Q: I have been divorced for several years. My ex rarely interacts with our son, who is now 9. My son and I have recently hit some hard times, and we are living with my mother.
I have been thinking about dating a man I have known for 20 years. His ex is my best friend. He is sweet and kind, and my friend has given us her blessing, saying she actually thinks it would be a good match.
The problem is, even though my son has never met this guy, he does not like him. I believe it is because of something my mother said to him. She does not want me to get involved with him. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Red flags all over the place at your house! First, it’s questionable ex-etiquette to date your BFF’s ex. Granted, you are both adults, and she’s given you her blessing, but it may be too close for comfort. If you do go forward, make sure you all promise not to ask for comparisons on any level – ever – and stick to it no matter how “in love” or curious you become.
Second, hard economic times have hit many of us, and quite a few adult children are finding themselves living once again with their parents. So many have confided, although they couldn’t make it without their parents’ generosity, it did become problematic when parenting their children. Sometimes the grandparents were more lenient and the parents complained that their kids were getting away with murder or the grandparents complained that the parents were too lenient and they tried to instill some discipline in their grandchildren – often without consulting the parents – which caused confusion in the children and tension between the parents and grandparents.
If parents and children move in with grandparents, it’s best to establish clear boundaries right from the start. Get clear about the house rules – who will discipline and what are the consequences when the children break the rules? Vow not to undermine each other’s efforts and be honest and straightforward in all your communications with each other (Ex-etiquette rule No. 8), and then write up a formal contract as to how you will address disagreements prior to moving in.
Finally, bad-mouthing anyone, and this includes grandma bad-mouthing a friend of yours in front of the child, is very bad ex-etiquette. (Ex-etiquette rule No. 3: No bad-mouthing!) Even if you don’t end up dating this man, he is a good friend and attempting to color your child’s opinion about someone you value is extremely disrespectful of you and detrimental to your child. Bad-mouthing a valued friend also teaches your child to gossip and introduces allegiance and betrayal considerations that are very difficult for a child to sort out.
Time to talk to grandma. Hopefully she doesn’t realize she’s speaking out of turn and will stop once you tactfully point out the damage she’s doing.
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.