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Handling Parent-Teacher Conferences


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Should Stepparents Attend Parent-Teacher Conferences?

Parent-teacher conferences are upon us…

When the school year begins, there are all sorts of negotiations that occur: appropriate bedtimes, when to do homework, and how much gaming or time with friends is permitted.

How about the negotiations that adults, including ex-spouses and new spouses, must do in the service of raising children?

Negotiating the boundaries of blended families can be almost as challenging as the most intense negotiations done on the level of international diplomacy.  One misstep and the carefully sought-after peace can vanish.

One potential hot-spot is who should attend a parent-teacher conference.

In a perfect world, you could request separate meetings with the teacher.  But with bulging classrooms and teachers handling large numbers of students, there isn’t always enough time in their schedule to accommodate multiple meetings for the same student.

Here are some ideas for negotiating how to handle parent-teacher conferences:

Idea 1: It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask

If two parents are presently not getting along but both want to attend a conference, it doesn’t hurt to ask the teacher for two separate conferences.  It’s not the best choice only because the teacher’s time needs to be respected. 

But if you really can’t get along with your ex, or your new spouse and your ex can’t get along, it may be in the teacher’s best interest to accommodate this request if they would otherwise be in the uncomfortable position of mediator. 

Idea 2: Do a Conference Trade Off

There are generally multiple parent-teacher conference opportunities during the school year.  You can take one conference and your ex can take the other—with one caveat: good notes must be taken and copies made of anything you’re given related to the child’s progress.

This way, by trading off, stepparents can also be involved in the child’s progress.  While it may be uncomfortable to sit with a child’s stepparent and discuss your biological child’s school progress, it can’t be ignored that stepparents play a role in your child’s progress.  Anything that can benefit children is a good thing, and attending conferences can help everyone feel involved as fully as possible in the child’s life.

Idea 3: Pick Your Battles

If you are the stepparent and want to attend your stepchild’s conference, but your spouse’s ex isn’t open to the idea, it may be in your best interests to let it go.  Instead, ask your spouse for details after the meeting.  Also, ask your stepchild for feedback about their progress.  This gives you an opportunity to deepen your connection with them, by showing interest in their school work and offering what assistance you can—without it becoming a battle with a biological parent.

And if you are in the situation of having a stepparent wanting to attend the parent-teacher conference along with you and your ex, reframe the request if you find yourself viewing it negatively. 

For example, instead of thinking, “Why do they always have to stick their nose in everything?” you could reframe how you view their request as, “This would be helpful for all of us to understand what’s going on with Mary so that we can all give her the best support possible.”

Also, think of it as a blessing if a stepparent takes an active interest in their stepchild.  It beats the alternative. 



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