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Ex-etiquette: Celebrating holidays is time for tact

Q: How do I handle a difference in the way my ex and I celebrate holidays now that we have broken up? Although my children’s father follows no particular religion, his new wife has a religion that does not celebrate holidays, and she’s really downplaying the upcoming holiday season. We always celebrated, and the kids expect it. With Halloween coming up, this is really difficult. What’s good Ex-etiquette?

A: The faith in which you bring up your children is one of those “musts” that should be discussed between couples well in advance of having children, but few know how to approach the subject if parents break up and one of them changes a religious choice down the road.

In cases such as this, my suggestion is to use the 10 Rules of Good Ex-etiquette as your guide. Rule No. 4 – “Biological parents make the rules; bonus parents uphold them” – in practice means that if the biological parents made an agreement to raise a child in a particular faith – or no faith at all – that’s the agreement that should be honored even if they break up. The bonus parent really has nothing to do with that decision. And because he or she joined the club after the fact, it’s the bonus parent’s job to support the rules the parents have in place. If the practice in place goes against the new partner’s moral or religious code, he or she should not have married someone who does not have similar beliefs. Bonus parents do not dictate policy.

But what if Dad has had a change of heart and now believes as his new wife does? If, after discussion, you and Dad can’t agree on a solution, then good Ex-etiquette suggests that no changes should be made in the way the children celebrate. You stick to the original agreement unless both parents agree to change. This is not to say that Dad and his new wife can’t practice as they wish in their home in front of the children. They just have to be mindful to follow Good Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule No. 3: “No bad-mouthing,” and don’t bad-mouth Mom’s beliefs. Your children will be exposed to two different philosophies. Teach them to respect both, and it will not be as confusing for them as it would be if you undermine the other parent’s beliefs. Good Ex-etiquette Rule No. 9 is “Respect each other’s turf.”

Halloween is a difficult because while many religions treat it as secular, others feel that it has evil undertones – and the faith about which you speak does not celebrate it at all – which truly changes the game plan if your kids have always celebrated. And much to their father’s dismay, it would not be surprising if the kids gravitated to your home around this time of year because they are used to lots of holiday gaiety.

If that’s true, rather than fight with the kids or get in a dispute with Dad and/or his new wife, look for a compromise (Ex-etiquette Rule No. 10: “Compromise whenever possible”). Try trading days. You get Halloween with the kids, and he can have a long weekend like, say, Memorial Day – not as a holiday to celebrate if that interferes with his newfound faith, but just to have a special day with the kids. Start a tradition. That’s how you practice good Ex-etiquette – always in the best interest of the children in your care.