Q: My husband and his ex share their child every other week. They have always had boundary issues, but this last incident takes the cake. Right before my husband dropped off their son his mother called to say she needed to talk. We all get in the car and drive the 20 minutes to her home. My husband walks his son to the door and leaves me in the car while he talks to his ex — for a half-hour.
It seems she wants to take the child out of the country for a vacation and my husband is all misty-eyed and wishy-washy about it. I was furious he left me in the car and let him know about it! He said I was overreacting and kept whining about not seeing his son for two weeks. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: Your description of your husband as "wishy-washy" and "whining" needs some exploration.
Let's get right to the point: I would bet you and your husband did not have a conversation before your marriage about what your role would be in all this. That translates into resentment and anger because, without a clear idea of where you stand, you automatically feel like an afterthought. This comes from many factors.
First, we are brought up to believe that wives and husbands come first — and that's easy to do when it's a first-time marriage. When it's a subsequent relationship, although they do come first, it's all about juggling priorities, starting with the kids, their schedule, the parenting plan, being there for them, child support, and if you don't have someone who understands that, you get a resentful partner who writes to a columnist about leaving you in the car.
Have the conversation. He has a child. Agree on your role. Help rather than hinder.
Second, exchanges are the last place to discuss things. The kids are present and if someone disagrees, it can easily spin out of control while the kids are watching. Their reaction then becomes — "I don't want to go to Dad's (or Mom's)." The supposed "preferred parent" thinks it's because the child doesn't want to see the other parent. The truth is, the child doesn't want to listen to the fighting, so they opt to stay right where they are.
Make an appointment with your ex to discuss things when the kids aren't around.
For the record, unless the destination of the location is a country that did not sign the Hague Agreement, which is a worldwide agreement signed by most countries to return a child to their country of origin if kidnapped, a judge will probably let the child go on vacation. So, look for ways to cooperate.
Third, if you went to the exchange to keep your husband company, that's one thing. If you didn't have the conversation discussed previously and you went to keep your eyes on him and the ex, there are boundary issues at your house. It's time for some soul-searching for everyone — and to put in place the type of relationship you all want to model for this child.
Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation" and the founder ofbonusfamilies.com.