THE BLOG
09/09/2013 11:07 am ET Updated Nov 09, 2013

Back-To-School Night With an Ex

When you're parenting with an ex, receiving that Back-To-School night announcement flier is such a buzz kill. You've just managed an amazing milestone: the start of school - which involves the incredible effort of school supplies, new outfits, lunch box creations, alarm clocks set, hair brushed, smiles on, and pictures taken at the bus stop, then WHAM! one week later you get slammed with Back-To-School.

"Just great," you sarcastically sigh. Another occasion that you'll have to suffer through with your ex. Can't the calm, routine filled (not ex filled) bliss of school-starting seep in a bit longer? Do you really have to face this parenting with an ex event?? No you don't! The solution is at hand: you will divide this event in half. The first half of the Back-To-School evening will be your turn and the second half of the event will be your ex's turn. Yep, that's right. Your child can first show you her classroom, her seat, her books, her poem on the wall, and her favorite classroom activity. Then she can show you the way to the art room, the gym, the music room, the cafeteria, and the bathrooms. Once the whole school is covered once or twice at a jog, you will leave so that your ex can arrive. Full avoidance. Brilliant!

Once your ex arrives, your child can show that parent the classroom, her seat, and her books. Forget the poem and her favorite classroom activity, time will be running out. The other parent can't see it all? Too bad. At least you avoided each other and that is most important. Given the circumstances, you fit in what you could. It's the way divorced parents do these things.

You think this scenario is over-the-top? A tad sarcastic? Just ask a teacher what they've seen. This is reality for many children, and if you look in the mirror, you just may admit that you've thought about it too. I have. Because being at events with an ex sucks.

I have no shame in letting my thoughts have their space. It's entertaining, this parenting-with-an-ex sitcom that I play out in my mind. But after the last laugh-track plays with the cut-away shot focused on the child's exhausted face, I sit with the ending lodged in my throat. I can clearly feel that THAT way is not going to be my child's experience.

And so, I think of a new way. One that ends differently.

When Back-to-School Night is split in two, what is usually a fun and proud night for a child turns into a burden. Your child becomes more worried about crossing between Mom's time and Dad's time, and less focused on showing off her accomplishments. The night is exhausting for your child, less than fulfilling for the parents, and the whole point of the evening is lost.

What can be more fun for your young child than for the whole family "gang" focusing on her at Back-To-School Night? Her mom, her dad, her siblings, her step-parents, her step-siblings - all there for her. For days, her classroom has prepared for the big night: cleaning up the desks, creating projects for display, and putting finishing touches on creative stories. She is proud of her work and anxious to show it off. There are teachers to meet and other kids to see. It's like a big, exciting party for your child where she is the star attraction. From your child's perspective, the more to share it with her, the merrier!

This is an event specifically designed for parents. As her parents, you should be there, together - even if it's virtual. Be sure that your ex has plenty of notice so that he or she is present. You should walk together, ooh and aah together, and greet the teachers together. There are usually parent sign-up sheets to register for conferences or participate in classroom parties. You and your ex should consider these together and sign-up when appropriate. If your child's other parent is remote (and this applies to intact families as well) include the other parent by real-time chit-chat, texts, and videos throughout the event - allowing space for all parties (including your child) to interact and ask questions.

You and your ex should have fun with your child and be glad that she is excited to show off her classroom activities. By being Parents Together, you show her that she is important, not the divorce.

While this may not grab the ratings as a sitcom, the smile on your child's face - and the knowledge that you were responsible for creating it - is the better way.