Everyone has their own divorce. Even people divorcing each other often have very different views on what went wrong, what could have been done differently, etc. Often, parties to the same divorce have different ideas about how to move forward. When divorcing couples have children, ideally, the children are of paramount importance. Handling parent teacher conferences after a divorce is a topic many people don’t consider until the day of conferences. This blog post is written in the hopes of helping guide parents by discussing different choices and options parents have.
Make Sure Your Child’s Teacher Knows About Your Divorce
While many people find their divorce to be an intensely personal and private thing, informing your child’s teacher early in the process is critical. When away from you, your child spends more time at school than any other single location. Knowing your child is facing a shift or upheaval at home will allow your child’s teacher to understand changes in your child’s behavior.
Note: while it is important that your child’s teacher knows you are getting a divorce, it is not important for your child’s teacher to know why you are getting a divorce. Leave those details to your counselor, or your best friend. Do not use your hurt feelings to punish your ex through painting an unflattering picture of them to your child’s teacher.
Optimally, both parents attend their child’s parent teacher conferences together. The focus should remain on the children, their progress in school, and any concerns the teacher may have about how the child is progressing. You may decide ahead of time one of you will take the lead. Alternatively, you may both have questions. Attending parent teacher conferences together sends a message, both to the child and to their teacher, you are committed to co-parenting. While you may no longer be married, attending conferences together indicates you recognize and accept your joint responsibility to raise the child, and you are committed to their best interests.
You may decide, for whatever reason, for one parent to attend parent teacher conferences and report any progress or concerns to the other parent. This works particularly well if this was the pattern before the divorce. Consider emailing any information you receive at parent teacher conferences, for a clear and complete record of what transpired.
If you plan to each attend parent teacher conferences at different times, check with the school. Teachers may or may not be able to accommodate double bookings.
Improvise and Think Outside the Box
While you may both have your child’s best interests at heart, sometimes, couples just can’t be in the same room. One option may be for one parent to go to the conference in person, and the other to be present via Skype or a cell phone.
When There is a Restraining Order
Of course, if you have a restraining order, no one expects you to attend conferences together. Nor will you be expected to communicate information from the conferences to your ex. Make sure your child’s school is aware of the restraining order if you are requesting separate conferences.
New Partners Not Invited
Rarely, a new partner is appropriately invited to parent teacher conferences. Particularly the first few conferences after a divorce, the addition of a new partner is not necessary or helpful. Any information conveyed at the parent teacher conference can be conveyed later to new partners who also have a place in the child’s life. Bringing a new partner to conferences adds stress. Further, while you and your ex know your child and their needs, the new partner may need “back story” and history for context. This can take up precious time. As a general rule, the inclusion of a subsequent partner in parent teacher conferences occurs only in situations where the new partner participates significantly in parenting the child. A second caveat, for the best interests of the child, both parents should agree to the inclusion of the new partner ahead of time.
Parent teacher conferences are notoriously short. You may not have time to get to everything. You certainly aren’t going to have time to discuss possible solutions to problems your child’s teacher tells you about. Consequently, it’s a good idea to set aside some time after to discuss how you are going to address issues. This includes things such as how to make sure your child has the right textbooks at the correct home, better communication about due dates for things such as science projects, or a commitment to making sure your child is getting enough sleep.
Set Ground Rules Ahead of Time
Especially if this is your first parent teacher conference, it is a good idea to set some ground rules. These should include, at a minimum, an agreement to maintain a child focus during the conference; an agreement to leave past hurts and old arguments at the door; and a commitment to discussing the information after the fact, keeping in mind your child’s best interests.
You may find that you and your ex do not agree on the importance of school. You may find you and your ex don’t agree on the importance of a particular concern your child’s teacher has. That is okay. Disagreements probably occurred before your divorce, and will likely occur again. Pick your battles.
If You Are Considering Divorce
If you are considering a divorce, contact the lawyers at Fait & DiLima. We have over 50 years of family law experience. Our lawyers work with you to assure a divorce as void of conflict as possible. We represent your interests so you can get your life back on track.