Ex-etiquette: Never compare feelings for your children to feelings for a new partner

Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation.”

Jann Blackstone.jpg
Jann Blackstone

Q. The man I am dating told me that he has walked away from relationships because he felt as if he was second to the woman’s children. During discussion he asked, “Why would you ever want to get involved with someone when you knew you were not the priority? Your partner is supposed to be first!” I read your column every week and you always say “Put the children first” is the primary directive once there is a breakup. I really like this guy and I’m so afraid he’s going to leave. My kids are 13, 15, and my oldest lives away at school — but he still comes home. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Duck! There are some major red flags flying your way!

I would guess your guy has never had children and approaches relationships as a first-time relationship — no strings, everything is new. But second or subsequent relationships when one or both partners have children are simply a different dance. The expectations must be different, and you can NEVER compare your feelings for your children to the feelings for your new partner. If you do, you’ve already lost. And if your partner is demanding that you do, that’s a double jinx. They are simply not comparable.

This is not to say that establishing the primary relationship in a bonus family is not important. It’s one of the contributing factors to successfully combining families. If you are single because of a breakup, odds are your children have witnessed dysfunction and may not have an idea of what a loving relationship looks like. They have seen fighting, arguing, probably disrespect, so it is crucial that any partner you have understands the importance of demonstrating loving interaction between adults and making a partner a loving priority. Without such an example, the children have no model for a “good” relationship and will feel even more insecure than after their parents’ breakup. They are likely to mimic that behavior in their future relationships because that’s all they know.

Combining families is a well-orchestrated dance of sometimes leading and sometimes following. When it's done with kindness and respect, claiming your place will come naturally. You will not take it personally if you can’t go out to a movie together because your partner’s son has a soccer game. Demanding that a parent choose you over their children establishes a competitive atmosphere, and that’s a recipe for disaster.


If your kids no longer live at home or have children of their own, your approach to a new relationship can be different than if they are youngsters. If it’s your daughter’s 24th birthday and she lives 500 miles away, you can send her a card and FaceTime her from Cabo. It’s another story if it is her 14th birthday and she wants her friends to join her by the pool.

So take a good hard look at it if your guy is pulling rank. If he feels it necessary to set a competitive atmosphere between family members, no one will be happy — or healthy. When a new partner subscribes to the philosophy “help, not hinder,” you have a winner. That’s good ex-etiquette.

Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, . ©2020 Jann Blackstone Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Related Topics: FAMILY
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