Q. I got divorced 5 years ago and share 50/50 custody of my 6-year-old daughter. I didn’t want to split and it took me a while to come to terms with it. However, we’ve managed to co-parent quite well. We attend any extra-curricular activities together and sometimes went for meals afterwards. We spent her birthday out together. I also buy Mother’s Day gifts, birthday and Christmas gifts from my daughter for her mom. Mom doesn’t have a significant other to get her these things.
About a year and a half later I started dating a girl with a son that lives with her full time. He doesn’t see his father. We eventually moved in together and things have progressively gotten worse. I’m feeling constantly under pressure to change how I co-parent. She believes that I put too much effort in to buying the gifts or perpetuating the birthday ritual. They started out as crafts my daughter and I did together but because I don’t want to fight, they have evolved into my simply buying the present on the internet and signing my daughter’s name. I don’t think my girlfriend and I are going to make it. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Ironically, I don’t think your approach is that far off, especially if mom doesn’t have a significant other, but you may have to tweak things a little to not step on toes.
First, it is imperative that any changes you make are not perceived as done because your girlfriend doesn’t want you to continue. If your daughter thinks changes were made for that reason it could interfere with their bonding. She will resent your girlfriend.
Second, transparency in a relationship when co-parenting with another is essential. I have visions of your girlfriend seething while you are surfing the net for a present. Granted, in your mind it’s, “I’m looking for a present from my daughter,” but since your daughter’s not part of the process your girlfriend sees a left-over connection that’s not necessarily daughter-centered and that puts a wedge between the two of you.
If the present is from your daughter, she should be involved in the process—and your girlfriend should be privy to every choice, even weighing in.
Third, your girlfriend also does not have an ex doing this for her. She has no interaction with her son’s father, yet you have the most equitable parenting plan there is. Your approaches to parenting and relationships are exactly opposite. Be aware that your philosophy is a stretch for those who do not share their children as you do. From her perspective, she’s your girlfriend, yet she feels like the other woman.
Finally, if creating a “family” is your goal, look for ways to include, not exclude. When it’s your girlfriends’ birthday or Mother’s Day, make sure you’re creating a similar ritual by taking the kids out to buy her little presents. Initiate those crafty presents with her son and your daughter—and she should be doing that for you.
…and, don’t keep your girlfriend away from your daughter’s mother. They are grown-ups. Secrets create animosity. This is going to be work, but that’s good ex-etiquette.