Q: My daughter left her husband for someone else after three years of marriage. My husband and I were quite close to her ex (I work with him), and they have a 3-year-old, so we want to normalize things for him. It was very sad for us but we realize she is much happier (newly married). We like the new guy very much too, but she is adamant she wants us to have nothing to do with her ex. They share custody and get along "OK" and their son is very loved in both places. How can we explain what she is doing is not good ex-etiquette?
A: To begin, you're right, it's not good ex-etiquette -- and we have found that the best way to approach this sort of question is to ask her to consider a change in perspective. Your daughter may not understand that she's asking you to not interact with your grandchild's father. She sees him as her ex, wants to move on, and expects your allegiance. You feel torn because you have developed a relationship with Dad and it has always been as the father of your grandchild. To you nothing has really changed. Add to this a new man in your daughter's life, possibly whispering in her ear and pulling rank (I'm your husband!), and you have the makings of your basic family post-divorce fallout.
Many get caught up in the concept that the "best" home is the conventional configuration with a Mommy and Daddy and however many kids, and when they divorce and remarry, they try to re-create this conventional configuration by including the stepparent in the parental decisions and slowly acing out the other biological parent. It sounds like that might be what is happening at your house, and it's not necessarily done on purpose. It may be done out of guilt for getting a divorce -- and it becomes an effort to "make it all better" for the kids. Your daughter seems to be taking this one step further -- she wants everyone to start over, including you.
The key here is to reinforce your love for your daughter (because it sounds like you support her choice of leaving), but also explain that rejecting her son's father sends the wrong message to her child. Kids often blame themselves for their parents' divorce -- and in this case, possibly the change in relationship between Daddy and Grandma. That relationship, if it's a healthy one, will provide additional security for her child as his parents navigate the changes associated with divorce. The better everyone can get along in front of the child, the more secure he will be. Asking you to openly reject someone the child loves and that you have obviously bonded with, is not in the child's best interest.
Mom needs to read the "Ten Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette for Parents." She's breaking just about every one.
Jann Blackstone-Ford and her husband's ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of "Ex-Etiquette for Parents," are the founders of Bonus Families (www.bonusfamilies.com). Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.