Ex-Etiquette Column

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

Practicing Good Ex-etiquette Is Not Easy!

I’ve told this story many times–and I’d like to tell it again to hit home that I personally understand how hard it is to practice good ex-etiquette too. That’s the reason I came up with the ten rules—I needed a rule book to remind me to put the children first. (Ex-etiquette for parents rule #1) when dealing with all the exes in my life. So…

My first Halloween after remarriage was quite an eye opener. My husband and his ex, Sharyl, had lived in a very small town for years. They were quite well-known and when I married Larry I was considered the interloper. Talking to me causally one afternoon, one of Sharyl’s friend’s husband’s very loudly announced, “What are they talking about? You’re not a bitch.” I guess that was the talk of the town.

It seems the yearly ritual was to attend a Halloween pumpkin carving party with the kids at one of Sharyl’s best friend’s homes. Her kids looked forward to it. My daughter was being raised as their sibling, so when their children were invited to the pumpkin carving party, so was my daughter…but who would take them? Sharyl and I were barely talking, plus she worked until around 5’o clock. My husband was working, too. I had a home office, so I was voted to take the three kids in the costumes that I had sewn for them to the party at Sharyl’s best friend’s house. I didn’t know any of these people—and I was the bitch. It was pretty uncomfortable. Round about 5:15 when Sharyl showed up, I was squirming over in the corner acting like I had no trouble with the whole thing…and where’s the next pumpkin you want me to carve?

Now for a bit of empathy, which is actually Ex-Etiquette for Parents rule #7, “Use empathy when problem solving.” Basically, that means before you lose it, put yourself in their shoes. Maybe that will give you some insight on how to handle a situation. Looking around, I realized it was all about the kids. My discomfort was no big deal. So, Sharyl walks in and is greeted by her buddies, only to see her daughter and my daughter dressed in darling little matching 50’s poodle skirts and little white shirts with pink puff balls hanging from their perfectly coiffed ponytails. The girls begin to spin excitedly, demonstrating the ease in which the darling little skirts spin perfectly in a circle. Sharyl can’t sew a stitch. She looks at me as if she wants to throw-up. I’m a little green myself and totally get it. She greets her daughter (mine, too) and then heads straight to her friends waiting on the other side of the room. Picture the Hatfields and the McCoys in costume…

Needless to say, neither of us could wait until we got out of there. We didn’t talk until the next holiday, Thanksgiving, which is another story.

It has not been easy for either of us to walk the walk. We both hope the kids did not see the progression. We found the true bridge to acceptance and cooperation was motherhood. When we left the labels of first wife and second wife behind and started relating to each other as mothers, getting along just became natural. That became the common ground on which our friendship was built, all in the name of the children we both loved.

For the sake of all our children, find your common ground, and make this Halloween a happy one.

4 Responses

  1. Michelle

    What you are preaching isn’t natural. It isn’t natural or normal for any 1st or 2nd wife to get along. If your ex husband leaves a wave of destruction after the divorce which makes life very difficult for the first wife as she is trying to raise/support her family, I don’t think it’s necessarily appropriate for the second wife to think she can step in and make things all better. In the example that’s described above, why wouldn’t Dr Jann just leave the children at the party? Life is already complicated enough. I wouldn’t put myself in any situation like that because you don’t know what could happen plus the other moms may not welcome her appearance there anyway.

    1. Isn’t natural? Putting your kids first? “Natural” isn’t the right word. “Normal” isn’t either. What’s not natural is to agree to a parenting plan where the kids have to go back and forth between their mother and father’s homes, and there is ongoing conflict between the parents and their new partners. Why would you put your child through that? And, if a child goes back and forth, the first wife and the second wife are both taking care of that child and helping to mold a solid human being. I don’t think it’s unnatural for two adult women to set aside their own stuff in the name of making an innocent child feel safe and secure at both homes.

      I’ll never forget the first time my bonus kids mom reached out for help. She got stuck in traffic and couldn’t pick up her son. I was home, their dad at work—so she called me. Her reason? “Because I knew you wouldn’t want him to be sitting alone at school, either.” She was right.

      First wife’s and second wives don’t have to be friends, but if they are both taking care of the same child, to do it right they have to put their own differences aside and take care of the child. That’s what “put the children first” is all about. And…say it with me—That’s good ex-etiquette.

    2. Jann

      In response as to why I didn’t leave the kids alone at the party…they were 4, 7, and 8 years old. I wouldn’t want someone to just drop off three kids, one of which was very young, for an hour and a half when I was trying to give a party. The adults stayed with their kids. One of the kids was mine.

  2. Sara

    I think that it’s great you didn’t, kudos to you! Share more!!! I would love to be able to do that unfortunately I’m really not sure I could. Though I did try in the beginning to be civil. Even to the point of going out to dinner with her and the children. She decided to tell the waiter that I was with her children’s step mother and that I was with her ex husband (like it was any of their business). At that point I realized that she craves attention and it’s not about the children at all, it’s about her making the world think that she is a good person. I guess the guilt of cheating is eating at her.

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