Ex-etiquette: Mother’s Day dilemma

Q. Each Mother’s Day I am faced with a dilemma. Now that I am in college, I can easily say I love my mom, but I also have a very close relationship with my bonus mom and each year I like to acknowledge her as well. My mom and Jessi get along just fine. We often have brunch together each Mother’s Day. But my family gets even more complicated. My dad was with Jessi for 6 years. They never married. They broke up last year, which was really upsetting, but a few months ago, my dad got engaged to Sara. Now I’ve got someone else I have to get to know, which is fine, but I’m not sure where to put Jessi. She’s been with me since I was 12. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Here it is, Mother’s Day again — perhaps one of the most emotion-filled days of the year for bonus families. As much as most love their mom, enter someone else, like a bonus mom who the kids may want to acknowledge on this day, and feelings are often hurt. Your case takes this one step further. You are anticipating an additional person will eventually become part of your family and you aren’t sure how to acknowledge everyone with the importance you feel they are due.

First, you are a very accepting soul. Many would simply reject or get caught up in choosing one over the other. Instead you are looking for ways to accept them all. Very impressive. You have made your priorities clear — mom is mom — but there are others who have made an impression and who you want to acknowledge on this day.

Something unique about working bonus families — they celebrate holidays and family milestones in a way that works for them. Going to brunch on Mother’s Day with your mom and bonus mom may not be for everyone, but it works for your family. You’ve found a solution that works for you.

The question you ask about Jessi is an important one. Where does she fit now? What stands out to me is that you forged a relationship with her separate from her relationship with your dad, so that relationship may continue, if you want it to. Hopefully, dad understands the bond you and Jessi created and does not expect you to sever ties because he has. As an adult, you can make that choice on your own.

One thing I always say, “There is no either/or in bonus families. It’s also.” If you are truly striving for bonus status, no one is there to take a parent’s place or diminish their importance. After the breakup dust settles, most parents will meet someone new. It’s difficult to accept at times, but it’s life. The best we can do for our children is present the partner as our new partner, not a replacement for their mom or dad, and that allows the children to forge positive relationships without feeling they must choose one person over another.

Talk to your parents. Explain how you would like to handle this. Just as they have taught you to respect their choices, it’s time for them to respect yours. That’s good ex-etiquette.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.