Q: I moved out of state after my divorce. My ex and I had our differences, but made a pact to not air them in front of the kids even though they were all well into adulthood by the time we got a divorce. For years, when I came into town, we often had dinner together with our adult children and their significant others. Then he started dating a woman who forbade him from attending the occasional dinner when I came into town. So, I just had dinner with the kids and left it at that. The kids are angry. They think his girlfriend should butt out and let him do what he wants. I have no opinion on the subject. Just wondering what’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Not everyone can handle the “let’s all be friends” approach to divorce, but it sounds like you were all on that page until the new girlfriend arrived. That’s a dangerous place to be because she’s placing herself on the outs, pitting herself against family members, and fighting something that was comfortably in place before she arrived. Whether what she is asking is right or wrong, she’s trying to establish a new policy and that’s not the way to be accepted into anything — a club, a business, certainly not a family. You can’t just come in and reorganize everything without resentment setting in — at least not in the beginning. Few like change when it is thrust upon them without their consent.
I also suspect that this is not the only place your ex and his girlfriend disagree. If she’s adamant about not spending time with you, she’s probably concerned about your relationship with her boyfriend. Everyone can be angry with her and point fingers, but playing devil’s advocate, you have no idea how your ex has painted your relationship. Maybe he’s told her you’re the one who got away or to make himself appear more desirable, that you want him back.
In either case, the last thing she would want is for you all to spend time together. In other words, it could be her own insecurity about your familial relationship, but it could also be the picture your ex has painted that makes her act the way she does.
So, what’s good ex-etiquette? This doesn’t sound like it’s your problem. The problem players are primarily your ex and his girlfriend — and the sub players are the kids. If they want to tell their dad how they feel, plus ask him to establish some boundaries with his girlfriend, that’s between them.
My suggestion to you is to let everyone know you are coming into town, invite them all to dinner, and celebrate with whoever shows up. Your ex will either allow the drama to continue or stop it when it interferes too much in his life.
In closing, playing mediator is bound to backfire. Let your family members work this out themselves. Or, if they need a third party to help them untie the family threads, find a therapist or someone who does not have a vested interest in the outcome. 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.