Q: I've been reading your column for some time. It seems you have been there and always point out things I don't see, so I thought I would ask about my situation. I live around the corner from my husband's ex. They co-parented their two kids — a week with each parent — before I got here and following your advice, I just got with the program. I haven't interfered and have been accepted as part of the club. BUT, now that we have added a little one to the family there are some times I wish we could do things "just us" and it seems like the kids' mom is always included. Take Halloween. Normally, we would all trick-or-treat together, but now that the baby is joining us, can't we just once have a private family holiday?
A: Excellent question. The answer is yes and no. It all depends on what you consider to be "your family." Is it you, dad, your baby and every other week, his kids or you, dad, three children and on occasion, their mother? I found the second choice to be my reality.
Some people rarely share holidays after a breakup and stick to the "your Christmas, my Thanksgiving," point of view. But, because precedent was already set prior to your entering the mix and your husband and his ex have always celebrated together, your concept of family might have to be adjusted — and with that, how you celebrate family holidays. Not all holidays, but some.
You may be thinking, "Ah, but Halloween is a perfect holiday for it to be "just us." It's even left off the holiday parenting plan in a court order sometimes. I've often heard parents say, "Let it fall where it falls," meaning whoever has the kids on that day can sponsor Halloween — but it also means the other parent will probably show up at some time during the evening.
Here's where considering the Ten Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette comes into play. Rule No. 1, "Put the children first." Go back in your memory banks. Where did you rank Halloween in terms of importance? Most kids rank it up there with Christmas. What other holiday can you dress up any way you like and get free treats? Think how excited most parents get about those costume pics. So, even though you might think Halloween is a "secondary" holiday, it's really not for most families.
You can establish a new precedent, however. Start a tradition in which only you, your husband and the kids participate in an aspect of the holiday. It doesn't have to be on Halloween, but Halloween-related. For example, "Family Pumpkin Carving Night" or "Halloween Cookie Night." Try it out on the weekend prior to Halloween. Don't be surprised if the kids want to invite their mom. If that works, then invite her, but if you want to establish it as your night, just say something like, "Your mom is going to join us for trick-or-treating." Stay away from saying, "Your mom doesn't have to be included for everything. This is just for us." It will hurt the kids' feelings — and they will remember it. Remember, precedent was set before you got there, so you have to work within those parameters. That's good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is founder of bonusfamilies.com.