Q. I met the perfect man and his 4 kids about six years ago. His ex does not believe in coparenting and has told us many times to leave HER kids alone, but that’s impossible because they share the kids’time equally—one week with us, one week with her.
Over the years I usually take the kids shopping for something for their father on Father’s Day, but this year, for some reason, their mom decided she would do it also. She didn’t say a word, she just took them out and bought him a fishing rod—from the kids. Evidently, they used to fish and camp as a family, but we haven’t gone fishing or camping since we have been together. She recently got another divorce and I’m thinking she is looking for a way to feel connected again, but it made me really angry. Am I being petty? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. There is a problem here, but whether you’re being petty is only a small component. Your angry reaction is quite human.
More importantly, it does sound like mom is looking for a way to connect with life again, but she’s going about it the wrong way. It appears her mind is going back to a better time rather than dealing with her current divorce. A better way might be to get some counseling and do some personal soul-searching. Reaching out to the ex when he has been remarried for years is only going to make things worse, and sets her up for some serious rejection.
That really doesn’t help you, I know, but empathy (Ex-etiquette for parents rule #7,) often allows us to have patience because over reacting at this point is not going to help the situation. Re-establishing your personal boundaries might. My suggestion is to sit down with dad, get very clear on what you both believe is proper behavior for the parents—and your place in all this– and let him have that conversation with his children’s mother. This would also be an excellent time for them to discuss how to improve their co-parenting since you said that was non-existent. Quite frankly, that should have been done years ago. Hopefully, mom is now ready to hear it.
For the record, when divorced parents share the kids and don’t communicate it puts undue stress on the children and forces them to take sides. Even things like, “Tell your dad your game is cancelled for Tuesday” makes the child responsible for passing on information the parents should be sharing with each other. As a result, a stressed-out child might censor a message or not pass it on in an effort to keep things calm. When that doesn’t work, the child often says they don’t want to see one parent or the other—when the truth is, they just can’t handle the stress.
So, if you can, keep your temper and help these parents as best you can. A good place to start? Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #10, “Look for the compromise.” 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.