Q: I have been living with my boyfriend for 3 years. He has two adult children from a previous marriage. His adult daughter who is married with two children, ages 6 and 8, is turning 30, and they are all going away for the weekend to celebrate. I am not invited. They say it is because I have had too much to drink on previous occasions and it scares the kids. I don’t believe the kids are afraid of me. I even offered to not drink, but that doesn’t seem to be good enough. I really want to be part of this family. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Good ex-etiquette or “good behavior after divorce or separation” applies to everyone. It's not just for those who have broken up. Everyone has an ex in their life, whether the ex is yours or your partner’s or your parents’ or a cousin or a friend. The 10 rules of good ex-etiquette serves as a guide, as sort of survival rule book, to help everyone navigate the trials associated with breaking up and starting over.
I'd like to point you to rule No. 4, “Parents make the rules; bonus parents uphold them.” Because of the relationship you describe, the parents of these children may not believe you to have bonus status, in your case it would be bonus grandparent status, but the truth remains they are the children’s parents and feel your past behavior merits eliminating your name from the guest list. You did not deny that you drank too much, only that you offered to not drink if you were included. This tells me it may be true and therefore, the parents feel as if they are protecting their children (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 1: Put the children first.) by asking that you not attend. That's their job as responsible parents.
You said that you don’t believe the children are afraid of you. They probably aren’t when you are not drinking, but common behaviors when you’ve had too much to drink like slurring your words, stumbling, being overly affectionate with them, or arguing with other family members does scare children, particularly young children, ages 6 and 8. Children that age have confided that when family members drink too much, they don’t feel safe. Children see drunk people as unpredictable. They can’t depend on someone who has had too much to drink to take care of them if something happens. So, it scares them. When their parents say their children are frightened, they are telling the truth.
Finally, red flag alert. You didn’t mention how your partner feels about his children’s request. Leaving that out could mean he agrees with them and you’re coming to me to weigh in for the final decision. I’ll leave you with this: When people ask you not attend a family get together because of your drinking, it’s time to do more than to say you won’t drink. It’s time to step back, examine your motivation and behavior, and if you do have a drinking problem, be honest with yourself and others (Good ex-etiquette rule No. 8). 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. ©2020 Jann Blackstone Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.