Q: My ex wants to go trick-or-treating with our son and me. He always has; that’s not the problem. The problem is that he wants to bring his new girlfriend and her kids. I haven’t met her or her kids, nor has our son, and I’m afraid it will just be too uncomfortable. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: It probably will be too uncomfortable – because it’s too soon. It’s good ex-etiquette to introduce the new girlfriend if you are co-parenting and it is done with the well-meaning thought that “this person is going to be in our child’s life, and I think you should meet her (or him).” But it’s not good ex-etiquette if your ex is doing it to irritate you or get you back for some reason, or if he’s moving too fast. By attempting his introduction now, he’s breaking three major good-ex-etiquette rules! Good ex-etiquette rule No. 1: “Put the children first,” because Halloween is about the kids, not a time to introduce a new girlfriend. Good ex-etiquette rules No. 5 and 6, “Don’t be spiteful” and “Don’t hold grudges,” just in case he’s doing it to stir the pot. (All 10 rules of good-ex-etiquette can be found on the Bonus Families website, www.bonusfamilies.com.
He may just think, “It’s a holiday; let’s get everyone together.” In truth, if that’s the case, he hasn’t thought it through. Choosing a holiday that normally represents one-on-one time with his kids is not a good day for introductions.
One of the things kids of divorced parents complain about most is that their parent’s new partner was just sprung on them. Then Dad or Mom moves in with the new partner, and Dad or Mom lives full-time with the new partner’s kids – when the kids themselves can’t. Resentment sets in, possibly jealousy, and the parent who did the moving in has no idea why their children are either very angry when they come over or don’t want to come over at all.
It could have all been headed off if the parent with the new partner just went more slowly – first introducing the new partner to the kids, then going on short outings, then introducing the new partner’s kids, then going on short outings together, moving into day outings. That’s what I mean by slow: making sure everyone feels included. It should feel like a natural progression, so that by the time a parent does announce that he or she is moving in with the new partner, no one is surprised – including the ex or the kids.
Intros to new partners should be done well in advance to any special occasions or holidays. If trick-or-treating as a bonusfamily (combining past and present) is important, lay the groundwork now and consider next year for your first trick-or-treat.
The same holds true for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Lay the groundwork first.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families.