Ah, graduation. Parents of many children probably celebrate this quite differently in their minds and hearts than those of us who have only one child. And married parents too look to this as an opportunity to transition their relationship back to what it was pre-child. For me, it represented the end of so many things I love about being a mom and co-parent never to be revisited again.
First there was high school graduation. I started dreading that about halfway through Ian’s junior year when he started visiting colleges and taking college entrance exams. He was going to leave home. I wouldn’t be able to be there for him when he finished his day. I wouldn’t be able to make a healthy dinner for him. There would be no more high school football games or parades to see him perform at (not that there wouldn’t be more performances in his case of course). The high school experience which I once loathed for myself but now looked back on fondly was coming to an end for him. As for my relationship with Bob, there would be far fewer reasons for us to talk. Would this mean our friendship would fade? Would I never have the pleasure of hearing his funny tales or get to spend time with Bob’s family. Quite frankly, I was overwhelmed with sadness for about 18 months. I felt my worth and usefulness as a mom was fast diminishing. My identity was coming to an end. This may all sound overly dramatic but it really is what I felt.
Thankfully, Ian chose to attend college close to home. So by the time his second semester of his senior year of high school rolled around, I no longer had to consider what I might do if he chose to head off to Southern California or Florida. He would be able to drive 20 minutes or so from campus to home and I could do the same. What a relief!
The first senior event Bob and I jointly participated in was senior night during football season. Senior football players, cheerleaders, and band members were all honored by being given an opportunity to walk across the field with their parents, have their pictures taken at the other side, and be introduced over the PA to the audience. Bob and I never considered doing it any other way. In fact, I might even go as far as to say that other parents of Ian’s friends who had divorced later than us chose to follow our lead and do the same having been subjected to our example for Ian’s entire academic career. I like to think we inspired others anyway. So we proudly took the field together and have another snapshot of the three of us to take forward through our lifetime of memories.
Next on the list was to create a memorable graduation experience for Ian – one that both of our families could join in together. I wanted Ian to have a graduation party. I had not had one and honestly at the time didn’t miss it. But realized not only did I miss out on marking this occasion in a special way, but I also missed out on gathering some much needed funding for what comes next in life through presents offered by those in attendance.
In our case, the last thing I wanted was to make Ian split time between families during his celebration. And since we were all on such good terms and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company, why shouldn’t we hold one big joint celebration? Bob suggested we hold the party at his house since the backyard was better positioned to set up the tents and tables for guests. Since we were only a quarter mile apart as the crow flies, it would be easy enough for everyone to find it that may not know where Ian’s “other home” was. We split the costs of food and decorations. And I was free to invite my friends and family to Bob’s house, which I did without concern. Bob’s wife Brandi helped with a lot of the details and making sure we got our guest list together and invitations made out in time. I created an invitation using several pictures arranged into a collage and we jointly addressed and mailed them. I created a couple of picture posters with snapshots throughout Ian’s life. I was extra-careful to make sure that family members and friends from both sides were represented so that everyone would feel like they were included in this great celebration and were recognized for their significance in Ian’s life. I would have not dreamed of doing it any other way.
Contrast this with the experience of my divorced friend when his daughter graduated. Her mom created a board that had not one picture of the father represented. This is unfortunately the path too many take when they divorce… simply forgetting to consider the feelings of not only the other person but of the child to whom that other parent is definitely important.
When the big day arrived, we sat together at the graduation ceremony and took pictures together afterward. Then we set out to create our everlasting memories of the graduation party. Bob’s large local family contingent was there. And while my parents and other family members weren’t there, I did invite Brian’s family and several close friends and neighbors. So there was a reasonable balance representing both sides.
During the party, I and Bob were both careful to make sure we intermingled the groups introducing those who didn’t know each other and encouraging cross-over conversations, if you will. It was nice to see Ian so relaxed being able to enjoy himself and not worrying about having to leave to go to the other parent’s celebration. He could do what all the other kids did and leave his own party to attend the party of friends while the parent celebration continued. Ha!