Q: My ex just moved from the home in which we used to live to a much nicer townhouse and neighborhood. When I asked her why she moved, she said now that our oldest daughter is starting school, the school district was better. I don't believe that. I think she's using my child support money to live high, and it really makes me mad. When I told her how I felt, she just laughed, which made me even more angry. My kids see it and keep asking why I'm so mad at Mommy. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: Sounds to me like the root of your anger comes from not believing your ex made the move for your children, but to maintain a high stylin' lifestyle. Your anger and frustration bleeds into your dealings with your children's mother, they see it, they're hurt, and since you see no end in sight for how she's spending the money, things just keep getting worse. Meanwhile, your kids are going back and forth between two parents so angry with each other that they don't talk. That's terrible ex-etiquette.
From working with divorced parents for over 20 years, I can tell you that if families have a choice, they choose to live in the best school district they can afford. They sacrifice so their children can get the best education possible. Sometimes housing is more expensive in these areas. Moving to a better school district is a very common practice.
Second, child support is not an arbitrary amount designed to take a parent's hard-earned money. The amount paid is based on a computer program that analyzes income of both parents and how much time children spend with each parent.
That said, I'm not hearing that you're resentful for paying the money. I'm not hearing that Mom wants more. I'm hearing that you are resentful for how she is spending it — you didn't express concern about whether the school is farther away from you and you can see the kids less. This tells me you're more worried about what Mom is doing than what's in the best interest of your children.
If you want to fix this, it's time to reframe how you look at things. You literally have to change your mind.
I would bet that each time you write the check or transfer money, it starts a barrage of bad feelings which makes it impossible to communicate with your children's mother. Remember good ex-etiquette for parents, Rules 5 and 6: ("Don't hold grudges." "Don't be spiteful.").
Rather than picture your ex when it's time to make a payment, picture your children. Think about how this money is paying for a better place to live when they're not with you, better schools, healthy food, keeping them warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Consider how your children are flourishing rather than how their mother is taking advantage.
Thoughts lay the groundwork for behavior. When you control your thoughts and therefore curb your animosity, you'll see your frustration lessen, and lo and behold, you will be able to better communicate with your children's mother — and your children will stop asking why you are so angry with their mother. That's good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is the founder of bonusfamilies.com.