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Ex-Etiquette: Invoking Rule No. 1: Put kids first

Q: When a son divorces, should his family stay in contact with his ex-wife? The son has a new lady in his life, and almost every member of the family is keeping in contact with his ex. They lend her money and baby-sit their children, plus children that are hers and not the son’s.

It just seems like too much and makes things very difficult. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A: Reading between the lines, I suspect you are the “new lady,” and it sounds as if you don’t like your boyfriend’s family staying in touch with his ex. This is understandable because you probably want to build your own relationship with them, and it could feel like their involvement with her gets in the way.

There also may be the fear that they will always prefer her and you will remain second-best. Truth is, that may be true, but good ex-etiquette dictates that you stop comparing and work on your own relationship with them. They are doing the right thing by staying in touch with her. She is not just the ex of their son or brother, but also the mother of their grandchildren, nieces or nephews. If they want to see the children on a regular basis, it’s best to stay in good standing with both parents, if possible.

The fact that your boyfriend’s extended family accepts her children from a previous relationship as part of their family is commendable. His parents may be the only grandparents her children have, and those children have probably been raised as siblings to your boyfriend’s children. It’s not good ex-etiquette to expect these people to walk away from the mother of their grandchildren or from children they have unselfishly accepted because your boyfriend has broken up with their mother and now you are his girlfriend.

In terms of lending her money – that’s between her and them. Divorce complicates things financially, and they may be lending her money, once again, to help with the children. You probably don’t know the particulars and shouldn’t get involved.

Here’s a tip for how to use good ex-etiquette when problem-solving: Notice my answer began with an empathetic approach – I put myself in your shoes and empathized with your plight – that’s using Ex-Etiquette for Parents Rule No. 7. It helps when discussing things that the other person sees you understand their point of view. But then I shifted the rest of my answer to using the children as criteria for problem-solving: That’s using the primary rule of Good Ex-Etiquette for Parents – Rule No. 1: “Put the children first.” I no longer talked about how the choices made you feel; it was all about the kids. Once you remove yourself from the equation and use the best interest of the kids as the basis for problem-solving, the answers come much easier.

Looks as if you have been asked to be a new member of this club. But before you join, make sure you can follow the club bylaws without reservation.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation.” Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website at