Q. My ex-husband is now publically dating the woman with whom he had an alleged affair and one of the reasons I filed for divorce. He has Narcissistic Personality Disorder and I also suspect she has it, as well. My teenage daughters know of her, they are not a fan, but have never spoken to her. This last Christmas she gave them each Christmas cards with gift cards, signed, ”Love,”. Who send gifts signed, “Love” to someone they have never met? The cards make my daughters angry. Do I need to let this go or ask her not to send them? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Tons of red flags…Let’s look at the ones waving the brightest…
Pop psychology gives us all just enough information to throw around diagnoses like they’re legitimate. Years ago, lots of clients came into my office suspecting their children suffered from ADHD. Their reasoning? The children were disorganized, scattered and couldn’t concentrate. I often heard, “I think we should get him some mediation.” They didn’t get the child evaluated or take into consideration that they were going through a break-up, disorganized and scattered and that might be the reason their children couldn’t concentrate. They labeled them ADHD and took it from there. The next wave of clients came in proclaiming their exes were bi-polar. “My ex is irrational. One second he’s like this, the next second he’s like that… he’s obviously bi-polar.” Most exes seem irrational…breaking up does not bring the best out in people. That doesn’t mean he or she has Bi-polar Disorder.
The new wave of ex-diagnoses is Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Everyone’s ex is a Narcissist. Let me just say, these are very serious diagnoses and self-diagnosis can be dangerous. To label someone with these disorders because they had an affair or you can’t get along after a break-up is doing everyone a disservice, particularly your children. If there has been a diagnosis by a professional, then follow the direction of the professional, but I caution you about making decisions based on “I suspect she has it, as well.”
Concerning let it go or ask “her” not to send things…although it does seem quite insensitive, I’m sure their father knows about the presents, and I’m wondering how weighs in on this. If they’re looking for a way to reach out to the kids, think again. Truth is, if he and she really did have an affair and the kids know about it, it’s doubtful she will be accepted and sending presents so soon after your break-up will not win her friends or sway the kids into acceptance. Signing the cards, “Love,” probably does add insult to injury and is incredibly presumptuous, but more importantly, let Dad handle it with her. Getting into a pissing match with the woman whom you believe broke up your marriage will be unproductive. I always suggest, “Grace under fire.”
That said, if the cards continue, I’d consider intercepting them, give them back to dad and tell him cards from his girlfriend to the kids are inappropriate at this time. (Use your head, Dad.)
Finally, as hard as it will be under the circumstances, do your best not to badmouth Dad, (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #3) even if he has done what you suspect. Although you’re hurting, your primary job is to be there for the kids and badmouthing dad will just reinforce their hurt and insecurities. Be their rock. Your kids will figure it out. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone specializes in child custody, divorce, remarriage, and stepfamily mediation. She is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, Ex-Etiquette for Weddings, and Ex-Etiquette for Holidays. 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.