Dear Dr. Jann: My partner and I have been together for about a year.  He coParents his two young children quite well with his ex and they share their children’s time equally. They talk often, and she has been accepting of my helping when the kids are with us. This Christmas his parents have invited us all to spend the holiday with them. I’ve never met his ex. Got any tips? What’s good ex-etiquette?

 

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Dr. Jann: There’s a lot going on here, so let’s take it one issue at a time.

First, your partner’s parents are the hosts — they have done the inviting — and after only one year of being together, that could be a rather insensitive move. It usually takes more than a year to get in the groove when a new partner is added to the mix, especially if the former partners are equally coParenting.  After only a year, people are still jockeying for position. You’re very lucky if mom is understanding and not intimidated by the fact that you’re taking on some of the mothering responsibilities when the kids are with their dad.

That said, family holiday traditions are often considered sacred by family members. That’s why it’s not a good idea to use holidays for first meetings. It makes most people uncomfortable and impacts the day — and the kids are watching. If you’re committed to going forward, it’s a better idea to meet first in a neutral setting. The ideal situation would have been to meet your partner’s ex prior to moving in and all three of you discuss how you all envision your role pertaining to the kids. (Ex-etiquette for parents rule #4, Parents make the rules, bonusparents uphold them.” Make a pact and stick to it. But, that’s in a perfect world—which this is not. You may have to do some backtracking.

When extended family invites everyone, it’s usually in an effort to let the ex know he or she will not be discarded and also let the new partner know they are accepted, but this can be a disaster without the proper preparation. Since your fiance’s parents are the hosts, your fiance is the one to set the proper boundaries. If this holiday is too soon to try to all be together, tell them. The truth is, being a good coParent does not dictate that you must spend holidays together. It means you teach your children respect for their mother or father even though you’re no longer together, consult the other parent when considering decisions for the children, stay open and honest when problem solving, and use the children, not each other’s desires as the criteria for making decisions. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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About Jann Blackstone

Jann BlackstoneDr. Jann Blackstone specializes in divorce, child custody, co-parenting, and stepfamily mediation and is often called the “Relationship Expert for Today’s Relationships” because of her “real life, down-to-earth” approach to relationship problem solving. She is the author of six books on divorce and parenting, the most popular, the Ex-etiquette series featuring Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation. She is also the author of the Ex-etiquette syndicated column and a frequent guest or consultant on television and radio talk shows, including Good Morning America (ABC), The Today Show (NBC), Keeping Kids Healthy (PBS), the Early Show (CBS), and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She has been the featured expert in many magazines, including, Child, Parents, Parenting, Newsweek, Family Circle, More, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, BRIDES, Woman’s Day, and Working Mother Magazine.

In 1999, Dr. Jann founded and became the first Director of Bonus Families®, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization working to change the way society views stepfamilies by supplying up-to-date co-parenting information via its Web site, counseling, mediation, and a worldwide support group network. They prefer to use the word “bonus” to the word step. Step implies negative things; however, a “bonus” is a reward for a job well done. “Bonus…a step in the right direction.”

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