Children’s special events deserve to be memorable and positive. Whether it’s a graduation, confirmation, bar or bat mitzvah, recital or play, children benefit from divorced parents who plan ahead to ensure that the event—and the memory of the event—will not be spoiled by parental conflict.
Parents need to know themselves: trigger points, strengths, vulnerabilities, etc. With this knowledge, they can realistically plan for the event and avoid potential minefields. Doing so ensures that the child will not experience discomfort, witness distress, or have to navigate being “in the middle.”
To prepare and plan, parents can discuss specifics including:
- Who will bring the child to the event;
- Where everyone will sit;
- Who will greet the child after the event;
- Who will be taking pictures; and
- Where celebratory meals will be held and who will attend.
By choreographing a detailed, pre-arranged plan, the event will run smoothly, and most importantly, the child will not experience the discomfort of parents who are jockeying over the same thing in real time.
This type of careful plan is a step beyond a mere accommodation for the child—it requires that parents have a good, accepting understanding of what they can, and cannot, do together, and that they truly see the event through the eyes of their child.
It’s imperative that parents understand (and remember) that special events create lasting memories. Not only will the event make an impression on their child, but it may trigger emotions in the parents as well—from their own childhood. With this in mind, parents can take care to be doubly mindful and aware of all the different ways an event may have an impact on each individual and the family dynamic.
For example, a divorced couple has a son who is graduating from college. Although they have been divorced for many years, one of the parents becomes easily overwhelmed by hurt, sadness, and anger during special moments and holidays, which results in critical remarks and harsh body language.
With awareness, however, this particular parent can choreograph their participation in the event so that it doesn’t become distressing. Furthermore, by communicating this directly to the child, he does not have to understand the behavior or mediate the event.
A plan for special events will vary depending on the parents’ understanding of themselves and their responses to the divorced-parent relationship. Children will experience long-lasting benefits from parents who take the time to carefully orchestrate their behaviors and emotional responses to special events.
Please contact us with any questions or comments.
My Divorce Recovery
Lauren Behrman, Ph.D.
Jeffrey Zimmerman, Ph.D., ABPP