Q. Five years ago my ex ended our marriage, but he has kept in touch with my youngest daughter (we married when she was 12 and she lived with us). She now has 3 children – my grandchildren – and wants her stepdad to play a role in their lives. He’s been living with someone for the past 4 years. He has avoided any contact with me except for a few business issues, and I’ve never met his girlfriend. It was so difficult over the holidays when there were gifts from G’Pa Mark and the girlfriend. I trusted him to be a good step parent and he hurt all of us by divorcing me. I thought I was past being hurt but hearing her name with the gifts was so very difficult, and Easter is around the corner. I’m anticipating the same thing. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Good ex-etiquette is “good behavior after divorce or separation,” and it doesn’t sound like you’re acting up, giving anyone ultimatums or badmouthing anyone, so you’re demonstrating good ex-etiquette. It seems you’re just acknowledging your hurt—and anyone who has faced a break-up understands where you’re coming from. However, it also sounds like you’re stuck. Five years is a long time to be upset. Your ex and his girlfriend weren’t even present at the family get-together—yet, you’re anticipating more hurt and pain at a future holiday setting.
As I see it, there’s good news and there’s bad news concerning your plight. The bad news is you’re not over your divorce. The good news is that it sounds like your ex is also practicing good ex-etiquette. He’s not demanding to attend family get-togethers. He’s maintaining a relationship with a child he’s raised because she wants that relationship to continue. You haven’t found someone new, so as a result, he’s the likely candidate to carry the grandpa gauntlet. He’s supplying presents, obviously seeing the children at different times than family get togethers—and since this is something your daughter wants for her children, he’s doing what is asked of him. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Some would say he has no business continuing his relationship with your daughter. When your relationship ended, his relationship with your kids should have ended, too. I don’t agree—and it doesn’t sound like your daughter agrees, either. As difficult as it might be for you to continue to interact with him, even from afar, if he was a father figure to your daughter, it’s up to them if they want to continue that relationship.
From a personal standpoint, I was married to my bonuskids father for well over 20 years. Although we are on very good terms, if we weren’t and my bonusdaughter wanted our relationship to continue, that’s the way it would be. She had a very difficult time with our divorce. I can’t imagine how she would feel if I stopped talking to her because I was no longer married to her father. My relationship with her began when her father and I got married, but over the years we developed a bond that was not dependent on that marriage. That continues to this day.
If you haven’t gone to counseling to help you deal with all this, now is the time. There’s too much life to live to be stuck in a painful past. 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.