Q. Even though my ex and I have been together for five years, he’s been abusive since day one. I finally got tired of it and left—and I got a restraining order to protect myself and our two kids. He has custody of his daughter from a previous relationship—and I’ve raised her the whole time–but he has not let me see her since I left. He said since he couldn’t see our kids, I can’t see his kid. She’s 7! I decided to let him see our children in the hopes I could see his child. It didn’t work. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Not this, in any way shape or form. You both have children depending on you and both of you are playing games. Granted, I don’t know the severity of the abuse, and I certainly don’t want to diminish what you’ve faced, but if you’ve allowed him to see the kids even though there’s a restraining order in place, that tells me you aren’t concerned about their safety—all signs lead to you and dad using the kids as leverage to get back at one another. That’s about the worse ex-etiquette possible. You’ve both lost your way–and your kids are paying the price.
As a side note: When one parent has sole custody of their children that means something has happened in the past that requires that kind of parenting plan. It also means Dad’s daughter has already experienced loss of some kind at a very early age. He’s playing with fire when he prevents you from seeing his daughter. Actually, you both are. Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1 is, “Put the children first.”
If you’ve been facing this for five years, you know there’s a pattern that’s recreated each time there’s a disagreement. Without the proper tools to break that pattern, partners can be in danger. If one of the partners has been violent, without the proper help, it may continue and often accelerates—and the other may be doing something to contribute to the cycle without knowing it (starting with returning after each incident). Therefore, the restraining order was probably the proper course of action—but as you’ve seen, the fallout once a restraining order is put into place can be just as difficult to maneuver as what lead to the restraining order in the first place.
It’s because of situations like this that I included Ex-etiquette rule #5, “Don’t be spiteful,” and rule #6, “Don’t hold grudges” in the Ten Rules of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents. Those two rules serve as reminders to parents that only they can break a cycle that’s perpetuated by anger and resentment—and the incentive to do that, particularly in your case, is the physical, mental, and emotional health of their children. If you and dad don’t want them to recreate the same relationship you have, stop it now. They will think violence is “normal” and find themselves in the same sort of relationship because it’s familiar.
Finally, when restraining orders become part of the scenario, things have accelerated past the point of simply being able to stop the nonsense—and it’s not uncommon for couples in your position to reconcile after the dust settles. Even if you’re tempted to go back together once things settle down, get professional help before you do it. If individual counseling is too expensive, check Victim Witness or non-profit groups like “Women’s Centers” in various counties that offer free counseling for those who have experienced the fallout associated with domestic violence. (That’s for everyone in the family) That’s good ex-etiquette.
Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr. Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, and other Ex-etiquette books. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.