Q My ex is in jail for beating me up, and his family has been harassing me through social media because they want to see the kids. You are always talking about good ex-etiquette. Good ex-etiquette is for families with some sense. My family is crazy, and I'm afraid what they will do — and what my ex will do when he gets out of jail. I'm not sure what to do.
A You are right: When I talk about good ex-etiquette, I'm appealing to "reasonable" people who are looking for a guide to help them interact with an ex after a breakup. In your case, it sounds as if family has lost sight of what's important — the kids — and spite and revenge have become the basis for the threats.
That's one of the reasons I included ex-etiquette for parents rule 5, "Don't be spiteful," and rule 6, "Don't hold grudges," when constructing the 10 rules of good ex-etiquette for parents. Most parenting plans require that parents speak to each other after the breakup. Although you may be protected by a restraining order when your ex is released and talking might be kept to a minimum, look at the mess extended family can create. Rules 5 and 6 apply to how you interact with them, as well.
For the record, fighting it out over social media almost always backfires. Aside from its being ridiculously childish, you should know that anything you put out there is admissible in court. That includes texts, Facebook or Instagram posts, even tweets.
Racist or sexist slurs or personal threats are taken extremely seriously, so don't get caught up in an eye-for-an-eye confrontation. The courts will call you on your part, plus it's doubtful that grandparent visitation will be granted to grandparents who openly threaten the mother.
From a practical standpoint, you may just want to hide the posts or "unfriend" everyone who is giving you a bad time. Some have told me they want to keep a record of the offending posts, so they don't want to "unfriend" the perpetrators. At some point you have to take a stand for your own mental health, and continually reading negative messages will just keep you keyed-up and fearful.
If you are concerned about your safety, there are agencies to help. First, the police. (I've faced this because of writing this column, and the police interceded quickly.) If "friends" are helping your ex's family intimidate you, you can also report all this to the social media website you're using. Facebook, for example, has a strict policy on "bullying" and offers suggestions on its website on how to deal with it.
If somewhere down the road your ex's family extends an olive branch, consider taking it in the best interest of your children (ex-etiquette for parents rule 1), particularly if the kids are telling you they miss their relatives.
Although it may be difficult to separate the two, your ex's relatives wanting to see the children does not necessarily mean they advocate his behavior. Good ex-etiquette never suggests you're obligated to do anything that might put you or your children in harm's way.