Q: My ex and I live an hour away from each other. We’ve been divorced for two months, and we are trying to share our 3-year-old daughter. My ex doesn’t want my new boyfriend at the exchanges – we actually started seeing each other before I moved out – but my boyfriend is the only one with a driver’s license. I don’t know how to pick up our daughter without my boyfriend’s help. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Not live with someone, have a child with him, sneak around behind his back with someone else and then move out. Based on that, I think it’s completely understandable that your ex doesn’t want to see you or your boyfriend, but this is a perfect example why using good ex-etiquette is imperative when co-parenting a child. It doesn’t matter how stupid the parents have been – it’s your responsibility to be good co-parents now. That’s the reason I developed the rules of good ex-etiquette – to help parents deal with their ex in a positive manner for the sake of the children they share.
Good ex-etiquette for parents Rule No. 1 is: “Put the children first.” Even though you were 100 percent wrong on so many levels, it’s not about you or your boyfriend – it’s not even about your ex. It’s about your child. That means you look for a way to exchange your child that offers the least amount of stress – not to you, but to your child.
Another important rule of good ex-etiquette for parents is ex-etiquette Rule No. 7, “Use empathy when problem solving.” Put yourself in your child’s father’s shoes. Would you want to see him and the woman he betrayed you with at each exchange? Probably not. Hopefully, things will calm down as time moves on, but for now the pain is quite fresh, and if you want to make the exchanges easy on your child, look for solutions that won’t infuriate his father. A possible suggestion is that your boyfriend stays in the car and you bring your child to his father’s door. Or an even better idea might be to meet at a kid-friendly restaurant; boyfriend parks far enough away that the two men don’t run into each other; and you and the dad exchange the child comfortably.
The irony of co-parenting is that we ask people at possibly the most difficult time in their lives to put aside those strong, very human emotions in the best interest of their kids. I acknowledge that it is very difficult, but it is possible and necessary. Your task, at this point, is not to recreate bad decisions, but to be honest and straightforward with your child’s other parent (ex-etiquette Rule No. 8). His task is not to hold grudges or be spiteful (ex-etiquette for parents rules No. 5 and 6) even though he is angry and hurt. Your task together is always to put your child first. Start now. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website exetiquette.com at email@example.com.