Jann Blackstone-Ford and Sharyl Jupe: Bonus familiesEx-Etiquette: How can we be friends? Our columnists’ story
Dear Readers: We’re sometimes asked by readers struggling with their exes about our personal story of how we — a wife and an ex-wife — came to do this column together. Here it is in a nutshell, along with some lessons we learned:
In the first few years we rarely spoke at all. We live in a very small town with very few places to go, and Sharyl and her ex (Jann’s husband) were so at odds that different days were assigned when each could go to the local bar and grill. Jann tells the story about wanting to go out for dinner, only to be told, “Nope, tonight is Sharyl’s night.” So, the fact that we truly are friends now is quite surprising — and why we say if we can do it, anyone can.
The turning point came when we saw firsthand the stress our inability to get along was causing for the kids. Each household operated separately with very little communication between adults, which turned the kids into messengers. There was a lot of, “Call your mom and tell her we’re going to be 30 minutes late,” or, “Tell your dad to call me to talk about Little League tryouts.” If the child passed on the info and the receiving parent got angry, the child bore the brunt of the frustration. Such situations can create a very anxious child and unreliable information going between homes.
How did we go from enemies to friends? We started to ask each other’s opinion. For example, once when the kids were at their father and Jann’s house, one was sent home from school for playing with matches. Jann happened to be the one who received the phone call and therefore picked him up. But before punishment was enforced, she consulted not only her husband, the father, but Sharyl, the mother, as well. Knowing her opinion mattered helped Sharyl feel in the loop when the children were at their father’s home — and that helped to change the dynamic from frustration to a spirit of cooperation.
Does this mean that co-parents must consult on every little decision? Of course not. But being included in the decision-making has a huge impact on a parent who’s feeling as if he or she has no influence over his or her children when they’re at their other parent’s home. And when one feels respected he or she is more likely to cooperate.
JANN BLACKSTONE-FORD and SHARYL JUPE are co-founders of Bonus Families (www.bonusfamilies.com) and authors of “Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After a Divorce or Separation.” Blackstone-Ford is married to Jupe’s ex-husband. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.