Q. I’m wondering exactly how to handle this situation and I thought you might be able to help. My husband died unexpectedly in a car accident three years ago. I have a daughter who is now 4. Since it’s been just she and me, we often sleep together. It was a difficult transition for both of us when her daddy died. I’ve recently met someone I really like—which I thought would never happen, but it did. My boyfriend wants to sleep over, but I can’t get my daughter out of my bed. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Don’t we all like to snuggle with our kids at night—and just about every parent in the world will tell you that their child occasionally sneaks in their bed during a thunder storm or after a bad dream, but the key word is “occasionally.” Those who subscribe to the “family bed” philosophy might disagree, however, things are different when you don’t live with your child’s other parent.
If a parent dies or you break-up, the natural order of things is to grieve, but hopefully you will find someone again who will become a partner and your soft place to fall. The problem is, if you’re sleeping with your child and kick them out of the bed because your new guy is coming over, you’ve put your child in direct competition with your new love. I can’t tell you how many children have confided that “Mommy loves _______ (you fill in the blank) more than me. When asked to explain, it’s very simple, “Mommy said I can’t sleep with her anymore because __________(again, you fill in the blank) is sleeping here. She likes him more than me.”
In the world of good ex-etiquette it’s always best to anticipate things like this so kids can’t correlate a change in something they love with the introduction of someone new. If it’s obvious you’ve stopped doing anything with your child that he or she enjoys because of the introduction of a new partner, you’ve sabotaged your relationship with him as well as your child’s relationship with him. It may mean that you must go slower than you would like, but it’s what you have to do. “Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1 is, “Put the children first.” This is particularly important in your case since your child’s father has passed. Your new partner may be the father figure and male role model she grows up with. The last thing you want to do is undermine that relationship before it starts.
So, from a practical standpoint, make sure her room is inviting. If you can afford it, try redecorating—paint the room her favorite color, a new quilt, stars on the ceiling, whatever it takes to make it feel special so she’ll want to sleep in there. Establish a good night ritual to help her wind down and comfortably slip off to sleep. If she comes into your bed at night, gently walk her back reinforcing that her room is a safe place. If she cries or is scared, try going into her room to cuddle, but don’t sleep in there all night. That will defeat the purpose. If you stay consistent, she’ll get accustomed to sleeping in her own room, and then take a look at your new relationship. 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.