Q: My husband and I were recently married, and his ex, the mother of his child, gave us two presents – one for us and one for my daughter. I appreciate her acknowledgment of my child; however, I am really uncomfortable with her giving us a present. What is good ex-etiquette regarding her gift to us?
A: You should always acknowledge any gift given to you, but you are not obliged to keep it. Be tactful, however. For example, don’t rewrap it and give it to a relative at a family celebration just to get rid of it. The ex may also attend the party, and nothing offends people faster than realizing that a present they gave in the past has been regifted right there in front of them. If you are trying to get along for the sake of the kids, the last thing you want to do is offend the ex!
Let’s take a look at why you are uncomfortable with her giving you a wedding present. I understand that she’s his ex and that most regard the ex as the villain, but from a co-parenting point of view, that present is a peace offering. That is so rare that unless the present is completely offensive, it’s time to count your blessings. It sounds as if you have a mother who understands the importance of cooperation when co-parenting and is looking for an ally rather than an enemy. Celebrate! My suggestion is to not only thank her for the present, but also use the occasion to discuss her child’s likes and dislikes and together look for ways to make the transition from house to house easiest on your husband’s child. (And on your daughter, as well.)
Just remember: Because you are appreciative does not mean you have to display the present in a place of importance in your home. Many people have told me that the fact the ex gave them anything puts them into a tailspin of “he (or she) still has feelings for my spouse, and I can’t get over it.” If that’s the case, do your best to put all that stuff behind you. The facts of life are:
• Your husband has a past; he’s human.
• Your husband has a child who will be in your care at times.
• You will have to interact with that child’s mother.
You never have to be best friends with your husband’s ex, but take advantage of the fact that half your battle may be won with this one. It appears you might be able to work together to coordinate efforts when organizing special events that revolve around the child. Many cannot, and the animosity and inability to problem-solve extends the child’s period of adjustment after the breakup. That will affect your household and your child, as well. Cooperation is a state of mind.
Good ex-etiquette also suggests that parents and their partners compromise when possible. (Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 10) That means that gestures like this become commonplace. Do your best to support each other’s efforts, with both children in mind. That’s putting the kids first, and that’s good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone, Ph.D., is author of “Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation” and founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.