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Ex-Etiquette: Cooking up graduation compromise

Q: My daughter is graduating from high school this weekend, and her father and I are at odds about how to handle the celebration afterward. I want everyone to come over to my home for a casual barbecue, and he wants to take everyone out to dinner. My daughter tells me that she would prefer the barbecue but understands that her father might be uncomfortable at my home now that I have remarried. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A: Good ex-etiquette starts with putting the children first. (Ex-Etiquette for Parents Rule No. 1.) That means that you consider your daughter’s feelings before your own. But it sounds as if your daughter has become quite the diplomat and has learned to juggle her parents’ preferences like a pro. From what you say, she has told you that she would prefer to do what you want, but understands why her dad may not want to come – therefore that implies the only alternative is to do what Dad wants – but she’s not picking sides. She’s letting you make the choice by being empathetic to Dad’s dilemma. Quietly ingenious. If you make the concession, it’s of your own free will, which hopefully will eliminate any animosity you might feel for not getting what you want. This child has been in the middle of her parents for a long time.

If I had to choose, I would lean toward Dad’s request. If it’s difficult for both sides of the family to congregate at your home, the best alternative is a neutral place. Your home is your private turf, and it’s not surprising that an ex might feel uncomfortable, particularly if you have remarried.

That said, it’s not uncommon that parents celebrate together – not even uncommon that they celebrate at each other’s homes, but if one says that he or she would prefer not to, that’s a cue that a neutral place is the best answer.

If your daughter truly prefers the barbecue, a good alternative might be to have the graduation celebration at a local park where you can barbecue and perhaps bring potluck offerings. To appease Mom, she might be in charge of the meal planning – Dad gets his neutral place, Mom gets her barbecue. The child has both her parents near her at an important time in her life. Compromises are a state of mind, and Ex-Etiquette for Parents Rule No. 10 is: “Compromise whenever possible.”

Right about now, I often hear, “I’m so glad my daughter has finally turned 18 and I won’t have to do this anymore!” That’s somewhat of a pipe dream. Just because your child is a legal adult doesn’t mean the potential for celebrating with an ex ends. She will have other milestones in her life – holidays, college graduation, marriage, and wait until she has children of her own. I’ve seen my ex more since our children have started having children than I have in years. When parents break up, they can throw two birthday parties for their own children, but rarely do their children throw two birthday parties for their children because Grandma and Grandpa can’t get over themselves.

So this is just another chapter in your life – let the 10 Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette be your guide. They can be found at both bonusfamilies.com and exetiquette.com.