Dear Dr. Jann,
My ex and I often help each other out. Being a single working parent who is raising kids is not easy on your own. On occasion, my kids and I will feed his dog when he’s gone for the weekend. I visit our old home, bring the kids, they feed and play with the dog, and then we go home. My new boyfriend has said he doesn’t want me to have any interaction with my ex — feeding the dog or otherwise — and has asked me to stop helping out. This change is confusing the kids. They don’t understand why all of a sudden I can’t talk to their dad. What’s good ex-etiquette?
I often refer to the Ten Rules of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents when looking for solutions to deal with life after a break-up. The rules were designed to help you interact with an ex, but they are also guidelines for others who must interact with someone who has an ex. You can find all 10 rules on the Bonus Families website. Keyword: 10 rules.
Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #4 is, “Bio-parents make the rules; bonus-parents uphold them.” Your new boyfriend isn’t a “bonus-parent” (stepparent) quite yet — that takes time and an open commitment to both you and the kids. But it appears he’s around, and you care about how he feels, so you’re trying to curb your already established coParenting style to what he wants. Think again. Rule #4 suggests that he not dictate policy –that’s up to you and dad. It’s his job to support your rules. If he can’t, and wants to impose all sorts of restrictions that don’t match your lifestyle, he may not be the guy for you.
Not only that, if the kids are comfortable and flourishing, they will put two and two together and blame your boyfriend for any changes made. Although he may think he’s well within his rights to stop the interaction, he’s actually interfering, and the kids could very easily see him as an interloper and reject him as a result. Then you’ll really have a problem. The likelihood that your relationship will survive once the kids actively resent your new partner is very small. Everyone will be miserable and it’s all because he tried to establish policy when it just wasn’t his place.
Rather than try to change your lifestyle, it’s time your boyfriend gets on board. Being in a relationship with someone who actively coParents is not for the faint of heart. coParenting properly means ongoing consultation with your child’s other parent. A new partner’s jealousy can certainly complicate that. So, make sure you’re not being insensitive by not letting him know how you feel about him—and how you feel about your ex. With your boundaries clear your boyfriend may feel less intimidated and not see the necessity to dictate policy.
But, there’s always the chance that he won’t get it. Many were brought up to believe that interaction with an ex ends when there is a break-up. Perhaps he fears that you might run off and leave him high and dry. If he operates from that place, he’ll always be looking over his shoulder worried that you are doing something you shouldn’t. That could make being in a relationship with him very difficult.
It starts with a serious conversation, letting him know exactly what you expect, and if he’s the right guy, everything will then fall into place. That’s good ex-etiquette.