Q: My husband has two boys, 6 and 8. The 6-year-old has angry outbursts and it's suspected he has Asperger's syndrome. We've been married for about a year. Normally he sees his kids each Wednesday overnight and every other weekend, but with this virus, he and his ex decided that the kids should live with each parent every other week to keep possible exposure to a minimum. I'm going crazy and I don't think this is fair. I did not sign on to have these kids every other week, nor do I want to take on a child with special needs. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: First, I want to thank you for being honest. I have worked with others who feel as you do, but rarely do they say it out loud. Their resentment remains unspoken and their partner does not understand why their relationship slowly evolved into spite and anger. Your discontent is right out there for all to see.
But, it sounds to me like you didn't do your homework and as a result, you're flunking the test. I'm not sure how you thought you would ever ride the marriage-go-round with this man. That takes a love bigger than yourself in the best of circumstances, and that's certainly not what you describe. Kids aren't like pets. You can't put them outside when they pee in the house. When you marry it's a packaged deal. If your guy has children, those children become your family with individual personalities, foibles and afflictions. If you don't see it that way, you should have never gotten involved with a father. The damage you will do to his children by staying will be immeasurable — and I'm not an advocate for divorce. I am an advocate for putting children first (good ex-etiquette for parents Rule No. 1). If you can't do that, it's best you move on so both of you find someone with whom you are more suited.
Your e-mail also gives me the opportunity to point out that people who marry parents must understand that nothing is carved in stone. Parenting plans are merely schedules — this day with Mom, that day with Dad based on factors like the child's age, development, the parent's living situation and possibly their work schedule. As kids grow and mature, the schedule that worked for them at 3 may no longer work for them once they attend school all day. By 10, add friends and extracurricular activities, the schedule may have to change again — and again when the child reaches high school. Be prepared. It's not uncommon as children enter their teens to want to spend more time with the same-gendered parent. That means you could very easily end up with a full-time teenager or two.
Those things should all be expected, but those who combine families must also be ready to embrace the unexpected, like this pandemic or a child's possible diagnosis. This should have all been discussed prior to getting married and a plan put in place to cope — and that's when you form your family, not before ... because that's good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is the founder ofbonusfamilies.com.