Q: I need help. I have a few roles in this mess. First: I’m the fianceé. Second: I’m the other woman who is now the fianceé. Third: I’m the soon-to-be “bonus mom” whom the kids like. Bio mom LOATHES me. Bio mom has the kids afraid to tell her that they have a good time when they come to their dad’s for the weekend. I have made amends to no avail. She is convinced still that I broke up the marriage and that she had no part in it. We need help and healing quickly. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Good ex-etiquette concerning a breakup when there is someone else is to first do your best to walk away before it turns into an affair. Get yourself to counseling with your spouse, figure out if you can fix things, and if you can’t, separate, and then explore the possibility of moving on. Of course I know only what you have told me, but from here it sounds as if you were the other woman, now the fiancée living with dad, and you are looking for mom’s acceptance because she evidently contributed to the break-up in some way. It’s doubtful she sees it that way, even if it is true. As previously explained, good ex-etiquette is to end one thing BEFORE you move on to another. Then everyone leaves with their self-respect intact and sets a more positive stage when one of the parents moves on.
Of course the kids suffer the fallout from situations like this. They probably are afraid to let mom know that they have fun at your house because they either don’t want to hurt her any further, or if she’s vocal about her discontent, don’t want to anger her.
Although I can’t help speed up the healing process, I do suggest that all the parents subscribe to good ex-etiquette rule No. 3, “Don’t badmouth.” Make sure that all of you do your best to not talk about each other negatively when the kids are within ear shot. Countless children have told me stories of overhearing parent bad-mouthing the other side – and how disillusioned they become when their parents talk badly about each other. It puts the kids right in the middle and they don’t feel safe at either home.
For the record, bathrooms and closets are not soundproof. If you live with your kids, they hear everything. You want to vent about the other parent? Wait until you are in counseling or the kids are not at home.
If you have done your best to make amends – and dad has, as well, there’s not much more you can do at this point other than hope that time will heal the wounds.
Remember the other important good ex-etiquette rules: “Don’t be spiteful,” “Don’t hold grudges,” and “Respect each other’s turf.”
Possibly the most helpful may be good ex-etiquette rule No. 7, “Use empathy when problem-solving.” Sounds like everyone has some soul-searching to do.
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. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.