Believe it or not, the first quarter grades for many Houston students will be coming home next week. This brings up an important question for many divorced parents. What is the best way to discuss poor grades with your ex-spouse?
When ex-partners get along well, discussing parenting concerns is a non-issue in and of itself. However, when animosity between parents lingers, any issue a child has is often grounds for blaming another parent. This is not a solution to the problem, but certainly is a good way to increase hostility.
As a first line of intervention, traditional supports like parent-teacher conferences and tutoring are great ways to find support for yourself and your child. The focus is solution oriented and efficient, especially if a child has no conduct problems.
Recently divorced parents should bear in mind that changes in grades or conduct are quite common the first year following a divorce. This does not mean parents should ignore a poor report card, but it does mean you should use empathy when discussing the report card with your child or with your ex-spouse.
Significantly lower grades or drastic changes in conduct suggests your child is “acting out”. In such cases, you and your child might benefit from supportive counseling. It is surprising how quickly grades and conduct improve afterwards. Counseling also helps reduce the “blame game” between parents since a professional will objectively focus upon helping you and your child resolve the problem. In my Houston practice, I have seen peaceful co-parenting evolve despite former animosity. This can happen when both parents are committed to positive change. It is no surprise that when divorced parents get along, their children feel more at ease and sometimes stop “acting out” all together.
If your ex-spouse has anger management problems, you might be tempted to hide a child’s poor grades and fix the problem alone. I never recommend this. Although much simpler than dealing with a hot-head, you are also helping or “enabling” this ex-partner to control situations with anger. Your child’s poor report card can be a direct consequence of poor parenting by an angry parent. Unfortunately, these sorts of parents rarely agree to participate in counseling. If this parent is verbally or physically abusive (and this is your reason for not sharing grades) then I encourage parents to seek legal advice. If you divorced a person for any major dysfunctional behavior such as chemical dependency or abuse, then more often than not your child is not safe in this parent’s care. Legal entities exist to help you make the right choices. Logically, grades and conduct improve significantly when a chid is no longer in the care of an abusive parent.
Discussing poor grades with your ex-spouse is never going to be a pleasant experience. However, if you stay solution-focused and blame-free, things will improve significantly. You might just earn an “A” in “Parenting With Your Ex.”