Ex-etiquette: At family gatherings, cordial beats cuddly

  • Article by: JANN BLACKSTONE MCCLATCHY NEWS SERVICE
  • Updated: January 15, 2014 - 1:50 PM

Q: I’ve been divorced for 1 ½ years. Since my divorce, my ex-wife and I will get together a few times a month with the kids (ages 13 and 16) to talk about their schedule or other issues related to the kids. This may include pizza and a game of pool.

My ex-wife and I are both in relationships, and my girlfriend and her boyfriend don’t join us when we do this. We’ve done this thinking it’s good for the kids to have the four of us talk in person. Do you think this is appropriate? My girlfriend doesn’t.

A: It depends. It’s a noble goal, but how successful you are will depend on how you handle it. If you read this column, you’ve heard me say, “good ex-etiquette is cordial, not cuddly.” That means being polite for the sake of the children, but too much togetherness can be misunderstood — not necessarily by your girlfriend or your ex’s boyfriend, but by the kids.

Too much togetherness could be misleading and give them false hope for a reconciliation. They could also see your new partners as interlopers — “Look how well mom and dad get along. If it wasn’t for ‘them’ they would be back together.”

That’s the end of any positive relationship between the kids and the new partners. I’ve even seen kids openly attempt to sabotage a parent’s new relationship hoping their parents will get back together. Ever see the movie “Parent Trap”? In that movie the parents do reconcile with the help of the kids, but it’s a movie. In real life it could be very confusing for the kids — and possibly very painful for all.

With this in mind, be careful. It’s a great idea to keep communication open between parents after a breakup, but you may want to take a less familiar approach — and leave the kids home. Attending student teacher conferences together is a great way to stay on the same page — even asking teachers and coaches to copy both of you when communicating with one or the other will ensure you both know about your kids’ extracurricular activities or schedule changes.

Both attending plays, games or concerts also demonstrates positive parental support, but pizza and pool with the kids twice a month may be pushing it. It’s best for the parents to discuss things and then let the kids know what they have decided.

In closing, it may be time for you and your ex to do some soul searching. Are you doing this to stay in touch for the kids or to just stay in touch? If the answer is the latter, rather than pizza and pool, use that time to get some counseling to help you explore if reconciliation is in the cards. If it’s not, comparing parental notes is commendable, but you may want to reduce the family get-togethers to supporting the kids’ extracurricular activities and holiday celebrations.

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