Q. What’s a reasonable amount of contact between my boyfriend and his ex-wife? They have joint custody of their 6-year-old daughter. One week at Mom’s, one week at Dad’s. I understand the joint birthday parties and discussions about doctor’s appointments, but why must they talk two or three times a day about things that have nothing to do with their daughter? My boyfriend constantly assures me that he has no intention of going back to her, but I think there should be less contact. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Years ago, when there was a break-up, mother got sole custody, dad got every other weekend, and that was the end of their required communication. Now, with many “joint custody” parenting plans, a child is required to go back and forth between the parents’ homes on a regular basis. This requires “co-parenting” and parents must continue to talk to each other and problem solve in the best interest of their child. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1, “Put the children first.”)
Boundaries get blurred. Partners get jealous.
Two things must happen if you expect to make a go of it with this guy. First, you don’t draw the line. He does. He the one to figure out reasonable boundaries that don’t step on your toes and also keeps his daughter’s best interest in the forefront. That doesn’t mean chatting with his ex three times a day—unless their child is in ICU–but you are right, it may mean talking about birthdays or discussions about who is bringing snacks to soccer practice.
An important consideration for Dad—not telling his ex that the reason communication must change is because he’s in a relationship now. That makes you the bad guy and will influence Mom’s opinion of you. Why should you care? Because, and this is number two–if you live with this man, the child will be living with you for a week at a time. It’s in the child’s best interest for you to be able to comfortably talk with her mother, otherwise THE CHILD will question her allegiance each time she must go back and forth. “If I like her, I’m betraying mom.” Or, “If I like it at dad’s, I’m betraying mom.” Or, “If I like it at mom’s, I’m betraying dad.” Your ability to comfortably communicate with each other will eliminate this. If you can’t, or don’t want to, this may not be the relationship for you.
To this day many women secretly wish they’ll meet that one perfect guy and live happily ever after. Your guy was once married to someone else, and he brings a lot of suitcases when he moves in with you. You can help him carry them or make them heavier. One mindset ensures longevity, the other ensures another break-up. Make him choose and you will lose.
You will become less involved with your bonus daughter’s mother as the child gets older, but for the next ten or so years, consider her in your life. If that’s not what you want, take note now. That’s good ex-etiquette