Q: My ex and I were together for five years, and he’s been abusive since Day 1. I finally got tired of it and left — and got a restraining order to protect myself and our two kids. He has custody of his 7-year-old daughter from a previous relationship — and I’ve raised her the whole time — but he has not let me see her since I left. He said since he couldn’t spend time with our kids, I can’t visit his kid. I decided to let him visit our children hoping I could spend time with his child. It didn’t work. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Not this, in any way shape or form. You both have children depending on you, and both of you are playing games. Granted, I don’t know the severity of the abuse, and I certainly don’t want to diminish what you’ve faced, but if you’ve allowed him to see the kids even though there’s a restraining order in place, that tells me you aren’t concerned about their safety. All signs lead to you and Dad using the kids as leverage to get back at each other. That’s about the worst ex-etiquette possible.
A side note: When one parent has sole custody of their children that means something has required that kind of parenting plan. It also implies that Dad’s daughter has already experienced loss at a very early age. He’s playing with fire when he prevents you from seeing his daughter. Actually, you both are. Good Ex-etiquette rule No. 1 is “Put the children first.”
If you’ve been facing this for five years, you know there’s a pattern re-created each time there’s a disagreement. Without the proper tools to break that pattern, partners can be in danger. If one of the partners has been violent, without the appropriate help, it may continue and often accelerates — and the other may be doing something to contribute to the cycle without knowing it. The restraining order was probably the proper course of action — but as you’ve seen, the fallout can be just as difficult to maneuver as what led to the restraining order in the first place.
It’s because of such situations that I included rule No. 5, “Don’t be spiteful,” and rule No. 6, “Don’t hold grudges,” in the 10 rules of Good Ex-etiquette. Those rules serve as reminders to parents that only they can break a cycle that’s perpetuated by anger and resentment — and the incentive to do that, particularly in your case, is the physical, mental and emotional health of their children. If you and Dad don’t want them to re-create the same relationship that you have, stop it now.
Finally, you may need professional help to intervene — and it’s not uncommon for couples in your position to reconcile after the dust settles. If personal counseling is too expensive, check Victim Witness or nonprofit groups like “Women’s Centers” in various counties that offer free counseling to those who have experienced the fallout associated with domestic violence. (That’s for everyone in the family.) That’s good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com.