She Said/She Said, Part 2

Welcome to Week 2 of the She Said/She Said Project between myself and Meredith, author of  Now Is Good.  This week, we’re talking about Parent/Teacher Conferences and whether or not partners of parents should attend these meetings.  You’ll find Meredith’s point of view below and you can find my post at Meredith’s blog.  Happy reading, happy considering and please share your thoughts with us!

Today’s topic concerns significant others attending parent/teacher conferences at school with the biological parent.  This post topic was suggested by Tara; thankfully, I haven’t had to cross this bridge yet.  When she suggested it, my initial reaction was, “WHY would that ever be necessary?”  Weeks later, as I sit down to try and write something objective and understanding on the subject, I must admit that my feeling is still, “WHY?”  I’m anxious to read The Divorce Encouragist’s explanation as to why this is something that ever needs to happen—I respect her take on the ways in which she interacts with her boyfriend’s children, but this is something I just don’t understand.  It seems like such an unnecessary (and therefore somewhat offensive) interjection of self into the parental sphere.

In my experience, these parent/teacher conferences are usually scheduled to give the parents an overview of how a student is progressing academically, socially, developmentally.  I can’t see why the significant other would ever need to attend such a meeting (or, quite honestly, why a teacher would need to schedule two separate meetings just to accommodate the significant other’s presence).  Grandparents don’t attend these meetings; neither do nannies, babysitters, aunts, uncles or any other adults who may love and care for the child and provide parental-type guidance in or out of the home.  Wouldn’t it be sufficient for the parent to attend the conference and then convey any necessary information to the girlfriend or boyfriend at home?

Obviously, if the parent/teacher conference is called for some other reason (say, a problem occurring in one of the child’s households) it might make sense for all adults living in that household to attend the meeting and discuss the issue and possible solutions thereto.  Outside of this factual scenario, however, I don’t quite see the point.

It’s no secret that the ex-spouse frequently feels like his or her toes are being stepped on by the significant other’s presence in the childrens’ lives.  This new person walks in, takes their former partner, decides to begin parenting their children, and in many ways appears to replace the ex-spouse in the life they once led.  I understand that significant others may love and care for their partner’s children.  I even understand that they may want to fully integrate and participate in 100% of the child’s life.  But I’m not sure that means they get to.  To insist upon attending a parent/teacher conference (unless that attendance has been requested by the teacher) seems … antagonistic, at worst, and simply disrespectful of the biological parent’s place, at best.  It appears as though the significant other is trying to usurp a parental role for no other reason than just because he or she can or just because he or she wants to.  To me, it smacks of toe-stepping at its finest and is disrespectful of boundaries that should be set up to minimize the amount of stress and clash in a child’s life.  It reflects an air of entitlement by the significant other and I don’t think it’s going to go very far toward creating a respectful partnership among all of the adults in a child’s life.

Seeing no logical or necessary reason for the significant other’s attendance at and participation in a parent/teacher conference, then, I am still left wondering, “WHY?”


32 comments on “She Said/She Said, Part 2

  1. Lori says:

    Okay, I don’t know where to post on this! I am with you, Meredith, on WHY!?!?! because I am an INVOLVED mother. I send notes back and forth with my son’s teacher asking about his progress, I ask my STBX-MIL about how best to enable learning for my children. And I tell our teacher about problems and concerns that I know my ex never would. Getting my ex to be involved in school is going to require constant effort on my part. So I don’t feel the teacher needs to converse with a sometime presence in the kids lives. The way I feel, I got it. Ex can step up and be involved, but no more need apply here.

    ON THE OTHER HAND. My coworker is involved with a man with two sons who are older (11 and 13) and experiencing significant school issues. She is a stabilizing parent in their lives, looking for solutions for them (ie, involving a low self esteem, low self control child in judo to provide a constructive outlet) and helping their father be a better father. Their mother is inconsistent and selfish and not parenting well. My coworker *is* involved with the schools because these children need help and need solutions, and she’s the promary driver for that.

