immediately, gave her a big hug, and let her know how glad she was that she had come. Erica went back and took a seat next to her dad as the evening’s presentations began—it was her week at Dad’s—and this clarity helped Erica feel con dent that she was doing the right thing.

When volunteering in classrooms or for school projects, avoid impacting the duty parent’s day-to-day relationship with the child.

When your support of and participation in the classroom enhances your child’s school experience and doesn’t interfere with your co-parent’s role in the class- room or impact transitions, then go for it. Otherwise, be sensitive to creating any sense of competition or boxing out the other parent by signing up first for parent volunteer opportunities. Co-parents may want to discuss rotating volunteer roles at their tri-annual co-parenting business meeting if issues arise.

High school special events (homecoming, prom, senior recognition, etc.) bring co-parents together for pictures and gatherings.

Teens are particularly sensitive to being singled out or feeling different. As co-parents at a teen-centered event, do your absolute best to be stress-free and easygoing, allowing your teen to move freely with friends, get pictures taken, and share the event without worry for parents’ feelings.

Geoffrey’s parents had been separated for eight years by the time he was a senior in high school. They both attended pretty much every athletic event he was in, cheering from opposite sides of the gym. The last game at the end of basketball season involved a special recognition for all the seniors. Each player with a mom in attendance had a rose to present to her; parents walked out to center court with their sons, where a professional photo was snapped. Lisa and Matt each easily wrapped an arm around their son, who stood proudly between them: parent mind in action, with Geoffrey as the focus.

Lilah needed two roses for her walk out onto the floor with her parents, because both her mom and her stepmom were there to celebrate her last home game as cheer captain. Her stepmom stood next to her dad while Lilah stood between him and her mom. Snap went the picture of Lilah and her family.

Graduations from kindergarten through college represent milestones for kids and proud moments for co-parents.

Our hope for you and your co-parent at these special milestone moments is that you will be able to come together and celebrate your child. Take pictures for each other; if appropriate, have someone take a picture of you both with your grad for their scrapbook or bulletin board. The more parents can relax and focus on their child, the less guilty the child will feel about parents’ distress and about parents “having to come together ’cause of me.”

Children’s life-cycle events, like graduations, are wonderful opportunities for all family members when everyone can honor and respect each other. However, it’s not a time for children to take care of adults’ feelings.


*(c)2017 by Karen Bonnell. All rights reserved. Excerpted from The Co-Parenting Handbook: Raising Well-Adjusted and Resilient Kids from Little Ones to Young Adults Through Divorce or Separation by permission of Sasquatch Books.


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