Q: I read your column all the time, and in your answers, you often refer to Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 7 or Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 5. What are you talking about?
A: I can honestly say that I am asked about "the rules" just about every day. The whole thing started years ago — divorced parents were constantly writing for a guide or list — something to remind them to calm down when their ex started to drive them nuts and they could no longer think rationally. So, after much deliberation I came up with the Ten Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette. The rules first appeared in my book, "Ex-Etiquette for Parents," designed to guide you through the emotional roller coaster of dealing with an ex, an ex's new partner, a bonus relation or a present or former in-law who is making your life miserable and driving you out of your mind. They're not rocket science, but they work.
For example, say your ex calls you up complaining that you're not returning the kid's clothes. That's a huge bone of contention while co-parenting with an ex. It seems that parents who are no longer together and are at odds tend to hoard the kid's clothes — "They're mine, I bought them. You're not returning them, obviously on purpose just to make me angry!"
Well, the ex may be doing precisely that, but relying on the rules of good ex-etiquette as your guide is an easy way to break the tit-for-tat cycle.
Rule No. 1: "Put your kids first" reminds you that, in truth, the clothes in question are the kid's clothes — not yours, and it's the kids who need to be considered, not the two adults who have lost sight of what's important.
Rule No. 2: "Ask for help when you need it," opens up a possibility that few exes consider — looking to each other for help. After all, no one loves your child as much as you — except their other parent.
No. 3: "Don't bad-mouth" reminds you not to lose it in front of your child when the clothes are not returned. Badmouthing the other parent will not bring you closer to your child. The child may very well reject you for saying something bad about their other parent — even if it's true.
No. 4: Biological parents make the rules. Bonus parents uphold them.
Rules No. 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 revolve around not being spiteful, holding grudges, being honest and empathetic when interacting, and respecting each other. All these things prevent arguments, help us look for the greater good and ultimately set a good example for the kids who look to us as role models.
Finally, Rule No. 10 suggests that you compromise if you can.
Just about every problem you face after a breakup can be positively addressed by following the rules of good ex-etiquette. You just have to remember to use them — and the easiest way? Just look at your kids. What if you don't have kids, do the rules still apply? Absolutely, and that list can be found on the Bonus Families website in the Ex-Etiquette Department, as well.
Jann Blackstone is the founder of bonusfamilies.com.