Q. My husband and I have been married for seven years. We both have primary custody of our daughters, currently 9 and 10. My husband’s ex has an alcohol problem but has been clean and sober for the last three years so she was recently granted additional time with her daughter, which includes Christmas Day this year. She’ll be leaving about 11 am and won’t be back until the next day. The girls are very upset that they cannot spend the day together like they have for years. We have a ritual where we all wake up and open our presents, then cook breakfast together. The one staying is already saying how Christmas won’t be the same without her sister and seems quite depressed. What do we say to her? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Your kids are obviously looking to you for direction, so take this opportunity to demonstrate first hand how important it is to look at the positives and make the best of what you have, rather than focusing on the negative.
What are the positives?
First, you’ll be together Christmas Eve and your bonusdaughter won’t be leaving on Christmas Day until almost noon. Although it might break tradition, there will still be quite a bit of time to celebrate together and open presents. The breakfast that usually follows may have to be scrapped this year, but the kids can be directed to see that all is not lost, they still have lots of time together. You may also want to set a new precedent by suggesting there be two traditions–one when you are together and one when sister has to leave–something like Christmas breakfast next year–New Year’s Day breakfast the year she leaves. Acknowledge the necessity to alter, not abandon important family traditions to fit a changing lifestyle. In other words, heavy weight the tradition, not the leaving.
If you are truly concerned with what is in your bonusdaughter’s best interest, (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1, “Put the children first.”) you can help her prepare by offering an optimistic view of spending the holiday with her mother. The truth is, there will be hurdles associated with her mother’s addiction that will be troublesome for both mother and daughter. A real gift to your bonusdaughter will be to allow her to celebrate without guilt or allegiance or betrayal issues—“I can’t have a good time with my mom. It will hurt my Dad and bonusmom’s feelings.” Give her permission to once again form a loving relationship with her mother–all the while letting her know that you and her dad will always be there no matter what.
Since time will be tight on Christmas Day, another way you can help your bonusdaughter is to stay organized. Pack early and place her clothes by the door. That way when her mother shows up there won’t be a lot of running around or heart torn good byes that will just increase the girls’ anxiety. For the child’s sake, do your best to stay cordial. The calmer the transition, the better for all concerned.
Finally, in the spirit of the holiday, just remember, “Peace on earth, good will toward exes…” The ex in your life is most likely your children’s father or mother…or grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle…you get the picture. Remembering that is good ex-etiquette.
Happy Holidays to all.
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.