Q: My ex is driving me crazy. He reminds me so much of my father — who also drives me crazy. My dad had substance abuse problems for most of my life and has never quite gotten it together. My ex is the same. He's far more educated than his job requires, he's always late to everything, his house is a mess, but the kids love to be there! When they ask to see their dad, I want to say no because he's such a bad influence! What's good ex-etiquette?

A: It sounds as if you're confusing the issues you have with your dad with the issues you have with your ex, which could be clouding your reasoning. They are two different men, and the similarities you mention may be more in your own head than in reality. Get some counseling to help you on that front because although many do marry people similar to their parents, the things you mention do not necessarily relate.

That said, most kids gravitate to a relaxed atmosphere and to people with an accepting demeanor. If you are irritated with Dad's laid-back attitude and possibly a little jealous that the kids want to hang with him, they may feel your frustration and be doubly drawn to Dad's home.

Rule 9 of good ex-etiquette is "Respect each other's turf." So let him be a father to the kids without your interference. If he's late, if the house is a mess, that's his problem and the fallout is his responsibility. If the kids are late to school, that will affect their grades and the school will make him responsible. If his house is a mess, the kids will eventually be embarrassed and not invite friends over. You don't have to do a thing.

As for denying the kids time with Dad, don't do it. Very bad ex-etiquette. The kids have a right to both parents. The bad influence you mention is based on things you find questionable. If the kids are clean, happy, well-fed and safe, no agency will interfere. Plus, if there is a custody order in place and you deny time, you could be found in contempt.

It may be time to do some soul searching. You did not mention that the kids are in danger, only that you don't approve of Dad. It may be time to accept that your kids have two very different parents who no longer live together, but both love them very much — and look for the compromise (ex-etiquette for parents Rule 10) instead of the battle.

E-mail dr.jann@exetiquette.com