They Call It Commencement; After Divorce, It's Something Else

Our graduation extravaganza took place last week. While there were a few glitches, overall, it was a wonderful couple of days. I shared unforgettable moments with my firstborn son, and have a deepening appreciation for the man in my life.
05/24/2013 04:13 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2013

Excited about an upcoming graduation? Elementary school or middle school? Maybe even high school or college?

It's graduation season, also known as "commencement," as we anticipate new beginnings for our children and we hope, a bright path ahead.

Commencement is a time for honoring achievements, for focusing on our students, for celebrating with pride among friends and family. But if we're recently divorced, or we're still immersed in legal proceedings, or we're living in the haze of a more convoluted marital aftermath, we may find ourselves mired in endings. We enter theoretically happy gatherings trailing anger, resentment, or at the very least, trepidation.

There's the awkwardness of dealing with an ex-spouse's remarriage. There's the cold shoulder from once mutual friends, who have now chosen the "other side." There's the wildcard of blurting out a nasty remark, something that has no place at a child's moment of recognition.

For some of you, cordial co-parenting preempts any such dilemmas: You've both put your children first; you've grown accustomed to the ins and outs of blended family; you've tidied up your emotional loose ends and honored your agreements all round.

Your children are the beneficiaries. And I envy you.

But for those of us who live a different sort of life after divorce, how can we manage to bring out our best? How do we dump the digs, shut down the shade, and insure that our kids don't suffer from our adult acrimony no matter what an ex may possibly pull?

I consider myself a veteran of these delicate events. Since my divorce, we've racked up a duo of elementary school graduations, middle school graduations, high school graduations and just recently, the first college commencement.

Some of these went smoothly, and others involved a bumpier road. The high school graduations were particularly challenging, as I found myself sitting with a man I do not respect, having to "make nice," and wearing a mask of pleasant civility - absolutely necessary for the sake of my children.

We were still periodically at war over money. And as had been the case before, I didn't have the bucks to engage an attorney in order to enforce our support agreement.

But graduations are about our kids. I set aside my animosity, and I acted my heart out.

In fact, at my younger son's high school graduation, at the after-party, I noted a touch of my ex-husband's discomfort. To my surprise, I felt a pang of sympathy. I went out of my way to introduce him to other parents, trying to make him feel more at ease.

Yet the consequences of a dozen years of raising two children essentially alone have left me exhausted, and financially at risk. How's that for an honest statement that few of us are willing to admit, in a culture that measures success by the car you drive, the square footage of your home, the vacations you brag about, and the balance in your bank account?

Do I still harbor resentment? Absolutely, though strangely - more at the "system" than at the man who used it to his advantage.

Do I have regrets? Certainly not, when it comes to the way I've cared for my kids.

The cost of raising children is enormous, but when you're gifted with bright and talented children, you count your blessings. You don't pass up the opportunities they earn, even if it requires narrowing your own options to support their ambitions. It's my belief that this is the job of a responsible parent.

I made my choices - freely, consciously, enthusiastically - to set my children on the path of their dreams, inspired by their talent, their drive, and their willingness to work damn hard.

I have pushed - sometimes mercilessly - and they have achieved, winning their way into excellent colleges on merit scholarships, which was the only way to guarantee an education.

Flash forward two more years, as incidents of non-cooperation have persisted on occasion, and financial scuffles have not disappeared. Yet from what my sons tell me, there have been times when my ex has gone out of his way to be good to them. And for that, I'm glad.

So here we are, in the midst of graduation season. Cue my anxiety, worry over the expense of airfare and hotel, and the anticipated awkwardness of dealing with my ex. Fortunately, for the first time ever, I was facing one of these gatherings with a man at my side - a man who goes the extra mile for me and for my kids.

Though I fretted over how to introduce my current partner to my ex - not wanting the man in my life to judge me by the one I once married - I was nonetheless relieved to enjoy the festivities with "reinforcements."

And I reminded myself that first and foremost this was about my son. I wanted him to experience the best possible weekend, with no drama or interference from anyone.

For those of you who are dealing with a similar scenario - regardless of the occasion you may be attending - here is the checklist that I kept in mind:

• This is not about you, this is not about your ex; this is all about celebrating your child.
• Better to say nothing than something you will regret.
• Travel with extra migraine medicine!
• Dress in something that enhances confidence, and makes you feel spectacular.
• Focus on the great kid who will don that cap and gown with pride.
• Be gracious with everyone (kill 'em with kindness).
• Be grateful if you're accompanied by someone you love.

Our graduation extravaganza took place last week. While there were a few glitches, overall, it was a wonderful couple of days. I shared unforgettable moments with my firstborn son, and have a deepening appreciation for the man in my life.

As for the actual "face time" with my ex and his family, it boiled down to a few minutes, and everyone was on good behavior. Whatever our status and our grievances, isn't that how it should be for our kids?