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Ex-etiquette: Put the children first, always

Question: Just recently, my boyfriend and I separated rather harshly after being together for five years. The problem is that my 8-year-old daughter called him daddy and saw him as such even though biologically, he isn’t her father. He is not involved with her after constant disappointments. This is proving to be complicated as my daughter also called his bio-kids her brothers and sisters and his mom grandma. Should I continue to let them have a relationship or will it just cause more problems down the road? What’s good ex-etiquette?

Answer: The primary rule to good ex-etiquette for parents is Rule No. 1, “Put the children first,” and that’s where I would suggest you look to answer this question. I might have started my answer with a discussion about the dangers of moving in with someone “to see if it will work out” (when you already have children) if you hadn’t mentioned that you were together for five years. Although to some that sounds like a short relationship, it’s certainly enough time to acknowledge your attempt to make a go of it – and it is the majority of your daughter’s life. Based on that, if there is a commitment from your ex-boyfriend to be there for your daughter, I would treat this no differently than if the breakup was with her biological father.

It’s the commitment from your ex that’s important. From past experience you can see that biology doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a parent will be around. The danger in perpetuating a relationship with him, just like with any breakup, is if his interest wanes when he gets involved with someone else. (Not to mention how invested you will be once you find someone new.)

It’s not only her relationships to past and present partners you have to consider. You have already mentioned your daughter is close to your ex’s children and his mother. Therefore, just like your ex, if his mother is committed to being there for your child in the future, then support the relationship. If she sees the bond with your child as being based on your relationship with her son and now that it’s over, her investment is over, that’s not a healthy relationship to maintain.

So many times I hear, “children are resilient,” and they are, but here’s a warning: If you break up and start over too many times your child will eventually stop investing in the relationships and that will be detrimental in her ability to form lasting relationships when she gets older. Kids whose parents break up and start over a lot have told me that their siblings are whom they see as the constant in their lives – not their parents. Consider that one for a minute before picking your next partner.

Finally, as I already said, the primary rule to good ex-etiquette for parents is Rule No. 1, “Put the children first.” Every decision you make begins and ends with the best interest of your child. A breakup of any sort causes “problems down the road.” Your responsibility as your daughter’s parent is to do your best to introduce her to positive people, positive relationships, demonstrate love and understanding, and keep reason in the forefront when choosing a new partner.