Q. My husband I would like you to weigh in on a disagreement we are having. I think he should no longer buy Christmas presents for his ex “from the kids” now that she has remarried. I think her new husband should do that. My husband disagrees and feels it continues to be his responsibility. Who should buy presents from the kids? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Good ex-etiquette is good behavior after divorce or separation. It starts with both parents—and their new partners–putting the children first. (Ex-etiquette for parents rule #1) From the tone of your question it sounds as if you think your husband’s responsibilities to teach his children manners and respect for their mother should stop when she remarries, and that’s just not true. Divorce severs the ties between husband and wife, but their responsibility as mom and dad continues forever, no matter if they are married or involved with someone else.
Your husband and his ex obviously co-parent, and that may take some getting used to, particularly if you are of the mind that exes are the enemy. Many tell me their greatest concern is if their new spouse is truly interacting with their ex because of co-parenting responsibilities or because they are secretly looking for a way to reconcile.
Truth is, you just can’t worry about that stuff. It will consume you if you do—and if jealousy of the ex is really that big of a concern, you shouldn’t be with someone who openly co-parents. If they are doing it right, they will be in contact on a regular basis. If that bothers you, you may make that difficult. Too often people don’t address the red flags in their relationships prior to officially calling themselves a couple for fear that the other will leave them. They get together and then start dictating the way things should be. Extremely bad ex-etiquette—and chances are, it will back fire.
Now, let’s answer your specific question: You didn’t say how old these kids are, but if they are not adults or don’t have a job of their own, it would be dad’s responsibility to buy a present for their mother “from the kids.” If dad is not around, and there is a bonusdad in their life, it would be his responsibility. If there isn’t, and buying presents for mom or dad is important to the children, then it’s grandma or grandpa’s responsibility or another relative or good friend. Rather than “buying” a present, a close adult may want to guide the children in a crafts day to make presents for their parents. You set the stage for this all year ‘round. It doesn’t start a month before Christmas.
I took my kids and bonuskids out to buy presents for their parents many times over the years. It was a yearly tradition where we all shopped together—yours, mine, and ours. Sometimes their dad was present, sometimes he had to work and he wasn’t. It was the love and concern that was emphasized—not the parental labels of mom, dad, ex, etc.
Finally, it may help if you start calling “her” the “children’s mother” rather than “his ex.” That simple change makes a huge difference and keeps the kids in the forefront. And, 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.