Q: My ex says our 7-year-old daughter talks about me too much when she’s with him and it makes him and his girlfriend uncomfortable. Our daughter talks about them a lot when she’s with me too, but it doesn’t bother me. We’ve had kind of an open-ended custody agreement for years – a few days with me, then a few days with dad. They want to ask her to not talk about me so much and want me to do the same. I don’t think that’s a good idea. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: I don’t think it’s a good idea, either – and saying something could actually backfire. At 7, your daughter could very easily misunderstand and think she can’t say anything about either of you in front of the other. That’s putting her right in the middle and as time goes on she’ll learn not to share her thoughts and feelings. The first rule of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents is, “Put the children first.” No subject should be off limits – particularly life with mommy or daddy or how much she loves either of you.
I’m speculating here, but if you are two parents who have been co-parenting for a while and this is a new issue, it could have been prompted by Dad’s new girlfriend. The common scenario is a new partner who has never had kids gets involved with someone who does have kids and doesn’t understand the amount of interaction with the other parent it takes to successfully co-parent. They see the interaction as just an excuse to stay in touch and so they put pressure on their new partner to sever ties. Add in a little girl who talks about her mommy all the time and you have one suspicious, possibly jealous, new girlfriend putting the kibosh on life as you know it. Dad really likes her and doesn’t want to upset her, so he looks for ways to stop the child’s chatter – and talking to her is the logical choice. But, if you share custody, no matter what percentage you have agreed to share, you will always have to interact on some level with the ex, and if I’m right and this is the girlfriend’s problem, Dad should be talking to her about stopping the chatter, not his daughter.
If that’s not the case and this is Dad’s idea, it’s time to check himself. The priority should be how comfortable his daughter is – not him. The breakup was not the child’s idea.
Truth is, after a breakup, don’t we all just want to move on and not look back? But if you share custody as you do, back and forth every few days, that’s not really possible. You don’t live together – but your child still lives with both of you. Talking positively about the other parent is a huge indicator that life is good for her. That’s what you want – and 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.