Ex-Etiquette Column

Articles on dealing with the "ex" in your life--anyone's ex--yours, their's, even "ex"tended family.

I Don’t Want My Husband Wearing a Gift from His Ex!

Q. My husband and his ex share the kids equally. She will not cooperate and tries to upset our family at every turn. I get along great with the kids and for the past three years I have taken them out to buy Father’s Day presents for their dad. This year without asking me, his ex bought my husband a present from the kids–a Giants baseball hat—he’s a Giants’ fan.  He loved it, but I forbid him to wear it because I know who really bought it.  It wasn’t the kids. I don’t want my husband wearing a gift from his ex! Am I being petty? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Yes, you’re being petty–and if you have to “forbid” your husband to do anything, you have a bigger problem than his children’s mother buying him a present for Father’s Day.
Know this: You married a man with kids and an ex-wife. If she doesn’t cooperate, being petty and vindictive will do little to defuse the conflicts you’ll face.  Plus, the kids are watching. Your actions are not teaching them to look for solutions when facing conflict. Your actions are teaching them to perpetuate conflict. That breaks all ten rules of good ex-etiquette for parent, starting with Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1, “Put the children first.” You are not.
The responsibility of buying presents “from the kids” usually falls to the bioparent unless the responsibility is relinquished to someone else–which it sounds like it was since you have been doing it for the last three years. The problem seems to be that precedent was set, and when the kids’ mom changed her mind without consulting anyone, it upset your tradition and diminished your importance. It’s understandable that you’re upset. It still doesn’t let you off the hook. Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #4, “Bioparents make the rules, bonusparents uphold them.” Granted, mom made changes without consulting anyone, and that was bad ex-etiquette, as well. Changes have to be made, and fast.
A better way to approach this would have been for the parent figures to talk to each other.  Yes, you and mom. Normally, I’d say mom and dad, but the present was a surprise for dad, and you’re in the mix now. Since you live with the kids, your behavior influences them. Therefore, you and mom should be talking to each other. You don’t have to go shopping together, but you should be able to simply touch base in the best interest of the kids in both your care.
Mom could have said something like, “You know the kids’ dad and I got along so poorly after our break-up that I couldn’t even take them out to buy him a present. Thank goodness, things have improved, and I’m grateful you have done it over the last few years, but this year I’d like to help the kids buy a little something for their dad for Father’s Day.”
Your natural inclination might be, “No way, lady. That’s what WE do,” but don’t say it. Ex-etiquette for parents rule #5 is, “Don’t be spiteful.” Every family needs a hero, especially bonus families. It can be you.
 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.

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