Q: My husband's ex-wife asked if he wants to go in half on an expensive gift for their son for Christmas.
Should she and her husband buy the son gifts and my husband and I buy their son gifts?
We have only been married a very short while and I seem to be having questions about how normal the relationship between them is.
A: The time to be asking questions and getting clear on the yes and no of co-parenting relationships is before you marry, not after. I'm sure your husband and his ex-wife are not acting any different now than they did while you were dating. Be careful. Interfering with a co-parenting relationship that's working may cause resentment — resentment from your husband, perhaps the kids, and ultimately from the children's mother, which translates to making co-parenting difficult and affects the children's adjustment when going back and forth between homes.
So many times I have spoken to new spouses who believe, "Now that we are married, things are gonna change. I'm here now. I'm your wife/husband, not her/him." That's because they perceive the "ex relationship" from a romantic point of view. "That's your ex-partner and you talk far more than you need to!"
If you subscribe to that frame of mind it's not surprising you're "questioning how normal their relationship is." A working co-parenting relationship is based on a mutual love for the children, not necessarily each other. Although there are often residual issues that need to be set aside when co-parenting, the driving force behind the necessity to communicate should be the mutual interest in the children's welfare. Sometimes people who have had no previous relationship at all have children, but they still have to communicate and work together when co-parenting.
I have developed an exercise for parents attempting to combine families that asks them to examine exactly what they expect from each other and each family member, from the kids to the ex, prior to moving in together. I call it the Before Exercise. It can be found on the Bonus Families website (www.bonusfamilies.com) key word "Before Exercise." It is designed to prompt a dialogue so that new couples can establish comfortable boundaries and know what to expect from their union. It's an eye-opener.
So, is it appropriate that co-parents split the cost of expensive presents? Of course, it is — and you may find that they will do this more often as their children grow older. Things like phones, cars, school expenses, etc. can be expensive and reaching out to your child's other parent to help is understandable. You certainly don't have to talk all the time and keeping things separate at times is understandable, but being able to comfortably ask for help is an important component to successful co-parenting and the reason that Good Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule No. 2 is "Ask for help if you need it." Co-parents must remember that THEY are not single parents. They may no longer be together, but they remain their children's parents forever.
There are co-parents who can't communicate well enough to negotiate sharing extra expenses. These are the parents who tend to remain resentful for years and blame each for their inability to work together. "You can't go to camp because your father won't help." Or, "cheerleading is expensive and your mom said no." Who loses? The kids.
So, since you have just joined the club, may I suggest you look for ways to work with these co-parents. If it gets too much for you, look for a solution together. 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.