Q. I’ve been divorced for five years. We have two teenage children. Our anniversary was on New Year’s Eve. It’s a tough day for me—my ex has remarried, but I have not. The problem is every year my ex sends me a “Happy Anniversary, honey” text. He thinks it’s funny. I do not, and I’m afraid our children might intercept a text. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. It sounds as if you have a jokester for an ex and he’s trying to be cute. I can hear him saying, “It’s a private joke. No one is going to know, except “us.” What’s the big deal?”
The big deal is that it’s inappropriate on all sorts of levels. Although Dad may think it’s an innocent flirt, new wives don’t’ like their husbands to text their ex-wives with flirty innuendos referring to when they were together. If she finds out and thinks there is a possibility of an attraction, she may not want her husband to talk to you and that could interfere with your co-parenting relationship.
Next, if the kids intercept the text as you fear, dad’s actions could possibly open a huge can of worms. Most kids, no matter their age, fantasize about their parents going back together after a break-up. If they see flirty texts between mom and dad, that could give them false hope of reconciliation. Divorce is hard once. Getting shot down after thinking your parents are getting back together is twice as hard.
Here’s a side bar…my suggestion? Don’t get married on a holiday associated with family and tradition. Get married on President’s Day, that’s fine, although your anniversary may not be on President’s Day every year, since President’s Day is simply the third Monday in February. Get married on New Year’s Eve? Christmas? Rethink it. Those are days so packed with memories and tradition that if you add divorce, there are sure to be problems.
Some might think I’m overreacting, after all it was just an innocent text. No big deal. After working with thousand of parents after a break-up, I can tell you that innocent flirting can mushroom into a huge problem–for the exes, for their children, and for their new partners—especially around the holidays when emotions run high and emotional “Remember Whens” become common place.
The only answer is proper boundaries. Both parents must make clear what is expected and what will be tolerated. Not being firm can be perceived as thinking it’s ok, especially if it made you uncomfortable and you joked about it to avoid the issue.
Sending mixed messages invites more flirting. Make sure your boundaries are clear. 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