‘Tis the season for prom, graduation, weddings, and a host of other special occasions! Many of these events are milestones and once-in-a-lifetime moments, meaning that loved ones galore will wish to share in the festivities. Among those who will want to attend the many parties and ceremonies are exes, former in-laws, and step parents; so, it’s reasonable to say that there may also be some fireworks at these events!
Big life events have a way of bringing out the stress, and not necessarily the best side of the people involved; so, if the celebration has the extra added weight of ex games on top of the typical flurry of activity, the potential exists to leave a black mark on the day.
How can you navigate through a day full of divorce drama without ruining a landmark day?
Remember that the day belongs to the star of the show (the graduate, bride or groom, and so on). As special as it is for parents, grandparents, and other family to be front and center for the important event, it can never be forgotten that the child everyone loves is the one being celebrated and should be able to enjoy their day without fights or pettiness.
Most likely, what he or she wants most is to have the people they care about surrounding them with love and support on such a memorable day, not marring the occasion by keeping anyone away from the event or arguing on the sidelines! If ever there is a time to suck it up and behave like civil adults for the sake of the children, this is it!
Allow your child to have pictures and priceless memories instead of painful remembrances of childish and selfish behavior!
A friend of mine shared that her son requested a picture of her and her ex together with him at his graduation, and it is still a treasured photo that he keeps framed and on display!
A child’s graduation is not the time for competition between parents and step parents.
A child’s wedding is not the time for digging up the past, nasty comments, and chilly vibes between guests.
A child’s momentous day is a time to love the child more than hating exes, steps, and others who also care!
Let your child call the shots. The only one who has the right to say whether someone should be excluded is the child! Let the child express their wishes for the guest list, seating plan, and schedule without judgment or criticism. The day should not be clouded over with your child’s fears of disappointing anyone or fights breaking out. Instead, their wishes should be respected and they should be allowed to feel the love of all who attend!
Keep it separate, if necessary. Are you afraid that tensions will be too high for all to celebrate together? Some moments cannot be duplicated. For instance, a bride will only walk down the aisle once, so it’s unreasonable to expect the couple to recreate the event so that different sides of the family can be kept apart.
If the relationship is strained between parties, an option is to host separate celebrations (e.g. more than one bridal shower or graduation party). My husband and his ex-wife have a high-conflict divorce, so we opted to host his son’s graduation party the Sunday before his graduation (on what would normally be his time with the kids anyways), then his ex-wife is having a party with her family the next week when it is her time. This will allow my stepson adequate time to spend with each side of his family in a relaxed setting without fear of any tension.
For the actual graduation ceremony, my step-son could request as many tickets as he needs, and the venue has general seating. Thankfully, this means that everyone can sit where they want to honor him without fear of being forced to sit together or deal with any conflict.
If you and other family do not get along, you might consider scheduling times during prom photos to allow access to the child for photos. This solution will depend on all parties involved respecting the schedule. The beauty of a schedule is that separate time removes the stress of tension when all are together so the beauty of the moment can be enjoyed!
Respect the roles and sanctity of some priceless moments. When it comes to significant moments, such as preparing for prom, the walk down the aisle, or photos, it is important to recognize and respect the role of parents versus step parents and others. Each family and its dynamics are different; but, it is most often the case that the parents should have top billing and access to the child and special time.
Step parents and other extended family are important too, but (unless there are special circumstances) mom should be the one with the privilege of prom dress shopping and preparation over others. Some times in a child’s life are quintessential experiences normally shared between parent and child, and this should be allowed to occur.
Payment for special attire and events is typically shared between parents. Even if mom has the pleasure of shopping for the wedding or prom dress, dad should ideally help share in the cost, and both parents should have the joy of taking plenty of pictures and spending some time with the child before the big event.
Respect the relationships. Every family is different; therefore, some step parents, grandparents, and others have a starring role in a child’s life. There is no harm in letting a step parent be involved during picture time or even helping to plan an event, if that’s what the child wants! There are plenty of ways to incorporate various family to allow them to show their love and support without anyone becoming rude or feeling like toes were stepped on.
My co-worker is getting married in October. She was raised by her stepdad, and never met her father until she was ten, and rarely sees him even now. Both men expected to walk her down the aisle. She had to navigate through some hurt feelings, but finally divided tasks for each to make them feel special and included. Her step dad will walk her down the aisle, then her father will share the father-daughter dance with her. Her decision was the best compromise she could think of that would honor both, and they must accept her choice.
Facing an ex and sharing important moments are never the most comfortable, but necessary to celebrate important moments in a child’s life. It can be done with dignity and respect for the magnitude of the occasion so that an important day can live on in a child’s memory as a precious moment, rather than becoming a nightmare because of bad behavior. Remain focused on what the day is really about rather than worrying about what others are up to, and everyone can enjoy a wonderful day!
Oscar the Grouch says
What of the parent who abandoned the kids who returns for graduation? My ex-wife handed me surprise divorce papers, ordered me to communicate only through her lawyer, and then moved 4 hours away, cutting me off completely, and almost completely cutting off our kids (who found out she was leaving for good from their aunt). Their mother won’t visit or call them, but they can visit her or call her, but rarely have (2-3 days, twice a year, and they can drive).
Now they are both graduating. My daughter has invited her to the ceremony, and she is apparently coming.
I don’t think their mother deserves to be there. I’ve done all the parenting since she left, with no input from her, and dealt with plenty of tough situations alone (including trying to answer, “How come Mom doesn’t call?”). She is completely unaware of what has taken place since then. I’ve also paid for it all – their mother hasn’t worked since she left. I’m broke and exhausted.