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Ex-etiquette: Take a break from gift exchange

Q: Although I never married my ex, we were together for seven years. I was very close to his family, particularly his mother since my mom died when I was a little girl. Each Christmas we congregated at their home and exchanged gifts. Now that my ex and I have broken up, he has forbidden his side of the family to talk to me. Is it still appropriate to exchange presents? And, to make matters worse, I’m three months pregnant. His mother knows, but he’s so difficult right now I haven’t told him. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A: There aren’t just red flags here, these flags are red hot ... starting with the fact that you told his mother you were pregnant before you told him. It’s understandable, since you think of her as “mom,” but it’s still bad ex-etiquette.

It’s not uncommon when people break up that they believe their family’s allegiance should be with them and they find it insulting if family members want to continue to talk to the ex. To them, its betrayal and that can be at the root of family rifts that perpetuate bad feelings. If that’s the case, to protect the relationship between mom and son, you might want to take a break from gift giving this year. Let the dust settle and your ex calm down, and by next year if you haven’t reconciled, you will hopefully be able to be cordial for the sake of your child. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 1, “Put the children first.”)

If you do decide to go forward with gift giving, make sure all gift exchanges are done with your ex’s full knowledge, (Ex-etiquette rule No. 8, “Be honest and straightforward.”) and don’t wait until Christmas to exchange since that’s a day assigned to immediate family. But, meeting for lunch a few days before or possibly some time during the week between Christmas and New Year’s could be appropriate if done politely. (Ex-etiquette rule No. 5, “Don’t be spiteful and No. 6, “Don’t hold grudges.”) You may even want to consider Ex-etiquette rule No. 7, “Use empathy when problem solving.” How would you feel if you were in his shoes knowing all you know about what lead to your breakup? Under those circumstances, is a gift exchange a good idea this year?

Now, for the elephant in the room – let’s talk about your pregnancy. Good ex-etiquette dictates that you tell the father immediately. You’ve put his mother in a terrible position by telling her before you told him. Granted, you’re close, and if your mother were alive you might have told her first, and if you and the father hadn’t broken up, telling his mother first might have all been part of the way you announced the surprise – BUT, you are not together and that puts a whole new spin on it. Telling his mother asked her to keep a secret from her own son, and if he finds out, could make matters far worse. Be ready with a sincere apology and then together discuss what needs to be done to lay the ground work for positive co-parenting after the birth. That’s good ex-etiquette.