Q: My new partner loves my children, but has a real problem with my ex. He doesn’t approve of his parenting and looks for excuses for the kids to not see their father. My ex is a little inconsistent, but not that bad, and my boyfriend’s attitude is really concerning me. I love him and looking forward to a future together. I’m hoping this will all just fall into place in time. What do you think?
A: Although time does help to smooth things over in most situations, this may not be one of them if you don’t find your voice. While you are waiting for things to get better, the kids’ relationship with their dad could be affected and that’s certainly not in their best interest. This is a perfect situation to look to “10 rules of good ex-etiquette” for guidance. Good ex-etiquette for parents Rule No. 4 is, “Bioparents make the rules, bonusparents uphold them.” That means if you want your boyfriend to get involved at all it’s because you have empowered him to support the rules the kids’ father and you have put into place. If he’s taking over, it’s a huge red flag – and very bad ex-etiquette. Set your boundaries now.
As much as you love this man, his actions are an indicator that he might eventually ask your kids to check their allegiance – Dad or him. The first rule to good ex-etiquette is, “Put the children first” It sounds more like he’s saying, “Put me first.” Another red flag.
It’s not uncommon for people who are attempting to combine families, particularly if they have never had children, to need some guidance during the process. Both you and your boyfriend must realize that attempting to ace out your children’s biological father may be just as detrimental to your children’s adjustment as if your guy didn’t care about them at all. In my book, “Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” there is an exercise I often suggest to new couples with kids who are attempting to combine families. It’s called, “The Before Exercise” and it asks each of you to describe the relationship you envision with each member of your new family before you make the final commitment – and, yes, that includes the children’s other parent if custody is shared. Then describe how you propose to achieve that relationship. That puts the responsibility for a positive relationship with family members in your own hands. Not, “if he or she does this, then I will do that.” You, as the adult role model, make the commitment and set the stage.
Becoming a bonusfamily (successfully combining families) is an intricate dance of integrating past and present. In order to offer your children a balanced home life it’s important that your boyfriend is a member of the adult support system – not the entire support system. If he doesn’t get it by the end of the Before Exercise, take a good hard look at the fact that he may not be right for you – or your kids and don’t be afraid to call it quits.
(The Before Exercise can also be found on the Bonus Families website, www.bonusfamilies.com . Keyword: Before exercise.)