Q. My ex and I have a daughter, Bethany, age 14, and we have co-parented well for years. He remarried and now has three more children. Our daughter stays with him during the week for school and with me each weekend, longer in the Summer. He’s very lay-back and his wife really runs the show. I often touch base with her because co-parenting with him is like talking to a black hole. At a recent get-together I tried to explain the follow-up to a doctor’s appointment and his wife cut me off, saying she didn’t really agree with the doctor ‘s approach and wasn’t sure she wanted to give my daughter the antibiotics prescribed. I felt discounted and really angry. I’m the mother, quite frankly, not her, and I feel something should be said. I mentioned it to my ex, and of course, nothing came of it. Should I say something directly to her? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. In order for this parenting triad to work, you have to have very specific boundaries—and, since you and your ex’s wife perform many of the same duties because of the parenting plan you’ve chosen, the boundaries have to be particularly clear or else you are sure to step on each other’s toes. This is the reason Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #4 (Parents make the rules; bonusparents uphold them) was included in the Ten Rules of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents. The parents must clearly run the show and the bonusparent (your ex’s wife) must clearly support the rules in place. She must be empowered to make decisions to ensure the children’s safety, but within the perimeters of the previously established rules. There is one caveat, however. If the bonusparent also has children. Then it’s a carefully orchestrated dance—never forgetting the established roles.
What I believe might be happening is the your ex’s wife is the boss in his house and she has lost sight of (for want of a better word) the “pecking order.” The only way to re-establish that is to have a tactful conversation. (Ex-etiquette rule #8, “Be honest and straightforward.”)
I will acknowledge that these kinds of conversations are difficult. Start first with a frank conversation with your child’s father, letting him know how you feel, and asking him for suggestions prior to any conversation you have with his wife. I would also suggest that he be present when you speak to her. The approach could then be more of “I think we all need to sit down and discuss what we feel our roles should be in regards to raising Bethany.” Keep your child’s welfare at the forefront of the conversation, all the while reaffirming your position as her mother. Remember to express your gratitude for your ex’s wife’s devotion. Don’t make it a power play.
Here are some are some tips for having conversations with exes in regards to co-parenting:
1. Pick a comfortable public place in neutral territory. You house is your domain. Their house is theirs. Keep it neutral. Plus, people are less likely to lose their temper and become boisterous or threatening when in public.
2. State the problem and have a solution in mind.
3. Listen to their opinion. Disagreement doesn’t have to be bad. It can also be the catalyst to coming to agreement.
4. Do not be accusatory. Use “I messages”. I feel_____. Not, you always_____.
5. Keep the child’s welfare at the center of the solution. (Ex-etiquette for parents rule #1, Put the children first.”)
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