Q: Should my wife’s ex-husband be welcomed in my home as if it were his? I think when he picks up his son he can wait at the door or in his truck. Is there any reason he should be allowed to wait inside until he is ready to leave? His son is 12 years old so the child can carry his own bag out. Do you think I am overreacting? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: I think people ask me if they are overreacting when they know they are overreacting. If you didn’t, why would you ask?
I believe in looking for ways to eliminate animosity and uncomfortable feelings, particularly at exchanges when the child is present. That’s the reason I developed the Ten Rules of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents. Although you may not realize it, you are a parent now. The rules will help you maneuver through the trials associated with your new identity.
That said, there are all sorts of qualifiers you might want to look at. First, “be welcomed in my home as if it were his.” Would you feel that way if a friend came to your door? Now, granted, I know your wife’s ex may not be regarded as a friend, but that’s my point. Would you require a friend to sit in his truck thinking that if he waited in your home he was treating it as if it were his? Doubtful. I think this is because this man was once married to your wife and she’s yours now — and so is the home. It’s about ownership and territory. It’s not about love and acceptance — two key points that must be present if you want a second marriage to work.
“Oh,” you say. “But this is not my second marriage.” It isn’t yours, but it is hers.
You can’t approach subsequent relationships like they are first-time romances — the past does follow you — in the form of children and their fathers or mothers and their extended family and all those prickly relationships you wish weren’t there but are because you fell in love with someone who had children.
Here’s the best advice I can give you — you make your life. Make it easy on your wife to share her child with his father and she will be forever grateful. It will make your union a far happier one and she will be devoted to you because you saw the big picture and loved her child. Promote love, include her child, don’t call him “the child” or “his child” and you will have a partner for life. Continue down the same road you are on and you are signing your own marriage epitaph.
You may not be saying it out loud, but your actions are asking her to choose you or her child — not her ex, but her child. She may stay for the time being, but she may also leave when she can no longer stand the pain your attitude will cause her and her son. It will not be worth continuing the relationship.
So, with that, may I suggest you pull up a chair, visit the Bonus Families website, particularly the Ex-etiquette Department, and start reading. You have a lot of work to do. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation” and the founder of bonusfamilies.com.