Q: I am recently divorced. While married, I always attended a charity luncheon around Christmastime with my mother-in-law and my daughter. My ex is very angry that I left, even though he cheated, and has forbid me to have a relationship with his mother. Do I have to stop going to this event now that we are divorced? She was my mother-in-law for 15 years and we love going together. It’s been a family tradition we all look forward to. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: The key to answering this question is to not take it personally and remember to use the children and their relationship to various “ex-relatives” as your criteria for your decisions. The relatives about whom you speak are only “ex” to you. Their relationship with your daughter remains the same even after your divorce. If, after the divorce, you choose to maintain a relationship with former extended family, which, quite frankly, seems more appropriate than severing ties, then of course it is proper to attend your charity event.
Will it upset your ex? Most likely, but a day with Mom, daughter and grandmother around the holidays is a lovely family tradition and expecting to continue a family tradition that does not include him in the first place is not an unreasonable request. It’s really up to you, grandma and daughter.
Many divorced men and women expect their relatives to take sides after a breakup, and when they don’t, especially if it’s a parent, they feel betrayed. But they put themselves in that position by demanding their relative choose. There is always a danger that things may not go your way when you give someone an ultimatum.
I once worked with a mother who was furious her father secretly met her ex and his grandson for a weekend of camping and fishing. It had been a treasured family tradition for years and something to which grandpa, father and son all looked forward. On this particular weekend mom knew her ex and her son were going, but had no idea her father was going, too. When her son came home with stories that included grandpa, she was shocked to hear her father had gone without telling her. Keeping the trip a secret was done in an effort not to upset mom, but what it actually did was make things even more complicated. She explained, “I can’t believe my dad chose him over me.”
Choosing one over the other wasn’t the real issue. Mom had put herself in that position when she asked her father to take sides. The tradition had been intact for years and she expected it to stop because of the breakup. She had a very difficult time accepting that the relationship grandpa, dad and son had didn’t depend on her.
According to good ex etiquette, the only time we can really dictate policy about associating with exes after a breakup is if someone’s safety is in question. For example, if your daughter is not safe with grandma. You said Dad is angry that you left so he doesn’t want his mother hanging around you. Understandable, but simply not his call.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation.”