Q. My ex is driving me crazy. He reminds me so much of my father – who also drives me crazy. My dad had substance abuse problems for most of my life and has never quite gotten it together. My ex is just the same. He’s far more educated than his job requires, he’s always late to everything, his house is a mess, but the kids love to be there! When they ask to see their dad, I want to say no because he’s such a bad influence! What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. There are so many red flags waving I feel like ducking for cover! To begin, it sounds as if you’re confusing the issues you have with your dad with the issues you have with your ex – and that could be clouding your reasoning. They are two different men, and the similarities you mention may be more in your own head than in reality. Get some counseling to help you on that front, because although many do marry people similar to their parents, the things you mention do not necessarily relate.
That said, most kids gravitate to a calm, relaxed atmosphere and to people with an accepting demeanor. If you are irritated with dad’s laid-back attitude and possibly a little jealous that the kids want to hang with dad, they may feel your frustration and be doubly drawn to dad’s home. It’s a Catch 22: You’re frustrated that the kids are drawn to dad, and because the kids feel your frustration, they’re drawn to dad.
Relying on the rules of good ex-etiquette for parents, rule No. 9 is, “Respect each other’s turf.” That means, you can’t run dad’s life, and he can’t run yours. Respect him enough to let him be a father to the kids without your interference. If he’s late, if the house is a mess, that’s his problem and the fallout is his responsibility. If the kids are late to school, that will affect their grades and the school will make him responsible. If his house is a mess, the kids will eventually be embarrassed and not invite friends over or not want to go or, as crazy as it sounds, possibly clean up after themselves. You don’t have to do a thing.
In terms of denying the kids time with their dad, don’t do it. Very bad ex-etiquette. The kids have a right to both parents. The bad influence you mention is based on things YOU find questionable. If the kids are clean, happy, well-fed and safe, no agency will interfere. Plus, if there is a custody order in place and you deny time, the courts could find you in contempt, which is costly – not to mention psychologically confusing for kids who are obviously stuck right in the middle.
So, good ex-etiquette suggests it may be time to do some soul searching. You did not mention that the kids are in danger, only that you don’t approve of dad. It may be time to accept that your kids have two very different parents who no longer live together, but both love them very much – and look for the compromise (Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule No. 10) instead of the battle.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.