Q: I have been dating my boyfriend for almost a year and last month we decided to move in together. He has two children with his ex-wife, and they share equal custody. I see the kids every other week, and we get along great, but I have yet to meet his ex. According to my boyfriend, his parents invite her to all their family's get-togethers and it appears this holiday season is no different. This makes me uncomfortable. Meeting her for the first time at his parents' home with everyone staring just seems wrong. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: It is wrong — not necessarily that the ex is invited; that's the grandparents' prerogative. What's wrong is that you haven't met the ex and the invitation is being made on a major holiday. That puts unnecessary pressure on everyone.
According to the rules of good ex-etiquette, the ex shouldn't be invited to every family get-together, but for a major holiday or milestone, like a graduation, expect them to be there. Translated into your situation — you're the newbie, the ex has been invited since the kids were born, possibly before, and it appears your partner's parents expect you to get with the program. The big question is, should you?
In my opinion, absolutely. No one says you have to be buddies with anyone, but you moved in with a guy with children with a long history of celebrating with extended family. You should have anticipated this. The one I fault with bad ex-etiquette is your boyfriend. He should have orchestrated a meeting months ago. I know this sounds unconventional, but these kids are going back and forth between two homes. Their allegiance is checked each time they do that. Prior to "joint custody," parents usually stayed to themselves after a breakup. That's not necessarily true anymore, so rules must change — and here you are wondering what the heck you've gotten yourself into.
It's the adults' job to put these children first (Ex-etiquette rule No. 1), and making the transition from home to home as comfortable as possible. It would sure make it a lot easier if your boyfriend set something up so that you could meet Mom, maybe for coffee, before the holidays.
If he does not, the big question is, should you go? If you feel too uncomfortable, say so. Don't make your boyfriend choose. That could possibly affect your relationship and your relationships with his parents, not to mention upset the kids and break a family tradition. And, if you choose not to go, make it a priority to meet Mom before any other major holiday rolls around.
Finally, if you're secretly hoping that the in-laws will invite only you and slowly phase out their relationship with the ex, don't hold your breath. It sounds as if they think of her as their grandchildren's mother and not their son's ex — and that means she's going to be around. Check out the "10 rules of good ex-etiquette for parents" on the Bonus Families website. They will help. Happy holidays!
Jann Blackstone is the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com.