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Sometimes it's really hard being an adult. Or rather a mature adult. There are always parts of ourselves that want to act like a child and tell the ex off. But we can't do that because we love our children. And he is part of them whether we like it or not.

On milestone events, this problem is magnified. But you have to be focused and find a solution that creates peace vs. war.

Your instructions are: plan, plan, plan. Sit down with your ex prior to the graduation and agree that the important thing here is that this is a happy day for your child. And work out in advance how close the relationship is between your child and his stepmother, her parents, her siblings, even her friends. It's hard to accept that on those days when Colton isn't in your house, he has an entire world of relationships you might not know about. You therefore must find a way of asking your child which people he would like to be there. Getting tickets is another matter.

Tickets are often limited. If there are only two tickets, it makes sense that the biological parents attend, and act in concert during the ceremony. No cold shoulders, dismissive shrugs, no eye rolling. This is a day that is important to both of you. Act like it.

As for the rest of the family (and that means all those people you might not have met, on his stepmother's side), they should be entrusted with planning and executing the graduation party. Siblings might not even get tickets for the graduation, and will have to mark their time at the party house. Make it clear to them that they are not expected to be part of the diplomatic corps. But that you do have certain standards you expect of them on this day. And then spell those out.

What's important is that you and your ex co-parent and plan for the unexpected: school friends turning up at the door, romantic entanglements being worked out (and the possibility of tears), the risk of under-age drinking, etc. Have the grace to come together, if only for a short time, on this day. And make sure ahead of time that your ex's new wife accepts your partnering with your ex on this one day. There is no reason for her to be upset. She'll have him all the rest of the time.

Ideally each parent, each set of grandparents, each step grandparent, will give gifts of similar value. This is not the time for biological Grandpa Rick to hand over a trust fund. That can be done another day, and not "in the face" of the stepfamily (and possibly stepsiblings).

As I wrote in my book, "The Rules," having some diminishes heartache and actually creates opportunities for heartfelt moments that all can enjoy.

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8 comments

  • Comment Link anonymous Wednesday, 15 April 2015 03:34 posted by anonymous

    So as a SM and D who the child lives with and they provide all the child's financial support, they are planning the graduation party. There is absolutely no communication with the biological mother of the child for a few reasons: she has never been very involved in his life until recently (past 3-4 years) and in the beginning of SM and D's relationship she created AN EXTREME amount of tension in child's life. The child has expressed how he felt like a spy and was overly questioned about SM and D and that the biological mother constantly called D a loser and bad-mouthed both D and SM. In the child's younger days it was to the point he would be in tears not to go visit with his mother during her visitation and was referred by the attorney who represented D in the divorce to a family psychologist to help the child cope with the strife. The biological mother has even exploded in the past at public events at the SM about the SM is not to have any say so in the child's life. Now the child is graduating from high school and party planning is taking place by SM and D and child wants biological mom and her family invited to said party. Any advice?

  • Comment Link anonymous Monday, 24 November 2014 06:13 posted by anonymous

    To Sunday Aug. 5,
    You have just explained my entire weekend last. My son's graduation (Masters) and I tried the high road, the planning, the communicating. My son asked me to talk to his father who was trying to control times and get togethers. So, I texted asking about plans, trying to put something together as a family, after or before, where to sit. Who was attending from his side of the family etc. Got nothing but cryptic texts back about "other plans" No replies. As always he lied.. had told my son he was coming alone but had no intention. That is why he would not sit with us, meet with us even for pictures after. He was bringing his girlfriend who was the adulteress in an affair that ended our family. My children want nothing to do with her so he ambushes them which he decided to do on this milestone event of our sons's. He even texted my daughter to say have a good time knowing full well he would be there for the weekend. He and his sister planned a brunch at a family members house before the ceremony and did not invite our daughter. Then sat on the other side of the room while I sat with my daughter and my sons girlfriend. The whole thing was humiliating, embarrassing and cruel. What I learned is that you cannot "talk" to a crazy person so I won't be doing that again and that I am done. No more family events for him. We will tell him a week later. I cannot put myself or my children through that again. We must all disengage. He is not to be trusted to his word and is a source of stress.

