Ex-Etiquette: Laying the groundwork for success

By Jann Blackstone - Tribune News Service

Q. My daughter is 13. Her father has remarried a woman who has two boys, ages 14 and 16. Both adults work and once the kids get off school, all three are left alone in the home until the adults return. I do not believe teens of the opposite sex should be left alone unsupervised. I’m concerned about this, and I think my daughter is also, mainly because she knows how strongly I feel about it. I’ve tried to discuss this with my ex, but he dismisses me, saying I have no business questioning his parenting or getting involved with his family. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. There are quite a few red flags here … and the exact reason it is so important to have an open co-parenting relationship with your child’s other parent. Difficult situations are bound to come up, and cultivating an environment where you feel comfortable discussing such things is imperative if you want to keep the kids out of the middle.

First red flag I see is that you have two separate factions, dad’s house and mom’s house, and there’s no common ground. So when one of you brings up a problem, rather than look at this as you are in it together for your child, it’s “how dare you…” Dad may even feel as if you are invading his privacy by initiating a discussion. That just won’t work if you are co-parenting.

The co-parenting paradox is trying to figure out when you should be autonomous and when you should reach out to the other parent. The answer is, whenever you are concerned about your child, that’s grounds for a discussion. However, you must lay the groundwork first so you can easily have those discussions.

One of the hardest things for co-parents to do is trust each other. Once there is a breakup, all of a sudden someone you trusted to make good judgments for your child becomes suspect. I remember a time I was working with clients and an exasperated parent said, “When we were together, you had no trouble with me being alone with the children, we break up and now you question everything I do.” The point he was trying to make is the only thing that had changed is their relationship status. He was still the conscientious parent he had always been. His co-parent realized he was right.

Concerning this specific issue, just as children have trouble grasping their parents are sexual beings, parents also have the same problem and may not realize the situation they put their kids in when combining a family with teenagers. House rules must be very specific. Conversations about what is expected cannot be ignored or swept under the rug. Don’t think the children already know what is “proper” behavior. And, most of all, parents must be available to listen if a child is uncomfortable and make the necessary changes so everyone in the home feels secure in that environment.

Finally, I believe you and dad need some co-parenting counseling to help you set the stage for problem-solving in the name of your child. She is 13 and will be going through all sorts of changes. The last thing she needs is fighting parents who can’t agree about the important issues. A co-parenting counselor will help you lay the groundwork for a better relationship so you will see each other as allies, not enemies — for your child’s sake. That’s good ex-etiquette


By Jann Blackstone

Tribune News Service

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.

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.

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