Q. Here’s my life: My ex remarried five years ago. We had two kids, they now have one more. Our kids go back and forth between the homes, week with me, week with them. We get along fine, but sometime my ex’s wife takes over and acts like all the kids are hers. She makes decisions without consulting me and it makes me very angry. If anything, that is the one thing that interferes in our ability to get along all the time. Mother’s Day is this weekend. She made reservations at a local restaurant without consulting me thinking that I would just go, along with my ex, her, and all the kids. I feel like an afterthought in my own children’s lives. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Absolutely understand what you are talking about. I hear this all the time — from both sides — and I experienced it myself — from both sides. You wear different hats as a mom and a bonus-mom and sometimes you forget to take them off when you are switching roles. That’s when you step on each other’s toes, confusing “mom” responsibilities and inadvertently insulting one another.
There are some prerequisites to doing the “week with me/week with you” custody arrangement well. It starts with impeccable communication and trying not to take things personally when boundaries get blurred. This is when professionals and laypeople alike suggest that the way to deal with the discontent is to understand that each home is a separate entity and never the twain shall meet — BUT, in all practicality, how can that really be true when you have children going back and forth between two homes weekly and a sibling waiting for them to return? Of course, there has to be a degree of separateness to cultivate family identity. You are divorced and they are married, but there is an aspect of overlap, at least for the kids. And how you, dad, and his wife handle the overlap is the key to offering all the children in your care a safe and secure life.
The practical response to your situation is to ask if you really must celebrate Mother’s Day together. It all depends on how you’re presenting “family” to your kids. In my case, we evolved into celebrating just as you described, a brunch that we all attended, complete with grandmothers from all sides. The kids knew who their mothers and grandmothers were, offered respect to their bonus-moms and bonus grandmothers and sat together because they were being raised as siblings – but we couldn’t have done that when we first started, and all that togetherness is not for everyone. Make sure the week/week parenting plan is the right one. It’s very difficult to keep things completely separate when living like that.
At this point, I suggest you and dad’s wife have a heart-to-heart. Your situation is the exact reason I included, “Respect each other’s turf,” as Good Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule No. 9. You may even have to assign specific duties so that you don’t step on each other toes. Either way, trusting each other’s judgment is imperative. This is the life you and dad have chosen for your kids – and now that includes other players. It’s your responsibility to do it well. All of you. That’s good ex-etiquette.
(Love and respect to all moms and bonus-moms out there. Happy Mother’s Day.)
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website exetiquette.com at email@example.com.)
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