Q: Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, but since I've broken up with the kids' dad, I hate when October rolls around. I've been letting their dad go trick-or-treating with us for the past two years (we altered the parenting plan for that day only), but this year he's taking them to Disneyland over the weekend and I won't see them. I'm so angry. I have included him, but he's not including me. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: Halloween is a big deal at Disneyland, and if he has tickets for Halloween night, the kids are probably so excited they don't see the internal family conflict this may cause. Thank goodness. This is the parents' problem, not the kids'.
There are major red flags to be taken into consideration: First, the fact that dad is not including you this year is not bad ex-etiquette. It may make your Halloween lonely, but if the parenting plan designates holidays with the kids to one parent or another, it's that parent's decision to make plans for that day. Of course, the ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 1, "put the kids first," is an important consideration.
It sounds as if you both have been doing your best to use good ex-etiquette as your guide when co-parenting, and that's great. You have "looked for the compromise" in the past — which is ex-etiquette rule No. 10 — and have spent Halloween together. But that doesn't mean that Dad taking the kids to Disneyland just this once is a personal affront to you. The need to compromise is ongoing. Don't be spiteful and don't hold grudges. Next year, if it's in the best interest of the kids to share the day again, don't let your anger and hurt about this year color future decisions.
Finally, there's a fine art to sharing the holidays with an ex. The main concern is what all this togetherness says to the kids. On one hand, kindness and consideration are contagious, and not holding a grudge demonstrates that people who do not get along can make the decision to interact kindly if it is necessary. This is an important lesson our kids can use not only in their personal life, but in their professional life, as well.
However, exes being too friendly in front of the kids also can be confusing, and confusion often translates into anger. Parents find themselves wondering, "What's wrong with Billy?" when it could simply be that his parents were giggling on the couch at a holiday celebration while reminiscing and then he could go home with only one of them.
It's sort of like an emotional hangover. So if you notice your children acting up the day after a holiday that you have done your best to spend with their other parent, check your behavior at that holiday celebration.
Jann Blackstone is the founder of bonusfamilies.com.