To Go or Not to Go – That is not a question!
Like the parents of most elementary-age kids, we wanted to give our son the opportunity to try lots of different things to let him figure out what he is good at and what he likes. Of course, every time one of these activities is added, it’s another situation the divorced parents must face where they will inevitably be in the same place together lest they miss out on the whole experience that their child has. So what do you do? Do you figure out an alternating schedule? Do you just not go and disappoint your child by not being there? And don’t forget, it’s not just the ex you’ll have to face but probably other family members, and maybe a girlfriend or new spouse. Sounds like another trip down Misery Lane, doesn’t it?
Well it doesn’t have to be! How about you just go and enjoy watching your child do his or her thing? I personally never considered any other option and I don’t think Bob did either. We both went. Of course, we did more than this to enhance the overall experience for ourselves, our son, and all those around us. We usually sat together and marveled in our son’s greatness. Oh stop it! We all do that! But look, in this case, it’s a valuable bridge between your child’s other parent and you. It’s something you are likely to have in common – maybe the only thing. So consider this an advantage you can use to enhance the situation. You will actually enjoy the experience more by exchanging thoughts about your shared admiration as you revel in your child’s efforts.
What do you mean by “he should try another sport”?
Okay, I have to admit, you will also be faced with some other possibilities. Like maybe your child won’t be great at something. Maybe he will struggle. Maybe he will not enjoy a particular activity. Ian wasn’t particularly fond of playing Lacrosse. Maybe there will be nothing marvelous about what the two of you witness together. Guess what? This too is a positive. What do I mean by that? Well you will both witness it for yourself and not have to rely on the opinion of another. You may also talk about it together to form a unified strategy for addressing the situation whether that is to provide opportunities for improvement, allowing your child to bow out of a given activity, or consoling her when she faces disappointment. It is always better to be fully armed with the truth and it is usually better to put two heads together to address a problem. Again, you have common ground. You want your child to be happy.
The gangs all here!
Ian played baseball for a few years and then focused his attention on soccer through the end of middle school. During that time, Bob and I went to the games and usually sat together. When he remarried, Brandi went to most games and we’d all sit together. When I became serious with Brian, he attended the games and we all sat together. On many occasions, Bob’s mom and step dad, sister and her husband, Ian’s cousins, and Bob’s dad and step-mom attended games. Each time, without hesitation or trepidation, we sat together and drank in the moments of my son’s childhood together. Who knew this is what they really meant by “for better or worse”.
I believe this experience served not only our purpose but also provided a great example to others of a choice they too could make. On several occasions throughout the years, I was told by other parents that they thought it was great how Bob and I got along and sat at the games together and enjoyed each other’s company. Not only did they appreciate the fact they weren’t dealt an awkward situation, but they weren’t forced to choose between us either. They could freely communicate with both of us without some weird aura.
Communication – Still required for a happy divorce and happy child
Now we did a really good job but we weren’t perfect. There was a year – I think it might have been 4th grade spring season when Ian complained incessantly about going to practice. Every time we’d get ready to head to practice, it was a battle. “I like playing games. I don’t like practice,” He would say. I told him time and again, “This is part of the deal. You made a commitment and if you want to play the games, you have to go to practice.” Finally, exasperated after having this fight repeatedly over the course of almost an entire season, I told Ian he wouldn’t be playing the next year if he continued to complain. He dug in his heels and complained anyway and I announced to him as the season was coming to a close that I had every intention of following through on my threat. There was no way I was going to sacrifice precious time dragging him unwillingly to practice for a game he enjoyed playing. So I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to sign him up next season. He didn’t complain. He seemed to accept his plight.
Flash forward a few months until fall sign ups rolled around and Bob informed me that he had signed Ian up for soccer. I told him that I had not intended to have Ian signed up this season. He said well it’s already done and paid for now. I guess I had failed to communicate my plan to Bob. At first I was angry that I wasn’t going to be able to follow through as I am careful to always do so with Ian. Whether it is what I will reward him for good behavior, penalize him for bad behavior, or just commitments I make to him in general. I think people accept outcomes and consequences even if they don’t like them if they have been given fair notice in advance. Too many kids are threatened that they will lose a privilege if they do a particular thing only to have the parent chicken out and give in. What this teaches the child in my opinion is that they are no consequences for the choices they make. And this is just not real life. So they better learn that while they’re young or face a lot of disappointment that they feel was thrust upon them by someone else rather than by their own actions.
I am such a meanie!
In spite of my concerns about not following through with consequences, I decided to make sure Ian understood that he was getting one final reprieve on this but that I would not stand for his continued behavior which led to the earlier decision to not sign him up for the next season. I told him in no uncertain terms, “Your dad signed you up for soccer this season because he was not aware of our deal. So here’s how this is going to work. Complain one time about going to practice and you will be done with soccer immediately. I will take you home and neither your father nor I will take you again. You’ll be done with soccer. So make your choice. If you want to play, go to the practices and don’t complain about it. It’s that simple.” Ian never complained about going to soccer practice again and enjoyed another 4 years of playing the sport. And we enjoyed watching… together… with the whole family.