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Ex-etiquette: Soul-searching needed to build familial feelings toward partner's son

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

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Jann Blackstone
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Q. My husband and I have been married for three years. He and I both had sons about the same age from a previous marriage and now we have a daughter who is almost 2. His son is quite a handful. We see him every other weekend for a night or two. He doesn’t feel like part of our family, and I often forget to include him in casual conversation. This upsets my husband, and we get in terrible fights — but how can you care for a child who only comes to your home every two weeks? What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. You are asking me about your personal mindset, and all I can really do from my laptop is talk to you about the mental preparation — or in your case, lack of mental preparation — done prior to marrying a partner with a child. It sounds like your husband is resentful of your attitude. His son isn’t an afterthought. He’s part of your family. And, if it doesn’t feel like it, you may have to do some soul-searching.

Don’t get me wrong. I know there must be history I may not understand. These are just blanket responses to the red flags I see in your question. Many have written to me about this very same dilemma, and I have to put it back on the adults. Children just follow your lead.

I often talk about a plan, or the preparation needed, to combine families successfully. Let me clarify what that looks like: You didn’t just fall in love with your husband. Just as there is a courting period when you date someone — you talked on the phone, you made plans, you anticipated doing things together — there is a courting period when meeting their children. You put in the effort. You learn their likes and dislikes, you include them in family plans, and then, after a time, hopefully you develop a like for one another and look forward to seeing each other. Just like falling in love with your husband, it’s a process to learn to feel close to their children.

So my question to you would be, what have you done to get to know this little boy prior to his coming to your home every other weekend? Who are YOU to HIM? Have you taken him out for ice cream, just you and him? Talked to him about what he likes or what he doesn’t like with no one else around? Set up play dates so he can get to know your son prior to moving in? Does he have his own space at your home, or is he treated like a visitor? If the answer is no to most of these questions, it’s no wonder you don’t think of him as part of the family. You have to get in there. And, if you do, you will see a difference in your husband’s attitude. He will see you are doing what you can to accept and include his son.


It’s important to acknowledge that my suggestion is not reserved for just moms, but anyone who gets involved with someone who has children. We are the ones to initiate the acceptance, the loving environment. 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, bonusfamilies.com . ©2022 Jann Blackstone Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Related Topics: FAMILY
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