    But, like I said, *I* got it. I did it alone in the marriage (not by choice! I tried to drag him into education then, too!) and I certainly don’t need the girlfriend around.

    • What if your ex had a partner that was on your side? What if she supported you as the mother and wanted to be present at these functions so that she could learn more and therefor better support you? I think in many cases, Mom and Dad’s partner could be allies.

      • Lori says:

        Addressing your comment below, too, yes, other people could attend, but they would sit quietly and let mom & dad get to the business of discussing the child’s progress. I’m thinking along the lines of ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ here. I want my ex to step up and be a parent, and in some ways he is. I worry that if he brings his gf to these events he’ll fade again. Then he can go talk to his gf afterwards. If she’s supportive, great. But it’s MOST important that the ex and I be on the same page (and in the one P/T conference we attended, we attended together, I don’t understand the two conferences.)

        • At BF’s kids’ school, they automatically schedule separate conferences for separated parents.

          Typically, I do take the seat farthest from the teacher and remain relatively quiet during conferences. If I have a question or contribution, I do speak up. I should note that these are 10 minute appointments and it’s not a serious in-depth discussion.

          Why would your ex “fade” if he involved a SO in conferences? In my situation, my role is supportive, not a distraction.

      • Lori says:

        Interesting on the school scheduling… My ex would ‘fade’ because he is who he is. I have had to set boundaries to ‘force’ him to make some parenting decisions and was accused of ‘making him the bad guy’ because he had to make those decisions and tell the kids what those decisions were.

  2. I’m glad that Meredith mentioned other family members in her post. I’d like to touch on that for a second: when I was in school, we had “Grandparent’s Day”. It was a few hours set aside for grandparents to come to the class, meet the teacher share in the children’s academic experience. They were welcome.

    If a child lives with another relative because Mom/Dad can’t care for them, that relative would attend the conference. And they would be welcome because they care. Nobody would dismiss that person because of their non-bioparent status.

    Furthermore… Imagine a relative is visiting from out of town during a scheduled conference and they wanted to attend for the same reasons that I like to attend. I don’t think anyone would refuse that either. In fact, it would probably be somewhat of a celebrated experience.

  3. Heather H says:

    Why ask Why? Every situation is different and in many ways what works for one family may not work for another.

    I’m both a mom and a stepmom, an ex and a remarried. I see both sides and believe that the kids’ emotional well-being has to come first. Kids are a part of both mom and dad and need both parents involved. And often a spouse can become a “better parent” after divorce which can be quite frustrating for the parent who did everything when they were married. Often, we have to look at that as a blessing to the children.

    I’m a custodial Smom so I go to all their conferences and am very involved. My ex and I go to our kids conferences and my husband stays home. I relay everything to him when I get home.

    The truth is my ex is happier, more relaxed and I think a better parent when he is in a healthy relationship. I know that no woman could ever replace me as my kids’s mom and that goes for every mom. So if there is a woman with their dad who cares for my kids, is a positive role model and is helping them then that is a good thing. It is often hard to put aside feelings of hurt or resentment that we may have for our ex (especially if we were left for someone) but it’s necessary.

    As I wrote on Meredith’s blog…. every relationship, family, stepfamily is unique and what works for one may not work for another but it is not our job to judge.

    If a significant other has a pure motive for going, ie. they are truly invested in the children’s lives then they shouldn’t be judged for going.

    I can tell you as a custodial stepmom, while I do love my stepdaughters I recognize that I am not their mom and I respect the role of mom to much to every try and replace her memory. My goal is to be a positive role model for my stepdaughters and to model a healthy relationship for them. Even though they haven’t seen their mom in a long time, I know they love her and they should.

    Let’s remember that we all share one thing in common: the kids. Put the kids’ needs first and what will create a positive academic experience for them and go for it.

