Dear Dr. Jann: Halloween is right around the corner and my ex and I have been fighting about it for a week. We have been divorced for about eight months and share custody. The kids go back and forth between our homes, but we live about 10 miles away from each other in completely different neighborhoods. The kids go to school from her home. Every year they have gone trick-or-treating in the same neighborhood, but life is different, we are divorced, and this year I want them to trick or treat in my neighborhood. Halloween was not included in our parenting plan and so it is impossible to make a decision. Help! What’s good ex-etiquette?
Dr. Jann: I see quite a few red flags. First, and foremost, if something isn’t in your parenting plan you feel it’s impossible to make a decision. That is of concern because things will come up all the time while you co-parent and you and the kid’s mother will have to find solutions. If you can’t, not only will you drive each other crazy, but studies show that ongoing conflict after a break-up actually affects your children’s brain development. So, that’s where I would start—design a forum for conflict resolution and fast. If you can’t do it yourselves, enlist the help of a professional, possibly a co-parenting counselor. The ability to problem solve is a quintessential component to successful co-parenting.
Second, Halloween is one of those holidays that is often left off the parenting plan. It normally falls on a “school day” and trick-or-treating can make it a late night. Many opt to just let it be part of the regular schedule—where it falls, it falls—but others want a specific plan. Again, without a plan to problem solve, you and mom will just fight about it until someone gets tired. Not a very good example for the kids.
Third, you said, “Life is different, we are divorced…” and then state what YOU want. The key to helping your kids through all is to keep disruption to a minimum. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1, “Put the children first.”) Using your kids’ best interest as the criteria for decision making, ask yourself where would THEY would like to trick or treat? I bet the answer is with their friends in the neighborhood in which they go to school.
You ended your question with, “What’s good ex-etiquette?” Good ex-etiquette is “good behavior after divorce or separation” and I have designed the ten rules of good ex-etiquette to help you do just that. The ten rules start with “putting the kids first” (rule #1) and end with “looking for the compromise” (rule #10). In this case, a good compromise could be to possibly trick-or-treat together (if you can do that together without fighting in front of the children) or agree to alternate each year or even split the afternoon for one parent and the evening for the other. What ever the answer is, it will be easy to make the right decision when you consider the kids’ feelings, not your own.
Finally, Halloween is a great picture taking opportunity. If both parents can’t see the kids on a holiday or special occasion, be a good co-parent and snap a few pics with the intention of sharing them. That’s good ex-etiquette.