Q: My ex-husband's girlfriend of two months has told our girls that she is going to have a portrait taken of the girls and her as a present for their dad. My daughter told me this, and I was upset because I feel it's not appropriate. I did not say anything to my daughter, but I have to say it just feels wrong. How do I handle this? HELP!!!
A: To a mom who has been, I am assuming, the primary caregiver of the kids before the divorce, the fact that your ex's girlfriend is taking such an active role in your kids' lives in such a short time probably seems quite presumptuous to you. This is understandable -- and it is commendable that you didn't respond in anger when your daughter told you of the plan to have a picture taken. That would have just put the child in the middle and as angry as you are about the situation, it's the last thing you should do. It was better to bite your tongue and give yourself some time to figure out how you want to respond to all this.
My advice? Keep Rule No. 9 of The Ten Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette, "Respect Each Other's Turf," in mind. This means accept that you can't control what goes on at your ex's home, and that includes his new girlfriend hiring someone to take pictures of her with the kids. Yes, it's probably inappropriate to have a formal portrait taken of the three of them at this juncture -- a portrait of just the girls would be more fitting -- and a great present for Dad. (A more appropriate idea considering the time they have been together might be to offer a portrait of her and keep the kids out of it all together.) But the picture will be viewed at your ex's home, it's part of his life with his daughters, and unless you suspect (and can prove) abuse of some sort, attempting to control life at the ex's house will alienate him, possibly alienate the kids, and fill you with anxiety when you realize you are up against a brick wall.
Check with your ex to find out if things are as serious with this girlfriend as they sound. If he says they are, it's time to have a heart-to-heart to discuss how he sees her in the big picture and lay some boundaries about how you will all interact in the future.
You never know, this whole thing could backfire on the girlfriend. Presenting your ex with a picture of the kids with her could alert him to the seriousness of her intentions and that may not be what he wants after only two months. Or it could solidify their commitment, and you will have a whole new set of problems to face. Either way, there will be bigger problems than pictures with the girlfriend to face in your efforts to co-parent after divorce. Use approaching this problem logically and having a successful outcome as groundwork for solving the bigger problems in the future.
Jann Blackstone-Ford, Ph.D., is the author of "Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation" and founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.