  4. Jack Adams says:

    From a father’s perspective…
    It seems that so often theses discussions are led by women who are still hurt and somewhat bitter about their ex. They then foist that bitterness onto the new GF or possibly wife.
    That’s fine. You’re entitled. But it is not doing you, your world or your child any good at all. You need to get past the feelings of bitterness, the “toe stepping” thoughts. Misery is optional. When you decide that you are all going to work as a team for the benefit of the child, suddenly you will want the new GF involved. The more people in a child’s life providing love and support and interest, the better I say.
    This feeling that a new SO has no place at a parent teacher conference has nothing to do with the child. It has to do with your personal attitudes toward your ex and possibly the SO. Get over those feelings. Open your mind to the idea that you can’t control everything, and trying to will only make you miserable. Change your attitude and you will change your life for the better.

    • Lori says:

      I also don’t want my mother, mother in law, au pair, brother, siblings-in-law, or cousins at a P/T conference. My Ex and I are the captains of our kids ships. The rest of the village swabs the deck, mans the sails, and whatever else the crew of a ship does. My Ex and I steer the course (ideally). SOs may be welcome at open houses and baseball games, but there are a few things that they need to step back for. School decisions. Medical decisions. Mental Health Decisions.

      If one of my kids had a medical issue, the people I want there are me, my ex, and my brother with the medical degree.

      If one of my kids has a learning issue, I want me, my ex, and my MIL with the education degree.

      There are a couple things I noticed about Tara’s views – 1) the school was already setting separate conferences. So she wasn’t usurping the mother’s role when she came in. 2) she mentions that she doesn’t talk as much, so I’m guessing she has a certain inherent respect for not being the mother. NOT everyone shows that respect.

      • Just wondering… How would the presence of another family member have a negative effect on the kids?

        I see a lot of arguments about being sensitive to the wishes of one parent. But this whole issue revolves around the kids and their development into grown adults (I attended a seminar once where the presenter stated “a parent’s job is to become unemployed”). If it’s not right for another supportive family member to share the space, then, with respect to the children, why is it wrong?

    • theBoyfriend says:

      spot on Jack!

      The new SO has every right to be there!

  5. Jeff Allen says:

    Interesting perspectives here….true, it has little to do “with” the children, but when one parent (as custodial parent, and yes, this usually implies the mother-thank you family courts) intentionally USES these venues to either skewer the ex or his SO by martyring herself on the educational altar, or, conversely, brings HER SO to intimidate and belittle the NCP who is trying to be a part of his children’s educational career, it is a problem.

    And I say that in two capacities, as a NCP who does have a vindictive ex AND as an educator who has had his share of parent-teacher conferences at the secondary and post-secondary level and has seen this go on.

    • It’s been suggested that divorce can often motivate people to be better/more involved parents. I’m just curious…in your history as an educator, have you seen more divorced dads than married dads at conferences?

  6. I think a major difference in our arguments lies in the assumed relationship between Mom and Dad: “parallel parents” vs. “co-parents”. In my scenario, for the first few years, it was a parallel parenting situation: there was no collaboration between Mom and Dad about either SO’s involvement with the kids. These days, Boyfriend and his ex are better at co-parenting and he gets along well enough with her new husband. My presence is largely ignored from Mom’s side (perhaps because I’ve not been validated through marriage?).

    I’m fascinated by the extent to which our paradigms influence our discussion. Thanks, everyone, for respectfully disagreeing with me and not calling me names 😉

  7. I am so sorry for being MIA today—I truly didn’t mean to post and run. Shortly after I helped open this can of worms today, my youngest woke up with strep throat … again, and so my day has been filled with that … again. As a result, my very belated responses to all the wonderful (and very emotional) comments so far, in scattershot form:

    Everyone’s viewpoint on this issue (as well as most others) is going to be colored by his or her personal experiences. Have a jerky ex that insists upon shoving a SO down the throat of the former spouse, the children, the teachers, and anyone else who looks at them in any way that they can possibly construe as disapproving? It’s going to skew your perspective. Have an ex who has undertaken enormous effort to drive a wedge between you and your children? Skewed perspective. Have a SO whose children you adore and despite doing everything as “right” as possible and showing as much respect and deference as you can muster, you’re getting nothing but a wealth of hatred back in return? Skewed. Perspective.

