Q: I’m faced with a dilemma. My parents are divorced and my father has been remarried for 20 years. I love his wife and she is like a second mom to me. Plus, my wife and I had our first child three months ago – not to mention my wife’s mother lives nearby, and my wife has a bonusmom as well. If you do the math that’s five yours, mine, and ours moms. My wife wants to see her “moms.” I want to see mine – and my wife is a mom for the first time. I didn’t mention that my grandma lives five miles away. How do I juggle all this using good ex-etiquette?
A: Good ex-etiquette begins by putting the children first – and it appears your “moms” have if you hold all of them in such high regard. Your dilemma is a perfect reason to start a dialogue. Use the birth of your own child as the catalyst and explain to all the players that now that you have a child and your wife is a mother as well, you would like to start a new tradition. (Now, you have to decide what the new tradition is.)
Let’s look at two suggestions for how to handle holidays with baby: It’s not uncommon for people in your situation to treat a holiday as a weekend celebration, splitting their visits with loved ones between the true holiday and the day before or after. For example, some people who have large extended families split their Thanksgiving celebration between Thanksgiving Day and the following Friday. We have so many people to include around the holidays, I host Thanksgiving on the Saturday following the holiday! Try the same for Mother’s Day – using the Saturday prior as well. Use a typical holiday parenting plan schedule as your model. Figure out who you will see on the Saturday prior and who you will see on Mother’s Day. Then switch the next year. Granted, this is quite complicated, but it does serve its purpose for families who have clearly delineated lines between the divorced parents’ homes.
The second suggestion for the new tradition is to host the celebration at your house. To cut costs, consider a potluck. Invite all the parents in question, explain that there are just too many places to go, and in the name of all the children involved please consider celebrating in one place. If you are locked in Stepwars, don’t try it.
Finally, it’s a fine line children walk when they are close to both their mom and bonusmom. Many have told me that they don’t want to disrespect their own mother, but they also want to acknowledge their bonusmom – and they aren’t sure how to do it without hurting either “Mom.” That’s a tough one if the “moms” are in competition with one another. Ex-Etiquette rule No. 4 is “Bioparents make the rules, bonusparents uphold them.” This is another way of saying that Bio mom is Mom, and will always be Mom, however, if all the parents have things in the proper perspective, they both understand that it’s not “either/or,” but “also”… always in the best interest of the children.
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.