  • Comment Link Izzie Wednesday, 05 June 2013 00:03 posted by Izzie

    wow going through the same thing NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY !!!!!!!!!!! my daughter is graduating this year to what to do its like the presure is on her i feel like not attending its like she wants her grandparents their but she is imbarassed for him and she is undeciceve what do i do cant plan nothing at home his family is in another country few weeks ago memorial day we i get together with my family and he askes can he go i just looked at him and replied but you said my whole family is a pain and you hate them all how do you deal with this you bit your tonge and he would have gone after the remark i made he bursted well i do thing your whole family is stupied and useless but if the bbq is at Petes he is so so my daughter said no dad just stay plz this is so pety how to deal with this i am drained i need to put a fight because all my life i have been quit i know it sounds bad .and the worse part it feels like everyone hates me my children stop talking to me but when the need somthing the change there attitude just for a bit i guess narcissistic personality runns in them to they are good kids but lately i feel hopeless i stay in prayer and this helps me thanks Joel Olsteen He really cheers me up GOD BlESS HIM

  • Comment Link kxstowe Wednesday, 15 May 2013 00:25 posted by kxstowe

    I have decided to treat the situation as close to indifference as possible, which means HUMOR. Simply refuse to to take him seriously. If he decides to man-up, so much the better. But I am done arranging my life according to his agenda. Whether the kids see him for who he is or not, it is all the same to me. I think this is as close to nirvana as I will ever come, and it feels just right.

  • Comment Link Guest Saturday, 23 February 2013 22:45 posted by Guest

    Well, the time is approaching: Well, the time is approaching when we will be together for a graduation for PhD for a child who has been all a parent could hope for. I am arriving one day early to have my own celebration with him before my ex-husband's family arrives to take over. Let them take credit where credit is not due, and put on a show as they have shown themselves all-to-ready to do. I know the part I have had in my son's life, and that is his accomplishment, and his only. I am honored to be his mom, and will take pleasure in his own accomplishments while watching the show my ex-inlaws will put on patting themselves on the back for something they had nothing to do with... Sometimes you have to acknowledge yourself for a role you played in your own child's life that no-one else will recognize. What matters is that you know who your are and that you know the role you played in your child's life.

  • Comment Link Guest Sunday, 05 August 2012 17:13 posted by Guest

    Ex unwilling to communicate: How do you best handle this when your ex uses milestone events to publicly shun you in front of your children and other family members attending the event?

    The last milestone event was our son's graduation from college, and that is how he behaved toward me. Attempts to communicate with him turn into marathon e-mail exchanges with no productive outcome, just hurtful accusations and attempts to upset me. He stays in control of the whole situation by behaving this way, making everyone uncomfortable, and no one will stand up to him. If I stand up for myself, it also makes everyone uncomfortable. My choice boils down to either enduring this treatment and the discomfort it creates for everyone else, or not attending the event.

    My son will receive his PhD next May and I want to attend the hooding ceremony. My kids have very sensibly said I should work things out with their father in advance (as your article suggests) and they do not know how he behaves when I try to communicate with him. Nor do they want to know.

    I expect both children may decide to skip participation in such events in the future just because they are either put in an uncomfortable situation as described, or would have to decide which of us to invite. This is a position they should not be placed in, and he has so far refused to either improve his behavior or bow out of some events to give me a chance to attend. This leaves it to me to miss out, or for the kids to decline to participate to avoid an almost certainly tense situation.

    Kids are ages 31 and 27, and ex-husband divorced me 10 years ago. I was going through a rough period of life and very depressed, in part because of the way he mistreated our daughter and the emotional abuse he put me through. We went through several sessions of family therapy and marriage counseling to attempt to get back on track, without success. Ex-husband was diagnosed with narcissistic personality.

    Any suggestions on how to handle this?

  • Comment Link Guest Friday, 27 July 2012 12:21 posted by Guest

    really?: I'm sorry to say this but you sound pretty bitter for someone that's so happily married!

  • Comment Link Guest Friday, 27 July 2012 10:07 posted by Guest

    We feel quite differently: We feel quite differently about this.
    We live a several hour plane flight from the college where SD was graduating.
    The ex-wife discouraged any relationship of the SD with the step-mom. She has always snooped as much as possible in our business. Turned the SD completely against the SM, and, in terms of money (though we paid half of the college expenses), against the bio-dad.
    Thus, SM and half sisters stayed at home, and bio-dad attended the graduation, along with his friend, who was god-father to the child in name only (not interactive with the child so much).
    The ex-wife wanted DH to help pay for the party on Sun. after a Friday graduation. If he stayed until Sun., the ex-wife would, as usual, try to get DH wrapped up in her family; try to run his life for Fri-Sun, to make herself look good, as her 2nd marriage bombed, and she's never really moved on in life.
    The Sunday party was all about SD's friends getting together, and the ex-wife's family. Instead of going, DH took SD and her boyfriend out for a nice celebratory brunch on Sat., and celebrated with a group on Friday night until late into the evening.
    We felt that this arrangement met the needs of the SD, and worked well for us. The ex-wife has been very solicitous of DH in the last few months, which usually means she wants money, or wants to find out the details of our lives, to use it against us, and we'd like her to disappear, so this was the best way to balance everything. It would not have been good to do the party, as she takes any interaction as DH's interest in her, and then she ramps it up more. She has never gotten the message that she dumped him, he's been happily married for 17 years, and she needs to move on to get a life, as she is still very much in her parents' lap.