From the Voice of the Child: Navigating Graduation with Divorced Parents

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From the Voice of the Child: Navigating Graduation with Divorced Parents

After all of the hard work put in over several years in school, graduation is a significant life event for everyone.

By: Sarah Whyte and Sarah Lessard, Fairway Divorce Solutions Waterloo-Wellington

After all of the hard work put in over several years in school, graduation is a significant life event for everyone. Graduation day is filled with feelings of excitement, pride, and a sense of accomplishment.

Graduation ceremonies can be difficult to navigate with divorced parents. The most important thing to remember is that the parents are coming together to celebrate the accomplishment of their child and honouring their achievement. Each graduation ceremony is an important milestone for the child as well as the parents.

graduation, divorce, child, children, graduation ceremony

While graduation is a milestone for the child, it is often also a milestone for the parents as well. The parents are filled with pride and joy as they acknowledge their child’s accomplishment. Further, parents play a significant role in helping a child with school and toward eventually graduating. In a divorced family, it may feel as though one parent helped the child more than the other. Regardless, both parents have a right to be at the ceremony and partake in the celebration of this milestone.

When separated parents are both attending, it is important to remember that the day is about the child. If there are any ongoing conflicts between the parents, the child’s graduation ceremony is not the place to bring up those conflicts. The attention should be directed towards the child and their success.

Last June, I (Sarah Lessard) graduated from university. For the ceremony, the school only offered each student 3 tickets for family and friends to attend. Coming from a background with divorced parents who have both remarried, this posed a difficult situation. This is not an uncommon scenario. I was lucky enough to obtain 2 extra tickets for the ceremony, however this is not the case for every graduate with divorced and remarried parents.

After the ceremony, my parents made sure not to bring up any conflicts still lingering from their divorce. They were both patient as I took numerous pictures with friends and family, and understood that the day was (as selfish as it may sound) essentially, about my achievement.

graduation, divorce

I (Sarah Whyte) had a similar experience when it came to navigating the graduation ceremony. When I graduated from high school my parents were right in the middle of their separation. Nothing was settled and communication was at an all time low. I received 2 tickets and gave one to each of my parents. They did not bring up any details of the separation and each smiled for photos with me in my cap and gown. By the time my university graduation came around the divorce had been finalized and my dad was engaged to be re-married. Again, I had just 2 tickets for guests. Although my parents were nothing but happy for me, I personally could not shake the burden I had assumed to keep them apart. I distinctly remember trying to make separate plans with them each to celebrate and feeling like if I spent too much time with one talking or taking photo’s that I would hurt the other. When I look back what strikes me about this is just how easy it was for me to assume it was my responsibility to organize their attendance, travel plans and be responsible for their happiness. As an adult, logically I knew this was not my responsibility, yet it did not stop me from assuming it; in part because of my personality, and in part because communication between them was just so minimal. Even with them on their best behaviour it did not save me from the subtle yet destructive balancing act children of separation sometimes end up dealing with. Those days should have been days when I did not have to worry about my parents or their feelings, but rather just be happy for myself and for my achievements. They were able to do this, so why couldn’t I?

This would be my caution for those who find themselves navigating the graduation ceremony while dealing with separation/divorce. Sometimes it is not the overt conflict, but rather how you communicate and plan. If parents are able to communicate directly and vocalize their plan to the graduate, it removes the onus from them. If limited tickets, make sure each parent has the option to attend. This can often be a difficult one for step parents, new partners, grandparents, and siblings. If everyone wants to celebrate there are often more than one way to do so and often far more personal ways to show it. Remember that the ceremony itself generally involves a few hours with hundreds of graduates and only a few brief moments with your child. Be creative and avoid putting them under added stress of trying to negotiate additional tickets or balance “time” between guests.

So, with graduation ceremonies around the corner at this time of year, it’s important to remember that the focus should be directed toward the graduate. Let them look forward, not backwards. This is a day filled with joy, pride and excitement, so let those feelings dominate your day.