School Pictures
The school called. 
Immediately the sinking feeling hit my stomach.  Would I be able to rearrange my afternoon to
leave work if one of the girls was sick? 
Did one of them have an incident at school?  Do I have time to take on one more volunteer
project?  Like rapid fire these questions
hit before I had even said hello.

It was the school secretary calling to ask if it would be
alright to again this year schedule a joint parent-teacher conference with both
me and my former spouse.  Oh.  That’s all? 
“Yes, of course that is fine.  I
will check in with him to make sure and let you know if anything changes.”  I messaged him right away and made sure we
could civilly sit next to each other for the span of 2 ten minutes sessions
with the girls’ teachers.  He said he
figured we could manage.  I know at that
moment we were both smiling.

Many parents cannot do what we did.  First, have a friendly two minute exchange.  Next, sit for 2 ten minute periods to discuss
their child’s progress in school.  In
fact, just this week I was asked how people manage trading time for school
field trips and class parties because it is too uncomfortable for both to
attend.  If there were one magic solution
that I could conjure up for post-divorce parents it would be to create a
communication concoction to encourage healthy communication between former
spouses to discuss their children – only their children.

We sat in those seats facing the respective teachers for
each of our daughters.  Each teacher,
independent of the other, told us that our girls were among the happiest and
most positive children in their classrooms. 
I wanted to cry.  This was our
grade.  This was the grade we had earned
together as a parenting team.  Because we
kept a steady and relentless focus on keeping our daughters and their best
interests number one, the divorce had not devastated them.

If someone had told me in the months prior to my divorce
being filed that two years post-divorce my children would be considered the
happiest, I would not have believed it for a second.  But in looking at how we had co-parented from
the minute of our separation – I could see that we had earned it.  Their dad and I work hard at
communication.  We keep our ability to
communicate a top priority.

Do we have disagreements? 
Yes.  Do we have uncomfortable
scheduling conflicts?  Yes.  Does the urge to make old arguments
surface?  Of course.  But here is how we do it:

  1. We are both willing to communicate
    We are lucky.  We are not rude to
    each other.  We are not abusive toward
    each other.  Look at whether your former
    spouse is at least willing to communicate with you.  You may not anticipate that it will be pleasant
    – but you have to be willing to acknowledge them for at least
    coming to the proverbial table. 
  2. We keep our communication short, direct, and
    easy
    .  We don’t bring up the
    past.  We don’t blame each other.  We keep to the matter at hand – exchanging
    the ice skates, updating the status of a head cold, rsvp-ing for the weekend
    birthday party. 
  3. We believe in each other as parents.  We begin each communication knowing that the
    other wants what is best for our daughters. 
    We start with the assumption that we love our children and each of our
    perspectives has that end goal in mind. 
    When I feel myself getting annoyed, I remind myself that their dad is
    approaching this from a place of love and concern for his girls.  I open up.
  4. We do not make it a right/wrong dynamic.  We don’t hold a “mine” view of our
    daughters.  Our girls are no more mine
    than they are his.  We act like it.  We have not let the failings in our personal
    relationship with each other interfere with being parents.  We treat our parenting as a professional
    job.  We are courteous and respectful
    toward each other.  We celebrate our
    children together.   We work on their
    learnings with them as a team.  We
    consult each other about how to keep our households as consistent as possible.

The end result is that we get to hear 2nd and 4th
grade teachers tell us how happy and positive our children are.  I get to hear my 9 year old daughter ask me
why someone would think a divorce was bad – because it had never occurred to
her that it could be.  I get to see that
my choice for a happier future did mean happier children.  And for me, that makes the grade.

Angela Dunne

  1. November 7, 2013

    Wonderful advice! I’m a teacher, and have actually had to tell divorced parents that the 20 minute time slot I have would be too short even if the parents I’m spending it with weren’t acting like children themselves. Being a child of divorce, I realize that there is difficulty when it comes to conferences – but check that stuff at the door. The bigger message offered is, of course, meant to permeate the working relationship throughout. Great message, and one I’ll pass on to the parents of my students.

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