After a break-up, parents often ask for a list, something to which they can refer to, that will help them deal with their ex in a positive manner – especially if they are really angry and their kids are around.
Ironically, we ended up with ten rules and as I read the final list I realized they were very similar to the Ten Commandments – only in the Ten Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette for Parents, the welfare of the children is the basis on which decisions are made.
The 10 Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette for Parents
1. Put the children first.
2. Ask for help if you need it
3. NO BADMOUTHING.
4. Biological parents make the rules; bonusparents uphold them.
5. Don’t be spiteful.
6. Don’t hold grudges.
7. Use empathy when problem solving.
8. Be honest and straight forward.
9. Respect each other’s turf.
10. Compromise whenever possible.
The cornerstone of the list is rule #1, Put the children first. When you do, it makes it very easy to make the right decisions. The key? Remove your own interests, hurt, resentment, or anger and use the children’s welfare as the criteria for your decisions. All of a sudden that ex who drove you so crazy seems like no big deal compared to the welfare of your child. You find yourself thinking, “Well, maybe it is OK if he takes Johnny to his football game on my week…”
Rule # 2 reminds divorce or separated parents to ask each other for help if you need it. So many times I have heard parents refer to themselves as “single parents” as they explain that now that they are no longer with their child’s other parent they are raising their kids all by themselves. At times we all feel like that, but more often than not, it’s really not the case. Even though your ex may frustrate the heck out of you, if he or she sees their child on a regular basis, helps with expenses, and shows up to games and recitals, you are not a “single” parent. You do have help if you ask for it. Thing is, it’s tough to ask – and that’s where the 10 Rules of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents can help.
And, here’s another crazy concept–asking the bonusparent for help. Odds are if you have been working on bonusfamily status, they will be willing to help, too. I remember the first time Sharyl (my bonuskids’s mother) asked me for help. Thing was, it was my pleasure to help her. All she had to do was ask. We both loved the same child, and her asking for my help set the precedent for working together in the future.
#3 No badmouthing. Divorced or separated parents often forget that their children have dual loyalties. Children love Mommy AND Daddy, not Mommy OR Daddy. When you say something bad about the other parent you are putting your child right in the middle and asking him or her to choose. Kids know inherently they are half mom/half dad. Say something bad about either one of their parents and a child will personalize it. You are insulting half of their DNA, half of them. Even something small like, “Your mother is always so forgetful!” when mom is late can start children personalizing their feelings and as a result feel bad about themselves. Not to mention, most of the time badmouthing backfires. It can drive the child away from the parent who says bad things because its human nature to want to protect the underdog. “You are saying something bad about my Mommy!” translates into “I don’t want to go over there anymore. He makes me feel bad.”
#4 Biological parents make the rules; bonusparents uphold them. This is the only rule that carries a preface. If the bonusparent is the primary caregiver of the children or he or she also has children in the home and is trying to coordinate rules already in place, then he or she should be consulted. But, for the most part, parents make the rules for their children. Bonusparents support the rules made by the parents.
#5 Don’t be spiteful. #6 Don’t hold grudges. If you stay angry at your ex, then you are making your decisions with that in mind, not the kids. You will find yourself reacting rather than being proactive when problem solving. Spite, revenge, and holding grudges prevents you from putting the kids first.
#7 Use empathy when problem solving. This can be simplified by saying, “Don’t ask your ex to do anything you wouldn’t want to do.” If you don’t like your ex being late, don’t be late. If you want to switch weekends because you have something planned, don’t say no when he or she asks you for the same thing. Put your self in their shoes.
#8 Be honest and straight forward when problem solving. Lying, manipulation, evading the issue, these are all things that get in the way of positive communication. If you want a positive response, be positive and honest with your ex. Lie to your ex, or tell the kids not to tell the other parent something, or lie about why you were late, or your intention, will only get you into another argument. Demonstrate integrity. If your ex lies, that’s on them. The children will see it and make their judgments accordingly.
#9 Respect each other’s turf. Once there is a break-up your children have two homes. And, as much as both parents want to dictate policy, they really can’t. Divorced or separated parents must learn to respect each other enough to trust that the other will make the right decisions for the children. This does not mean that you can’t discuss things – in fact, you should coordinate as much as possible. Bed times? Homework rituals? Discipline? But, once the decision has been made, it’s done. Harping on the other parent to do it your way will only get you into another argument–or your ex will avoid you.
An easy way to cultivate the respect of an ex is to simply ask their opinion. Ironically, that’s about the last thing an ex wants to do. Some see it as a sign of weakness, a loss of power. First, power comes from within, not whether an ex says it’s okay. Second, asking for your ex’s opinion demonstrates respect. It’s a gesture as much as a tool for problem solving. You don’t have to take the advice, however, when your ex feels heard, you are both well on the way to solving the problem.
#10 Compromise whenever possible. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “At least now I don’t have to listen to her (or him) now that we have broken up!” Ironically, it may be even more important now than when you were together. Compromise is the great equalizer and it begins with listening to your ex’s concerns. The simple act of listening validates both parties and it’s much easier to find common ground, the basis for compromise, when both sides feel heard. If you listen, use empathy when problem solving, are honest and straight forward, don’t hold grudges, aren’t spiteful, and put the children first, you are using good ex-etiquette and it will be easy to find the compromise in the best interest of your children.