Q: My boyfriend and I have been living together for two years. He has two children, ages 3 and 4 ½. His ex will not allow the kids to come to our home. He must see them at her house. He's there all the time, morning and night, and sometimes he stays the night when she's out of town on business. I hate it (I've never even seen her) and I think it's crazy. My boyfriend sees nothing wrong with it. What do you think? What's good ex-etiquette?
A: From a parenting perspective, all things equal and above board, it's pretty crazy, but from a relationship perspective it's even crazier. I've been doing this for over 25 years and I have been accused of being cynical, but I see a huge red flag. Most people eventually want to settle into a new life after a breakup, especially if they have someone new. After two years he's still going to her house to see the kids and he's there day and night? You've never even seen her? Are you sure they have broken up? Something's not right.
But, there are always two sides to every story — and believe it or not, I have seen this before. It happens for reasons like the ex doesn't trust Dad's judgment or you could have possibly been "the other woman," and she doesn't want her kids around you. Whatever the motive, I suspect there's no court-ordered parenting plan because unless the kids are in danger at your home — and there's proof (CPS records, police reports, etc.) I can't think of a court that would not support a parenting plan where the kids stay with Dad in his own environment at least part of the time. Although Mom may not approve of your lifestyle, it doesn't sound like it's illegal, so it would be in the children's best interest that a parenting plan be put in place that "normalizes" Dad's time with the kids.
Breakups are difficult to maneuver, both physically and emotionally. The kids were very young when your boyfriend and his ex split. The youngest was a year old and the oldest was 2½. Anyone with children that age understands how difficult it is to get them accustomed to a new environment. It's right in the middle of that "separation anxiety" age when they are very clingy to their primary caregiver and there's lots of crying when someone leaves.
I'm just guessing, but if there really was a breakup and the kids were reacting poorly to back and forth before you came into the picture — and the parents got along well — I'm not surprised the answer was, "Just come see them here." But lots has happened since then. Time to heal, the kids have gotten older, Dad has moved on, it's time to put a formal parenting plan in place.
If Dad balks, that's another even bigger red flag. If he's all for it, support his rules (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 4, Parents make the rules; bonus parents uphold them) and it's time to meet Mom. 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.