    The only truism I can see through any of these situations is that it wholly depends upon the circumstances. It depends upon the length of the SO relationship, the circumstances under which the new SO entered into the familial arena, what the kids want, what the teachers want, how each of the biological parents feel about it, how involved each of the biological parents is, the age of children, whether the parties involved are making any effort whatsoever to be respectful of each other and find working compromises, and so on and so forth.

    I think there is a difference between attendance at parent/teacher conferences and open-house-type events and I think there may be a difference in attendance by these groups of people. One difference that comes to mind, even at open houses, is that grandparents have probably been invited … by BOTH parents, by the children, by the teachers … and it’s doubtful that their presence causes any discomfort for anyone in the classroom. Regardless, to answer several earlier questions, although I would expect to see grandparents or visiting relatives at open houses, I would be asking the same WHY?? Question in regards to grandparent attendance at parent/teacher conferences.

    I truly appreciate Heather’s perspective from both the position of stepmom and mom. But if I’m understanding the situation correctly, it sounds like her stepdaughters’ biological mom is not involved. As a custodial parent with an uninvolved biological mother, her role is necessarily different than that of many SOs. Heather said that what should matter is whether the SO’s motive is pure. I agree. But who gets to judge that? HOW do you judge that? I think that’s “why you ask why.” Plenty of SOs deserve the benefit of the doubt there. But what about when the SO started an affair with my husband? What about when she sent home baked goods and baby gifts when our youngest was born? What about when she befriended my older children outside of my presence and without my knowledge? All while she was sleeping with my husband? It’s harder granting that SO the gift of imputed pure motive. Tara’s motives might not be about offensive attacks or replacement tactics, but that doesn’t mean that other SOs’ motives aren’t exactly that. But again, I grant that my perspective is skewed.

    If a biological parent is not actively involved with his/her children and the presence of an SO helps keep them otherwise engaged, then obviously that’s a good thing. If, however, the presence of a SO enables the biological parent to slack off and shirk parental duties and responsibilities, the SO’s presence is a detriment. When both biological parents are involved and engaged and committed to raising their children (together, to the greatest extent that is possible), then I still feel there is no NEED for attendance by a SO. It still boils down to the SO being there because the SO wants to be there. Perhaps it’s not a harm. Perhaps it’s not a help. But just because it’s a break-even doesn’t give the SO the “right” to be there, particularly in the early stages when everyone is trying to figure out how this multi-partnered dance is going to play out.

    Obviously, the best case scenario after a divorce is that all the grownups figure out how to play nicely together and they all respect each other’s roles and they all appreciate each other’s contributions. That’s never going to happen overnight, and unless everyone involved is willing to try and willing to concede a point or a position on occasion, it’s never going to work at all.

  8. Julie says:

    I think the term “right to be there” is strong. I don’t think a SO has a “right” to attend a parent teacher conference. It is something that their partner either invites them to attend, or the child asks them to attend….but “right”? No. I think that’s one of the most difficult things about being in a position like Tara’s….she technically doesn’t have any “rights” toward these kids at all – despite having a deep and meaningful relationship with them.

    And in my experience as an educator – we get a good mix of both married couples and divorced couples at conferences. It’s more common the dad will come if they’re divorced so he can hear for himself what is going on. Married dads are more likely to skip, since they feel confident that they will get an accurate (and timely) report that night at home. But for me, conferences usually happen with both parents in attendance regardless – divorced or married. And on only one occasion did step parents attend…and that was at the request of the student. Other than that, steps and significant others have stayed home. And I’ve been doing this for a little under 15 years so…..approximately 450 families. And counting.

  9. Marmee says:

    It all boils down to motive. What is the motive behind the SO attending a school conference? If the desire is created by interest, concern and love for the child, I see no reason why SO would not be welcomed.

    Can your child really have too many people who care about him/her?

    It is however, up to the natural parents to evaluate each situation and ensure that it will benefit the child.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Marmee!

      I agree… the gray area, as always, arises when Mom and Dad disagree with whether or not a child will benefit.

