Q.I have been dating my guy for about a year. He has been divorced for two years and has two kids, ages 8 and 11, that he has half the time. A month ago he asked me to move in, and I was over the moon. Here’s my problem: The kids have pictures of their mom in their rooms. It bugs me. It’s my house now. I don’t want pictures of my guy’s ex in my house! I’ve asked him to take them out of their rooms, but he has refused. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. For you to get a tougher skin. You’re in a relationship with a guy who has kids. He shares equal custody of them with his ex which means he talks to their mother all the time–if they’re doing it right. If this bothers you, walk into your room, pull out the suitcase, and start packing. He’s not the guy for you.
The biggest mistake you can make when in a serious relationship with someone who has kids is attempt to make changes to a previously established parenting plan that worked well before you showed up. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #4, “Parents make the rules; bonus parents uphold them.”) It’s a quick way to be seen as an interloper by dad (and mom) and hear, “You’re not my mother!” from the kids.
You may have heard the saying, “We parent the way we were parented.” That means you model your parenting style after the way your parents parented you—unless you make a concerted effort to do something different. If they spanked you, you’ll probably spank your children. If they yelled, you will probably yell as well. We usually revert to this behavior in times of stress, so if the kids are acting up, don’t be surprised if you hear yourself saying something your parents said to you when they were angry.
It’s no different with divorce (or a break-up). If your parents were divorced, you model how you behave in that situation after what you saw them do. Most watched their parents continue to fight or retreat to their corners, so they have no positive co-parenting model to follow. That means you are probably expecting a cut and dry break-up and you undoubtedly resent your guy for speaking to his ex. Add that there are pictures of her in the kids’ rooms and I bet you’re at your wit’s end. What have you gotten yourself into?
Truth is, as long as the pictures are not in a common area and they are of mom or of mom and the kids, dad is doing exactly what professionals suggest. When parents have been divorced only a short while, pictures of the other parent in their children’s rooms helps to sooth the emotional fall-out associated with the early stages of back and forth transitions. Attempting to eliminate her pictures will be perceived as if you are attempting to eliminate her–and the kids won’t like it. If you are supportive, the children will be drawn to you—and so will their dad. That’s good ex-etiquette.
(Putting them in an album that the kids store in their room may also help. But, if you do that, get the kids involved in the scrapbooking project. Don’t just take it upon yourself to rearrange their private stuff or you will be defeating the purpose.)
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.