Q. I was married for 15 years. We divorced 10 years ago and successfully co-parented our two children. This included occasionally spending holidays together. I am now in a new relationship and my partner has forbidden me to see my ex. I cannot interact with him at any time, including various holidays. I have a grandchild and I would like to see him on his birthday, but my partner says no if my ex is there. We plan to marry in six months and this has become a huge problem. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. It sounds to me like you are doing your best to dodge those red flags, but they are waving furiously all the same. Key word in your case: forbidden. Anytime a partner forbids you to do something, take a look at it. This is especially true when whatever it is concerns your children.
Now it can be said that this really has nothing to do with your children, it has to do with your relationship with their other parent – and that is true. But it is also true that if you make a decision of this sort – or if it is forced upon you, it will affect your children – and in this case, grandchildren. When someone is made to do something against their will, it causes resentment. Your fiance is playing with fire.
More specifically, new partners join the club, they don’t dictate policy. A controlling partner can be a disaster to any relationship.
But what if the behavior the new partner demands is actually more healthy than the behavior already in place? For example, boundaries are blurry between the exes, and their friendliness confuses their children.
It is often difficult to convince parents they are acting appropriately if they are engaged in this type behavior. If a new partner makes an observation – “He’s always around!” or ” “You two are too friendly!” – it could look like jealousy and the message can get lost. To prevent that, co-parents must remember their co-parenting goal is to continue to raise their children together demonstrating a genuine mutual concern, not give the kids the impression that they may someday reconcile, especially if one or both are involved with someone else.
In practical terms, if there is a grandchild birthday and co-parents or co-grandparents get along, it is completely appropriate that both attend the party. If two parties are required, that is also appropriate. What is questionable is when the decision to do anything is based on a new partner’s demands when the family was previously comfortable with their decision. Better said, Good ex-etiquette for Parents rule #4 is, “Parents make the rules; bonusparents uphold them.”
In closing, some kid-centered holidays or get-togethers can be easily spent together if all are comfortable – children’s birthdays or graduation parties, for example. Taco Tuesday or Sunday night dinners may simply be too much togetherness and that’s where most co-parents draw the line. But, I have to say, what works for your family, works for your family. Create the best life you can for your children, whether you live together or not. That’s good ex-etiquette.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at firstname.lastname@example.org.)