    • Anonymous says:

      According to my stepkids’ mom, yes, a child CAN have too many adults who care for him or her. Her kids are allowed two: mom and dad.

      • LOL… Then why send them to school? By her logic, the teachers aren’t allowed to care either!

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m sorry, did you say “logic?” I must have misunderstood you. She is WAY on the emotions-driven behavior side of the continuum. Which of course justifies her needing to protect her kids from me, the heartless, hardened-logic decisionmaker who can’t know any better because she never had kids of her own and is trying to steal mine. But I digress …

  10. Mandy says:

    I don’t mean to be wishy-washy on this but it’s like so many other aspects of life after divorce … it depends on the individual situation. I think it makes a lot of sense for the SO to be involved if they are actively involved in the child’s schooling. Attending parent-teacher conferences conveys to children the importance you place on their performance in school and that in turn reinforces the importance of education.

    How much of the resistance to a SO attending comes from the parent’s own insecurity about their role rather genuine concern for their child’s education?

    • Thanks, Mandy. I enjoy these debates because I think it gives us all an opportunity to re-examin our own actions based on the perspectives of others. Yet, the “right answer” is always the same: it will depend on the individual family situation.

  11. Saw Mandy at tweet this and came over here to vote. When it was clear while we were dating that Husband 2.0 was going to be a permanent fixture I had him join in some of our meetings. This was a year or more into our dating relationship.

    Glad to see some positive spins on divorce, which is also my philosophy about which I also write, though as a blog category and not a blog about @

    Thank you!

  12. Marmee says:

    “Sharing” your children’s affections are always difficult for a loving parent. As a new grandparent I must fight my need for “ownership” of my grandson. He is part of a large family on his mother’s side and I see pictures posted on FB regularly for events in which I was not included. But I remind myself that he benefits greatly from this large and loving family and I work hard to make a place for myself in his life.
    Having physical time with a child is so important and when there are many who fight for this time, it is critical that the child’s best interest be the priority. That may mean sharing precious time and also decision making.
    It is not easy. But patience will prevail. Your child will feel the benefit, if not able to communicate it, of the gentle warming of the sun and not the howling wind approach to relationship building.

  13. […] a little surprised that it was the parent/teacher conference issue that set off such sparks.  I didn’t see that coming, although possibly I should have—I […]

  14. ChopperPapa says:

    I’m going to provide a radical notion that, I feel, relates to the general topic of the last 2 posts which I understand to be the role of partners (I am defining that has dating, engaged, or married who RESIDE with the children, which I think is key) for purposes of this response (and which I assume the authors do also).

    The notion…wait for it…is that we, as parents, don’t own our children. They aren’t a piece of chattel that we have title or deed to and that no one else has rights on. As if someone else moving in on our territory is cause for legal action or pulling out the shotguns and in a southern drawl “get off this here property”.

    This notion of a partner not attending a parent/teacher conference and the illusion that they don’t belong reeks of a posted warning sign ‘private property’. Regardless of how the other parent wants to view this, a significant other has assumed the role of a parent simply by engaging into a relationship with that individual who has children. They also assume all of the responsibilities that that role entails up to and including parent teacher conferences. In fact I would argue that having the partner attend is a vital necessity. The teacher(s) should be made aware of the family dynamic.

    On the surface this response would hint at someone who has had the partner attend with him, but the contrary is the case. I was the parent who has the ex’s partner involved. I personally have eradicated any feelings of being threatened as I came to the understanding that I don’t own my children, they are given to me by God for only a season on my life. TO place relational constrictions on them because it somehow meets my emotional needs and doesn’t make me feel threatened is nothing more than selfish.

    • Thanks Papa! You bring a great perspective. I’m assuming it was still difficult in the beginning to get used to your ex’s partner’s involvement with the children… especially considering the history. Are there any coping skills you can share? How long did it take before you felt less threatened by his involvement?

  15. TheBoyfriend says:

    Thanks CP! I really enjoyed your perspective on the issue. Too many people feel that they own their children and/or live vicariously through them.

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