Q. My ex-boyfriend and I have been apart since November. We have an 11-month-old son. After we broke up, he got a new girlfriend two weeks later. My son’s dad gets him every other weekend, Thursday-Sunday. I have nicely asked this girl to stay away from my son, but she is trying to act as the mom! I don’t know what to do so she has no contact with my son until later in life. Now my son cries when I pick him up because he doesn’t know who I am. I am at a lost. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. We all understand that the transition from couple to single parent is a tough one. Both parents feel guilty about the break-up and that they can’t be with their child every day. If one moves on very quickly, that only adds to the other parent’s anxiety. “Who is this person touching my son?” Add jealousy and anger and revenge and all those awful emotions that go along with breaking up and you have a mess while you are trying to put on a happy face for a little one.
Joint custody is difficult to pull off when a child is so young. Truth is, it’s difficult to pull off, period, and the parenting plan that you have chosen might be a little tough for your son at his place of development. You see, infants and toddlers experience separation anxiety in the first and second years of life, even in the safety of their own home. You know this by his reaction when you walk out of the room. He cries.
You’ve established a primary home—yours—but every other weekend he leaves for four days. The courts support this sort of parenting plan, but it really doesn’t coincide with what the psychological community suggests in terms of infant development. Add that both parents may work outside of the home and there are additional caregivers—all this makes it quite confusing for a little one.
That said, I’m sure your child knows you. I suspect that the fact that he is crying when you pick him up has very little to do with his father’s girlfriend. That’s your own insecurity talking. The best thing you can do at this juncture is look for ways to support all caregivers who offer a nurturing, protective response so that your child feels safe and secure. I know you probably hate to hear that, but since your child must go back and forth—that’s outside of your control at this point—and the fact that he is loved and cared for at both homes is in his best interest.
Finally, I have to support you in your concern about introducing new partners too early after a break-up. Kids get attached—as they should—and introducing someone before you know where they fit in your life long term is just plain selfish and can be extremely detrimental. You can’t just move someone in because it’s easier and then move them out because it’s not. The primary rule for Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1 is, “Put your children first.” When you have children, it’s no longer about you. 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.